For any buyer or investor, a glance into Malaysia’s property market can set heads spinning.
Particularly for any first-time home buyers - with so many different property types out there, it’s tough keeping up with the name game of agents and developers. Especially as new categories continue to emerge, and especially for foreign buyers who may be new to the market.
Although the physical differences between some properties are subtle, the implications for buyers and investors can matter a great deal. Knowing what’s-what should always be your first step to any property-related decision making.
So, I've put together a breakdown of the top 15 categories you’re likely to encounter.
Whilst this one may seem obvious, the term ‘apartment’ can be something quite specific in Malaysia.
Apartments are units in a multi-storied building found in major towns and cities, Malaysia-wide. They’re a staple favourite, with mid-sized apartments sitting comfortably atop homeowners’ lists, alongside terraced houses.
Globally, an ‘apartment’ refers to a residential building that’s owned by a single entity. So, a developer or consortium, rather than individual landlords.
Here, however, the term is often used in reference to facilities. As a general rule, apartments tend to be low-end. They usually come with gates and guards and basic facilities like playgrounds, landscaping and, sometimes, very basic sports facilities.
A quick search on iProperty will reveal that the average unit comes with 2-3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and an inside car park space.
PropertyLife Tip: Foreign buyers take note - many apartments are priced under the RM1 million minimum-price threshold that foreign buyers need to adhere to, under government guidelines. In some states it's even higher like in Selangor where it's RM2 million (for non-landed properties). Most apartments average out at about RM376 per sq. ft. in Kuala Lumpur according to data from Brickz.
Say “flat” in Britain or Europe and your audience probably hears “apartment”. But here, the term is usually used to reference a more low-end residential property.
Flats tend to be lower, with an average of five storeys high, and often lack lifts.
Flats are often part of local affordable housing quotas and many of them are Bumi Lots. I'll elaborate more on this later.
If you’re browsing online for a high security residence with fancy facilities like tennis courts, multi-purpose halls, gyms, BBQ, greenery and swimming pools, the keyword ‘condominium’ is probably your best bet.
Condominium units are usually owned by private individuals and managed under the condo community’s homeowner association, as pointed out by our friends over at Durian Property.
Again, it’s worth checking the fine print. Some Malaysian developers cleverly apply the term ‘condominium’ to market apartments seemingly more luxurious and with a minimum land area of 4,000 square meters.
The big difference between serviced residences and condominiums is their land status.
By that, we mean condos are considered residential properties, and serviced apartments are commercial, with the latter managed more like a hotel rather than sold on a strata title basis.
Serviced residences are essentially high-end, fully-furnished apartments that are rented out short/long term to those who want a flexible living arrangement. Rent covers the use of facilities including security services and hotel-like amenities - think front desk concierge, main lobby, housekeeping, parking, towels and saucepans!
The different population densities of commercial lots mean more neighbours and a greater flow of non-residents, as most serviced apartments come attached to malls. I can go on forever about the differences, or you could have a read of this.
PropertyLife Tip: Whilst serviced apartments are great for those who enjoy luxury & flexibility, investors should be aware that they can rake up higher utility charges and tax rates because of their commercial status.
A bungalow, or 'banglo' in Malay, is a standalone house that sits on its own land, and can be of any size at all.
Malaysia has its fair share of huge bungalows that are surrounded by lush, large plots of land.
Unsurprisingly, prices for bungalows vary tremendously by size, location, and variation, with some built-up areas exceeding 10,000 square feet. A standard 4-5 bedroom bungalow in Bangsar sits in a price point between RM3.5 – 6 million.
Terraced homes are also known as linked houses. Which gives most of the game away.
Both typically share walls with the property next door, on either side. Typically, terraced houses are 1-2 storeys high, although three storeys isn’t uncommon. Each row of houses can consist of 10-12 units, though it does depend on the width of the house.
Typical terraced homes are sized at 1,050 sq. ft. and have 4-5 bedrooms and 3-4 bathrooms.
A semi-detached property refers to a house that shares one common wall with the adjoining unit – i.e. wherein two houses make one building.
Sometimes also shortened to ‘semi-D’, their layouts are typically mirrored. A Semi-D in an area like Damansara rakes up a price of between RM2-4 million.
