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Property Weekly

Escrow law protection

With the recent flurry of new developments in Dubai, investors and potential owner-occupiers have been asking me how much protection is provided for the funds they are paying developers in advance. The conversation invariably turns to the concept of escrow and how this legally binding arrangement provides substantial protection for investors.

In its simplest form, an escrow can be described as a legally recognised financial instrument held by a third party (typically a bank) on behalf of two other parties (typically a buyer and a seller) who have agreed to conduct a particular transaction in accordance with certain conditions. Funds are provided by the buyer and held by the party (bank) providing the escrow service until it receives formal advice that certain previously agreed obligations of the seller have been fulfilled, upon which time the seller can receive an amount specified in the agreement between the seller and buyer.

The use of escrow accounts by Dubai developers has now been mandated by law for the specific purpose of protecting the prepayments made by buyers for properties that are bought off-plan. This limits developers from gaining access to funds until certain construction milestones are completed, helping ensure developers are not misappropriating funds provided in advance for purposes other than which they are intended for.

Anybody can open an escrow account but a developer must first be registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera), which involves providing an expansive array of documents, ranging from details of its officers and solvency, title deeds proving ownership of the land to be developed, and no-objection certificates (NOCs) from relevant parties such as the master developer, to performance guarantees backed by a financial institution and all planning and details about the project.

Rera requires the land subject to development to be fully paid for and a title deed issued in the name of the owner. Where the owner of the land cannot register as a developer, Rera permits the owner to enter into a property development contract with an existing registered developer to develop the project on behalf of the land owner. The development contract, however, must be approved by the senior legal adviser of the Dubai Land Department to be accepted by Rera. Only when a developer is registered with Rera can it apply to open an escrow account. When selling off-plan, the developer must ensure all proceeds of the sale of the units are deposited into the escrow account and are used solely for the construction of the project. Failure to comply with the escrow law can lead to hefty fines or criminal charges, which may result in prison sentences.

Once a developer has submitted all the required documents to Rera and is granted the authority to sell units off-plan, Rera will issue an NOC to allow the developer to open an escrow account with an authorised UAE bank.

The bank that will be providing the escrow service needs to understand all the details of the underlying agreement to ensure that it acts in accordance with its provisions. In this way, the bank can help protect the buyers’ prepaid funds by referring and strictly adhering to the conditions of the agreement.

But while the introduction of escrow as a legal requirement for developers has helped safeguard the funds of off-plan investors, there are other steps that investors must take to provide additional protection.

Buyers need to make sure they are dealing with a reputable developer, regardless if it is registered with Rera. One positive effect of the global financial crisis was that many suspect developers were exposed and forced out of business. Seek professional guidance, as those in the industry know who the reputable developers are. Ask the opinion of those who have transacted business with the developer.

Ask the developer what measures have been taken to ensure the end product is built to an acceptable standard and inspect buildings already completed by the developer. Warranties and quality assurance policies should be discussed in detail. Have the sales and purchase agreement reviewed by a professional to ensure you have legal recourse should any quality issues arise.

Upon completion you have the right to inspect your apartment and report any legitimate issues to the developer for rectification. Items that can be remedied in the short term should be fixed immediately. Remember: once you have taken possession of the apartment, the developer is obliged to fix any issues that would arise 12 months following the transfer of ownership.

Expert Eye

Some strategies to help you sell your residential property quickly

So you want to sell your house. You know that the person who likes your house most is more likely to pay you what you want. So how do you get somebody to really like your house? You need to carry out some “staging” and the following tips might help:

First impressions count. How do you make sure that as a prospective buyer approaches your front door the right impression is made immediately? Brighten up the entrance by applying a fresh coat of paint, repolishing the front door, cleaning and polishing the door knocker, handle and lock hardware, cleaning pathways, and placing potted plants and shrubbery to make your guests feel welcome and you confident in showing off your house.

Tidy up. We all have our favourite belongings, many of which we don’t even use. Get rid of them. Be ruthless in your approach. Stuff takes up space, makes living areas look smaller and disorganised, and detracts from the attractiveness of your house. If you don’t need it, give it away, sell it or just trash it. In this case, less is definitely more.

