Among the economic and social trends spurred by the pandemic, decentralization stands out as a major global phenomenon. From the US and Europe to Southeast Asia, people are moving out of major urban areas and into less densely populated towns and cities—or as Metro Manila urbanites like to call it, “the province.” But for Grant Cheng, CFO of Cebu Landmasters—the largest developer in Visayas and Mindanao—life outside Metro Manila presents a wealth of opportunity and could not be further than small-town stereotypes.
“I challenge the notion of places outside Metro Manila as the province,” said Cheng. “If you think about Cebu and Davao, and places like Bacolod, Bohol, CDO, Iloilo; these places offer everything that Manila has, albeit at a smaller scale.”
Cebu Landmasters’ residential sales seem to support this notion. The company had a record year in 2020 with P14.2 billion in residential sales, up 12 percent from 2019. Cheng said this was driven in large part by people moving out of Manila and settling back into their respective hometowns.
Even before the pandemic, housing demand in the Philippines vastly exceeded supply. And with the recent urban exodus, the hotspots for demand are in burgeoning towns and cities.
“Every year, there are 800,000 new households looking for new homes, and 42 percent of that comes from VismMn,” said Cheng. As much as developers are building, they are only able to supply about a quarter of this need annually.
But what types of properties do people look for? Cheng said there is a clear preference for landed properties. A lot of this is cultural, as owning a home on a plot of land has long been an aspiration for many Filipinos. But since the pandemic and the advent of work from home, many homebuyers now prioritize personal space, comfort, and amenities.
“Would you want to live in a city apartment with people crammed into one household, or in a well-developed subdivision with great amenities and property management?” asked Cheng.
According to him, Cebu Landmasters sets itself apart by taking the guesswork out of homebuying. All horizontal developments are “house and lot” so that residents can move in as soon as possible. “When we ask our customers to invest a significant amount of their resources into a home, we’ll build it for them so they can move into the finished product.”
Affordable developments with price tags as low as P1.5 million to P3 million come with amenities such as swimming pools, basketball courts, and tennis courts. The company puts an emphasis on quality property management to ensure that homeowners’ investments are well taken care of for decades to come.
After the dust settles on the pandemic, will people leave their hometowns to return to Metro Manila? Cheng is optimistic that people will remain in smaller cities and that the Philippines will follow the development trajectory of countries like Japan, China, and the US—economies that are not dependent on one urban center but many prosperous cities across the country.
According to Cheng, both the public and private sector are laying the groundwork for this, with a focus on untapped regions. Telcos are upgrading their networks in second and third tier cities, foreign investors are taking advantage of lower start-up costs in Visayas and Mindanao, and projects such as Cebu’s international airport are setting the bar for world-class infrastructure in the Philippines.
And this can only serve to make “the province” the driving force for economic opportunity in the country. “This is a chance for us to reacquaint ourselves with our own country and all the opportunities out there,” said Cheng. “When someone asks themselves ‘where can I achieve my dreams?’ I look forward to the day when the answer can be anywhere in the Philippines.”