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WHY THE DUBAI WATER CANAL PROJECT IS SO IMPORTANT …

Most of us have been witnessing the considerable construction efforts that have been underway in completing the Dubai Water Canal project. With an impending completion date of 2017, the canal which will run from Business Bay into the Arabian Gulf and include four hotels. An estimated 450 restaurants, new luxury housing developments, waterfront developments and extensive public spaces, this latest addition to the ever-changing Dubai landscape is the latest stunning achievement by the emirate.

While many people will marvel at the imagination and sheer scale of the project, very few will comprehend what a wide variety of benefits such a project brings to the emirate of Dubai, especially those which relate to the Real Estate industry.

For a start, the investment in the local economy will top 2 billion dirhams. Projects of this scale are of huge benefit to the local economy and the prosperity that is generated among businesses is essential to maintaining economic vibrancy and, logically, the demand for commercial real estate as well as residential real estate for those who are involved, contracted or employed to bring the project to its conclusion.

Then, of course, is the added value that the project itself brings to the real estate that borders the actual canal itself. Property developments situated on both banks of the canal will be comprised of over 5,000 residential units in addition to over 900 hotel rooms. The addition of these properties to the city’s “balance sheet” in the form of a new upmarket residential community and tourist destination situated in such a prime location are sure to grow in value, especially as the estimated 80,000 square meters of leisure areas, public places and facilities are completed.

The waterfront development will enable a lifestyle that will be the envy of many. Residents will enjoy a 5-kilometre boardwalk which will boast a vast array of food, beverage and retail outlets and tourists will participate in the vibrancy and excitement of what is sure to become a favoured destination for many. Running tracks, viewing areas and marinas will only add to the appeal of an already famous Jumeriah district which will be further enhanced with the re-opening of the Jumeriah Beach Park.

However, it is not just the waterfront properties that will benefit from an upward value adjustment. Any property which is within an easy walking distance of the waterfront attraction or newly reopened beachfront will reap the inevitable rewards of being located within proximity to the latest attraction in Dubai. Those existing owner occupiers living close to the canal, who have been affected by the projects construction, will reap the rewards of their patience and tolerance with the sharp increase of the values of their properties.

Meanwhile, the project will help ensure that tourism will continue to play its part in driving Dubai’s economic growth. This project is just one of a slew of new projects to grow this important revenue generating economic segment. Predicted by Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index to be the 4th most popular destination in the world by year end, Dubai will have welcomed almost 16 million overnight visitors in the by the close of 2016. This will represent a 12% increase over 2015 and continue a trend of approximately 10% per annum since 2010. The canal project represents just one more compelling reason to visit Dubai and the requirement for real estate to support the commercial activities that tourism will give rise to is only bound to increase.

And of course, all that increased tourism will require people to service it. They, in turn, will require accommodation. Such mega projects have definite effects the population growth of the emirate and population growth is the pre-requisite to real estate and property industry growth. This is where the Dubai economy has an advantage over many western economies in that, looking forward, there is a requirement for intellectual and human capital which is not residing dormant and unutilised in the economy and attracting this critical resource can only result adding to economic growth, providing additional impetus for Dubai’s Real Estate industry to enjoy the predictable surge in demand for accommodation and commercial space of all types, from labor camps to offices to warehouses to apartments to executive Villas. That demand, however, can only be created with the incremental economic activity that the initiatives such as the Canal project can provide.

Investors are already showing lots of interest in the project which is not surprising. Other projects that have been developed with a water based lifestyle theme such as The Palm, Dubai Marina and the adjacent Jumeriah Beach residences have done remarkably well and proven popular with both local and overseas investors. They all share one common characteristic … they offer wonderful lifestyles and the Canal project will be no different. The project is already demonstrating significant potential to satisfy the appetite for investment returns and the fundamental reasoning is compelling.

 

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2017 – A Year of Transition

I will remember 2016 as a year of uncertainty with the occasional splash of surprise combined with a healthy dose of bemusement. Ironically,  I will also remember it as my most successful year yet.

So, what about 2017?

For investors, potential owner occupiers, developers or another industry stakeholder, 3 essential elements are of paramount importance in ensuring long term sustainable growth in an industry which itself, is a key ingredient to long term economic growth. The global events and developments of 2016 certainly challenged the strength of these 3 fundamental elements.

