PHILIPPINES: IN TRANSITION
CRAIG GIMA / CGIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Condominiums, shopping malls, hospitals and schools are under construction at Fort Bonifacio in Metro Manila, above, where a former military facility is being turned into a planned community of high-rises.
Isle Filipinos fuel boom in real estate near Manila
TAGAYTAY, Philippines » Overlooking the crater lake of a volcano high above the heat and humidity of Manila, Dr. Emil and Ellen Suzara have built a home where they expect to live the rest of their lives.
The Suzaras took the profits from the recent sale of their home in Waimea on the Big Island to return to the Philippines to retire.
"The dollar is magnified here," said Dr. Suzara, who was a surgeon at North Hawaii Community Hospital. "You can live like a king and a queen."
The Suzaras, who were both born in the Philippines, are among a growing number of Filipinos from Hawaii and the mainland who are fueling a real estate boom here.
In Kalihi meanwhile yesterday, a steady stream of potential buyers talked with sales representatives from Robinsons Land Corp. about their high-rise luxury condominium projects in Metro Manila.
A sales DVD played on the wall of a restaurant conference room as families, mostly recent immigrants, put down a refundable deposit to reserve units.*
Bobit Pablo, the international sales manager for Robinsons' high-rise building division, said the recent political crisis in the Philippines has not really affected business.
He said Filipinos who were born in the country have grown up with coup rumors.
"In every crisis there's an opportunity," Pablo says with the conviction of a salesman. The unrest means the U.S. dollar will buy more, and the condos he is selling are cheaper today if someone is ready to buy now.
Kevin and Zena Diaz Smith of Kaneohe sold their home last year and used half of their profit to buy a home and lot in Canyon Woods for about $200,000 and the other half for a down payment on a new home here.
On Saturday they put down a deposit for a two-bedroom condominium that sells for about $100,000. The Smiths said once the condo is paid off, they might move to the Philippines with their two children.
"We're living paycheck to paycheck over here," said Kevin Smith, who works at Kaiser Medical Center.
The condo is near a private school and hospital. Smith thinks he should be able to get a job at the hospital, and they could either rent or sell their house here to supplement their income.
His Filipino co-workers at Kaiser are also thinking of moving back because they can now afford a nicer place and a better lifestyle, Smith said.
Smith has been to the Philippines three times, but his wife was born there.
"I was challenged with it at first," Smith said about the poverty, politics, crime and other aspects of life in the Philippines. "But you can't judge a book by its cover," he said. "The culture is incredible; the people are incredible."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Robinsons Land Corp.'s international marketing senior manager, Bobit Pablo, presented information Saturday to prospective buyers about new high-rise condominiums being developed in Manila. The development features three upscale high-rise condominiums and a mall, which will be completed in 2009. Those attending the presentation included Vicente Mijares, left, Manny Tuazon and his wife, Fely.
Buying real estate in the Philippines is not for everyone, said Bob Bishop, former liaison to the Philippines for the president of the National Association of Realtors.
It can be profitable and worthwhile, but people need to do their homework, he said. Land titles are not always clear, and disputes can be tied up in expensive court battles, he said.
Bishop advises buyers to hire an attorney in the Philippines to look over the contract and investigate the title before signing any deal.
Most developments emphasize security; kidnappers sometimes target Americans for ransom, Bishop noted.
The key in any real estate purchase is to make sure you are dealing with a reputable developer, Bishop said.
Reputation is a selling point for Danilo Ignacio, general manager of Robinsons' High-Rise Buildings Division. The company is affiliated with one of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines, with interests including airlines, banking, food, hotels, telecommunications and textiles.
Ignacio points out his window on the 32nd floor of the Ortigas Center in Metro Manila at an empty facade of a nearby building.
The project is mired in debt after the Asian financial collapse in 1997, he said.
It is a reminder of what can happen because of fraud or an underfinanced developer.
Robinsons survived the financial crisis and emerged a stronger company, Ignacio said. "We delivered to our customers," he said.
In nearby Fort Bonifacio, a high-rise city is rising on a closed Philippine military base. Shopping centers, office buildings for the booming call center industry, and numerous condos are under construction. Robinsons has two condominium projects here, both of which are marketed in Hawaii.
Last month, on a tour of Fort Bonifacio, Pablo pointed to where the private St. Luke's Medical Center is being built.
The hospital is a selling point for retirees who fear medical care in the United States could eat up their savings, Pablo said.
Norman Oshiro, president and chief executive officer of Hawaii Food Products Inc., bought a one-bedroom condo for $35,000 at Robinsons' Fifth Avenue development in Fort Bonifacio.
Oshiro might retire in the Philippines, but said he bought the condo more as an investment and a place to stay when he visits Manila. "It's cheap," he said. "It probably went up already."
Oshiro is not Filipino, but is a member of the Hawaii Filipino Chamber of Commerce. Filipino co-workers in his office also bought units on the same floor.
The government, through the Philippine Retirement Authority and other agencies, is trying to encourage overseas Filipinos and foreign nationals to retire and buy property in the Philippines.
A dual citizenship law allows Filipino Americans to buy land and businesses.
Foreigners who buy condos can qualify for a special investment visa that will allow them to stay in the country.
But while foreigners can also own condominiums and townhouses, there are restrictions on the purchase of land.
So far, Robinsons is concentrating its international marketing on Filipino workers in the United States, Ignacio said. But they are starting to look at the market for non-Filipinos overseas.
Units at McKinley Park start at about $55,145 for a one-bedroom and go up to $130,759 for a three-bedroom unit.
Pablo said he started marketing units in the United States in late 2004. Overseas purchasers now account for about 30 percent of the company's sales and could rise to about half.
In Tagaytay the Canyon Woods development was originally marketed as a weekend home for upper-middle-class families from Manila.
But about three years ago, purchases by overseas Filipinos accounted for 80 percent of the sales in December, the time of year when many foreign workers traditionally return home for the holidays, said Tony Villa-Real, a director at Canyon Wood.
"That opened our eyes," he said.
Villa-Real opened an office in San Bruno, Calif., to market to U.S. buyers, and he and his wife held seminars on Oahu and Maui last year. They are planning to return to Hawaii to promote Canyon Woods next month.
"For them it's like paradise," Villa-Real said of his U.S. customers. "It's easy for Filipino Americans to adjust. It's like their home away from home."
The numbers of Filipinos from Hawaii who are moving to the Philippines are still small, nothing like the numbers of people who moved from here to Las Vegas for a more affordable lifestyle.
But Dr. Suzara would not be surprised to see more people from Hawaii as neighbors.
"We have casinos here, too," he said.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
» The refundable deposit to reserve a Robinsons Land Corp. condominium unit in the Philippines does not include a trip to the Philippines. A Page A1 article yesterday incorrectly stated that Robinsons would pay for air fare and accommodations to see the property.