Until recently very few Westerners had the chance to visit Myanmar as the former British colony spent the last 50 years being ruled by a military regime with a questionable human rights and democracy record, leading to sanctions being imposed by Western governments. But according to a report in Reuters, it looks as if things are changing.
Ten months ago, former junta general President Thein Sein came to office as a civilian leader, and set about implementing economic and political reforms at a breakneck speed. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visited the country at the end of 2011, and UK foreign secretary William Hague visited earlier this month, raising the profile of Myanmar. Locals are hopeful that sanctions will soon be lifted, and businessmen are already looking towards investing in the country which has rich resources of gas, oil, timber and gems.
Yangon (formerly Rangoon) was once the capital city of Myanmar until it was relocated to Naypyitaw in 2005, yet it remains the country's economic center. Now, it appears to be undergoing something of a real estate boom with companies competing fiercely for what little office space is available. Prices have doubled over the past 12 months from $25 a square metre to $50 per square metre, and its anticipated rents will rise by up to 30% during the next few months. Occupancy rates are 99% compared to 75% a year ago. Hotels in the city have been fully booked over the past few months, and villas that cost just a few thousand dollars to rent 12 months ago are now costing an eye watering $50,000 a year even for something quite mediocre.
At the moment foreigners are unable to buy real estate in Myanmar, although they may be able to sign a lease as long as they have a partner locally. Apparently officials are looking at amending the law on foreign investments, but it could take several years before foreigners are allowed to own apartments. In spite of this real estate prices are still rising quite rapidly in anticipation of the sanctions being lifted.