For a majority of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), owning a home back in the Philippines is a top priority, if not the priority. Among the primary factors they would consider are location and, most importantly, finances.
And while the unprecedented situation borne out of the coronavirus outbreak isn't providing any help, it was also this that two Dubai-based Filipinos, Noel de Leon and Ian Dionson, built on an idea and address those factors via the company they founded, iSmart.House.
This isn't a garden-variety home proposition: They offer modular house, a fast-growing concept around the world that is both intriguing and a highly-viable option.
Modular housing, in the simplest terms, is the process of using prefabricated parts or sections - modules - to build homes. Advocates of this segment tout its flexibility and cost-effectiveness, without sacrificing quality and durability.
Modular construction has been in the Philippines for several years, but has somewhat flown under the radar thanks to slow adaption and misconceptions, among which are lack of familiarity, perceived high costs and the inability of local contractors to meet its unique requirements.
Logistical issues such as port facilities that are able to handle the size and weight of modular units and roads that are too narrow for the machinery required are also a challenge.
And it is in other countries where Filipinos are getting more familiar with the concept; OFWs in the UAE, in particular, can look to Box Park in Dubai or any pop-up shops that use a similar if not exactly the same concept.
"In addition, since they are often well-travelled, many of them have more exposure to different types of modular construction. Education is always the key," De Leon, iSmart's head of production management and development, told Khaleej Times.
Dionson is head of marketing at the company, which offers services ranging from home design consultancy to fitouts and construction management to financial advice.
iSmart, citing their own survey, found out that 66 per cent of Filipino respondents in the UAE said they were either planning or are in the middle of planning of buying or building their own homes, with about half of them claiming to be in the midst of the process.
And while condominiums are fairly popular especially for singles and couples just starting out, only 10 per cent of respondents had it in their plans. The most popular - and dream property for most Filipinos - was a house and lot, with 58 per cent of those surveyed saying this was their dream.
"It was nearly an even split when we asked them if they found homes that they were interested in... a deeper probe revealed that many of our countrymen don't think the costs were reasonable, nor were they suited to their tastes," De Leon said.
A distant third reason, he added, was proximity to their places of interest.
Prices in the Southeast Asian nation's residential property market, according to a recent report from Global Property Guide
A recent report from the country's Department of Trade and Industry
And even if most of local developers have offered mid-to-high-end housing units, there apparently isn't much interest. The DTI says there was a surplus of nearly half-a-million units in the market, while the economic to low-cost housing segment has a deficit of over two million units.
The coronavirus pandemic obviously isn't helping: Rosie Tsai, president of the Subdivision and Housing Developers Association - a group of 320 developers that includes heavyweights Ayala Land and SM Development - said in a recent interview with the Philippine Star that developers will face up to a 30 per cent decline in sales for the year as Covid slows demand and stalls new projects.
To address the need for more housing, several condominium and micro-apartment projects have risen in Metro Manila, but these do not necessarily appeal to those who live outside of the area; the severe need for public infrastructure such as roads and transportation to meet residents' demand is a determining factor.
The only way many Filipinos could see is to find ways to live comfortably in their own home provinces. Modular housing, therefore, can come as a very feasible option.
"The response has been very positive, as we have received a lot of interest to builds in different areas of the Philippines, not just in mainland Luzon, ranging from a studio, to a two-storey bungalow and a fully-furnished hostel," De Leon said.
"These, for us, are encouraging signs that we are on a worthwhile endeavour to help the overseas Filipino build their way home."
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