The Essential role of property asset managers

The role of the property asset manager is misunderstood by many, with the majority of property investors and other industry participants thinking that the role does not extend beyond the collection and remittance of rental receipts and acting as a buffer between the landlord and the tenant.

Little do they realize that a good property asset manager will generate a greater return from a property portfolio and enable long term portfolio strategic objectives to be realized.

Any investor in property would benefit from a professional property asset manager but it is essential to   know what to look for in selecting a professional to manage their property(s)?

  1. Astute investors understand that you need a professional who is experienced in the market. Not just any market, but the Dubai market. Typically, if you find somebody with at least 10 years’ experience, you will have found somebody who has survived the global recession, and that should provide a reasonable indication that they are in the business for the long term and that they had the skills to navigate and survive Dubai’s property slump. Many didn’t.
  2. Strategic Approach. A competent property asset manager will provide a whole host of services for the investor but the most important is the development of a Property Portfolio Strategy. The professional must be able to articulate and present his thoughts after conducting a thorough assessment of your personal situation and property portfolio. He must be able to provide you with a credible strategy and activity plan which is designed to harness the true potential of your property and provide you with the maximum rate of total return. It is essential to have a well thought out strategy for your property portfolio if you are to maximize your returns.
  3. Knowledge and Understanding. Not just anybody can formulate a credible and implementable strategy. It requires years of expertise and a fundamental understanding of what makes Real Estate such a worthwhile and superior investment. A true professional will have a strong knowledge base on topics including industry history, current market factors and trends, risk factors, and the likelihood of relevant future events that will affect the performance of your property investment. This knowledge should span global, regional and local landscapes and will require a good understanding of economic factors, industry knowledge extending to government policy and regulation, finance and market dynamics.
  4. Planning Expertise and Ability to Implement. Forming a strategy is one thing, but being able to bring the strategy to life is quite another. A true professional will provide an activity plan which will include details of pricing and marketing, customer relationship management and tenant management and policy for the entire portfolio. Essentially, this area of expertise is related to the “topline” or revenue generation and management of the property. Equally important is the cost management and maintenance supervision of the property. Many times, I have seen excellent “topline” performance being eroded due to poor operational and maintenance cost controls.
  5. Organizational Ability and Communication Skills. Managing your property portfolio will also require proper performance measurement, communications and review schedules, and status reporting and financial statements. Investors should always seek examples of these elements as transparency and candid performance appraisals are essential for managing your portfolio correctly by addressing shortfalls to objectives, issues requiring addressing and opportunities for performance improvement, in addition to your peace of mind.
  6. Customer Centricity. It’s important to choose a property manager who you can work with and who, you believe, has your best interests at heart. Your property manager must be customer centered and, unfortunately, in this business, this is not always the case.
  7. There is no point entering a business relationship that is lacking in mutual trust and respect. The investor must have confidence in his ability to manage a business … the investor’s business… which just so happens to be a property portfolio. As with all investments, but especially investments in property, there will be good times and challenging times. There is no such scenario as “set and forget”. It doesn’t exist. If you do not respect the manager you have appointed, the relationship will not survive the challenging times and you will need to go through the whole process of finding a replacement.
  8. A History of success. The investor should be sure to ask for referrals and call some existing clients. It’s important to seek out success stories and ask to see examples of client reports to assess their completeness, continuity and timeliness. The investor must ask the property manager carefully thought out questions to gauge the depth and breadth of knowledge that he possesses.
  9. Finally, it’s essential that the organization the investor is dealing with has the resources to support the manager of the portfolio. In these times of eliminating overheads, individual performance can be inhibited because of a lack of organizational support. The investor should ask to meet the team.

Choose Wisely The investor must ensure that the property asset portfolio is in good hands providing expected returns with as little hassle as possible. But the investor must realize that once a property manager is appointed, the ultimate return on the investment is largely in his hands.

2017 … THE YEAR IS ALMOST HALF OVER

It was an interesting first quarter in Dubai’s property market. While prices generally approximated those of the last quarter of 2016, they actually fell by around 8% from the corresponding quarter a full year prior.

