Preparation is the key

The Cityscape Global Conference provides tremendous knowledge-sharing opportunity to investors

As a proud real estate professional, there is no more exciting time for me than when Cityscape Global opens its doors in Dubai and showcases to the world what a fantastic industry we have. And that time is rapidly approaching – Cityscape Global is just around the corner and this year’s edition will be as exciting and informative as those in years past.

For buyers and investors, there is no better place to gain an appreciation of the myriad opportunities on offer. I always advise my clients that the best way to get the most out of the event is to canvas all the interesting opportunities on display and gradually yet efficiently establish a shortlist of the best opportunities.

Establishing such a list from an exhibition as huge as Cityscape is not easy and requires a disciplined approach. This is where a property asset management professional can assist and it’s a role that keeps me extremely busy with my clients over the entire period that Cityscape is open and for some weeks subsequent to its conclusion.

A lot of the work in ensuring that investors and potential buyers make the most of their Cityscape experience is actually done beforehand in preparing an understanding of what the overall investment environment looks like. This enables efficient and focused assessment of all that is on offer.

It’s also important for investors to understand what they want to invest in and what their investment objectives are. Too many investors formulate the answers to these questions “on the run” during the exhibition. This lack of preparation just leads to confusion and ultimately poor decision-making.

As a general theme this year, I am advising most of my investors to look for value opportunities in the affordable housing segment, particularly in Dubai South, as this segment in this location is likely to be the subject of some very attractive easy payment plans to further enhance affordability and, to some extent, mitigate risk.

This segment has outperformed its more luxurious alternatives for some time now and continues to show potential, even through the recent cyclical correction. And while the value is irrefutable, the risks associated with investing in the afford-able segments of the industry as opposed to the luxury segments are much lower.

But not every Cityscape attendee will have a check book in hand. The Cityscape Global Conference, which is held as a precursor event at the Conrad Hotel on September 10, is a fantastic opportunity to gain a high level of understanding of the factors shaping the industry. This conference always forms part of my preparation for the exhibition and I always recommend that my investor clients avail themselves of this tremendous knowledge sharing opportunity.

The developers who do well out of Cityscape are those who utilize the event as a part of an overall “go to market” strategy. Prior preparation of at least 12 months in will increase the chances of maximizing the returns from participating in the event.

So, for those of us with a passion for the industry, it is going to be an exciting three days. It always seems to end too early!

Alternatives real estate assets

While Real Estate Investment Trusts are common in many Real Estate Markets around the world, they are a relatively new here in the Middle East with the Emirates REIT, being the first, launched in 2010. In November of 2016, Saudi Arabia created its local version of a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). The reasoning behind this move was to enable the smaller investors to provide liquidity to the market and support government efforts to resolve a housing shortage and increase the percentage of housing generated by developers to 30 per cent from its current level of 10 per cent. Now, more recently, there has been a second REIT launched in Dubai, the ENBD REIT.

While there are advantages for any industry to have financial structures such as REIT’s to support burgeoning property and construction industries, what are the advantages for the investors who will be providing the capital?

There was a time when the property game was for the wealthy investor and those with only small amounts to invest had to look elsewhere to invest their hard-earned capital. This is no longer the case due to the rise of new investment platforms which enable even the smallest of investors to enjoy the returns of investing in property.

One such platform which is relatively new to the local market is the REIT. REIT is an acronym for Real Estate Investment Trust which, as a trust company that accumulates a pool of money through an initial public offering (IPO), buys, develops, manages and sells real estate assets. The IPO is identical to any other security offering with many of the same rules regarding disclosure and reporting requirements and regulations.

Investors, whether large or small, instead of purchasing stock in a single company, have the opportunity to buy a unit which is actually a portion of a managed pool of real estate. This pool of real estate then generates income through renting, leasing, selling and financing of property and distributes it directly to the REIT holder on a regular basis.

