Ask the agent

Question: I have been in the UAE for a long time, and accumulated a portfolio of 17 apartments and a couple of villas located all over Dubai. Everyone knows that the market is on a slowdown so is there still a way to make any profit during this period?

There are too many investors who are under the illusion that investing in property is almost a “set and forget” proposition, but nothing could be further from the truth. The property industry is incredibly dynamic and requires constant attention as factors influencing its performance as an investment are as broad as they are complex.

Investing in property is no different to investing in any other asset. Its purpose is to create wealth but, in order to do that, it needs to be nurtured, maintained and managed just like any other investment. Ask yourself a question: Would you create a share portfolio without monitoring and managing its health and performance? Of course not, and having a property portfolio is no different.

With a portfolio this large, you need professional help to manage your property investment, particularly during times when yield is harder to generate.  It requires careful thinking about what the true earnings potential of the portfolio really is, and what is the most efficient and effective way to go about realizing that potential. You need a good property manager who will ensure that you maximize returns from your property portfolio and enable your long term portfolio strategy to be realized.

Essentially your property manager should be capable of managing your business which just so happens to be a property portfolio. Remember, it’s your investment, and you need to ensure it’s in good hands providing you with the returns you expect with as little hassle as possible.

Choose wisely as once you appoint a property manager, your ultimate return on investment is largely in his hands.

QUESTION: I have a well-maintained 1-bedroom apartment in Queue Point, Liwan. When I purchased it, the selling rate was at AED 550 per sq.ft. Should I continue to rent it out or sell it now?

Properties located in non-prime areas such as Dubailand have been doing very well even in the current market scenario. Even in the recent past, we have witnessed the more affordable properties in the market, including those in Dubailand, doing quite well in terms of significant value growth and ongoing sales activity as there remains a supply gap in the truly “affordable” property segment.

As mid to upmarket property in prime locations have become unaffordable for some homebuyers and investors, people have turned to more reasonably-priced projects like Remraam, Skycourts, Queue Point, etc., which promise capital appreciation even in the current market climate. These developments are still young, and more growth and infrastructure development is still in the offing.

There is no doubt that you would still make some profit if you sold today; however, we expect values to still improve, especially as the infrastructure and landscaping around the development gets completed. I suggest you retain the apartment for at least the next 5 years as you will continue to benefit from superior capital growth and enjoy at least 8 percent net annual rental returns in the meantime.

Question: Am I right in thinking that rental rates are not as affected by the market slowdown as sale prices? I was expecting a big reduction in my rent but our landlord told us it will remain the same.

Yes, you are partly right. The current industry climate has affected sale prices more although rents have also fallen in certain areas which only means the market slowdown has varying effects on different areas and property types. Regarding your rent, what will determine whether the landlord can raise your rent or not is how your rental levels compare with the new and updated index.

You should familiarize yourself with Law 43 which was issued on 22/12/2013 and replaced Decree # 2 of 2011. It introduced certain restrictions with regard to the calculation and implementation of legally allowable rental increases.

Having said that, it does not set out to control the rental value of new contracts and where a property is to be let for the first time or to a new tenant, it is up to the owner and prospective tenant to agree as to how much rent should be charged for the property.

However, for your peace of mind, you can compare your rental rate to the current market rate by using the RERA rental increase calculator online by visiting: http://www.dubailand.gov.ae/English/Pages/Rental-Increase-calculator.aspx

While it has its limitations, it is a useful tool that is also being used by landlords as a reference point for determining rental rates.

Question: I have just received an offer from a bank representative to refinance my property. Is this an opportunity I should avail of or not?

Very easily, I can say the answer is YES, but only if it makes financial sense! In short, you need to make some quick but careful calculations.

There are some very attractive mortgage products in the marketplace with a few mortgage providers offering rates as low as 3.99% or even 3.49% which signals that competition among UAE banks for higher market share of the mortgage market is getting pretty intense.

There are a number of things you need to consider such as, is there an early payment penalty for your current mortgage? It may well be that you will need to pay a hefty fee to exit the existing contract.

