Pockets of potential in Batu Caves
Joseph Wong 
High-rise developments like Symphony Heights (left) stand out in Batu Caves as many of the housing estates are landed property

BATU Caves, despite being one of Kuala Lumpur’s most frequented tourist locations, has not seen new residential property launches.

However, this does not mean that interest in property in the suburb has declined. While it is not widely regarded as a hotspot, the demand for residential property in the enclave has been climbing steadily.

There is also an increase in land and industrial property transactions there over the past year which suggests that property development projects are in the pipeline.

The gated-and-guarded Taman Raintree comprises condominiums and houses

Over the last few years, there was a spurt in residential development within Batu Caves with developers like Hua Yang Bhd building its first high-rise project Symphony Heights, Impiana Land & Development Sdn Bhd with Taman Raintree and Jaya Megah Development Sdn Bhd offering Amara Boulevard and Service Residences.

The most recent addition is Ria @ Amaniah Mulia by Ara Asa Development Sdn Bhd, which has just been completed.

And there is a commonality among these projects – they are built on smaller land parcels due to the decreasing availability of land.

Nevertheless, this shortage of new projects has served to keep the sub-sale market healthy. The suburb saw 502 properties worth about RM330 mil transacted between October 2016 and August 2017. Of these, 401 units are residential, 54 commercial, 24 industrial and three land transactions.

Its immediate vicinity hosts about 71,000 people, says Magdelin

Batu Caves is divided into two parts – one portion residing in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Selangor, online property portal PropSocial general manager Magdelin Tan tells FocusM.

Its immediate vicinity hosts about 71,000 people, she adds. The population is predominantly Malay at nearly 64%, followed by Indians (18.6%), Chinese (11.5%) and other Bumiputeras and non-Malaysians.

“The neighbourhood of Batu Caves is one that offers affordable housing in proximity to the city, along with excellent highway connections. The majority of the residents here are in the lower-middle and middle-income group,” she says.

Moreover, the suburb is about 11km north of Kuala Lumpur, making it a prime area for redevelopment of its older buildings, and potential projects for its pockets of undeveloped land.


Key attraction

The focal point of Batu Caves is a limestone hill comprising three major caves and a number of smaller ones, and its 100-year-old temple, an important religious landmark for those of the Hindu faith.

Cathedral Cave, the largest and most popular cavern, houses several Hindu shrines beneath its 100m-high ceiling. A 140ft high statue of Lord Murugan, the tallest statue of the deity in the world unveiled in January 2006, is hard to miss as Batu Caves’ centrepiece.

There are about 50 housing projects within this neighbourhood, according to PropSocial’s data. It also has 41 schools and institutions of higher education, 28 convenience stores, 14 supermarkets and market, as well as a shopping complex.

In addition, there is a Tesco outlet at the border of Batu Caves and Taman Wahyu.

“Batu Caves gives the modern district a dose of natural wonder. Unassumingly, the town is drawing in a growing population to its core due to its modernisation through the past 10 years,” says Valerie Ong, CEO of integrated property developer and retail management specialist KIP Group.

Batu Caves is only 10 minutes from KL city centre, says Ong

“We believe the properties in Batu Caves have potential, particularly because the upgrade of major highways such as Jalan Kuching, Duke (Duta-Ulu Klang Expressway) and the MRR2 (Middle Ring Road 2) has made this area very accessible,” she says.

It is only 10 minutes to KL city centre with the upgraded highway, says Ong, who is also KIP Group executive director.

Despite this, Batu Caves does not usually pop up at first thought where property developments are concerned, notes MNP Auctioneers (Central) Sdn Bhd chief operating officer and property blogger Charles Tan.

Batu Caves is not a hotspot but demand for homes is on the rise, says Charles

“When we look at Batu Caves as an area, it is not considered a hotspot. Statistically, however, if we were to look at the number of transactions happening there, it is very clear that the demand for homes is increasing,” he adds.


Land acquisition

But what is interesting is that tracks of sizeable land and industrial properties in Batu Caves have been transacted between October 2016 and August 2017. This amounts to a collective sum of RM112.3 mil.

The largest single parcel of 1.13ha was sold for RM6.1 mil. The 11-month period also saw 54 commercial properties transacted for over RM45 mil while residential properties transacted are estimated to be worth RM167.1 mil.

A property agent also notices that there were four detached industrial properties in a row along the same road that were transacted over the period.

“Combined, the four parcels are half a hectare in size,” he says, speculating that the parcel would be used as a bigger development, likely a mixed one.