Units held in a REIT can be bought like a stock on a stock exchange. The REIT invests in real estate directly, either by buying, selling or leasing properties or by investing in property mortgages.

There are 3 types of REIT’s.  Equity REITs invest in and own properties and therefore are focused on increasing the value of those properties while also accumulating revenues from their properties’ rents.  Mortgage REITs deal in investment and ownership of property mortgages. These REITs loan money for mortgages to owners of real estate, or purchase existing mortgages or mortgage-backed securities. Their revenues are generated primarily by the interest that they earn on the mortgage loans while Hybrid REITs combine the investment strategies of equity REITs and mortgage REITs by investing in both properties and mortgages.

Individuals can invest in REITs either by purchasing their shares directly on an open exchange or by investing in a mutual fund that specializes in REITs that are listed on the stock exchange. Among other things, REITs invest in shopping malls, office buildings, apartments, warehouses and hotels. Some REITs will invest specifically in one area of real estate – shopping malls, for example – or in one specific region, state or country. Investing in REITs is a liquid, dividend-paying means of participating in the real estate market.

REITS allow both small and large investors the ability to invest in real estate without investing large amounts of capital or devoting a lot of time in directly managing a property portfolio. A REIT also allows a greater amount of portfolio diversification because of the large amounts of pooled funds available to the REIT Management team enables the accumulation and operation of different types of property assets in different locales.

Investing in a REIT is no different to investing in any company. Some companies represent lucrative opportunities, while some companies may represent too much risk or poor value.  Investors still need to look at the REITS performance in terms of Nett Asset Value growth and dividend payment history, current portfolio composition and performance, the management team, future plans for the REIT as well as have an understanding of the likely performance of the property market and overall economy in which the REIT participates. Investors, having completed a thorough and in depth assessment of the probability that the REIT will provide desired returns, can participate at the level that is consistent with what they can afford to invest.

Another investment platform which allows smaller investors to participate in the property market is Crowdfunding. A relatively new concept Crowdfunding entails the pooling of funds by a group of individuals to finance initiatives such as real estate investment projects. This is usually done via the internet.

The advantages are obvious. Investors get access to the real estate market with small amounts of money and can pick and can efficiently choose which Real Estate projects they wish to invest in, thereby spreading risk and enabling the possibility of building a portfolio made up of a variety of assets, in a variety of locations being developed by a variety of developers.

For developers, Crowdfunding provides another source of funding for their projects. Using the internet is an efficient way of attracting interest to their projects and the reach that the internet provides magnifies the potential for raising funds more quickly.

However, as with any investment, Crowdfunding is not without its risks. Obviously, investors will be exposed to any gyrations in the market along with all the other investors. In addition, the risk of default from developers can be higher when compared to peer-to-peer and direct real estate investment funding. In addition, unlike investing in a REIT, the absence of a secondary market restricts the ease with which an investor can liquidate his or her position. These risks need to be considered carefully when determining the type of return required and, as with any investment, extensive due diligence by all investors, regardless of whether they be big  and small, is of paramount importance.


While great strides have been made in the development and implementation of a legal and regulatory frame in Dubai’s Real Estate industry, there remains one area where the industry seems to be lagging the rest of the world. That area is Data Availability and Transparency.

There are several reasons why Data Availability and Transparency are important to the efficient and effective operation of any industry and why, logically, they can foster development and growth.

1. Build Trust within the Industry – Making more information publicly available will empower all the different stakeholders and participants in the industry to the extent where a bedrock of trust is developed simply because the data underlying assumptions, assertions, opinions and points of view is available, accessible, analysable and can be utilised to build trust between parties.

2. Generate Ideas – The availability and subsequent analysis and modelling of data underpins the generation of new ideas. Create an online forum for your local government where residents are encouraged to participate by providing alternative ideas. Brush up on new ways in which communities interact with their governments online.