While 3.99% is an attractive rate, how long are you guaranteed this attractive rate? Interest rates will eventually rise and this eventuality needs to be understood by mortgagors as the attractive 3.99% interest rate enjoyed today will, in all probability, be replaced with a significantly higher rate in 2 years’ time, requiring increased mortgage payments to cover the interest rate hike. You need to factor this into your financial planning.

Will you need to pay any establishment fees for your new mortgage contract? With the mortgage market becoming so competitive, you should be able to have any fees waived.

Finally, make sure you can pay out your new mortgage contract at a future point in time without any penalty. This is an unnecessary expense that you should not be burdened with.

Additional:

Question: I am coming from overseas and looking to rent a home. I heard about this thing called “district cooling.” What, exactly, does it mean?

District cooling for the provision of chilled water has emerged globally as a way to provide cooling to buildings in a more environmentally sensitive way. It is considered to provide great benefits in the long run and, in addition, helps in saving on the costs of electricity which will be reflected in lower DEWA bills of tenants.

You will find that most of the units which are serviced by chilled water district cooling are offered at slightly lower rental rates. However, you should enquire as to how your cooling charges will be calculated and enquire as to all the charges which are included in the cost. You may even ask existing tenants how much they are paying currently before you commit to a tenancy contract.

With regard to consumption charges, I am assuming you will have a BTU meter installed in your future apartment? If so, you will be billed directly by the cooling services provider based upon what you actually consume in terms of cooling. The more you use, the more you pay.

Having said that, the DEWA savings will be offset somewhat as you may incur an additional utility charge as some owners of units that are equipped with chilled water district cooling will be passed on the slightly higher utility charges that they incur which involves the remuneration of the capital costs of providing the infrastructure that delivers the chilled water to the unit. This charge will, in all likelihood, be calculated as a pro-rata of the actual consumption charges.

Nevertheless, in most cases, developers have managed to offer better value for money while helping protect the environment.

 By Mohanad Alwadiya
CEO, Harbor Real Estate
Advisor & Instructor, Dubai Real Estate Institute (DREI)
Published in Freehold – Gulf News
Dated: 30 April, 2016

WHAT TO FACTOR INTO SPACE CALCULATIONS

If you are planning on expanding your business or simply relocating from your old office, the first major task at hand is determining how much office space you will require for your enterprise. Now, this is no easy task, and there are many considerations to be made as the decisions that you make at this stage can have a serious impact on how efficiently and effectively you will be able to conduct your business.

How so? Because your new office space will have a direct effect on your staff morale and productivity, impressions made on your new or potential clients or visitors to your office, and on your overall brand image as well.

When estimating space requirements, you first need to understand how you plan to arrange your employees so as to promote efficiency and productivity through the application of clever office spatial design. You must appreciate that allocating office space and configuring seating plans is very political, and egos within your staff can be either inflated or deflated depending on what you decide to do. So tread carefully, and make sure you can logically justify every decision that you will make.

For a start, everybody will have an argument as to why they must have their own office, or why their office needs to be bigger. Reasons, some valid and some not, will range from the need to keep confidential data and material away from prying eyes to the necessity to hold confidential meetings, to requiring a quieter work environment so as to concentrate better. Typically, its ego that’s the real driver behind such requests.

The easiest way to allocate work space is to do so on the basis of seniority requirements.

For example, I would generally allocate an office (or cabin) for the president, VP(s), CEO, general manager, directors, and anybody who deals with particularly sensitive information such as personnel managers or legal staff. The actual size of the offices is a function of seniority, how much of an impression you wish to make on clients, how efficient your office is in utilizing digital data storage, how many meetings are conducted with your clients or staff, and the size of the meetings that you will periodically conduct.

Depending on the above considerations, I would usually recommend to my clients that the offices should range in sizes from 40 sq.m. for presidents, 25 sq.m. for VPs to 15 sq.m. for general managers. Obviously, these sizes will vary according to business size and type, and you may find that many larger corporations actually will have guidelines as to what positions within the company warrant an office and how large it should be.

Cubicles or workstations tend to be of a more uniform size except where the organization employs team leaders or supervisors.

Employees such as secretaries, customer service reps, accountants, programmers, data entry, clerks and engineers generally require around 12 sq.m. to 15 sq.m. depending upon document storage requirements and desktop hardware such as computer screens, laptops, printers, scanners and telephones.

