Foreigners Accept Red Tape To Buy Property In Vietnam

Vietnam has come a long way since the real estate bubble burst a few years back.
Buyers are scooping up properties since a new law opened the market to foreigners.

Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City
Lien Hoang

HO CHI MINH CITY â€" Vietnam is hoping to see a lot more people like Haig Conolly. The Australian and his wife became the first foreigners to buy real estate in Vietnam under a new property law that took effect over the summer. Policymakers pushed the law as a way to attract foreigners and increase demand in the property market.

"We were enormously assisted everywhere we went," Conolly says. "The quality of the product is increasingly of international standard."

But that doesn't mean that transactions are simple. It's been several months since foreigners could officially take advantage of the law, but as Conolly describes it buyers are still confused about the details of contracts, whether titles will really get transferred to them, and the willingness among banks to approve mortgages.

"I think the challenges and frustrations are part and parcel of life in emerging markets, so you tend not to see them as challenges and frustrations, you just go with the flow," he says. "This is a fundamental part of the whole thing. If challenges and frustrations concern you, then to an extent you're in the wrong place. That's just a reality."

Many foreigners are taking Conolly's approach â€" working through the difficulty of investing in Vietnam because they think it'll pay off eventually.

One of the biggest difficulties foreigners complain about is that Vietnam doesn't have guidelines for how to navigate the new property law.

Chau Ta, legal counsel at SC Capital, which invests in real estate, says that creates confusion when buyers submit paperwork to local governments. "There are laws out there that allow foreign ownership, but implementing decrees aren't out yet," she explains.

David Lim, a property attorney with ZICOlaw, believes these difficulties ultimately will be sorted out, because foreigners have long been interested in Vietnam's real estate market. "I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand." he says. "You know that foreigners were only allowed to buy starting July 1, 2015. And also at the same time, I think we're just coming out of the financial crisis. So I think with the loosening of the law and the opening of the market, you'll start to see more transactions."

Foreigners are buying property for personal use, but also as large-scale investments. That's because Vietnam looks like a relatively stable place to invest compared with Thailand and Myanmar, which are undergoing political changes, and the currency volatility in Malaysia and Indonesia.

"It may be political, it may be economic, but there are things that are happening in the region right now that are destabilizing and perhaps creating some headwinds for a few of our ASEAN neighbors," Lim says.

To really take advantage of this foreign interest, Vietnam should simplify the transaction process, says Tran Nguyen, CEO of Jen Capital investors. "My suggestion would be to have a one-stop shop for all the foreigners who want to buy a unit in Vietnam," he says. "With a clear roadmap of what they've got to do, so they know even before they buy that they need to have certain documents.

If Vietnam could make buying easier, he says, it could be a very "exciting" place to invest.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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