Luxury real estate in Cebu is a long conversation – ready-to-move in condo units or building a house from scratch? City views or beachside living? Urban lifestyle or a long drive to town?
When houses in the gated bastions of Cebu’s Maria Luisa Park or NorthtownHomes are priced at a cool fifty million pesos or more, no one bats an eyelash anymore. Although houses in Manila’s old rich enclave of Dasmariñas Village regularly start at three times that amount; at neighboring Forbes Park, the same price gets a measly thousand square meters lot, if anything at all, numbers like these doesn’t happen often in Cebu. It has occurred of course. Ten years or so ago, the one time residence of furniture tycoon Paul Maitland Smith, an estate with fabulous views of the city was listed at one hundred fifty million pesos, or the grand purchase of the Lhuilliers (yes, Monique’s parents) of former governor Lito Osmeña’s iconic Salakot House, which they promptly tore down to build an even more fabulous mountaintop abode.
The country has entered a new era of prosperity, where clearly big is always better. When high-walled properties are rented out at P200,000 or more a month, local residents are more than ready to move out. Renters are typically expats with unlimited expense accounts. Buyers are locals seeking to upgrade, or as is seen lately, affluent foreigners married to someone from here.
The Philippines outdated law on foreigners owning land more than 2,000 square meters is a hindrance for sure, and this is where the big condo developers come in, offering a myriad of choices, ranging from 4 to 40 million peso units. The new reality in the city’s landscape is full of vertical real estate, with three leading developers all offering strong unique character of their own. Ayala Land Premiere started the trend with two projects – the 1016 Residences and Park Point Residences both located around the vicinity of bustling Ayala Mall, followed by Federal Land’s three towers comprising Marco Polo Residences. Megaworld’s masterplanned community of Newtown in Mactan Island is an ambitious mixed used community anchored by an initial offering of two five-storey BPO buildings and four residential towers, patterned after its highly successful township of Eastwood City, in Libis, Quezon City. The 16-hectare community is ideally located close to the international airport and the beaches of Mactan Island. It is marketed to Japanese retirees as well as the expected growing community of workers in the BPO centers. Top management will vie for the penthouse units, of which there are 14 planned per building.
Noli Hernandez, president of Megaworld Cebu Properties says, “Our most expensive units are the corner units in the top floors where there is an expansive view, and a certain premium and prestige attached to ownership.”
Not to be outdone, Cebu’s horizontal developments are competing aggressively for those who want a home with gardens and pools. In the high-end market, there are three big players as well. MRO’s Maria Luisa Estate Park is a well established hillside village of almost 200 hectares, Aboitizland’s Northtown and Pristina North comes next with its tree lined streets and sidewalks, both located in the northern Banilad area of the city. The latest addition to this list of prestigious addresses is Genvi’s Monterrazas de Cebu, an 80-hectare development in the south, with a majority of homesites inclined to great city views.
Why is it the best time to buy in Cebu? Because there are still some good buys to be had. Blessed with both sea and mountain access, the island of Cebu unfortunately has only 30% of livable land, the majority are not conducive to city living. The growing economic boom in BPOs have not shown any signs of slowing, and the need for affordable properties and rentals are being filled slowly as condominiums continue to be built. Still, there is a need for caution in vertical developments. Some lot owners take it upon themselves to be developers without the necessary acumen and resources, and they flood the market with sub-par units. Pricing is also a sticky point. As Alice Plaza, a long time RE broker explained, “there are some developers pricing their units same as those in Manila, at more than P100,000 per square meter. How can that be when the lot prices in Manila are four times higher than the most expensive real estate in Cebu?” she asks. A more realistic figure for high end units with all the bells and whistles, according to her, should hover around P100,000. For lower end units, prices should be P20,000 less. Residential lot prices are more reasonable, with the three top developers offering P12,000 for non-view lots to P20,000 per square meter for prime properties with city and mountain views. Commercial properties in the major hub like the Cebu Business Park and IT Park are set at P40,000 to P50,000 per square meter. Buyers can surely benefit from strong competition and attractive financing offers from both developers and banks with interest rates that are historically lower than ever.
Major developers have come in to create world-class communities that embody an upwardly moving lifestyle, and many homegrown companies have followed suit. Now, real estate companies are finding their own niches and identifying features that address the varying price margins and design preferences that homeowners today are looking out for.
It’s progress that isn’t hard to understand, considering the growth of Cebu’s other industries, providing an estimate of 11,000 new jobs in the past year alone. Tourists continue to come in, growing exponentially every year. Cebu is clearly in the throes of becoming a global city, and the sprouting up of world-class residential units are an indication of the improving standard of living to come. Of course, if you can afford to shell out the money for a Maria Luisa estate, go right ahead. The rest of the population will just have to pretend they’re not green with envy.