Estimating document storage is a critical factor. While every employee will probably require their own document filing cabinets, many businesses also need to provide for central file or document storage areas. This is one area where inefficiencies in data storage by employing digital storage capability can cost a company dearly by paying for, what in some situations may be premium space to simply store files which may be referred to only in emergencies. This is extremely inefficient, and alternative solutions such as digital data storage or offsite warehouse storage should be explored.

There are many additional spatial requirements that also need to be considered. Reception areas will logically depend upon the number of receptionists employed, but also be influenced by the number of visitors are typically received, and whether you utilize the reception area as a waiting area as well.

Conference and meeting rooms are always an interesting topic of discussion. It always seems that there are never enough, and many companies have quite elaborate online booking systems for staff to reserve the meeting room of their choice. Rule of thumb would suggest that a conference room should be 5 sq.m. with 2.5 sq.m. allowed for each seated person. Obviously items such as projection equipment, screens, sizes of conference tables and spare seating would need to be factored in before a final size could be determined.

Depending on the size of the organization and the actual amount of mail traffic expected, the mail room can be anywhere between 15 sq.m. to 30 sq.m. The process for distributing mail will play a large part in determining space requirements as systems utilizing “pigeon holes” can be quite space intensive.

Lunch and break rooms are very important for employee morale and can add to productivity as well as they often promote teamwork and cross-functional dialogue. Make sure that you provide a comfortable space for your employees by allocating at least 7 to 10 sq.m. plus 2.5 to 3 sq.m. per person seated.

Finally, do not get caught in the trap of outgrowing your premises halfway through the lease period. Calculate your future space requirements based upon your projected growth plan. Many organizations neglect to factor in the possibility of growing by at least 25% over the ensuing 5 years, and find themselves desperately short of space with no convenient place to expand to. While you may have unutilized areas in the initial period of the lease, this is far cheaper than having to either terminate a lease to relocate or have a second office situated in a different address.

 

ask the agent

Ask the agent

By Mohanad Alwadiya
CEO, Harbor Real Estate
Advisor & Instructor, Dubai Real Estate Institute (DREI)
Published in Freehold – Gulf News
Dated: 9 April, 2016

Question: We’re a successful startup company and currently looking for office space with the best value? Should we rent or buy?

Congratulations on your successful venture! AT this stage, however, you would still be looking at keeping costs to a minimum until such time you become fully established in the market.

As you may very well know, the old cliché of “location, location, location” is critical. It’s all about proximity and the convenience and prestige that a well-chosen location can bring to your potential customers, staff and business associates. Currently, you will find great value, very affordable and well-constructed office space in Business Bay, which will cost you anywhere between AED 70 and AED 120 per square foot (higher for fully fitted space), but it will be pointless if the location is a hindrance to conducting your business. You need to choose your preferred location first, and work from there.

Think about purchasing your premises. It’s in your best interest to do a complete analysis to see if this option will work for you. We at Harbor have always advocated that, cash flow permitting, businesses acquire their own premises. If you are a business committed to operating long term in Dubai, it makes sense to own your office space, particularly if it is a well-negotiated purchase. There is no tax advantage in leasing in Dubai and, as long as your office space is appreciating, your balance sheet will look a whole lot better and grow stronger over time.

If you decide to lease your premises, try to get the best deal possible and lock it in for at least 3 to 5 years. Lease rates in Dubai will be on the increase, going forward, so make sure you take advantage of current rates.

Question: I came to the UAE with an objective to join real estate as I have several years of experience overseas under my sleeve. Can you advise me on how I can land myself a realtor’s job in a reputable company?

It is good to know that you plan on joining the local real estate sector with some experience. Nevertheless, each real estate environment is unique so I suggest you join a company that will enable you to fast track your learning.

Look for a full service company so you gain a greater understanding of what the UAE real estate business is all about, beyond the buying and selling of property.

The company you choose should value you as an individual and remunerate you appropriately. But they should also be prepared to invest in you by providing the types of learning experiences that come with formal training (mandatory to become a licensed agent in Dubai), and also in-house training. This may involve being assigned a mentor, be placed on an internal rotation scheme to enable a broader knowledge of the business to be developed or be given special projects that will facilitate your learning by encouraging you to seek answers and solutions yourself to enable you to complete the task at hand. Those companies that invest in hi-potential people, typically are those that succeed.