Nevertheless, and maybe not too surprisingly, total transaction value jumped by 45% for a total spend of around AED 77 billion on the back of a 7% increase in transactions. Needless to say, there were some pretty big deals done in the 1st quarter.

The 1st quarter industry performance shouldn’t come as a surprise to many. The market has been approaching its cyclical bottom for some time now and it appears that, barring unforeseen events, the decline in property values experienced last year has just about run its course.

So, what does the rest of the year hold? Well, I wouldn’t count on a rapid and sudden turnaround in property values. We are likely to do a bit of bottom-dwelling for a couple of quarters yet.

The headwinds that beset the property market may have lost some of their velocity, but they are still strong enough to make any sudden upturn in values very unlikely.

Nevertheless, the market is offering the best value for some time and will continue to do so for at least the next couple of quarters … but I wouldn’t wait too long.

Affordability has been key to keeping the market bubbling along, and a slew of affordable properties have been launched over the past 2 years and there will be more launched in 2017. First home buyers have never had it so good in Dubai and affordability, or a lack thereof, as a reason to continue to rent is now more of an excuse to justify either procrastination or excessive conservatism.

The strengthening AED has been a headwind, no doubt, particularly where those investors purchasing with the pound, euro and yen are concerned. However, for those who have purchased recently or plan to do so imminently, the value of your property will be increasing as the US dollar continues to strengthen in 2017.

The US Federal reserve remains committed to normalizing interest rates in 2017 which is good news for investors who are holding assets denominated in or pegged to the value of the US dollar, while the angst associated with Brexit is only just beginning. Although interest rates will be increasing going forward, they will remain at very affordable levels for quite some time, making financing through mortgages still very attractive.

And the economic environment will improve from this time forward. Put simply, Dubai needs people to support an economy that is expected to grow at an estimated annual average of 5% for the remainder of the decade and to deliver initiatives such as the 2020 World Expo. The Expo alone is expected to generate an additional 270,000 jobs and drive demand for housing and commercial facilities that, by and large, don’t currently exist. Much of the city’s planning comprehends the number of people living in the emirate to grow to 3.4million people by 2020, a 7% annual increase from today’s population of 2.25million.

Meanwhile, oil prices continue to bubble around the USD45 to USD50 per barrel mark. Despite this obvious crimp on revenues, the governments Infrastructural spending continues unabated with the total budget outlay of Dh48.7 billion for 2017 being marginally up from Dh48.55 billion allocated to 2016. Looking at the 5-year budget plan of Dh248 billion, the average annual spending of Dh49.6 billion is higher by 6.5 per cent than Dh46.6 billion spent during 2014 to 2016 inclusive. This is significant as it demonstrates an unwavering commitment to economic and societal development with the investments in development initiatives being supported by revenues to be generated a newly introduced VAT in January 2018.

And despite global nervousness and uncertainty emanating from Brexit, terrorist threats, North Korean recalcitrance and virtually everything under the Trump administration, the global traveler is continuing explore the globe. Dubai’s economy continues to be driven by fundamentals such as tourism and trade and a slew of new projects to grow these important revenue generating economic segments.  Dubai welcomed almost 15 million overnight visitors in 2016 representing a 12% increase over 2015 to continue a trend of approximately 10% per annum since 2010. 2017 is expected to see the trend continue.

While it appears that the market may have been overburdened with a glut of new launches raising the prospect of an oversupply, the structural shift towards more affordable housing will not only serve to accommodate the expected rapid population growth associated with the 2020 expo, but also serve as an important factor in the development of the Dubai economy overall. Every emerging economy needs to develop a strong middle class as its expansion is critical to growing a sustainable economy and developing resilience in the face of external financial and economic shocks.

I stated earlier in the year that 2017 will be remembered as a year of the astute investor. Those that can recognize the headwinds and understand that every headwind eventually dies out, will do very well over the coming 7 years by investing in 2017.