by Rene Villaroman/AJPress
CARSON — The Philippines still enjoys a bullish real estate market despite all the depressing economic conditions worldwide and those brought about by conditions in the United States. “The Philippines is still good because properties are being driven by end-users, not by speculation,” said Robert Sobrepena, the 53-year-old Chairman and CEO of Fil-Estate Group of Companies, which is headquartered in Metro Manila, Philippines.
“The buyers are people who use the units. They live in it, retire in it, and some buy properties for their families,” Sobrepena told Asian Journal during an interview at the office of Fil-Estate Global in Carson on Wednesday. “So that kind of demand is always good and sustainable.”
Sobrepena said the real estate market in the country is not a bubble. “That’s dangerous, just like here and because of the subprime (mess) and other conditions,” Sobrepena said. “In Manila in the Philippines, it’s pretty much driven by demand, and units are being bought up by end-users. It’s sustainable. That’s why it’s held up despite the crash of property (values) here. Property values are still appreciating, still strong, still sustainable, and developers are putting out more projects,” he said.
Real estate development has continued its furious pace despite the fact that Manila is inexorably running out of lands. But Metro Manila keeps growing, and real estate development has moved out of the traditional boundaries of Manila to the edges of surrounding provinces.
“Manila is fast expanding; it’s getting bigger,” says Sobrepena. “Right now, Metro Manila has reached all the way to Alabang; all the way to areas close to Bulacan. It’s a huge area, and it is continuing to grow.” The rising population in Manila, now estimated at 15 million people—and continuing to grow—is also helping to sustain the real estate market. Sobrepena said that Fil-Estate Properties’s profile shows that his company’s market is composed of 70 percent Filipinos and 30 percent foreigners.
As early as 15 years ago, Fil-Estate Properties and Fil-Estate Lands had foreseen that there would be a bump in the tourismretirement and leisure industries, and these companies directed their resources to developing infrastructure to satisfy these growing market. “We’ve focused on developing our land bank, which totals 3000 hectares, towards leisure, tourism and retirement type facilities. It would take from 10 to 12 years to develop these, but our focus will be on the best amenities and facilities, not just for Filipinos but also for foreigners,” Sobrepena said.
For example, Fil-Estate Properties’ two hotels in Camp John Hay, a former US Military property, enjoys 80 percent occupancy rates all year round. Part of the Fil-Estate Lands’ holdings and real estate developments are in Boracay, where they own almost 80 percent of the island, and in areas around Tagaytay City in the Southern Luzon province of Cavite. Fil-Estate Properties also has been invited to build golf courses in the island of Palawan.
And speaking of foreigners, Sobrepena thinks the largest and closest market is China. “In China the family structure is an inverted triangle: four grandparents, two parents and one child,” he said. “That’s a huge potential market for retirees who want to come the Philippines,” he said. “China is a huge market because it has a very old population.” Sobrena had been to China many times, building golf courses for the Chinese people.
Fil-Estate has also started the international marketing of their choicest properties in the Philippines to Southern California and the rest of the US. Fil-Estate Global, Fil-Estate Group of Companies’ international marketing network, formally opened its offices at 1 Civic Plaza Drive, Suite 310, Carson City, CA last June 20, 2008. With the establishment of Fil-Estate Global, Filipinos from the US and other parts of the world will realize their dream of owning a place to retire someday or put some of those hard-earned dollars into a worthwhile investment in a country that shows great promise.
Sobrepena has a lot of faith in his country. “Look at our history, beginning from the Martial Law (years). There was always turmoil and instability. But the Philippines is maturing as a democracy. There was a good and smooth transfer of power from Corazon Aquino to Fidel Ramos. [Joseph] “Erap” [Estrada] was a popular President, but he was not disciplined, and the country suffered from a momentary crisis when he was taken out of power,” he said. “But Filipinos have learned to have faith in elections. Out of the last four presidents, there was only one period of political instability. It’s getting better.”
“People have also learned that corruption does not pay, because you will lose your mind,” he said. “Ours is a very young democracy, but we are the only democracy in Asia. People are learning that EDSA-type People-Power Movements are no longer effective because it does not promote stability. People would rather wait for the next election.”
Sobrepena has arrived, and he is confident with that achievement. His seven children, ages 15 to 25, are studying in different schools in the United States. “Some are in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and in New York, but they all intend to come back and work in the Philippines after they graduate.” Sobreprena also has taken the sport of golf because he was asked by Jack Nicklaus, who designed the golf courses in Baguio City. First, it was basketball—he is about 7 feet tall—then tennis. “Now that I am becoming slower, I’ve taken up golf,” he said.