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Down, But Not Out, In Danang

Author: Bill Barnett. Category: News Column - Property Report SEA. Posted: 1st Jun 2014

An elevator ding wakes me from my daydream and a head pokes out and enquires, "going down?" "Don't mind if l do," I mutter, sloping inside the lift, still reeling from the unwelcome return to bleak reality.

Much of my life has been spent joyriding in these metal time capsules: soaring to the heavens of luxury penthouses that some call home sweet home, before again being fast-tracked back down to the depths of basement four and beyond (the penthouse reference is, of course a subtle reminder to self that I should stick on the prerequisite real estate track).

Slowly, I crawl back to the surface and my mind turns again to the heavens, as a voice from above states the obvious: "Buy low and sell high", it says. Have I actually received instructions from God or is this insider trading? Does God really care about real estate? Of course he does.

After all, everybody's heard about that first high-end, gated community called The Garden of Eden.

In my job, which pertains to hospitality and property consulting, we often come across private equity fund investors who, in modern terms, are coined opportunistic. What an optimistic and squeaky-clean term that is, but as we all know, not every shark is in the water. Perhaps a more polite term would be vulture. For the most part, however, birds tend not to purchase real estate, with rental being the preferred option due to their regular migrations.

I also migrated a few weeks ago, albeit temporarily, to Danang in Vietnam. What a magnificent vision that central coast area has created in the minds of developers over the past 10 to 15 years. Forget Waikiki, Rio or Miami Beach, the tree-lined avenues were going to make this Asia's top urban resort destination. But while some projects were built and some were even sold, most didn't make out of the stables.

Yet the Danang real estate market still has all the makings of greatness.

If you' re only a two-hour flight from Hong Kong (less if you get a tail wind), who needs to visit Kowloon when you can be golfing on a Greg Norman Championship course in a tropical heaven, or shopping to your heart's content at Lotte Mart. There's even a casino.

The new airport terminal has been finished since my last trip and I now hear that familiar concoction of accents and voices often heard in my own adopted home, Phuket.

Recognisable, and almost comforting, sounds of Mandarin and Russian fill the air, as a seemingly endless gaggle of tour groups are crammed into a multitude of minibuses, which are just sitting, waiting, a/c and karaoke blurring out.

At face value Vietnam once again seems viable. Yet the question those beleaguered investors who were hit by a tsunami of hyperinflation and currency devaluation still ask is, "Have we hit the bottom?"

Until the spectre of those failed state owned enterprises is finally banished and the ensuing visa application debacle is sorted, it's hard to say. Still, the location is prime for the time.

Reality often bites harder than a rabid dog, and one haunting thought that always comes to mind is the mental roll call of those who have actually made money investing in Vietnam. Still, God did tell me to buy low, and prices are certainly becoming attractive, although I' m starting to question whether it really was God who spoke to me or just another broker angling for a commission?

Sometimes it's hard to see where the bottom really is when you spend so much time underwater.

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