Try to create space, even if it is an illusion. One way to achieve this is to move your furniture away from the walls. Couches clinging to walls simply don’t work. Float furniture away from walls; reposition it into sociable groupings.

Utilise unused spaces. Just because you may not use a space doesn’t mean that somebody else may not value it. If you have a spare room which is empty, turn it into an exercise room, a family room, a rumpus room, or a quaint library or reading room. Give the space a purpose; let the sunshine in.

Use as much natural light as possible. Allowing natural light to shine into a room makes a closed-in space seem larger. Where you cannot use natural light, try to make your home look warm and welcoming by trying some lighting design. To remedy bad lighting and make your home more inviting, increase the wattage in your lamps and fixtures. Aim for a total of 100 watts for every 50 square feet. Then install dimmers so you can vary light levels according to your mood and the time of day.

Don’t depend on just one or two light fixtures per room. Try to construct a combination of overhead, floor, table and accent lighting to create an overall pleasant ambience and make the room interesting.

Get painting. Painting is the cheapest and easiest way to give your home a new look. Don’t be scared to experiment as you can always paint again if you don’t like the colour. You could also try painting an accent wall to draw attention to a lovely set of windows. If you have built-in bookcases or niches, experiment with painting the insides a colour that will make them stand out. Don’t be afraid of black paint. The key, as always, is moderation. Use black as an accent in picture frames, lamp shades, accessories and small pieces of furniture.

Make art a feature of your house, not an afterthought. If your home’s like most, art is hung in a high line circling each room. That’s a big mistake. Vary the pattern and grouping by hanging a row of art diagonally, with each piece staggered a bit higher or lower than the next; triangularly, with one picture above, one below, and one beside; in a vertical line (perfect for accentuating a high ceiling).

Bring your garden inside. Well-staged homes are almost always graced with bountiful fresh flowers and interesting floral displays. Take clippings of branches or twigs and put them in a large vase in the corner of a room to add height. Adorn dead space with greenery or interesting and intriguing arrangements. Make each piece different and unique in its form.

Finally, get creative.  It’s your responsibility to make people fall in love with your home. Do whatever it takes and you will be rewarded.

Ask the agent

Gulf News

Why is it that the cost of renting a good but not-so-new apartment in some areas remains expensive? The rates in these areas didn’t fall as much as in other places during the recession, and when rents increased, they increased in these areas fast. How come?
The value of a particular location is usually derived from the levels of lifestyle convenience, pleasure, harmony, security, future economic value or even status that can be derived from the property. Whether it is an outstanding view or proximity to dining, entertainment, business districts, schools, hospitals or public transport, the perceived benefits that a location may bring to a prospective tenant can account for up to 90%. Locations close to the beach and entertainment areas as well as properties located close to/within Downtown Dubai or the business district will command a location premium.
Most potential tenants consider a view as a key feature for their home to be enjoyed.

My apartment is ready. When I stated that I would like to inspect the apartment, the developer said they had already completed their inspection. ls this right?
Technically, once an official Completion Certificate has been issued for the building by the Dubai Land Department (DLD), it is deemed ready for handover and your contractual obligations regarding transfer of ownership remain. You have the right to inspect (snag) your apartment and report any legitimate issues to the developer for rectification. Items which can be remedied in the short term should be fixed immediately; and remember, once you have taken ownership of the apartment, the developer is obliged to fix any issues that may arise for a full 12 months following the transfer of ownership. I strongly recommend you engage a professional to do this on your behalf.

How does one become a shrewd property investor? What qualities or skills are important?
Investing in property is all about recognizing and capitalising on opportunities that are consistent and supportive to your overall wealth accumulation objectives. In order to do this, you must have some industry knowledge, able to communicate intelligently with the experts.
You must also have a clear understanding of what role your property portfolio will play within a larger diversified portfolio. The more skillful you are at conceptualizing your wealth generation schematic, the greater is your likelihood of generating successful strategies to grow your wealth.
You also need to be able to identify, engage and work with a professional in the industry. As astute, skillful and knowledgeable as you may be, a reputable, experienced and client-focused full service agency will greatly enhance your level of success. Choose wisely. Don’t think the cheapest will be good enough as this is rarely the case.