3. Risk Assessment – We operate within an industry whereby decisions can involve huge capital outlays and where there may be multi-year lags in returns on billions of dirhams of capital employed. In addition, every day, there are hundreds of decisions made, which are not of the same value. Average people, making life changing decisions on whether to buy, invest in or rent properties, are typically making the biggest decision of their life and, without data from reliable third party sources, the perceived risk and resulting nervousness around a transaction can be debilitating.

4. Increase Community Engagement – Once data is available and properly communicated, the number of people becoming engaged or interested in the industry will multiply significantly. News, data and analyses will drive dialogue among a broader spectrum of the community so that the discussions are not only limited to those who are operating within the industry, but with the broader community as well

5. Develop a Better Understanding of Industry Participants Needs – Effective gathering, organising, analysing and dissemination of data will enable the development of a far greater and deeper understanding of what the various participants and stakeholder’s needs are. Once these needs are identified, ideas and initiatives can be generated to ensure that the industry is providing its constituents the benefits that they desire, on an equitable basis. Empower Citizens When local governments are transparent, levels of trust increase. When the trust level is high, citizens begin to feel empowered to take responsibility. Read here about the open city concept.

6. Measure Performance – There is no doubt that proper performance measurement is dependent upon the availability of good data. The market today is far too cluttered with articles, opinions and predictions that are not based on a sound bedrock of relevant, up to date and analysable data. To be able to accurately measure industry performance and to be able to drill down to a granular level of detail to analyse why the industry is performing as it is, what the industry is being affected by, where the industry is strongest or weakest and who is most positively or negatively affected is critical is assessing the industry overall health.

7. Attract People to the Industry – there is no doubt that, as data availability improves, more people will be attracted to the industry as the need for better and more frequent analysis is required. As this intellectual base develops, the industry will build a repository of knowledge that will only serve to enable the industry to operate more effectively and efficiently over time.

8. Boost the Overall Economy – There is no doubt that a robust, efficient and developing Real Estate and Construction Industry is a boon to any economy. Better data facilitates better planning for government expenditures in infrastructure and technology, better resource management, more effective innovation and, ultimately. Greater contribution of the industry to overall economic development and growth.

9. Foster greater cooperation between Public and Private Sectors – The more effective the communication, cooperation, priority setting and shared planning between the Public and Private Sectors, the better the solutions for the community and economy overall. Excellence can be attained through synchronisation of objectives and objectives can only be formulated after proper data analysis and goal setting. The key to success is a shared understanding of the vision and the role each industry participant has in ensuring its achievement.

10. Educate the World – We all preach about global best practice but how can it be properly applied without the understanding that blooms from proper data analysis. And why not have the vision where similar industries in other countries around the world are looking towards Dubai as the centre of the world’s best practice? It’s possible … but it all starts with having up to date, relevant, accessible and analysable data. It’s difficult to excel without it.

Perfect timing

By Mohanad Alwadiya
CEO, Harbor Real Estate
Senior Advisor & Instructor, Dubai Real Estate Institute
Published: Property Weekly
Dated: August, 2016

Cityscape Global is just around the corner, and the 2016 edition promises to be the best Cityscape exhibition yet. Having been a professional in real estate for over a decade now, I get more excited when Cityscape time rolls around as Cityscape Global showcases to the world what has been made possible in the world of Dubai real estate and, as a proud professional in the industry, that is something I take pride in.

Every industry has its shows, whether it’s the myriad of motor shows held around the world, film festivals, fashion events and airshows, real estate is no different. What many don’t understand is that Dubai’s Cityscape Global is up there with the best real estate and property events globally.

Many times, I have been asked questions about this year’s event as the level of interest in the Dubai property industry continues to grow, partly because of the cyclical slowdown that the industry has experienced over the last two years, and also because of the opportunities that many investors are predicting will emerge as the emirate accelerates rapidly towards the Global Expo in 2020.

The usual questions I receive from a broad base of industry participants are about the significance of the event as it relates to current market conditions – whether the event will provide a boost or momentum to the market, going forward, and who will eventually benefit most from such an event.

