Tuesday 03 Oct 2023
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This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on November 7, 2022 - November 13, 2022

Newly minted International Real Estate Federation (Fiabci) Malaysia president Datuk Firdaus Musa is a busy man, especially since the start of his stewardship in August this year. In addition to his duties at Fiabci and running his own firm Firdaus & Associates, the registered valuer, real estate agent and property manager also juggles family and the occasional game of golf.

Before rushing off for his next meeting in ­Melaka, he tells City & Country at the boardroom of Fiabci Malaysia’s headquarters in Mont’Kiara about his two-year (2022 to 2024) tenure, and his overall plans for the organisation.

“I am a bit of a traditionalist,” he admits. “I believe we must create a strong base for the company, and as the Malay proverb goes: ‘sedikit-sedikit, lama-lama jadi bukit’, which directly translates to ‘little by little, after a while, it will amount to a hill’. That is my mantra for my career.”

Firdaus likens the proverb to his journey at Fiabci Malaysia. Starting off as an ordinary member, he was later appointed the evaluator at the Malaysia Property Award for several years, before becoming treasurer for three terms and now, president.

As for Firdaus & Associates, which he started in 1998 as a sole proprietorship, the firm has since expanded to 10 offices throughout the country with separate entities for each professional discipline. 

“[They are] Firdaus & Associates Property Professionals for valuation and consultancy, Firdaus & Associates Real Estate Agency for agency work, and Firdaus & Associates Property Management Services for property management of strata and commercial properties,” he explains.

“My career highlights would be my overall achievement in the real estate fraternity, where I held several posts in various associations.” 

On his management philosophy, Firdaus shares that he is a firm believer in empowerment and engagement. “I would encourage my staff to give their input and suggestions that are in line with management objectives and take on responsibilities. It is important to engage with stakeholders, have direct communication with various personnel, communicate and listen to issues and recommendations.”

During his two-year tenure, Firdaus plans to take Fiabci Malaysia to the next level. “I am committed to ensuring the relevance of Fiabci Malaysia in the real estate sector and fraternity by having constant dialogue with our principal members, the government and stakeholders on issues pertaining to real estate.

“A few initiatives have been planned to further strengthen Fiabci Malaysia. We aim to be the leading voice in the industry.”

Industry highlights and challenges

A global network with membership opened to all real estate professionals, Fiabci aims to maximise business opportunities by sharing information and contacts. Its chapters currently operate in 60 countries, with 120 professional organisations and a total membership of more than 1.5 million. All the real estate disciplines are based in four principal regions — Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe.

Under Firdaus’ leadership, Fiabci Malaysia organises several programmes. “The ones that are on a regular basis, such as the Monthly Morning Talk, would feature eminent speakers who share their expertise, knowledge and experience on current industry issues,” he explains. The federation also conducts study tours, and organises the Malaysia Property Award and Fiabci World Prix d’Excellence Awards to recognise projects in Malaysia and abroad.

“Our Malaysia Property Award is a prestigious award that many developers or owners refer to as a benchmark for excellence in their development projects.

“We also have our Weekly Industry Updates, which provide industry news covering a few regions including Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Australia, exclusively to our members to give them the industry insights for their project planning,” he shares.

“Our inaugural Malaysia Developers Award is a joint collaboration with The Star that recognises well-deserved local property developers for their effort and hard work in building the nation; it aims to propel developers to reach for greater innovations and performance amid the challenges.”

Firdaus highlights other programmes such as the Strata Management Time Bomb Seminar, jointly organised with the Malaysian Shopping Malls Association (PPK), which aims to provide members with an opportunity to get up-to-date developments in the various aspects of the real estate industry, specifically in property management.

Fiabci also holds a bi-annual members’ gathering for members to catch up and network in a casual manner. Its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, meanwhile, focuses on education opportunities for underprivileged children, including those from the orang asli community. “All these programmes are effective in their own ways,” he observes.

Firdaus addresses the current obstacles in the industry. “First and foremost is the hike in the cost of building materials … According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DoSM), the Building Materials Cost Index (BCI) for all building categories in Malaysia increased between 0.2% and 22% in August compared with a year ago.

“The hike will lead to higher prices of properties in the market, and eventually, fewer new property launches. We can see a 30% to 40% price hike in raw materials, especially coal, cement and steel, which affects the costs in building materials and the construction industry greatly. These costs will inevitably be transferred to developers or absorbed by the construction companies to a certain extent,” he says.

Firdaus also points out the shift in consumer preference and demand. “The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed the way we work and live. Homebuyers realised that lower-density areas like on the outskirts of towns or townships offer increased benefits, with a daily commute off the table for nearly two years.

“Today, homebuyers are likely to purchase landed property as it offers more spacious layouts, allowing them to set up a home office, and this has had a ripple effect on the secondary property market. The two-year working-from-home [period] may also result in a lower purchasing rate [of] office properties, which offers more savings in terms of operations cost, office rental and so on,” he adds.

Firdaus highlights the effects of changes in government policies. “The sudden temporary suspension of the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme in 2020, amid the pandemic, caused some confusion in the industry, especially among the developers as some development projects are heavily dependent on foreign homebuyers as their main target consumers.

“And the reinstatement of the MM2H programme with new criteria did not improve the condition much as they are stricter and a little unfriendly to both existing and new MM2H visa holders. The hike in the OPR (overnight policy rate) by 25 basis points to 2.5% will result in more expensive borrowing costs for consumers. Banks will revise the costs following the increase in OPR by Bank Negara Malaysia, resulting in higher interest rates for homebuyers and businesses. The higher cost can limit personal and commercial access to capital. In short, homebuyers will need to pay higher monthly instalments and the loan tenure is longer,” he says.

Nonetheless, Firdaus observes that the local development projects are on par with overseas development projects. “Many of our local projects have done us proud by winning the Fiabci World Prix d’Excellence Awards each year. Our developers are constantly learning and improving in terms of technological advancement, architectural designs, environment preservation and so on.

“Our overseas guests are often impressed by Malaysian projects when they come to visit award-winning ones. However, I’d encourage local developers to learn from the projects abroad and adopt what they have learnt into their future projects, bring some new ideas in, and help to build a more sustainable community in Malaysia.

“My hope is for Fiabci Malaysia to stay relevant in the industry, to be the voice for all principal members, and to have more interaction and discussions with the government, relevant authorities and stakeholders.

“During my tenure as president, I pledge to put in my best effort to address the current key industry issues with the national committee, and work closely with the media to let more people know about Fiabci Malaysia. I am also looking into [expanding] operational offices in the northern, central and southern regions as well as east of Malaysia. Currently, we have our northern region office based in Penang, and for the central region, our HQ is in KL,” he concludes.

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