Myanmar is touted as one of the top tourist destinations for 2015, and the year drawing to a close, 2014 has seen 2.7 million tourists already. By the end of December, the number is expected to touch the targeted 3 million. People from overseas, love the quaint beauty of Yangon and Bagan, enjoy the local food as much from upscale restaurants, as the street hawkers, and are awestruck by the magnificence of the pagodas, especially the unmatched beauty of the Shwedagone Pagoda. A day, a week, a month, in this exotic land, is a treat of a different kind, where one sees untouched natural beauty, simple, friendly people, though products and services seemingly belong to an era long forgotten elsewhere.
Amazing, wonderful and fantastic-are some of the adjectives used as tourists rave about the place. Perhaps, at the back of their mind, is the comfort of knowing that they are going back, to a place more comfortable, convenient, and conducive to better living. But for a few hundreds of us, who have opted to make Yangon our home, that comfort is missing, though we look for it at least in the homes we make out of the houses, apartments available.
So many of us like the warmth of a home, with our own familiar pieces and personal effects, but this is not possible in service apartments. Hotel living is fine for a few days, but not endlessly. And this is where the search begins…
The prospect of living in a city like Yangon, tempts most of us to get a taste of living in bungalows. Having lived in apartments in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore, it was a perfect opportunity to live close to nature, nurture plants in a garden, and enjoy a relaxing weekend in a lush green garden. Till five years ago, when rents were low, sprawling bungalows in the upscale University Avenue and Golden Valley, were available for just a couple of thousand dollars. At that time, people had bought SIM cards for 3000-5000 dollars!
And then, in 2010, things started changing-at least on the demand side. Rent started increasing, and the supply was not able to keep pace, since new constructions were miniscule. Two unfinished buildings of the Shangri-la stood in the Kandawgyi area. Smaller buildings by companies came up, but these could hardly be termed even middle class. The down town area was full of such dated constructions, with multiple apartments along a hall. Compared to these, the Shwe Hintha Condominium really looked luxurious, of seemingly international standards, though not quite. So did a few new houses and bungalows. These were lapped by the highest bidders, from embassies and multinationals. And as the numbers increased, the rents began to soar.
The ones to benefit the most from this real estate boom have been property owners, and property brokers, who are the middlemen bringing house owners and prospective tenants together. The owner sees the potential of making money, after decades of near zero returns on real estate investments, and keeps pushing up the rental value of his house. The broker, taking a month’s commission from both owner and tenant, helps in pushing rents higher, by giving an impression of shortage, lack of availability, and the near panicking tenant, is willing to pay a phenomenal amount for a somewhat livable place, taking special sanctions, and even paying out of his pocket, to ensure good living for his family. The owner takes a year’s rent in cash, in advance, and disappears, and the tenant is left to deal with breakages, blockages, and leakages for a full year.
What is disappointing is the lack of attention to detail, shoddily sealed corners, windows fitted with gaps large enough for lizards and other creatures to crawl into the house, squeaky doors, sometimes with handles left in the hand, or nonfunctional locks. Floors are often wooden, or even tiled, but avoid looking at the corners. We need to learn to live and let live in this tropical country, with lizards and snakes, bugs and cockroaches. Plumbing and electrical fittings are disappointing, and one prays, as in the case of medical care, that things don’t break down.
As of now, Shangri-la Apartments lead in terms of quality, provided you are happy with a fully furnished serviced apartment. Shwe Hintha, Mindamar, Pun Hliang, Seven Mile Hills and FMI City appeal to those who wish to live with personal effects they have moved with. Golden Hill has a long waiting list, while Sakura Residences, Marina and Micasa are ideal for families with small children.
With every passing month, newer apartments and houses are coming up, ready to be taken by those who can afford to pay the atrocious rents being asked. Some are not fussy, and happy with what is available for the rent they are willing to pay, there are an equal number of those wanting better houses than what they can afford. Condominiums and mega projects of complete townships are under construction and should be ready by 2016. Hopefully, an increase in supply will bring down rents.