Spanning in excess of 41,000 sq.m. of exhibition space at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the 15th edition of Cityscape Global will run from the 6th of September to the 8th of September. The show will be open from 10am in the morning until 7pm in the evening. It is expected to attract over 40,000 overseas visitors to Dubai coming as investors, representatives of financial institutions and high-net-worth individuals to attend the world’s largest property exhibition where over 150 developers from both Dubai and overseas will showcase hundreds of property project launches.

Cityscape Global has grown to become the world’s largest networking exhibition and conference on property development, and this 2016’s will be the largest and most influential real estate investment and development event for emerging markets globally. Bringing together investors, developers, government officials and real estate professionals, there is no better place to find investment opportunities, new business partners and have the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of internationally renowned industry experts.

Past events have revealed the breadth of its global appeal as it attracts visitors from every corner of the world. Indian nationals typically represent around 25 percent of attendees with Pakistani nationals making up around 10 percent. UAE nationals and British citizens make up about 8 percent of the audience each with the remaining 53 percent of attendees arriving from virtually every other nation in the world.

There will also be a one-day Cityscape Global conference on the 5th of September at the Conrad Dubai Hotel which will feature a comprehensive program covering the full spectrum of real estate development with the highlight being an exclusive talk from leading futurist Rohit Talwar on “The Disruptive Futures Reshaping the Property Sector.”

The conference will focus on topics relevant to today’s industry and market environment and will encompass three distinct programs which will focus on the Market, Architecture and Real Estate Brokers. The sessions are designed to be dynamic and will feature official keynote speakers, exclusive reports, and explore concepts and ideas by utilizing panel discussions and case studies.

The intrigue that surrounds the 2016 Cityscape Global lies with the state of play of in today’s real estate market. The Dubai economy experienced a significant post-recession boom and its real estate industry, a major beneficiary of Dubai’s rapid growth in tourism, trade and commerce, experienced a boom of its own. So much so that it attracted the attention of the IMF and various central banks which began voicing concerns about asset bubbles developing as a result of the market becoming too hot.

However, things have cooled a little over the last 2 years and the slowdown was being eyed nervously by some while many others, including myself, considered the market to be experiencing a healthy correction, not a recession. We all knew that the growth rates of 30+ percent experienced in 2013 were unsustainable. So, in that regard, a slowdown has been welcomed in the interests of a more sustainable and profitable future.

High interest

So next week’s Cityscape Global can be regarded as being held in a very interesting time for the industry. We all know that the industry is cyclical in nature and, as the industry matures, as it has done so rapidly over the last 5 years, the peaks and troughs of cyclical fluctuations become shallower and cycles are characterized by corrections, not boom and bust scenarios. What is pleasing is that the industry has shown itself to being much more resilient to global economic and geo-political influences and events. Therefore, it can be considered that the industry is actually at the bottom of its first true correction of this century. I say this because I do not consider the events of 2008 and 2009 to be a cyclical but rather an anomalous event.

I think this year’s event, while dynamic, rich in content and exciting, will definitely be surrounded by a heightened level of intrigue and discussion as to where the market will be going for the remainder of the decade. Regardless of mood and sentiment, Cityscape Global 2016 will play an important role in allowing participants to opine debate and determine what the future opportunities are for Dubai’s real estate industry and how they can participate, contribute or help shape its realization.


It is highly likely that keynote speakers will highlight the positive outlook for Dubai’s property market, promoting investment in the emirate while the city is at the bottom of its cycle. No doubt, the positive effect that the Global Expo 2020 will have on the industry will be a topic that will be explored exhaustively.

The importance of Cityscape Global to the industry cannot be overstated. As with many exhibitions, it provides a concentrated and focused forum which allows the industry to showcase its vision and capabilities, and demonstrate what shape Dubai will take in the future. But Cityscape is much more than that.