There are many industrial properties located near residential estates which make them desirable, he says.

Like Petaling Jaya’s Section 13, which is slowly transforming into mixed developments with residential elements in them, the potential is also there for Batu Caves’ industrial estates, he reasons.

There is not much land available for sale, notes Ong, who is intrigued by the recent acquisition of industrial property in the area. “We believe the acquisition around this could be sign of a redevelopment,” she says.

Similarly, KIP Group itself has also been acquiring property for redevelopment. “We have been in this area for nine years. If there is any suitable property (here), we will look into it,” says Ong.

KIP Group has 31.6ha of land in Taman Wahyu, located just next to Batu Caves, and has developed some 80% of it. “We intend to launch a new project on the remaining land (soon),” she says.


Rising values

Ong says the property value of Batu Caves and its vicinity has been steadily rising over time.

“Batu Caves is also very close to Genting Highlands, which is another tourist spot,” she says, pointing out that this also helped to boost property prices.

This trend has been much more visible since 2013, says Charles. “Where average price of residential property is concerned, it is very close to RM500,000 per unit,” he says.

“The property market on the whole has actually slowed down since 2013 and yet Batu Caves is seeing a rise in the number of transactions.

“I think this shows that when an area is less than 20 minutes away from the KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) and the price is still considered on the lower side, it will become more popular,” he says.

According to PropSocial’s Tan, the average rent listing rates for non-landed property in Batu Caves is RM1.37 per sq ft (psf) compared to landed property at RM1.43 psf. The average rent listing rate for commercial property is RM1.64 psf.

Compared to nearby Selayang, the rental rates in Batu Caves are higher than its eastern neighbour’s RM1.29 psf (for non-landed property) and RM1.04 psf (landed property). To the west of Batu Caves, Gombak shows it has a stronger demand with average rent listing rates of RM2.11 psf and RM1.78 psf, respectively.

However, even within Batu Caves, certain properties will give better rent yields than others, says the property agent.

For example, Amara Boulevard and Service Residences has an average yield of 4.8%, Taman Raintree gives 4.2% and Banjaria Court 4.9%, he says.

Amara Boulevard & Service Residences is among the non-landed properties in Batu Caves

While all three are condominium projects, Amara’s rentals are from RM950 to RM2,500 for built-ups of 829 to 1,983 sq ft while Taman Raintree’s condos and houses are let out from RM900 to RM2,350 for units measuring from 926 and 1,227 sq ft.

In contrast, Banjaria Court fetches rentals of RM1,000 to RM2,550 for units sized from 892 to 1,314 sq ft.

Naturally, the better-maintained properties would see better yields, the property agent adds.

Neighbouring Taman Wahyu on the rise

LOCATED next to Batu Caves, Taman Wahyu is thriving, being closer to Kuala Lumpur city as well as having undeveloped land which the latter lacks.

It is also the suburb that people pass on their way from the city to Batu Caves.

“Comparing 2009 till 2017, the value of (our) phases 1 to 5 town houses, link houses, semi-detached units and bungalows has increased by at least 30% while (prices at) the remaining piece of land (phases 6 to 8) have risen four fold,” says Valerie Ong, CEO of integrated property developer and retail management specialist KIP Group.

This is also partly due to the presence of government agencies such as the Inland Revenue Board (LHDN), Immigration Department as well as the Matrade Exhibition and Convention Centre which contributed to the increase in property value, she says.

“We foresee that this area is going to become more popular as there are many other developments in the neighbourhood,” says Ong, adding that KIP ventured into the hospitality industry with the opening of KIP Hotel in Taman Wahyu in 2015.

MNP Auctioneers (Central) Sdn Bhd chief operating officer and property blogger Charles Tan says while Batu Caves is worth a look when it comes to size and affordability of property and distance from city, but where its condominiums are             concerned, the choices are pretty limited.

This void, says a property agent, is being filled by the condominiums that have been developed in Taman Wahyu, among which are EcoSky by Eco World Development Group Bhd, Kiara East Suite Dex by SBC Corp Bhd and Lakeville Residences by Mah Sing Group.

“Developments like these are making living near Batu Caves appealing. Moreover, all three properties are near the Taman Wahyu KTM (Keretapi Tanah Melayu) station.

“While the KTM (Komuter) is not as appealing as the LRT (Light Rail Transit) and MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), there have been improvements in the KTM service,” he says.

But one thing is certain. It is definitely time for the developers who bought land in Batu Caves to start developing their plots, says Tan.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 267.