Finally, surround yourself with people who are passionate about the industry because passion is contagious, and it’s what sets the successful ones apart.

Question: How do I know for sure my property consultant is giving me the right advice?

In any relationship, whether it be personal or professional, trust is key.  So if you have a nagging feeling that your property consultant is not representing your interests, have a meeting with him and request a justification and rationale for his recommendations and advice. To ascertain whether his justifications and rationale make sense, you should do some research yourself so you can verify the veracity of his claims and assertions. If you remain doubtful, seek an alternative as there are plenty of property consultants out there hungry for your business.

Getting a new consultant is not always the solution and you may want to rethink your criteria in choosing one so you develop rapport and trust in the long run.

Look for experience and passion – people who really enjoy what they are doing. The best way to find such professionals is to ask around. Seek out friends or peers who have recently conducted a real estate transaction and ask. Seek out the positive stories as well as the negative ones.

Find a consultant or agency that exhibits a breadth and depth of industry knowledge and expertise. When conducting initial meetings, make sure you assess how much the agency or its brokers actually know.

Look for longevity. Those that survived the recent recession must be good!

Look for a strong network of corporate, government and industry contacts. The consultant or agency that has good relationships with key industry stakeholders such as the major developers or authorities such as the Dubai Land Department, RERA, DEWA or Economic Department will be able to operate more efficiently and effectively.

And finally, look for an agency that has received some form of industry or peer recognition as they lend credence to the name and reputation of the realtor in question.

Question: We purchased a villa in Dubai back in 2009. However, instead of continuing to rent it out, my husband and I have decided that we want to go ahead and sell our property soon. How do we find a good seller’s agent?

There is a large number of licensed real estate brokers in Dubai, and the whole of UAE of course. But finding the right agent to sell your property is something you need to pay close attention to because getting the best person to represent you and your property out there is crucial to how quickly you can make a sale without compromising on your agreed-upon expectations.

Factors such as years of experience in the UAE property market, track record of success, an in-depth understanding of market trends, area expertise (especially in the neighborhood where your unit is located), client testimonials, level of commitment, passion, dedication, professionalism and honesty are important, not to mention the fact that he/she should also be a duly licensed RERA-certified real estate broker. Before committing to any realtor, make a list of all the questions you want answered first and see how they respond as doing so will help you gauge whether or not giving him/her your business is the best thing for you and your husband, and your property.

Question of the Week: I have been looking at Dubai (or the UAE) as a possible part-time destination during my retirement. Hence, I would like to purchase a property here, rent it out initially and later use the property myself during my retirement. Do you have any advice?

Including property acquisition as a part of your retirement plan is a good move, but you must choose wisely. The key to choosing your property is determining the right balance between the amount to be invested, the returns you require in the interim period before you retire, and what type of property you want to enjoy during your retirement. The good news here is your tastes are likely to be shared by your tenants in the interim so renting it out should not be a problem.

Quality properties are available starting from AED 700 per square foot; however if you want to purchase in the prime areas of Dubai, either in Downtown Dubai, or somewhere close to the beach, or with a golf course view, you can easily double or triple that amount.

You can expect a minimum net rental return of around 5 percent to 7 percent which, given the cheap financing available at the moment, makes for a solid investment in preparation for outright ownership and retirement. Be careful with fluctuations in exchange rates.

Factors such as location, the developer’s record and reputation, quality, service fees, building management and the existence of a functioning owner’s association will require a reputable local real estate professional to help you minimize any risks with your investment, whether during the procurement stage or managing your investment until you are ready to assume occupancy once you will have retired.

PROPERTY PORTFOLIO RESILIENCE THROUGH DIVERSIFICATION

Property portfolio resilience through diversification

By Mohanad Alwadiya
CEO, Harbor Real Estate
Advisor & Instructor, Dubai Real Estate Institute (DREI)
Published in Property Weekly

It’s true, when people say “the world keeps getting smaller every day.”