Cityscape Global is an open invitation for all stakeholders to understand, evaluate, participate and prosper in an industry that continues to literally shape Dubai. It is a meeting place for some of the biggest and brightest minds in the industry representing all stakeholders in the industry, and a confluence of opinions, ideas and opportunities which are shared, debated and developed. It allows these stakeholders to gain a macro sense of industry direction and a micro understanding of the various elements that will shape the industry going forward.

So, for those of us with a passion for the industry, it will certainly be an exciting three days.  My personal interest and intrigue goes way beyond the concepts on display – to harnessing, considering and evaluating the thoughts, opinions, concerns, visions and ideas of those assembled in one of the most diverse and informative real estate forums in the world.

Let the show begin, again!

Make the most of your Cityscape visit…

  • Check online which developers/establishments are exhibiting, make a short list of those projects/exhibits which you want to visit
  • Know your objective – to buy a new home or to invest?
  • What is your price range?
  • Are you interested in a specific location?
  • Make your rounds – find out which projects will likely support or satisfy your goal(s)
  • Don’t decide in haste – there will be a lot of good offers; be on the lookout for the best deals
  • Always read between the lines, ask questions and haggle
  • Attend as many conferences as they are usually free

Big shift to affordability – Property Weekly


Mohanad Alwadiya is the CEO of Harbor Real Estate, senior advisor and instructor at the Dubai Real Estate Institute – the official training and certification arm of the Dubai Land Department, and presenter/content producer of Memaar – the first-ever property reality TV program in the Middle East. He is also among the Top 10 best performing brokers in Dubai, and is considered one of the most celebrated and influential industry commentators today.


Tell us about your company.

Harbor Real Estate is an integrated real estate service provider offering holistic real estate services to individual and institutional clients

Harbor represents the new breed of passionate real estate professionals that develop innovative strategies derived from conclusions based on rigorous fact-based analyses tailored to deliver tangible results through the adoption and implementation of global best practices

With decades of experience, the Harbor team is truly exceptional, and has intensified its focus on what has delivered success to Harbor since its inception: absolute client satisfaction

Having built a team that is passionate while pragmatic,, creative while logical, and aggressive while accountable, the strength of Harbor Real Estate lies in its ability to create innovative solutions, and to work in partnership with clients as a trusted advisor and reliable executor of wealth-generating strategies.

Harbor aims to consistently set new industry benchmarks. With ISO 9001:2008 certification for its operational guidelines and processes, Harbor continually strives to set the highest standards of customer service

In 2015, Harbor Real Estate won the title of “Best Property Management Firm” in the UAE, and this was a great testament to our aspirations of being the leading property management firm focused on developing and growing institutional real estate funds. Our current portfolio is worth AED 14.8B.

What’s the best property deal you have had in the past one year?

Obtaining the exclusive property management rights for Emaar Business Park Building Nos. 2 & 4 which I have always considered as among the most iconic corporate addresses in Dubai.

How many new agents has your firm hired in the past year?

Our brokerage division is always growing, and we have hired over 20 new brokers in the last 12 months. We always have room for and actively seek experienced agents and property managers.


What is your outlook for the UAE property sector for 2016?

Dubai real estate has been undergoing a correction for some time now. We feel that the decline in values associated with that correction has halted or virtually halted in all market segments. In Q1 of 2016, we have already witnessed significant growth in investor activity and strong land sales. Both are leading indicators that the market is heading into its next cyclical phase. We at Harbor believe that by the end of 2016, the market will have entered its next phase of growth which is expected to accelerate as we draw ever closer to the Dubai World Expo in 2020.

What types of property are selling most in the market under the current circumstances?

The market has definitely shifted towards the affordable segment. We have witnessed a strong increase in demand for affordable properties from both end-users and investors as the value story is compelling. Gross rental yields of between 8% and 10% are still achievable in some areas.

What are some of the challenges unique to this market?

