Cityscape is finished for this year and the headline results are impressive: A record turnout that showed a year on year increase of 25%; over 300 exhibitors requiring 2 extra exhibition halls; a new initiative to allow sales transactions to be completed onsite resulting in a 186 per cent increase in off-plan property transactions being registered with the Dubai Land Department during the period and the reveal of plans for the Expo 2020 site gave this year’s Cityscape some real gravitas.
I walked away from the exhibition with a feeling that Dubai’s property industry has just commenced one of the most important 3 years of its relatively young life since the post Global Financial recession and that this period will have clearly defined bookends, with the recently completed Cityscape at one end and the Dubai Global Expo 2020 at the opposite end.
So, what do we have to look forward to over the next 3 years? The obvious answer is the Dubai 2020 World Expo. The market has been waiting patiently for the positive effects that the Expo generated population growth will bring to the market to eventuate.
But there are other real and pervasive influences that we need to consider and observe, for they will have a significant effect on what happens in our industry leading up to the much anticipated 2020 event.
The first challenge is VAT which has fast become the most popular acronym in the industry today. VAT is not a new phenomenon. It has been implemented in many economies around the world and is considered an efficient and equitable way for governments to collect tax revenue. As oil prices have declined significantly, oil dependent economies require new sources of revenue to continue to invest, innovate, develop infrastructure and provide services that are required for sustainable economic growth. The IMF has predicted that the USE may improve GDP by as much as 1.5% by implementing a 5% VAT. Some countries have applied 20% VAT’s to generate the revenues required by their governments.
But VAT will have an inflationary effect on the economy as most items required for everyday life will be taxed. Salaries and wage increases will likely lag the introduction of the tax which may impact disposable income levels and affect the ability to save for a house deposit.
As a purchaser of a new home, your purchase is exempt from VAT, but the price will certainly be adjusted to cover the VAT that has already been paid on the value for materials, labor, marketing and other services etc. that the developer had to incur to bring the project to market, while, sellers in the secondary market will be exempt from VAT, yet still need to pay VAT on any Real Estate Agents fees, marketing fees, and maintenance or staging fees.
The sale of Commercial properties, however, will attract the VAT, adding to the cost burden of setting up or operating a business. Once again, consumers will eventually be affected.
The second challenge will be a strengthening US dollar. In an industry where at least 40% of purchases are made by investors that hail from countries whose currencies float freely, the postponed yet inevitable interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve, the effectiveness of US fiscal policy and the diplomatic, trade and geo-political effects of increasingly nationalistic policies are likely to present challenges in terms of relative value and affordability as property in other markets such as the UK, Asia or Europe become more attractive. This will be compounded somewhat as 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.
A strong US dollar will also impact one of Dubai’s fundamental and burgeoning economic pillars, tourism. A strengthening AED, combined with the application of the VAT, makes visiting the Emirate a more expensive proposition, particularly if currencies of other countries competing for the tourist dollar are weakening.
Finally, there is no denying that oil prices are very important. While the Dubai economy is only minimally reliant on oil for its GDP, the price of oil does have a strong effect on the levels of liquidity available for the property market and greatly influences the confidence levels of overseas investors in the region.
Somewhat conversely, there are those that believe, for variety of reasons, that the historical inverse relationship of oil prices and USD strength has changed. If so, we may be entering a sustained period whereby oil prices rise in sync with the USD. A positive correlation would certainly help offset increasing USD strength, however, it would make a return to a weak USD and strong oil price scenario increasingly unlikely.
We live in very interesting times.