They can be identified as the 3C’s or, more specifically, Capital, Confidence and Clarity. The 3 C’s are interdependent whereby a shift or change in any one element will affect the other two. The relationship between all 3 C’s can be either positive or negative and can lead to a multiplier effect on growth or can increase the rates of contraction or decline.

Any forecast for the Dubai Real Estate Industry for 2017 needs to consider these fundamentals and how external and internal events and influences will affect them.

The major issue that is likely to face the industry in 2017 is a strengthening US dollar which, in an industry where 40% of purchases are made by investors that hail from countries whose currencies float freely, could have significant effects. Potential investors from India, UK, Pakistan and China will find it more expensive to invest in the emirate, just as Russian investors have over the past 3 years as the ruble devalued.

A strengthening US dollar will also make property in other markets such as the UK, Asia or Europe more attractive, essentially putting pressure on the amount of capital being invested in Dubai.

The likelihood of a strong USD is significant. The combination of the already evident “Trump” effect and the US Federal Reserve interest rate increase of December 14 already has already driven the USD to its highest level in almost 15 years. It is likely that, given the Feds intention to embark upon at least 3 interest rate hikes in 2017, the USD will remain at this elevated level for at least the first 6 months of 2017 which is likely to dampen the amount of investor capital that flows into the property market.

However, what happens in the latter half of 2017 is a bit more of a mystery. Already, pundits are saying that the Trump effect will not last and that his campaign promises regarding fiscal, trade and immigration policies will be very difficult to achieve. If so, and given the Federal Reserve’s History of changing course on predicted interest rate hikes, it is not unlikely that we could see a weakening of the USD sometime on the latter half of 2017. Once we get clarity on the likelihood of this occurring, we could see confidence growing amongst investors and capital flows reverse, to the benefit of the local market.

Meanwhile, it appears that the on-going saga of the Brexit implementation is likely to carry on for some time, probably leading to a continuance of a weak British pound for the foreseeable future. The local property market is likely to continue to feel the pressure of the Brexit effect.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom … far from it.

From a macro level, Dubai needs people to support an economy that is expected to grow at a targeted 4%+ in 2017 and beyond. Underpinning this growth trajectory is a commitment and determination to deliver on initiatives such as the 2020 World Expo and, in 2017, we will see the countdown to 2020 and the massive infrastructural investment associated with the event markedly gather pace.

While Dubai’s reliance on oil is minimal due to its economic diversification initiatives, the recent OPEC (and others) agreement to cap oil supply resulting in in higher oil prices is, nevertheless, welcomed. This augers well for a return of the Russian investor whose ruble has been the best performing currency for the last 3 months but should also see increased capital being available to local investors.

Tourism and trade is flourishing in Dubai and the focus of spending has been on new projects to grow these important revenue generating economic segments and further diversification. The launch of 2 major theme parks in 2016 will ensure Dubai attracts over 15 million visitors in 2017, continuing a growth trend of approximately 10% per annum since 2010 and is well on track to attracting over 20 million visitors in 2020.

So, I see 2017 as being a transitional year for the industry with the first half of the year being really a continuation of the market uncertainty that has been such a characteristic of 2016. As at the time of writing, there were still too many unknowns in the world today.

However, I expect the latter half of 2017 to see an increase in investment activity, property values and first home ownership as the effects of world events that so surprised us in 2016, begin to become more apparent and the risks associated more assessable. In addition, the inevitable organic growth from a population increase within the emirate, which will emanate from the infrastructural investments and economic activity associated with the countdown to the 2020 Expo, will provide a welcome and long awaited boost to demand for property, of all types, throughout the emirate.

Buy, don’t rent!

We are all aware of the huge number of new jobs, estimated at around 277,000 that the Expo is expected to create. Therefore, it is fair to assume that there is going to be a steady stream of expats looking for places to live.

So, if you have recently landed in Dubai with a view to making it your home, you are the latest in a long line of expats who have come to the Emirate with a view to setting up an improved lifestyle for themselves and, where applicable, their families.

Dubai has a lot of attractions in addition to the lure of promising business and lucrative employment opportunities … beaches, restaurants, shopping, outdoor activities … even snow skiing! Dubai boasts a modern infrastructure and is regarded by many as one of the safest places for families to live in the world.  In addition, being located advantageously for excursions to Europe, Asia and the African continent, it’s not hard to see why expats are intrigued as to what Dubai has to offer.