Communication and information sharing across great distances and involving large amounts of data take place in a matter of seconds, and the devices we use and ways by which we transmit data keep evolving as we speak. Indeed, many human activities have become highly mechanized and are being performed at supersonic speed; though sadly, life is no less complicated. And economics, no less.

Even with the development of sophisticated software intended to calculate risk, analyze data or predict the impact of policies and economic decisions, e.g. ADePT, Minsky, PI+, SAS/ETS, etc., mankind is still at the mercy of structural or systemic shifts that continue to shape and reshape the global geo-political and economic ecosystems.

So, even with all scientific and technological innovations on hand, we continue to face uncertainty. How, then, does real estate investment – a major economic sector affected by such changes – figure? How do investors protect themselves from financial obscurity when the trade winds start to blow in a less-than-favorable direction?

The answer – portfolio diversification.

The advantages of diversifying your investment portfolio across a variety of asset classes such as stocks, bonds, property and cash has been well-chronicled. What most investors don’t understand that diversification within each asset class can also provide significant benefits.

The majority of my clients are comfortable with investing in residential property because most have rented or bought a property for their own use and therefore understand what that experience entails. However, very few have actually had a similar experience with commercial property and, therefore are a little less confident in investing in this potentially lucrative segment of the market.

So, why consider investing in commercial property?

Commercial property can add diversification to a property portfolio. Segments within the Real Estate market rarely move in tandem and a mixture of residential and commercial property can make an overall portfolio more resilient to inevitable market cycles.

All things being equal, commercial properties generally produce an ROI at least double that of residential properties. This is mainly due to lower per-square-foot capital cost but also reflects the higher levels of risk associated with owning commercial property.

Managing tenants in a commercial property is also more straightforward. You will have a business-to-business relationship with your tenant and many of the emotional issues which can complicate residential leasing arrangements won’t exist. It’s easier to keep interactions professional and focused and relationships are built over time with the opportunity to attract a ‘blue chip’ tenant and are likely to rent your property for a long period of time and less likely to default on rental payments. In many cases, commercial tenants and property owner interests are aligned. The tenant wants an efficient operation which presents a favorable impression to his customers, business associates or peers and, in this way, is more likely to assist the owner maintain or even improve the property.

Establishing a true value of the investment is often easier with commercial property. Reviewing the current owners’ income statement and existing lease details will provide a good indication of the likely future cash-flows and help to establish an accurate valuation.  Residential properties are often subject to more emotional pricing or developer inefficiency and cost recovery considerations.

Lease variations abound with commercial properties. The requirements of a tenant operating a high turnover major regional distribution and logistics center for non-perishable goods will be vastly different of those of a tenant who requires refrigerated goods storage to supply local retail outlets in shopping malls. In addition to lease rates and periods, negotiations can include such items as maintenance, implementation of storage and logistical systems, provision of office fit-outs, insurance, lease-to-buy provisions and options – the list goes on.

However, there are some possible downsides that the investor should consider.

Let’s use a warehouse as an example. As most commercial leases are of a duration exceeding two years, with many being of five years duration with options for an additional term of five years, it could take some time to find a new tenant for the warehouse.  Additionally, your current tenant may vacate due to tough economic conditions. Residential property can be resilient when it comes to economic factors over the long term and finding new tenants is not as difficult.

As the lease for each commercial facility can be negotiated with flexibility only limited by law, owning a portfolio with numerous commercial properties can be time-consuming and complicated. You will need professional help if just to handle issues such as maintenance and emergencies. Remember, your clients are in the business to make money and will be relying upon you to address any issues that arise with your property immediately. They, like you, do not want to forgo any revenues or incur any costs because of a problem with the property or premises that you provide.

Purchasing a commercial property of a size that can generate significant cash flow will typically require more capital upfront than a residential investment. Also, as the scale or size of the premises can be huge, unexpected repairs or major maintenance items can also be very expensive. This requires careful provisioning for expenses and emergencies when calculating lease rates and free cash flows for re-investment.

There is a greater array of physical and safety risks associated with commercial properties. Warehouses, for example, are often frequented by trucks, forklifts or other heavy machinery which means damage can be substantial from accidents. Having proper insurance is a must, not only for damage to premises and systems, but also in the event of personal injury or death where you, as the owner, can be held liable. Remember, your investment is actually operating as a commercial venture and can receive high volumes of people traffic.