There are a few major challenges which are totally unique to the Dubai market. Real estate markets globally are feeling the effects of a general decline in global economic growth, and the ongoing issues associated with geo-political upheavals which exist on virtually every continent. The world is still, after some 8 years, trying to shake off the effects of the global financial crisis, and while some economies such as the US have fared reasonably, other major economies in Europe and Asia are still struggling with systemic issues. The resulting headlines affect consumer and investor confidence negatively, and we all know that confidence is a key prerequisite for growth in the industry.

What are the biggest mistakes you see buyers making when purchasing in the market that offers them good entry points such as the present Dubai property sector?

Being impatient and diverting from the 5 fundamentals of sound real estate investing.

1: Know why you want to invest in / own a property.

2: Set your objectives carefully as success in property investment or ownership can only be attained when (and if) those objectives of the investor have been realized. It’s as simple as that.

3: Think long term for your greatest success and happiness.

4:  Know your stuff… engage others to help you, but do be prepared to assess their performance.

5: Eliminate risks by planning conservatively.


What would you advise people who want to buy? What would you advise people who want to sell?

For buyers, the affordable segment is still providing very good value.

For sellers… it’s a buyer’s market, so don’t sell unless you have a compelling reason to do so. Selling because of a market correction which is part of a normal cycle is both short-sighted and wasteful.

What is your advice to agents who are struggling to close deals in the current market? What is your success strategy to lock in deals even in difficult times?

  • Be realistic when valuing a property; no false promises just to get the business
  • Hold firm to realistic values
  • Carefully assess the financial impact of every offer and counter-offer as an offer can, at face value, seem unreasonable, but further analysis can dispel any doubts
  • Be innovative in seeking solutions
  • Create competition. Market the property aggressively to generate competing bids


What type of training is mandatory for new agents?

The Real Estate Regulatory Agency and the Dubai Real Estate Institute have set a mandatory certification program for new and experienced agents who wish to work in a real estate brokerage in Dubai. The Dubai Real Estate Institute also organizes license renewal courses and exams along with a very rich variety of career development programs that will help elevate the standards of professionalism and effectiveness of brokers in Dubai.

Does your firm have a designated trainer, perhaps the broker or another experienced agent who acts as a mentor for new agents?

Harbor has always been big on training and we know it pays a huge dividend. Every one of our agents and property managers receives extensive and tailor-made training. Our rigorous internal training program includes industry, soft skills and specialized training courses that help our employees attain mastery in all the macro and micro aspects of their profession. We offer over 30 training courses every year, and each consultant receives a customized training plan that will help enrich his or her knowledge and skills. All our senior directors, including myself, are involved in this dedication to training, and it is part of our annual KPIs and targets.



What motivated you to pursue a career in real estate? How long have you been in Dubai and why did you choose to open a business here?

I have always been passionate about real estate, and I am thankful that Dubai has allowed me to utilise my entrepreneurial skills to pursue my dream of establishing a world-class organisation to thrive in such a wonderful industry. I am immensely proud of what we at Harbor have created.

I have been blessed to have been in Dubai for over 30 years. I am of a generation that has been extremely fortunate to have witnessed and been part of the amazing growth and development that Dubai is now famous for. Any entrepreneur would be short-sighted not to participate in this economic marvel if he had the chance!

How has the industry changed through the years? Which significant events in the industry have left an indelible impression on you?

The most significant changes have been made in the structural area, and these changes have mostly occurred after the last Global Financial Crisis.

The increasing levels of governance, oversight and scrutiny that the industry has undergone has been instrumental in driving confidence back into the industry.  The ongoing development of the industry’s regulatory framework and implementation of laws and regulations to safeguard both consumer and investor interests, the overall industry and the economy at large from rampant and irresponsible speculative, predatory or unethical practices, reveals a mature and balanced approach to shaping an industry which exhibits sustainable growth over the long term. The “free for all” days of the past are long gone and investor, not speculator, confidence underpins the market performance.

