Until the tsunami swept its devastation across Phuket’s west coast on Boxing Day 2004, the island was known in Europe and the Americas only to a relative handful of globetrotters. But in the massive media blitz that followed the natural diasaster, images of the survivors flashed around the world and suddenly, a good many people were asking, as one resident recalls: “Why are there so many Scandinavians, Germans and Australians on this little island that we’ve never heard of?”
In sending out global broadcasts about a largely unknown luxury destination, the tsunami proved to be both the island’s destroyer, and its eventual saviour. Within a few years, Phuket found itself, unaccountably, in the midst of a massive property boom – one that continues to this day.
“The tsunami never really affected the value of Phuket’s real estate,” says one industry insider. “Nobody panicked. Nobody dumped their property and ran away.”
Instead, investments have, along with the tourists, continued to pour in, with much of the growth taking place at the high end of the property market. For investors, many of whom fly in on their private jets from Hong Kong and the Middle East for a bit of sun and real estate retail therapy, Phuket’s attractions are varied. These range from good international schools, sailing, golf courses and hospitals to a solid network of roads, superb cuisine, diving, and postcard-perfect stretches of powdery white beaches.
Low-density resorts that cater to the more sophisticated, deep-pocketed traveller, in particular, are busy adding additional private villas for sale – these are then turned back into the resort’s room inventory, with the owner getting, in exchange for a convenient holiday destination, guaranteed blocks of stay and an attractive income stream.
A case in point is The Residences by Anantara – the Anantara Layan Phuket Resort’s recent launch of 15 luxury split-level three-, five-, and eight-bedroom residences. Each is attractively terraced into the sides of a low-slung hill on the edge of a quiet cove overlooking the Andaman Sea. In this, one of his last projects before his untimely death last year, interior designer Jaya Ibrahim conceived an “Asia-lite” mood board of intricately carved timber ceilings, handwoven rugs, bronze lamps, ceramics, and acres of travertine and terrazzo.
To say these living spaces with their 4.6m-high ceilings are generous is to severely understate matters. The three-bedroom residence (a spec that doesn’t include the entertainment and relaxation zones) clocks in at 1,695 sq m, while the eight-bedroom model is a 3,000 sq m pasha’s palace.
Across the 15 residences, the standard first floor plan comprises three palatial pavilions – master bedroom, lounge and dining room – that stretch along the 21m-long blue-tiled lap pool, a rooftop garden, a lower level of secondary bedrooms, a study, entertainment rooms, and service quarters for the in-residence staff; and, hidden behind a series of doors and corridors, a fully kitted-out commercial kitchen – all of which are overseen by a 24/7 butler, sommelier, chef and crew.
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The price for this level of conspicuous luxury? The three-bedroom starts at US$7 million (S$9.5 million) – for both freehold and leasehold ownership for 30 years, with an option to renew for two consecutive terms – with an annual management fee that starts from US$23,000 (based on a 480 baht (S$18) per sq m rate). By way of comparison, a four-bedroom villa at the legendary Amanpuri is currently on the market for US$19 million with an annual management fee that starts from US$140,000.
While an owner is away, the resort offers a flexible rental programme in which his residence is let out as a hotel room, with rack rates starting at around US$3,000 per night in the low season.
“The prestige associated with owning branded residences, along with the knowledge that the residences are managed by a group of knowledgeable hospitality experts, gives buyers peace of mind that they are investing their money in the best and most meaningful way,” says Micah Tamthai, the vice-president of real estate for Minor International, the developer of the residences.
“They do not have to worry about finding tenants. Instead, they can rely on Minor’s professional team and global network to work on their return on investment. The luxury property market in Phuket is quite stable and there are limited supplies.”
“Nobody panicked. Nobody dumped their property and ran away.”
– Industry insider on the value of the island’s real estate.
For Minor, The Residences by Anantara are something of a trial run, a canny diversification of a heady real estate portfolio that already covers 146 hotels, six hotel brands and 19,000 rooms in 22 countries. In the pipeline are Anantara Chiang Mai Serviced Suites, which are due to open later this year, and Anantara Residences in Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka will be ready within the next two years.
Despite the increasing haul of luxury residences, it’s clear that big, established industry players like Anantara are playing for keeps as they push Phuket to become the region’s leading tropical island property market and idyllic playground. Every other day, something new opens. The drive to Surin Beach is festooned with huge billboards promoting seafront villas and glossy new resorts.
With so much on offer, the beneficiaries of this boom are the sunscreen-toting, cashed-up tourist investors who are truly spoilt for choice. And they’re all the happier for it.