Mortgage trend continues this year

There has been a very pleasing trend that we first noticed in 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.

Historically, mortgages have represented no more than 30%-35% of property sales in the emirate. This ratio has now climbed to over 50%, in some months, levels of 60+% have been 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.

Property investing in 2017… many alternatives

There are many alternatives for the property investor in today’s market. Here are just a few of them and why I think each presents significant opportunities to increase my client’s wealth.

Affordable housing

The affordable housing segment in Dubai has outperformed its more luxurious alternative for some time now and continues to show lots of promise. Affordable properties will continue to be in high demand as Dubai’s population growth gains momentum during a period of expected strong economic growth leading up to the end of the decade.

Examples of affordable projects that are providing good rental returns and expected capital appreciation are the Skycourts project and the adjacent QPoint project. Apartments in Skycourts have proven to be very popular with tenants and investors alike and have historically delivered excellent capital growth with some apartment values growing by 20 to 25% % in the 24 months leading up to the correction and shedding no more than 5% reduction in values during the correction with rental premiums of at least 7% not uncommon. Purchasing an apartment at Skycourts has been made even been made more affordable with the developer offering units, some with existing and reliable tenants, with a very attractive easy payment plan. QPoint is also providing rental yields of 6% to 7% and has also showed strong resilience in losing minimal capital value during the correction.

And while the value is irrefutable, he risks associated with investing in the affordable segments of the industry as opposed to the luxury segments are much lower. Demand for this type of affordable accommodation will continue to grow as Dubai’s population swells in the run up to the Expo and the demand for well-located affordable housing increases. As Dubai grows, so will the need for affordable housing.


The rise of Dubai as one of the world most preferred tourist destinations is a remarkable story. Tourism and associated commercial activities are flourishing in Dubai and the focus of investment has been on new projects to grow these important revenues 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 with continual investments in infrastructure and attractions expected to generate 25-30 million tourists annually to the emirate by 2030.

The local market offers significant opportunity. The GCC, with a total population of just over 40 million people, has one of the youngest populations in the world. Approximately 50% of the population on the Arabian Peninsula is below 25 years of age. What a wonderful opportunity this represents for Dubai. The possibility exists for the construction of the only mega family entertainment destination in over 2,500,000 square kilometers of territory. From an economic point of view, the provision of memorable entertainment experiences for the youth and families of the region must have a multiplier effect on the economy.


All things being equal, offices in today’s market can provide an ROI significantly greater than that of residential properties. This is mainly due to lower per sq. ft. capital cost but also reflects the higher levels of risk associated with owning this type of property.

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

Establishing a true value of the investment is often easier with commercial property. Reviewing the current owners’ income statement and existing lease details will provide a good indication of the likely future cash-flows and help to establish an accurate valuation. Residential properties are often subject to more emotional pricing or developer inefficiency and cost recovery considerations.
In addition to lease rates and periods, negotiations can include such items as provision of fit-out assistance, maintenance, implementation of office and storage systems, insurance, lease to buy provisions and options … the list goes on. The variations are countless.

Labor Camps

One alternative that is not considered very often is the ubiquitous labor camp. Dubai is going through a high construction phase with a growing requirement for construction labor. Demand for this asset type has been very strong and continues to grow. Yields above 15% are not uncommon and by selecting the right tenant, longer term contracts can be negotiated. This investment is certainly worth consideration when economic activity is expected to increase or remain strong for extended periods of time.

Why buy rather than rent this year?

I am predicting that over 70% of the people who are reading this article are concerned about ensuring their financial security by building equity or “net worth”.

I am also predicting that every person reading this article understands that owning property allows will allow them to achieve their financial security goals by building an asset base that will serve them and their families’ well into the future.

For those who don’t act upon that knowledge, the opportunities that will emerge in 2017 will go begging and are bound to be viewed in retrospect with some regret by the clear majority of Real Estate investors because, put simply, only a few will open their eyes to the opportunities that 2017 will offer. History has shown us time and again, the majority will be too late to make the most of the opportunities on offer today. They will wait, pontificate and procrastinate and, later ruminate on how they missed the boat.

If you are living in Dubai now, you are uniquely placed to take advantage of a variety of positive developments.

For a start, the market is offering the best value for some time. A slew of affordable properties that have been launched over the past 2 years and there will be more launched in 2017. This structural shift in the market has been a boon for first home buyers and affordability, or a lack thereof, as a reason to continue to rent is disappearing fast. Whether it’s an affordable studio or a luxury villa, there are great value opportunities in every segment of the market supported by the most affordable payment plans seen in years.

Also, the value of your property will be increasing as the US dollar continues to strengthen in 2017. The US Federal reserve is 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.

And then there are mortgages themselves … although interest rates will be increasing going forward, they will remain at very affordable levels for quite some time. Now is the time to do some financial planning to determine how you can obtain that most desirable of assets, the family home.

