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Thu, Dec 30, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Investors `lose everything' in tsunamis

PROPERTY DAMAGE Southern Thailand was considered a paradise for those looking to buy a luxury home near the beach, but many people's dreams have been shattered

AFP , HONG KONG

Expatriates who ploughed fortunes into building dream homes and holiday villas on the sun-kissed shores of paradise islands in Asia were left counting the cost of Sunday's destructive tsunamis.

Luxury properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars were not spared the ocean's wrath as huge tidal waves swept many into the sea and inflicted heavy damage on others in popular expat havens such as Thailand and Sri Lanka.

And with property brokers saying that few owners would have insured their investments against such a natural disaster, many investors will be unlikely to recoup their losses.

Entire towns and villages throughout Southeast Asia and South Asia were destroyed by 10m high waves sparked by a massive submarine earthquake off the coast of Indonesia measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale.

More than 55,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands left homeless.

While the majority of the homes destroyed were ramshackle huts erected haphazardly by the region's beach-dwelling poor, among them were many properties bought or built by overseas investors.

"The southeast of Sri Lanka is one that has been very heavily invested in by foreign buyers and that was the area worst hit," said Iqbal Cassim, manager of LankaProperty.net, a Colombo-based property agency that specializes in overseas sales and lets. "It's too early to say what the damage was, but I am sure many of the homes destroyed were owned by foreigners."

Most of Sri Lanka's overseas investors are from Singapore or Hong Kong. One of them, Hong Kong-based designer Andrew Rutherford, owns several properties south of the capital.

A home he commissioned for one plot was completed only the day before the tsunamis hit. Although the home remains structurally sound the downstairs was wrecked and all his furniture was lost.

"The water just made mincemeat of very heavy wooden doors and washed in and simply pulled the furniture out," Rutherford told reporters from New Delhi two days after the disaster. "Ironically, I was meant to go to the place to sort out insurance the day it happened."

Whether he would have been able to find a policy that would have covered him for such an event is doubtful, Cassim said.

"When they lost their homes, they lost their investments too," he said. "It's very rare to have your property insured against acts of God."

"It's not really the sort of thing you can insure against -- it's an act of God and therefore unlikely to be covered in many insurance policies," agreed Richard Lusted, owner of Siam Real Estate, which is based in Thailand's Phuket island, one of the many places affected.

However, Lusted said his business would hardly be affected by the devastation caused to the western side of Phuket.

While the island is rapidly becoming a popular place for foreigners to build and buy holiday homes, Lusted says very few were affected by the pounding waves.

"There aren't many on that side of the island," he said. "The beach property there is just too expensive and usually goes to the hotels and resorts."

Lusted believes the market, which has boomed in the past few years, will remain buoyant.

"I think people realize that these things only happen once in a very long while," he said. "The market is too strong for something as rare as this to have much of an effect."

Rutherford, who is in the process of selling off some of his property, believes foreign investors will always be prone to such calamities as they insist on living close to beaches.

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