Affordability matters most

This year’s Cityscape Global Exhibition and Conference is forecast to be the largest yet and comes at a time when Dubai’s Real Estate industry is expected to start entering a cyclical growth phase in the lead up to the World Expo 2020.

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

For buyers and investors, there is no better place to gain an appreciation of the myriad of opportunities that are on offer, but the sheer scale of the exhibition can become a little overwhelming, especially when you are looking to invest.

As a general theme for this year’s Cityscape, I will be advising most of my investors to look for value opportunities in the affordable housing segment, particularly in the Dubai South areas, 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 lots of potential, even though the recent cyclical correction. Affordable properties will continue to be on 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. And while the value is irrefutable, the risks associated with investing in the affordable segments of the industry as opposed to the luxury segments are much lower. Demand for affordable accommodation will continue to grow as Dubai’s population swells in the run up to the Expo. As Dubai continues to grow, so does the need for affordable housing.

Yet, although I see great value in investing in the affordable segment, it doesn’t mean some interesting opportunities won’t appear in other segments as well.

So, while you might focus on identifying opportunities in the affordable segment, you need to keep an open mind and be wary of unique opportunities that may be present.

I always advise my clients that the best way to get the most out of the event, is to canvass all the interesting opportunities on display and gradually yet efficiently establish a short list 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…

Why? It’s important to understand what factors are going determine the potential of any investment. For property, these factors include everything from macro level influences such as global economic performance and policies, geopolitical issues, currency rates and oil prices to more regional or local factors such as industry supply I demand levels, consumer confidence, government policy and regulatory framework, industry cycles and liquidity in the marketplace.

So, in reality, 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 a more efficient and focused assessment of all that is on offer.

But in addition to understanding the invest environment, it’s important for the investor to understand why he or she wants to invest in property and what the investment objectives are. Too many investors formulate the answers to these questions “on the run”, once they are traipsing around the exhibition. This lack of preparation just leads to confusion and ultimately, poor decision making.

Every industry has its shows, whether it’s the myriad of motor shows held around the world, film festivals, fashion events, airshows and the property industry is no different. What many don’t understand is that Dubai’s Cityscape Global has established itself as one of the best Real Estate and Property events globally… and its right on our very own doorstep!

So, for those of us with a passion for the industry, it is going to be an exciting 3 days. It always seems to end too early!

Right time to grow your portfolio

Even though some buyers continue to maintain a ‘wait and see’ approach as property prices continue to soften, if you have invested in Dubai property, especially in key growth areas, then hold on to your portfolio. In fact, we would advise you to, if possible, add to your portfolio.

Dubai’s economy is still doing very well although the IMF forecast for UAE economic growth this year is down to 3 per cent compared to last year’s 4.6 per cent, which is quite understandable considering the after-effects of the recent oil price slump on economy. Having gradually weaned the country away from overdependence on oil, the UAE remains in a good fiscal position as it proceeds with economic diversification.

The UAE economy is being driven by tourism and trade, and a slew of successful new projects that will complement these important revenue-generating economic segments which continue to be a primary feature of Dubai’s growth outlook. In 2014, Dubai welcomed over 12 million visitors, continuing a growth trend of approximately 9 percent per annum since 2010, a statistic which is the envy of many nations.

The ‘soft landing’ of the UAE economy is by no means bad news as it is simply indicative of more gradual sustainable growth overall which, in turn, is supported by the following factors:

The market is in a healthy state of revaluation and consolidation, not recession. The reduction in growth rates is necessary to ensure the type of sustainable, profitable growth that long-term investors seek becomes a recognized characteristic of the Dubai market. The market has demonstrated its maturity and resilience by recovering post-global financial crisis and is now adjusting to more sustainable value appreciation levels.

Strong demand for property. When you are investing in real estate, you are actually investing in the economy, and the effect of the 2020 Expo on the UAE economy cannot be underrated in terms of generating 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, from labor camps to offices to warehouses to apartments to executive villas, is sure to have a significant effect on property values.

Investor appetite and confidence remain for off-plan and under-construction projects especially for those launched by reputable developers. Outside of tier one developer-led schemes, there has been strong performance in recent launches outside of prime locations and emerging areas.

The low mortgage rates of today are unprecedented and, notwithstanding possible interest rate rises in the US later this year as the dollar continues to strengthen, will still be affordable in the ensuing five years. We should remember that affordable finance and demand for real estate assets are inseparable.

The market is approaching maturity. The on-going development of the industry’s regulatory framework and the implementation of laws to safeguard both consumer and investor interests, and the overall industry and economy at large from rampant and irresponsible speculative, predatory or unethical practices, reveal a mature and balanced approach to shaping an industry which will exhibit sustainable growth over the long term.

If it’s superior yield with minimal capital outlay that you are after, Dubai real estate is still hard to beat unlike older established cities like Hong Kong and Singapore which currently suffer from high costs of housing, especially the former where only 50 percent of residents own their homes. Affordable properties have all benefitted from Dubai’s recovering economy. Investors in these areas can reasonably expect rental returns of at least 7 percent per annum on top of annual capital appreciation. Given the relatively low cost of entry, even with the overall economic slowdown predicted to continue well into the coming year, buyers in growth areas such as Dubai land will see greater financial rewards for their astuteness and patience in due course.

There is definitely a shortage of affordable housing in Dubai. The number of developments that will be supplying housing affordable to the middle and lower income segments is definitely on the increase, more so in the run up to the 2020 World Expo. Historically, the established developments that were most associated with filling the affordable housing gap were international City, Discovery Gardens and, to a lesser extent, MotorCity. But there have been more recent additions that have provided realistic alternatives to these older developments, and several more to come.

Still, as both buyers and sellers are sticking to their negotiating positions with more determination and a greater propensity to walk away from the negotiating table if not satisfied, the real estate cycle will continue on its course. Prices may continue to soften, but what is more important is that the market does not go down on a steep fall, and keeps to its current sustainable path.

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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.