Here’s what I’ve learned. Won’t swear to it as I’m not a real-estate or finance professional:
We bought last summer after researching the market for four years. It turned out to have been a good time to buy because the SARS scare and international events had unsettled buyers and temporarily stalled the Taipei real estate market.
It’s come roaring back. Now is not a good time to buy. Prices are escalating. Taipei metro’s economy and the stock market are doing well. Steel prices are skyrocketing, driving construction costs and hence the cost of real estate up. (China is sucking up steel and other commodities at a record rate this year.) It’s also an election year so the government is juicing up the economy as much as possible. Because the rust-provinces of south/central Taiwan are on the skids, laid-off Taiwanese workers from the south are flocking to Taipei where the jobs still are, driving up demand for housing further.
Taipei county may be a good bet in general because my understanding is some parts will be incorporated into Taipei city, increasing amenities and thus property values.
Many of the norms of the real estate market in the U.S. don’t seem to apply here to any great extent other than location, location, location. Distress sales, fixer-uppers, motivated owners – none of these seemed to be real factors here. Chinese property owners seemed perfectly content to sit on property and only sell at market highs.
We did find bank foreclosure sales at good prices but the locations and buildings were uniformly rotten.
Our good fortune came as a result of finding a building owner who was motivated to close out the last remaining units of a good apartment complex last summer when SARS and war in Iraq really seemed to cast a pall over the future in everyone’s mind. Finding an apartment with a good floor plan was also very challenging here. Most Taipei apartment floor plans have real deficiencies which make me question whether professional architects are typically involved in planning them.
The only principle which seems to be in a buyer’s favor here and the one which we exploited is the heightened tendency to engage in superstitious group-think here. Wait for a time when nearly everyone is convinced unlucky times have arrived, the gods are displeased, the economy may be poised to fall off a SARS cliff in the very near future. That’s about the only thing which will soften up a Taiwan seller. Taxi drivers are a particularly good barometer as to when this auspicious time to buy has arrived. When they start telling you that it’s not a good time to buy and only a fool would be thinking about getting into real estate, then you know the herd is moving in the right direction finally and it’s time to close a deal.
Conversely, when they’re telling you real estate is looking good, don’t expect to pay anything less than top dollar. Just spend that time finding those rare buildings with a good floor plan, built by a good construction company (research this, this is important) and with good management.