And as the Emirate has grown and matured, the average tenure of expats living in the emirate has been on the increase. This is due to a number of reasons however principal among them is the recognition by employers that 3 year employee tenures are inefficient and the recognition by expats that Dubai, when compared to many other places in the world, is actually a very good place to live.

With so many expats now considering living in Dubai for longer, an increasing number are contemplating purchasing a home instead of renting. For many, making this commitment can be a daunting prospect. There are many considerations such as budgeting and finance, asset type, area, fair values and timings to mention just a few.  The added complication of living in a relatively new country and buying into an appreciating and strengthening market causes many to procrastinate over their Rent versus Buy decision.

So, as an expat, why buy your home instead of renting it? Some may re-phrase this question by asking “How do I use my money to increase my wealth instead of the wealth of my landlord?”

Buying your home is a positive step towards establishing your financial security by building your equity or “net worth”. Owning property allows you to change the application of your hard earned dirhams from covering an expense which offers you no financial return to investing in an asset which does. In a way, it’s a forced form of saving which will reap benefits for you in the future.

Conversely, paying rent actually detracts from your ability to build net worth because, not only are you paying out money for no financial gain, but you are at the mercy of rental inflation as well. This is a problem because you are consistently being asked to pay more while your salary increases are lagging behind, effectively eroding your ability to build wealth. By owning your home, inflation is working in your favor because, in all likelihood, your property is increasing in value and, if kept for multiple years, will enjoy an inflation driven compounding effect on its value. This allows you to build your individual net worth through capital appreciation of your property, something which is very important for your financial future.

The fundamentals of buying Real Estate in Dubai are no different from those elsewhere in the world. As an expat in a new country, you may be even more anxious regarding the decision to buy which is all the more reason to stick to some tried and true principles.

First of all, you need to be very clear as to why you are investing in Real Estate. Whether it’s to provide the family with a home, generate a steady stream of income or build equity for the future, make sure you are very clear about what your expectations are and quantify them wherever possible. Plan for the long term as the industry is cyclical yet very rewarding if you ride out one or two cycles.

You also need to ensure that you know what you can afford. If you have the cash to pay for the property that you really want, I suggest you pay for it outright however don’t be afraid to take out a mortgage and make the purchase as at least your repayments are building equity, not being lost forever on rent.

Then it’s time to contact a reputable Real Estate Brokerage to assist you in finding the right property. As always, stick to the basics. Think carefully about location, quality of the building, developer reputation, completion status and quality of infrastructure and building amenities. Properties which are close to the beach (especially with a sea view), a golf course view or part of an iconic development such as Downtown is a good place to start. If you can also have close access to the metro, even better. These locations are more likely to provide a superior appreciation in capital value as well as riding out cyclical volatility with less distress.

If buying an apartment, you need to consider the effectivity of the Owners Association, service charges and the quality of maintenance services.  Facility management is becoming increasingly more important to determining the value of buildings and it will have an effect on the long term value of your investment.

Finally, think clearly and rationally. If you cannot find a property immediately that will satisfy your requirements and objectives, do not settle for less, regardless of what’s happening in the market. Be purposeful, persistent, patient and pragmatic in your approach and you are well on the way to making a very sound decision.

Mortgage trend in Dubai set to continue

There has been a very pleasing trend that has developed during 2016 which is yet another demonstration of the development and maturation of Dubai’s Real Estate industry.
The marked increase in the utilization of mortgages to purchase properties in the emirate demonstrates a market that has undergone a structural shift to supply more affordable properties and the maturation of buyers in structuring their financial affairs to obtain a mortgage and buy the home of their dreams. For the first t.

Historically, mortgages have represented no more than 30%-35% of property sales in the emirate. This ration has now climbed to over 50% during 2016 and, in some months, levels of 60+% were achieved.

This is great news for several reasons.

First, while this trend highlights confidence of lenders in the marketplace it also highlights the increasing confidence of consumers, mostly owner occupiers, in the market to the extent that they are prepared to take on the risks associated with committing to a mortgage for the sake of purchasing some property.

This is very important to the development of long term sustainable growth for the industry as the bedrock of any property industry is its owner occupiers.  They represent the core of the industry as it is they who view property as an investment in life, not just a way to make a quick buck. And yet, historically, they have attracted focus in a market still undergoing the maturation process which is falling short and not proportionate to their importance.

