MALAY DILEMMAS: To understand what makes Malay owners and investors tick in the property market, we talked to two dynamic property investment consultants with their fingers on the pulse of the Malay market — Ahyat Ishak, Founder and CEO of Greater Synergy Group and Dr. Shah Razali, President & Founder of Shah Group of Companies.
Ahyat: Malays in property investment: I truly believe that Malaysia’s diversity is a pillar of strength and my multiracial clientele reflects this, but within the context of property investment, I would say that the lack of Malay participation is quite alarming. Property ownership is critical to all families regardless of ethnicity. It is also important to have a good representation of all major ethnic groups represented in property investments. It is not just related to social responsibility, but makes plain business sense as well.
My observation is based on attending various property talks, seminars and of course, during my own property investment workshops and events. Malay participation, especially among the younger generation, is quite low in these events. Most of the time, it is hard to find them making up even five per cent of the audience, even if the event is free! Somehow property investment has not caught on with the Malay masses. Often during my seminars, I ask myself, where are the Malays?
Language barrier: One of the main reasons could be language. Like it or not, language is still a barrier to a lot of things in our country. Although English is widely used everywhere, some Malays still have an inferiority complex
in speaking English, especially if it is within a formal context and public speaking. For example, I have experienced this during networking dinners and property club meetings where Malay participants seem afraid to communicate or ask questions due to the language factor. Developing these interpersonal skills is quite crucial and language is a primary facilitator.
It would be great if more property-related seminars and workshops are conducted in Malay. It won’t solve all the problems but could address this issue significantly. A good example is property investment consultant Dr Shah Razali. He conducts most of his seminars in Malay and I admire him for that.
Deep-rooted beliefs: Due to entrenched cultural values, Malays tend to have deep-rooted negative beliefs about wealth-making in certain situations, which can be a hindrance in attracting them into property investment. For example, when I preach the value of property investment to some of my Malay friends and relatives, they will reply “How many more houses do we need to have, Ahyat?” or “Oh, Ahyat, you can’t bring your expensive property to the grave!” The implicit notion is one of spirituality over materialism. There is a degree of “evil” or psychological stigma attached to the creation of wealth that is perceived to be excessive.
My simple answer to them is that you can be a good or bad person, regardless of wealth. Wealth only accentuates who you are. Investing in property, if handled with proper planning and analysis, can be a positive factor for the future of your family.
Getting priorities right: Attracting our younger generation to property investment is becoming increasingly tough, not just among the Malays but other races as well. They are more inclined to spend their monetary gains on the latest gadgets and devices that are supposedly status symbols, rather than attending seminars and educating themselves on property investment strategies.
There is also some aversion among Malays to the financial risks involved in property investment. For example, they can be sceptical about the potential appreciation or rental yields of property investments. They may also view mortgage loans as an unnecessary burden or even at odds with their religious faith. Yet, these are the same people who would not think twice on spending their hard-earned cash on hire-purchase items or charging their credit cards on impulse purchases. Poor financial planning is often the root cause of their problems and a major deterrent for them in the property market. They have to get their priorities right.
Dr Shah: Elements of Malay culture in property: Pure Malay culture and its elements in property simply don’t exist anymore in the modern context. Most designs are a blend of various ethnic and cultural elements that form a background to our nation’s history, such as British, Islamic, Chinese and Indian elements.
This is only natural because our country is rich with heritage from various ethnicities and it is something that is much admired by other countries. A lot of Malay culture in property is intertwined with Islamic elements. Some of them are still preserved, as seen in buildings such as mosques and palaces that are beautifully crafted and patterned with intricate floral elements.
Malacca is well known for preserving traces of Malay culture in property. For example, Masjid Tengkera and traditional Malay houses that have been converted for home stay. The main purpose is to attract tourists to Malacca. Even Putrajaya and Istana Budaya can be said to contain traces of Malay culture, even though they don’t necessarily have pure Malay cultural elements.
Evaluating preservation costs: Not all Malay elements in property should be preserved. They should be evaluated carefully. If conservation or refurbishment requires excessive funds and does not have any practical and commercial benefits, it should be left to the government or market forces to redevelop the buildings. Some properties may have significant sentimental or historical value, especially to the locals. If these properties have any intrinsic commercial
potential, then it would perhaps make economic sense to preserve them.
Moving with the times: Property with Malay-oriented elements is usually synonymous with “kampung” culture. In urban areas, we usually find that these elements have been assimilated with other cultures and updated to reflect contemporary tastes.
In other words, we have moved with the times. What were relevant decades ago might not be applicable now. For example, you won’t find a traditional Malay kampung house (elevated on stilts) anymore in KL. The initial purpose of that design was flood prevention.
However, now with technological advancement such as the SMART Tunnel and other drainage systems to alleviate the effects of heavy rain, the kampung-style house is not practical anymore in urban areas. Traditional Malay houses are mainly made of wood. Due to current environmental issues such as climate change and global warming, it’s now more practical to build houses from cement and bricks to preserve forests and lower construction costs.
Balancing act: Property with distinct cultural elements, such as Malay kampung- styled houses, does play a role in promoting the country’s rich history. Foreign tourists like to see something different when they travel. The assimilation
of Malay and other culture can be seen from the architectural designs of buildings in Malaysia.
Although our nation should look forward in the development of property, we have to strike a fine balance between preserving our rich cultural history and embracing modernity. We will lose our uniqueness if we do not preserve some of these crucial elements of tradition.