The Global Financial Crisis taught the industry a lot. Looking back, many real estate companies were not structured to deal with the crisis and had operated during a period when selling property in Dubai required little or no effort, and even less business acumen or professionalism. It was a sellers’ market of a magnitude that has rarely been seen before, and is unlikely to be seen again.

The recession achieved what recessions typically do… reveal the flaws and weaknesses of those organizations that had been conducting business with a limited vision or a short-term perspective. While the short-term gains may have been exhilarating, it typically came at the expense of long-term survival.

Harbor survived because we quickly realized that everybody was in the same boat, and we needed to develop a competitive edge. After all, that is what a recession is all about… survival of the fittest. It was tough, and there were many sleepless nights during this period.

Obviously, we needed to adapt to survive. This required a brutally honest assessment of our capabilities as individuals, and the capability of Harbor to continue to provide the services that clients required, but within a totally new business context emanating from what was essentially economic turmoil on a global scale.

We needed to make sense of the chaos, and we determined that the market required new solutions to meet new challenges, and I think this is the greatest lesson that we learnt at Harbor. Innovation relevant to circumstance will always prevail regardless of the circumstances. If the market is hot or cold, innovation will always provide the competitive edge.

Rent Returns

Know the difference between sales comparison approach and Capital Asset Pricing Model

I have just purchased a new apartment as an investment. What is the best method of determining an optimal rental rate to attract my first tenant?

The simplest method is the Sales Comparison Approach (SCA). This method relies on identifying a factor that is homogenous to similar, if not, identical properties. For example, if an apartment similar to the one that you are planning to invest in is attracting a monthly rental rate of AED7 per sq.ft. per month, then this will indicate the likely cash-flows you can expect. This is an extremely simplistic approach that we, as property managers do not advocate although it’s surprising how many people limit their analysis to this simple method only.

A more comprehensive method is the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM). The CAPM comprehends levels of risk and opportunity cost as it applies to your investment. This model identifies potential Total Return on Investment which is derived from Capital Appreciation in addition to net rental income and compares it to other investments that you may be considering.  This is a much more comprehensive evaluation tool which enables smarter investment decisions and, therefore, is the one that we use as standard procedure.

Please ensure you engage an experienced and professional property consultant when considering building your portfolio. You are about to make a big decision and should utilize expertise that will help you minimize risk and maximize your returns.

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the press as to Dubai’s Real Estate oversupply? Given the importance of Supply and Demand in determining pricing and values, how can such confusion exist?

Calculating optimal supply levels, particularly when emerging from a recessionary period when lots of project s were cancelled or delayed, is particularly challenging. It depends on an accurate estimation of construction timelines which are invariably fluid and demand for real estate assets which will emanate from population growth which, in Dubai’s case, will be largely driven by overall economic growth going forward. In addition, it needs to comprehend a lag effect from the time that conditions conducive to development are identified by developers and when properties are finally released onto the market.

Given that the economy of the emirate of Dubai is expected to grow at an estimated 5%+ annually for the remainder of the decade and initiatives such as the 2020 World Expo are expected to generate an additional 270,000 jobs, the demand for housing and commercial facilities is expected to grow significantly going forward. 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.

We at Harbor take, at minimum, a 5 year view when trying to estimate supply and demand. When taking into account the nature of the markets resurgence, the strong growth in fundamental economic drivers such as tourism and trade, the levels of investment into infrastructure and initiatives and stakeholder commitment to sustainable growth, we believe that, while inventory levels may spike in the interim, they will not be excessive at the end of our 5 year forecast period.

By Mohanad Alwadiya 
Published in Property Weekly Magazine
Dated: December 2015

Property Weekly


July 2015: Where are we?

For the past six months, headlines have been making many and varied references to a real estate correction in Dubai. This is not surprising as indeed Dubai’s real estate industry is in the midst of one. Many view the term correction with suspicion and trepidation, particularly those with a more tactical and less strategic short-term point of view.