Before purchasing land, you’ll need to check out the land’s status from the Land Office or the State Land Registrar. So, what are the differences between Freehold and Leasehold?
Freehold land means the land is yours to own and enjoy for perpetuity... or until it is transferred to someone else. You own the land, the building, and anything on the land. It’s preferable for obvious reasons, and more expensive, naturally.
Leasehold Land involves purchasing the right to occupy the land for a given length of time (usually up to 60 or 99 years). After that, it goes back to the state, or is renewed for another 99 years after paying a premium based on the property’s current market value. The land gets less valuable as time goes by on the lease. The fewer years left, the less it’s worth.
Whilst foreigners can purchase most freehold or leasehold land, Malay Reserve Land is exclusive land that can’t be sold to any race except for Malays or Bumiputeras, two terms usually used interchangeably.
More on Malay Reserve Land and the Malay Reserves Enactment here.
PropertyLife Tip: From of the three land categories described, Malay Reserve Land tends to have a lower investment return, given that when an owner resells, they are dealing with a very limited resale market.
Whilst a townhouse in America is essentially an ultra-upmarket terraced house, we like to take things quite literally here.
A townhouse comprises of two houses stacked on top of each other. Just remember the below and you’ll be fine:
A townhouse in Mont Kiara averages around RM2 million, with each unit typically occupying one and a half storeys.
Penthouses - are amongst the biggest residential properties out there. In Malaysia, penthouses typically take up the entirety of a serviced apartment or condominium’s top floor, with private lift lobbies.
That said, you’re just as likely today to find double storey units with extravagant bonuses that would make Batman proud, like private swimming pools and gymnasiums.
Thank goodness for the penthouses under RM1 million.
Probably. These are lots that are literally on the corner of a row of buildings. They have land at the front and back that can be double the size of intermediate units.
In a residential context, they refer to units on the end of a row of terraced homes. Their larger land spaces are often developed into bigger homes.
A linked home is essentially a terraced house of epic proportions.
Both the built-up area and land area of Link homes are bigger and more impressive.
Even more so for Superlink homes, which average out to have 5-6 bedrooms and just as many toilets. There’re also a feast for the eyes – check out these beauties here.
Back in the day, retirement homes were thought of as depressing place to send the elderly.
Come today, they’re known as luxurious resorts with wide natural spaces and support facilities like integrated, 24/7 healthcare.
Such homes tend to be located away from the bustle of KL. One of Malaysia’s most renowned retirement homes, ‘The Green Leaf’ in Sepang, sits on 90 acres of wild mangrove parklands.
Whilst there have been a handful of failed retirement home projects in the past, many remain confident that the industry will pick up legs in Malaysia. Especially since we’ve been declared one of the top 5 retirement destinations in the world.
Related to, but not to be confused with Malay Reserve Land, the Bumi Lot refers to a quota that developers must fulfil on every development. Bumi Lots are units which can only be purchased and owned by Bumiputeras.
These conditions might suit genuine homebuyers and long-term investors, but those looking to sell quickly may struggle with the restricted market and slow appreciation of Bumi Lot prices.
In convincing cases, Bumi Lots can be released and sold to non-Bumis by appealing to the Land Office. However, a “released” Bumi Lot does not make it a non-Bumi Lot and it will revert to its original restrictions upon selling again.
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... You’re now equipped to spot the difference between 15 of the most common properties to be found in Malaysia!
Whether you’re a first-time buyer, investor or seller, it’s important to develop a fluency in the language and terms of the Malaysian property scene. This’ll help you separate reality from glossy marketing jargon and empower fully-informed decisions. We hope you enjoyed it and learnt a thing or three.
Love this article? Have any questions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and don’t forget to share the wisdom!
I'm a Dutch-born property enthusiast who spent a good part of my youth in Penang, Malaysia. Besides being a founder @ PropertyLife, I have experience in financial services both at start-up and corporate level. I founded and sold FundTheGap and I'm ex-Accenture, where I worked for some of the world's biggest banks. Besides property, my main interests include technology, entrepreneurship, internet marketing, travelling and generally all things 'disruptive innovation'.
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