Choosing to Invest in Cebu, the “Queen City of the South”

by Steve Van Derodar

For the longest time, Cebu holds the title of being the “Queen City of the South.” This is culturally and economically supported by facts unique to the province, for one, its strategic location and second, its solid foreign direct investments throughout the years. Since the trading ports of Sinibuyang Hingpit days, to Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival claiming the land for Charles I of Spain in 1521, which is marking a 500th anniversary in 2021, to the rise of Lapu-Lapu, to permanent Spanish settlement establishment in 1565, to its Sinulog Festivals attracting visitors all over the world, Cebu maintains its magnet of attraction, and is the sought-after destination South of the Philippines.

As the country’s oldest city during Spanish settlement and the first capital of the Philippines, Cebu’s history is rich, colorful, and celebrated. Cebu became the “Second City” to Manila after Miguel Lopez de Legazpi turned Manila into the center of Spanish civil, military, religious and commercial activity in the islands. Cebu today is the country’s shipping hub, business processing outsourcing (BPO) favorite, a leader in export, famous for furniture, and a biodiversity haven.

“A friend agrees that the thought of landing in Cebu’s airport conjures up an indulgence into a tropical retreat, a get-away to appreciating its coastal margins and mountainous terrains with sceneries inescapable to behold.”

Almost twice the size of Metro Manila, Metro Cebu comprises Cebu City and six surrounding cities (Carcar, Danao, Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue, Naga, Talisay) and six municipalities (Compostela, Consolacion, Cordova, Liloan, Minglanilla, San Fernando). A friend agrees that the thought of landing in Cebu’s airport conjures up an indulgence into a tropical retreat, a get-away to appreciating its coastal margins and mountainous terrains with sceneries inescapable to behold. It has an average temperature of 32 °C/89°F. It was reported that there were 5,575,896 Cebu tourist arrivals in 2018.

Intriguingly, pitted against, Metro Cebu is often compared with Metro Manila. Cebu is the richest province in the Philippines as its total assets in 2019 reached P188 billion, which translates also to a rising housing boom in both investments and principal residential use. Its P34 billion remittances in 2019 is another driver to the economy. While admittedly, Manila is Manila for its magnitude and population, Cebu is not out of touch with what is in Manila. In fact, Cebu has and may offer more in some respects. If Manila has the biggest malls, entertainment and seat of the national government, Cebu, also, has large malls, resorts, beaches, and international tourism draws. Metro Cebu scores well in the region on infrastructure, disaster preparedness and access to healthcare systems. Expatistan.com reveals ‘Cost of living’ in Cebu City is 9%-14% cheaper than in Manila. This real-time comparison index is based on only a few data points. While it is still a variable guess, it is based on 1,186 prices entered by 187 different people.

“If Manila has the biggest malls, entertainment and seat of the national government, Cebu, also, has large malls, resorts, beaches, and international tourism draws. Metro Cebu scores well in the region on infrastructure, disaster preparedness and access to healthcare systems.”

On real estate, there are master-planned communities in varying locations, market segments from mid-income, (P3.2M to P5.99M), affordable (P1.7M to P3.19M) and luxury (P8M and above) and delivery types. Resorts-themed residential projects abound from various developers making Cebu with the largest condominium market ex-Manila. Also, worth mentioning is the burgeoning office and retail sector.

According to Colliers, the National Competitiveness Rank Council in 2018 had Cebu City in the 8th spot. Also, Cebu has an overall condominium stock of 42,100 units in the first quarter of 2019, with 32,050 or 76% in Cebu City. By projection, 51,900 by the end of 2021, a 26% increase. On retail, Cebu has a current supply of 1,050 million sqm of gross leasable space in first quarter 2019, with 87% in Cebu City at 915,100 sqm. By end 2021, leasable projected space is at 1,150,000 sqm in Cebu City from 1,310,000 sqm of gross leasable space in Metro Cebu.

The highest zonal values in Cebu City are found in Cebu Business Park and Cebu IT Park, and there are also competing districts: North Reclamation and South Road Properties. Few familiar high-rise developments in Cebu include Mandani Bay, 38 Park Avenue, Aruga by Rockwell, Vista Residences – Suarez, Solinea, Marco Polo Residences, AppleOne, San Remo, etc. Zonal value, a tax valuation assessment is the amount set by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) as the basis for computing taxes. It does not represent the true market value of the property. Zonal values establish realistic values of real properties which can more or less approximate the present fair market values of real properties as a basis for computing the capital gains tax, documentary stamp tax, estate tax of the donor’s tax due when the property is sold or transferred. Higher zonal values however command higher rent and its relative space.

At one gathering in a Queens restaurant in New York City, over a developer’s presentation, clients excitedly exchanged updates about Cebu. Particularly, the AppleOne Properties in Guadalupe, the development of mixed townhouses called mansionette and condo units caught the interest of buyers. They were surprised to learn that hotel and residential mix in projects has hit Cebu’s market like the Sheraton Mactan Resort and The Residences by AppleOne Mactan Inc. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., which owns Sheraton and over 435 hotels and 88 resorts in over 70 countries worldwide, offer a condominium beach development in Mactan, a development that first breached the P200,000/sqm in upscale developments. By price comparison across market segments, Cebu is still cheaper by Manila’s housing benchmarks across segments.

Asked my client on why invest in Cebu, she replied, “It felt so home. I am very connected with its energy.” “Also, it’s easy to see relatives as Cebu is a hub. It’s relatively cheaper and is less busy,” she added. It’s no wonder that three of her friends decided for the same and even said, “We are not from Cebu but have been looking for few investments in Cebu. We have an interest in townhouses and condo being in one community. There’s variety, yet we enjoy the same amenities. We chose Cebu for the lifestyle it offers.”

“Cebu is unstopping in its continued rise, rivals Bali, Phuket and Boracay in the hospitality sector. Some international residential and hotel brands have chosen Cebu for its presence in the country.”

Although, there have been reports that traffic is getting serious in Cebu but we can also say it is better than Manila, in that within 30 mins, one can get around to any point of Metro Cebu. Some interesting infrastructures ongoing in Cebu with completion year include: 2021 Cebu-Cordova Expressway Link; 2021 – Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT); and 2024 Phase 1 – Cebu-Negros bridge, 2022 – Metro Cebu Expressway.

Metro Cebu never fails in this side of the country, enchanting everyone to its ethnic homogeneity, cultural superiority, and its acclaim to progress found in this island-province. Cebu enjoys its resort-oriented, heritage-focused appeal and especially with ubiquitous affordability of domestic and international flights.

Cebu is unstopping in its continued rise, rivals Bali, Phuket and Boracay in the hospitality sector. Some international residential and hotel brands have chosen Cebu for its presence in the country. Over-all, and too many to mention, developers cannot ignore having a market share of Cebu’s boom, ob portum veniens (coming towards a port). This is obviously an example of true royalty when the Queen never surrenders its crown.

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(Stevenson’s experience in Philippine Real Estate spans more than 15 years. He has been involved in horizontal, vertical, vacation and commercial properties. He has worked as an International Property Specialist to markets in Asia, Europe and North America with Ayala Land, Federal Land and Century Properties. Through PhilHouseHunters, he offers real estate investment opportunities, marketing, and consultancy with a key focus to Metro Manila and Mega Cebu areas. Visit www.philhousehunters.com. Email at derodarsales@gmail.com.)

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