Those who take a long-term perspective look at a correction with anticipation as it refers to the elimination of systemic issues and making the necessary adjustments to deal with impacts of external issues on the efficient operation of the real estate market.

There is no doubt that a correction was overdue. The year 2013 will be remembered as Dubai’s comeback year as the total value of real estate transactions reached Dh234 billion, a 52 per cent increase on 2012, which was clearly unsustainable as witnessed when the correction began last year when Dh218 billion worth of real estate assets were sold, a reduction of over Dh16 billion on the previous year. At the time of writing, just over Dh63 billion worth of transactions has taken place this year, indicating that the market is well and truly entered its correctional phase.

Changing cash flows

The market definitely benefited from high levels of liquidity during 2012 and 2013. Capital inflows seeking safe haven from regional conflicts were strong. However, they were sure to weaken and have. Geopolitical events such as the Ukraine conflict and subsequent economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West sent the rouble rapidly declining in value, making investing in Dubai an increasingly expensive proposition for Russians, who historically have been prevalent in the investing community.

In addition, changes to mortgage laws also dampened the availability of capital for investors wishing to use leverage to capitalise on attractive property valuations and the promise of high and sustainable rental yields.

Vying for investment

A slew of new projects being launched as a result of renewed developer optimism also placed pressure on liquidity levels and, eventually, prices market wide. Initially, launches were made with prices for off plan units consistent and supportive to prices for completed units.

However, with each additional launch, competition for the investor money intensified, leading to a gradual reduction in prices for off plan units and making the risk reward equation more palatable for off plan units versus completed units.

In addition, the shift of developer focus in response to the call for more affordable housing also meant that investors gravitated towards this – perhaps the most important structural correction in the market to date.

The number of new launches has been impressive, leaving many to question whether over – exuberance on behalf of developers will result in a significant oversupply. Calculating optimal supply levels, especially when emerging from a recessionary period, is particularly challenging. It depends on an accurate estimation of demand for real estate assets that will emanate from Dubai’s population growth, which will be largely driven by overall economic growth. In addition, supply needs to factor in a lag effect from the time that conditions conducive to development are identified by developers and when properties are completed and are released on to the market.

We at Harbor take a minimum five year view when looking at equilibrium or imbalances in the market. When taking into account the nature of its resurgence, the strong growth in fundamental economic drivers such as tourism and trade, the levels of investment into infrastructure and initiatives and stakeholder commitment to sustainable growth, we believe that while inventory levels may spike in the interim, they will not be excessive at the end of our five year forecast period.

Steady supply

There will be about 11,000 villas, 7,500 town houses and 35,000 apartments delivered between now and 2020. While this may seem a lot, remember that we are entering a period where demand for property – particularly those that are affordable is expected to rise significantly and given average occupation rates are currently about 80-85 per cent, there is not much margin for error in terms of satisfying expected demand.

Put simply, Dubai needs people to support an economy that is expected to grow at an estimated 5 per cent annually for the remainder of the decade and to deliver initiatives such as the World Expo 2020. The expo alone is expected to generate an additional 270,000 jobs and drive demand for housing and commercial facilities that don’t exist.

Much of the city’s planning estimates the number of people living in the emir ate to grow to 3.4 million by 2020 – a 7 per cent annual increase from today’s population of 2.25 million.

Expo led growth

There is no doubt that a stabilised real estate market will provide a much better launch pad for what will be a period of significant economic and commercial activity over the next five to seven years. The structural shift towards more affordable housing will not only accommodate the expected rapid population growth associated with the Expo 2020, but is also an important factor in the development of Dubai’s economy. Every emerging market needs to develop a strong middle class, whose expansion is critical to growing a sustainable economy and developing resilience in the face of external financial and economic shocks.

In addition, for Dubai to compete effectively in the region and globally, it needs to ensure that the cost of doing business in the emirate does not position it as an outlier when entrepreneurs or corporations are considering alternative locations for their operations.

When taking this perspective, the correction could not have come at a better time.

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.