Owner occupiers see Real Estate in a different light. For them, it’s about creating a lifestyle. It’s about creating a home which will provide an environment that is safe and secure within which the individual, couple or family can grow and develop in all aspects whether physical, emotional, social and, of course, financial. In this respect, they have a lot more at stake than those investors with financial interests only.

Typically, they form the core of society, not overly wealthy, who are concerned with providing the family with a future. For some, the purchase of the first family home is the first step towards creating a legacy which hopefully, for the more romantically minded, will turn into a dynasty. These are the dreams which make owning their own home the most important decision they are likely to make. They are in it for the long term; there is a lot at stake, which is why availability of finance through mortgages is critical.

The second reason why this is such good news is because we are witnessing, in real time, the market adapting to legislative changes that were made in early 2014. There is no doubt that the implementation of the mortgage caps earlier in 2014 had affected the demand for many first home buyers who were relying on a mortgage to acquire their dream home.  I remember writing an article at the time of the legislative change and observing the following …

“At Harbor, we see 62% of our clients who were considering buying a property prior to the mortgage caps delay their purchase until they can accumulate the down-payment differential while 38% have settled (or compromised) for a cheaper property to get an initial foothold in the market.”

As predicted, “… the new mortgage caps have certainly produced a definite lag in demand as clients adjust to the new financial realities and many of these clients are planning to participate within the next three years.”

 I am pleased to say, that these observations have essentially been proven correct. The legislative change made by authorities was implemented to help cool what was then, a rampant market. The desired effect was achieved but buyers didn’t simply disappear, they modified their purchasing behavior, another sign of an increasingly resilient and maturing market.

Finally, a growing number of mortgages are being undertaken for properties that are purchased in the more affordable areas of Dubai, which further demonstrates the systemic shift to affordable housing in the Dubai property market is becoming even further entrenched as a long-term characteristic.

A natural occurrence within any economy that is growing rapidly and is formally recognized as maturing and transitioning from being a “frontier” to “emerging” market as Dubai did back in 2013, is that its middle and lower-middle income segments will expand to support the rapid rise in commercial activities and economic initiatives being instigated by entrepreneurs and corporate or government entities. This expansion is unavoidable if the economy is to grow and providing affordable housing to enable this expansion is a critical element to the future growth of Dubai and the development of the Real Estate industry into a mature model that can efficiently cater for a broad and diverse set of people with different incomes, tastes, preferences and requirements.

And demand is set to grow very rapidly. A case in point … the World Expo is predicted by independent analysts to create over 270,000 jobs. The vast majority of these jobs will not be for people occupying senior executive positions. They will be for people in middle management or lower positions, many with families, who will be seeking affordable accommodation.

The importance of maintaining affordability for the average buyer is critical and the availability of affordable finance in the form of mortgages is vital to enable many to gain access this lucrative market going forward.

The YEAR 2016 WAS NOT JUST ABOUT OIL

By Mohanad Alwadiya
CEO, Harbor Real Estate
Senior Advisor & Instructor, Dubai Real Estate Institute

I believe that the malaise that was felt in Dubai’s real estate industry was due to a wide variety of factors, not just the price of oil and that considering oil prices alone is simply too one dimensional. The factors that have affected the Dubai property industry in 2016 are many, varied and, in some instances, quite complex.

Many investors had high expectations for 2016 but not many really expected 2016 to announce its arrival with such mayhem and drama. In short, most investors started the year peering into a fog of uncertainty with only continual negative headlines to guide their reasoning.

The issues in 2016 were as varied as they were significant. Everything from a U.S. presidential race that has the world bemused (and perhaps frightened as to its outcome) to doubts regarding the capability of China to effectively manage and steer its economy away from being export driven to relying on local consumption and the development of its middle class to a massive refugee crisis will continue as long as there is violence in the Middle East which, of course, shows little sign of abating.

Then there was the continuing saga of U.S. Federal Reserve’s shift from the near-zero interest rates that continued to spook investors to the extent that all rational and fundamental analysis enabling investment decisions seems to have been replaced by an intense and sometimes amusing focus on the vocabulary and grammar used in Fed statements in an effort find some hidden indication of its intent. Thankfully the Fed raised interest rates on December 14, putting to rest all the unnecessary speculation and pointless chatter that was crowding the airwaves.