As usual, greater returns will attract greater risks, however, as part of an overall balanced investment portfolio, there is no doubt that commercial space can be very lucrative indeed.

Portfolio diversification is a time-tested way of recession-proofing your investments by ensuring that not all of your wealth is invested in the exact same asset types, as cyclical economic shifts impact different asset types in varying degrees.

Dubai`s appeal to Indian investors

Dubai`s appeal to Indian investors

By Mohanad Alwadiya
Expert Eye – Gulf News

A lot of Indian investors are expected to flock to the International Property Show which will be held at the Dubai World Trade Centre from April 11-13. Being the top Dubai property investor segment based on nationality, investing more than AED 20 billion in 2015, the Indian expat community has had a longstanding relationship with the emirate (and the rest of the UAE) in terms of business and real estate.

But why is Dubai property so popular with the Indian people? The reasons offered are not really surprising, and essentially summarize why investing in Dubai property has had significant appeal for, not just Indian investors, but for investors from every corner of the world.

Ease and efficiency

Compared to most countries in the world, investing in the real estate sector of Dubai is relatively easy. Enlist a reputable brokerage, select your desired property, negotiate a price, write the necessary checks and the property will be yours. Bureaucracy, which makes investing in other countries in the world such a pain, is virtually non-existent and, as long as you follow procedural requirements, your property transaction will be processed efficiently and without undue delays.

Superior value

When compared to the major Indian cities, or major cities round the world, Dubai offers increasingly better value. A modern infrastructure that is continually being developed, a renewed focus on affordable housing, and world-leading rental yields, the value that is inherent in Dubai property is hard to beat in India, or any other country in the world for that matter.

Tax-free rental yields  

Put simply, there are not many real estate markets in the world where an investor can enjoy an average 7% yield without paying any local taxes. So, net of service charges, maintenance costs and property management fees, the rent that you charge your tenants goes straight into your wallet without the taxman taking his share. And with the cost of finance remaining reasonably low, the interest charge on any borrowings you may have will be easily covered by the rent that is being yielded by your property leaving more free cash flow to pay down your principal.

Absence of capital gains tax

In addition, capital gains are not taxed upon disposal of the asset which makes investing in Dubai property a very lucrative addition to any investment portfolio as, when taken with a long-term view, investing in Dubai property will provide handsome returns on investment. So, from a total returns point of view, there are few better real estate investments than Dubai property.

World-class infrastructure and security

Many times, investments that provide such lucrative returns are normally associated with excessive risks or poor infrastructure. This is not the case in Dubai. Dubai’s focus has been on developing a world-leading infrastructure for the benefit of commerce, trade, tourism and habitation. The remarkable progress that has been made in opening Dubai up for business, implementing the physical, digital and logistical infrastructures, legal framework and economic policies in the post-recession period has been pretty impressive.

Strong global brand

Dubai as a real estate and commercial hub has captured the imagination of the world, and there is no better barometer of this that the burgeoning tourism industry. Investments in economic revenue generating sectors such as the entertainment and hospitality sectors have ensured that Dubai is increasingly being included in the bucket lists of travelers from all over the world.

Economic entrepreneurialism

Dubai excels in the area of “economic entrepreneurialism.” Already well-known for conducting globally attended exhibitions, there is no greater example than the upcoming Global Expo which Dubai will be hosting in 2020 – an event that the emirate is preparing for with great care.

Multicultural and cosmopolitan society

Once considered just a pit stop for expats that fulfilled employment contracts of limited duration, more and more people have decided to settle down and call Dubai “home.” This change in outlook has had a dramatic effect on the stability of the property market and the development of a society that, while incredibly diverse, is also less transient and more committed to the development of the emirate as a long-term lifestyle solution.

As one looks around the city, one sees many faces hailing from the four corners of the world, and words, both familiar and unfamiliar, echo in the streets and byways. And while there has always been a vibrant and strong Indian community, other communities representing other nationalities are developing rapidly, making it easier for new expats to make the decision to make Dubai their new home.

History has proven that strong nations were built upon such diversity. Armed with this knowledge and the resources the emirate has been so richly endowed, Dubai continues to forge onward with a vision of better things to come.