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 3.4 million people by 2020, a 7% annual increase from today’s population of 2.25 million.

While the price of oil is a big issue for the region’s economies, with oil representing only about 4% of Dubai’s GDP, the effect of the decline in oil prices is not as drastic as some may think. Infrastructural spending continues unabated with the total budget outlay of Dh 48.7 billion for 2017 being marginally up from Dh 48.55 billion allocated to 2016. Looking at the 5-year budget plan of Dh 248 billion, the average annual spending of Dh49.6 billion is higher by 6.5 per cent than Dh 46.6 billion spent during 2014 to 2016 inclusive. This is significant as it demonstrates an unwavering commitment to economic and societal development.

Dubai’s economy is being driven by fundamentals such as tourism and trade and a slew of new projects to grow these important revenue generating economic segments. 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.

And those visitor number will seem paltry once the 2020 Expo kicks off. And the 277,000 extra jobs that are generated to ensure the estimated 20 million visitors to the Expo see Dubai in its most favorable light cannot be underrated in terms generating significant demand for Real Estate assets. Hosting the World Expo will provide additional impetus for the industry to enjoy continued growth and the predictable surge in demand for accommodation and commercial space of all types is sure to have a significant effect on property values.

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.

2017 will be remembered as a year of the astute investor. When opportunity knocks, be ready to welcome and embrace it.

Published: Gulf News Freehold
Dated: 19-March-2017

Investing in 2017? Five key points to ask


You must have some knowledge about any investment that you might be considering. Property is no different. The old adage of “Don’t invest in anything you don’t know” applies. You may not be an expert, but you need to be able to communicate intelligently and knowledgeably with the experts.

Do some homework on the industry and gain an understanding of where the industry is now, where it is headed and what is driving its direction and development. Get a feeling of its composition and what it has to offer you in terms of wealth generation opportunities, how you might be able to engage those opportunities and when you envisage starting your foray into the property investing space.

It’s difficult for anybody to accurately assess opportunities and the risks associated with those opportunities if they have little knowledge of what it is they are investing in.


As with any investment, investing in property is all about recognizing and capitalizing on opportunities that are consistent and supportive to your overall wealth accumulation objectives.

You must have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve and what role your property portfolio will play within a larger diversified investment portfolio. What proportion of your total investment portfolio is allocated towards property? towards stocks or bonds? towards gold or commodities? etc.

The only person who can determine what you are trying to achieve is you so be sure you know you’re your objectives are before doing anything.


Needless to say, investing in property is often a capital intensive exercise and, depending on your strategy, returns can be subject to relatively long lead times. A sufficient and robust finance plan is essential.

What is your source of finance and where do the greatest risks lie in the event of an economic downturn or change in circumstances?  How liquid might you need to be? How exposed will you be to interest rate increases and or exchange rate fluctuations? What level of gearing or leverage are you comfortable with? Will you be able to preserve capital invested in your property portfolio during cyclical swings in the market or will you need to move capital among portfolios?

All these questions (and many more) need to be addressed and the more skillful you are at conceptualizing your wealth generation schematic, the greater your likelihood of generating successful strategies to grow your wealth.


I always recommend that clients consult with a financial advisor prior to embarking upon the purchase of a property.

Investing in property requires careful planning and a clear understanding of what it will entail; the effects it will have on lifestyle, the risks it may pose, the stresses that may emerge while, at the same time, the benefits of generating wealth in, what can be,  a very lucrative industry . A financial advisor can help you understand and assess all these elements by helping you determine what you actually need to do (or do without) to achieve your objectives.

Ask yourself if you know definitively what you can afford, how best to use available finance, how to accurately assess alternative investment options, how best to utilize your current assets and how investing in real estate is going to enable you to grow your wealth in the future. A financial advisor will view your investment as one part of your overall financial landscape and should be able to guide you into committing the right type and the right amount of resources to acquiring that dream home that everybody aspires to.

As with any investment, investing in property is all about recognizing and capitalizing on opportunities that are consistent and supportive to your overall wealth accumulation objectives.


Are you able to identify, engage and work with a professional in the industry? Do you have the skill to select the right agency? Do you know what separates professionals that will provide you with tangible added value rather than simply line their pockets with your money? It’s up to you to choose wisely and remember, cheapest is not always best.

Do you know where to find an experienced and passionate team with people who really enjoy what they are doing? An agency that exhibits a breadth and depth of industry knowledge and expertise? This is important.

Look for longevity and evidence of good relationships with key industry stakeholders such as the major developers or authorities such as the   Dubai Land Department, RERA, DEWA or Economic Department.

And finally, look for an agency that has received some form of Industry or peer recognition. These are the hardest plaudits to get!

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.