Meanwhile, the ongoing collapse of oil and commodity prices had threatened to trigger recessions in emerging economies like Russia and Brazil all at the time that Europe continues to struggle for growth. Thankfully, OPEC and a few other oil producing nations such as Russia finally came to some agreement to cap supply after realising that unbridled production in pursuit of long term market share was beginning to destroy some economies.

Then of course, there was Brexit, the effects of which will be as diverse as they will be complex… if only they can figure out how to do it! Experts are still unsure as to  how the decision made by the majority of Brits will affect everything from the European geo-political and socio-economic landscape, the strength and resilience of the European Union in the face of further discontent within its member states, the social and economic ramifications to a newly  “independent” United Kingdom and the inevitable question as to whether the United Kingdom can remain united given the Scottish and  Northern Island  wishes to continue as part of the EU.  The pound has plummeted and is likely to remain subdued for some time.

Not surprisingly, the IMF trimmed its global growth outlook for 2016 to 3.1 percent, down from 3.6 percent, however it is forecasting 3.4 percent for 2017.

So, what could an investor do in 2017? …  mired in the depths of despair and confusion at the deluge of negative headlines, Trump tweets and seemingly shallow financial advice and at the direction of global economies and financial markets, and feeling clueless as to where the opportunities for returns on his hard-earned capital might be?

Well, investing in Dubai Real Estate has still provided significant potential to satisfy the appetite for investment returns and the fundamental reasons are compelling.

As detailed above, an economy growing on the back of strategic commercial and infrastructural initiatives unique to the region driving population growth of 7% annually makes investing very interesting, particularly when taking the medium to long term view.

Tourism and Trade are flourishing in Dubai and the focus of spending has been on new projects to grow these important revenue generating economic segments and further diversification. The launch of 2 major theme parks in 2016 will ensure Dubai attracts over 15 million visitors in 2017, continuing a growth trend of approximately 10% per annum since 2010 and is well on track to attracting over 20 million visitors in 2020.

Then, continual diversification of the economy provides reduced risk and is the language of economic planners now, not oil, and any risk is well compensated for by superior returns with rental yields in Dubai being among the highest in the world with the added advantage of favourable tax conditions for most investors.

ESCROW AND HOW IT CAN PROTECT YOU

By Mohanad Alwadiya
CEO, Harbor Real Estate
Senior Advisor & Instructor, Dubai Real Estate Institute

There are not many people who understand the concept of escrow and how this legally binding arrangement can provide a substantial level of 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 the formal advice that certain previously agreed obligations of the seller have been fulfilled upon which time, the seller can receive funds to the amount specified in the agreement between the seller and buyer.

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

Anybody can open an escrow account but not anybody can open an escrow account for the purposes of property development in Dubai. The developer must first be registered as a bona fide developer with the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) in Dubai which involves the provision of an expansive array of documents ranging from those which establish the bona fide nature of the developer including details of its officers and solvency,  Title Deeds proving ownership of the land to be developed, No Objection Certificates (NOC) from relevant parties such as the Master Developer to performance guarantees backed by a financial institution and all planning and financial details regarding the project.

RERA requires that the land subject to development should be fully paid and a title deed should be issued in the name of the owner.  Where the owner of the land cannot register as a developer, RERA permits the land owner to enter into a property development contract with an existing registered developer to develop the project on behalf of the land owner.  The property development contract however must be approved by the senior legal adviser of DLD to be accepted by RERA.

Only when a developer is recognised as a “registered developer” with RERA can they apply to RERA to open an escrow account.  When selling off-plan, the developer must ensure all proceeds of sale of the units are deposited into the escrow account and are used solely for the purposes of construction of the project.  Failure to comply with the Escrow Law can lead to hefty fines or criminal charges which may result prison sentences being administered. Once the developer has submitted all the required documents to RERA and the developer 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 authorized bank in the UAE.

Obviously, the bank which will be providing the escrow service needs to understand all the details of the underlying agreement to ensure that it acts in accordance with the provisions of that agreement. In this way, the bank can help protect the buyers pre-paid funds by referring and strictly adhering to the conditions of the underlying 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 self-protection.

First, buyers need to make sure you are dealing with a reputable developer, regardless if the developer is registered with RERA. Ask around or seek professional guidance, as those in the industry have a good appreciation of who the reputable developers are.

Warranties and any 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 and make the effort to exercise your right to inspect (snag) your property 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 transfer of ownership.