Finding A Decent Apartment in Yangon

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.

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Renting a Home in Yangon

Rents and Yangon’s Real Estate Reality

Myanmar figures high on the list of governments, NGOs and companies, to set up offices and explore opportunities to capture a segment of the nearly 60 million consumers the country has to offer, till recently starved of the latest in products and services. This probably explains the full flights, overcrowded airport and an increasing number of expatriates looking for places to stay, not to mention the locals returning home, often after decades of being overseas.

Even a city like Yangon is not quite ready to provide quality homes and offices to so many people. Latest construction features are not easy to come by, and upscale, modern condominiums can still be counted in single digits. Bungalows are available more easily, but again, very few qualify as modern. It is disappointing to see run down places put up for rent, and owners ask for atrociously high rents. Many house owners, living in their houses, wish to move out and expect prospective tenants to move in to the house, as it is, without their having to spend any money to upgrade, renovate,clean or improve the premises. It is only the very few owned by Myanmar people living overseas that are better to consider renting.

In the last twenty months of being here, we have seen rents sky rocket, and have had to helplessly pay whatever the house owner demands, for an apartment that could be rented at 45% of our present rent in places like Bangkok.

The reasons for this, are not far to seek. There is a clear demand supply imbalance, with expatriates moving in with their families and wanting good homes…to make up for what seems to be missing in the city and country. As Myanmar opened its doors to foreign companies, scores of employees have been brought in, to fill key positions and spearhead the market invasion envisaged, to create a name and place for their products. Senior positions obviously mean that the accommodation provided is of a certain standard.

Till 2012, many expatriates would move in alone, and stay in serviced apartments at Sakura Residence, Golden Hill, Micasa or Marina, Inya Lake Hotel, and more recently,  Shangri-la Residence.  The Grand Mee Ya Hta in downtown Yangon, next to the Scott Market, was a favored residence for corporates, but it is closed now and likely to be pulled down.  The trend has changed visibly with families moving in now, and there is a need for larger apartments that look and feel like home, not a hotel.

Bungalows or stand alone houses appeal to many wanting a taste of living with a garden, double storeyed living areas, and abundance of space. However, here houses pose challenges since there are power failures, which means having power backup that has to be switched on each time-it may not always be easy to find an automatic switch over. Internet connectivity, satellites for television programs, switching on water pumps to ensure continuous water supply indoors, keeping a bug free home, not reacting to lizards and snakes, are some of the challenges which many of us find daunting. Of course, we learn to live and let live, and we scale down our level of expectations of both standards and services.

There are endless stories of expats who rented landed property initially, moved out and shifted to apartments at the first opportunity. A few select condominiums appeal immensely. These include Shwe Hintha, Mindamar, Golden Rose, and a handful more, which offer facilities like gyms, swimming pool, security, and perhaps some English speaking service staff.

Things to remember while renting a property

  1. Rent for a whole year is to be paid in advance
  2. It is still an owner’s market and everything depends on his whims and wishes
  3. Demand for quality residences far outstrips supply
  4. International standards need to be forgotten
  5. A few house owners are kind and considerate
  6. A three-bedroom apartment can cost between $4000-8000 per month.
  7. Real estate agents play a big role in controlling the rental market and even pushing up rents.
  8. Multinationals needing scores of apartments are willing to pay any amount to secure good homes for their employees, or else, few may want to stay for long.

Plenty of new construction is visible, and as a friend said, “two years ago I used to see Pagodas all around, now I only see cranes”.  People like me are waiting for supply to increase, quality homes to appear, and for us to have the luxury of choice. In another 12-18 months, some apartment building should be ready, and till then, we will have to accept the homes we are living in, and continue to pay sky high rentals.