I own a third of a floor of office space with two other parties sharing the balance. We couldn’t find reputable tenants at a reasonable lease rate. Any advice?
The issue of multi-strata ownerships, particularly when looking at office space, would be a concern as prospective tenants do not want to negotiate or deal with multiple owners. One solution requires the willingness and commitment of all owners to form a type of cooperative or rental body. Under this concept, the owners would commit their space to a “rental pool” to offer to prospective tenants. This pool would be managed by a third party appointed by the owners so that tenants requiring space owned by more than one person would be dealing with one central body representing those owners, and all owners benefit from the rental receipts garnered from leasing “pool” space. This will provide superior returns.

Question of the Week
I am considering hiring a new property management team for my mixed-use property as I was receiving a lot of complaints about the old one. What things should I be on the lookout for since this is the first time I am changing property managers?
A proficient and professional property manager will make your investment work harder for you.
The property manager should be able to provide you with a complete and realistic property assessment, strategy and activity plan designed to harness the true financial potential of your property. Considerations start with your objectives and requirements and will include history, current and projected future market factors and risk factors. The scope of consideration should be global, regional and local in nature and your property manager should have a good understanding of economic factors, societal trends, industry knowledge extending to policy and regulation, finance and market dynamics.
Your property management agreement should stipulate that you receive an extensive range of services including marketing, vetting tenants, executing rental agreements, among others.
Choose your property manager carefully. Ask for referrals and call some existing clients. Remember, it’s your investment, and you need to ensure it’s in good hands providing you with the best returns.

Managing through cycles

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The fact that the property industry is notoriously cyclical is widely known yet viewed differently. For some, cycles represent a form of volatility that enables the shorter-term investor to profit from market fluctuations as they occur. In extreme circumstances, this would be considered to be speculating and I know as many people who have lost money speculating as those who have gained.

Yet investors with a clear strategy and long-term plan simply accept, fore-see and plan for cycles in the industry. They look for longer-term sustainable growth rather than take additional risk by trying to accumulate wealth through taking advantage of shorter term spikes or dips. They are true managers of their property portfolios and have a much greater chance to succeed.

Investing in property has a very simple purpose: to create wealth over the long term. However, your property investment portfolio needs to be nurtured, maintained and managed to ensure its wealth-creating potential and capabilities are achieved as it rides the inevitable cycles that occur in the industry. Adopting a short-term vision and reacting unreasonably to inevitable industry slowdowns will lead to underperformance in the longer term.

Consider one of my clients. As the owner of a portfolio of apartments purchased early 2011, the past four years have been extremely lucrative for him. He asked whether to sell his property assets as the market had slowed. Rather than make a hasty decision that might be regrettable, I constructed a recommendation for his consideration.

An easy decision would be to sell his entire portfolio for a substantial profit, but the question remained: where should his newly gained wealth be invested? There was no answer as there was no plan.

We found that by retaining his portfolio, my client would continue to receive an average of 6.8% nett rental returns per annum on the adjusted value of his properties over the next five years. Notwithstanding the recent cooling of the market, we estimated that he could expect a capital growth of at least 6% per annum over the next five years for an estimated nett total return of 12% per annum.

The review included careful analysis of current maintenance requirements, future capital works, market factors, regulatory developments, industry forecasts and trends, alternative opportunities, risk factors, and relevant future events.

When I asked my client what alternative investment could provide the same return without taking on greater or excessive levels of risk or incurring new investment transaction costs, none could be identified.

The example of my client clearly illustrates that property portfolios require careful management. We all know the market has cooled, but this is hardly a reason to make rash decisions without doing proper analysis.

Wherever you look around the globe, yield and total returns are getting harder to find and the value of established property portfolios with good occupancy levels and projected tenant retention are increasing in comparative value all the time. The investors who hold and nurture their existing property asset portfolios will do very well over the next five years, particularly those who have diversified their holdings to include some of the more affordable asset types.

Not everybody is comfortable with managing a property portfolio. However, there is expertise available. You should consider engaging a good property manager who will ensure that you maximise returns.

Proper management is essential and you need to ensure your portfolio is in good hands.