66 years on

Malaysia now houses some of the world’s tallest towers as compared to its early days of commercial shop lots.

Continuing the legacies in Malaysia’s property sector

By Joseph Wong

As Malaysia commemorates its 66th anniversary since gaining independence from the British Empire on August 31, 1957, StarProperty embarks on a nostalgic journey through the evolution of the property industry, tracing its trajectory from the past to its present state.

Before Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur saw the emergence of a handful of property developers, a number that has significantly expanded as development spread across the entire nation. While some companies that existed prior to independence ventured into property development only post-Merdeka, a select few of these entities have not only stood the test of time but have also become formidable contenders in today’s property landscape.

Interestingly, in the early days of Malaysia, few buildings exceed four storeys and property development was predominantly limited to commercial shop lots and residential landed property.

But in tandem with the growth of Malaysia, new property development firms emerged, and many of them have risen to prominence in recent years, driving the expansion of satellite townships across the country. And they pushed new development boundaries, venturing into high-rise condominiums, shopping centres and towering office blocks. Despite the architecture and engineering differences, they all share a common goal: Nation-building.

An aerial view of Bukit Bintang and Pudu in the 1970s.

Although many property construction companies laid the groundwork for the nation’s progress in the early years, only a handful have weathered the years, retaining their reputation and influence to this day. Esteemed developers such as Low Yat Group, Selangor Properties Bhd, See Hoy Chan Group and Boon Siew Group (BSG) fall into this category. While the torchbearers of these companies have passed away, their legacies endure through the property corporations now under the stewardship of their descendants. 

Even more significant is that these legacies have been taken up by a new generation of property players – ranging from smaller entities to major players – all of whom contribute to the ongoing process of nation-building. Today, more than 100 companies that are listed on Bursa Malaysia are property developers. This is not counting those conglomerates that have property divisions in their core activities. Also not included are the listed non-property companies that have one or two property developments under their belts.

And if one also counts the non-listed property developers, then they number in the hundreds although some are affiliated to the bigger property boys one way or another. While collectively, every small property developer has contributed to nation-building, it is the bigger companies that make a more significant impact. The bigger property developers who have made significant strides in the last decade include the likes of (in alphabetical order) Eco World Development Group Bhd, Gamuda Land, IJM Land Bhd, IOI Properties Group Bhd, Lagenda Properties Bhd, Mah Sing Group Bhd, Matrix Concepts Holdings Bhd, Malaysian Resources Corporation Bhd (MRCB), Sime Darby Property Bhd, SP Setia and Sunway Property.

While it is easy to point fingers at these big boys earning a sizable slice of the economic pie, the other side of the story is seldom highlighted. These property developers contribute to the bigger picture. 

A nostalgic look at Jalan Bukit Bintang when buildings seldom venture higher than four storeys.

Malaysia’s real estate sector made a total economic contribution of RM42.5bil in 2022 or 2.7% of Malaysia’s RM1.791 trillion gross domestic product (GDP), according to Juwai IQI. 

Its co-founder and group chief executive officer Kashif Ansari said the RM42.5bil in economic benefits only represents a portion of the full impact of the housing sector as a whole.

This is because it leaves out the tens of billions of ringgit generated by the production of building materials, property management, rental property, maintenance and renovation, and other real estate-related activities.

According to Bank Negara Malaysia, the property sector is estimated to have a 3.5% stake in the GDP of the country, echoed property man Datuk Seri Koe Peng Kang. 

“You have RM170bil of gross output and you have millions of people employed and pay a combined salary of RM33.4bil. This sector affects about 145 sub-sectors. It is so important,” he said.

Moreover, the new pallbearers also play a role in the construction sector in that many state and local councils place the responsibility of building the infrastructure into the townships like roads, drainage, water and electric supply, among others. They are also charged with the task of building communities. 

What differentiates the developers of the pre-Merdeka and immediate post-independence era is that the current developers have to deal with the complexities of the modern environmental, social and governance nuances. They have to take steps in the prevention of the further degradation of the environment through the reduction of carbon footprint to slow down global warming. They have to take note of their corporate social responsibility by being more inclusive-oriented in their projects. And they have to comply with good governance. 

But much like the pre-Merdeka companies that laid the foundation towards today’s property developments, the successors have to help bear the weight of the country as nation builders. Admittedly, not all make good corporate citizens but those who do their parts tend to lead the way as they build up a following of past, present and future home buyers. Bad apples will eventually lose their followings as the new generation of buyers tend to be more savvy and discerning. 

One common thing that the new bearers are noticing, the property sector has changed, along with the emergence of new demands and expectations but adapting to the new ways is all a part of the Merdeka fabric as the property sector forges ahead.

Bukit Bintang as it is now.

What makes Malaysia a great home

In a nation marked by diversity and distinct identities, the strength of unity is an invaluable asset. In Malaysia, a country rich in cultural heritage and ethnic diversity, the notion of unity in diversity is not just a catchphrase but a way of life. The essence of this unity has been a driving force behind the nation’s progress, propelling it forward on the path to development and harmony.

A tapestry of cultures and traditions

Malaysia is a vibrant tapestry woven from the threads of various cultures, ethnicities and religions. Malays, Chinese, Indians and numerous indigenous groups call this nation home, each contributing their unique heritage to the country’s cultural mosaic. The coexistence of these diverse backgrounds is a testament to the harmonious bond that unites Malaysians.

Strength in diversity

The unity among Malaysians is not merely a superficial coexistence but a deeply ingrained value. It is a recognition of the strength that emerges from diversity. Different languages are spoken, various cuisines are savoured and a myriad of festivals are celebrated. This diversity, rather than being a source of division, has become a unifying force that enriches the nation’s social fabric.

Historical foundations

The roots of unity in Malaysia run deep, with the nation’s history marked by collaboration and mutual respect among its communities. From the early trade interactions to the shared struggles during the fight for independence, these historical milestones have contributed to the spirit of togetherness that defines the nation.

Shared visions for progress

The spirit of unity extends beyond cultural bonds. Malaysians have collectively worked towards shared visions of progress, driving the nation’s growth in various sectors. From economic development to education and technological advancement, the collaborative efforts of Malaysians from all walks of life have paved the way for Malaysia to thrive on the global stage.

Challenges and resilience

While unity is a cornerstone, challenges have not been absent. Malaysia has faced its share of tests, both internal and external. However, the nation’s resilience shines through during these times, as Malaysians come together to overcome adversity, demonstrating the strength of solidarity in times of need.

Harmony amid diversity

One of the most remarkable aspects of Malaysia’s unity is the peaceful coexistence of its diverse religious and ethnic groups. This harmony is a testament to the respect Malaysians have for each other’s beliefs and traditions. Mosques, temples and churches stand side by side, underscoring the nation’s commitment to religious freedom and understanding.

A united future

As Malaysia looks to the future, the foundation of unity remains unwavering. Malaysians from all backgrounds continue to work hand in hand, upholding the nation’s values of mutual respect, tolerance and collaboration. In a world that sometimes emphasises differences, Malaysia serves as a shining example of how a united people can create a society that thrives on diversity, inclusivity and progress.

United Malaysians Stand is more than a statement; it is a declaration of a shared commitment to building a nation that thrives on unity and diversity. From cultural celebrations to joint endeavours, Malaysians continue to demonstrate that their strength lies in their unity. As the nation evolves and progresses, this unity will remain an integral part of Malaysia’s identity, guiding its journey towards a brighter and more harmonious future.