Reality Check


Forbes Middle East
September 2016 Edition

Mohanad Alwadiya is a man of many talents. As the host of MEMAAR on Dubai TV, he introduces VIPs to their dream homes, and as the CEO of Harbor Real Estate he manages a portfolio worth around $4 billion. Here he talks about why he loves his industry and what the future holds.

What is it about real estate that inspires such passion in you?

I see it as fundamental and critical to the existence and success of everyone and everything—individuals, families, businesses and whole economies. Real estate decisions are some of the biggest we will ever make. They affect our families, our employees, our cus­tomers, our shareholders, our citizens, our success, the way that people view us and even the way we view and express ourselves.

These decisions are quite often the determinants of whether dreams and aspirations are realized. Being in this business means we are able to play an important part in enabling people or organizations to achieve those dreams and aspirations, whatever they may be.

What motivated you to start the show?

MEMAAR was the brainchild of Dubai Channels Network. There was not a single property reality TV show in the Middle East, where structural real estate developments are an everyday occurrence. It has grown a lot since it first aired in May 2015. Our audience com­prises millions of viewers from all across the GCC and beyond. When it comes to our guests, we always try to select real clients from different backgrounds and objectives to offer a different en­riching perspective.

What’s the most expensive property you’ve found? And which has been the most inspiring story?

The most expensive property ever chosen was a luxury villa at Emirates Hills, which sold at AED 48.8 million. I’ve found all the episodes inspiring but if I had to short list one or two it would be when media entrepreneur Ali Mroueh went on a quest for a home to surprise his beloved mother. Or the truly inspiring story of Mr. Mahmoud Al Burai, Managing Director at Dubai Land Department, who entrusted me to help him identify the best income-producing investment asset to secure the future of his daughters.

What are your top pieces of advice for GCC and international investors for 2016/17?

Know why you want to invest in property

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 portfolio. The more skillful you are at conceptual­izing, the greater your likelihood of generating successful strategies to grow your wealth.

Set your objectives carefully

Financial objectives. These should be reviewed annually and include elements such as total return, capital appreciation, revenue streams, net results and eventual divestment values, all wrapped up in an optimal time frame.

Think long term for your greatest success

Those who have had the greatest success can think long term, make rational, well researched and carefully thought out decisions with the end objectives in mind, and understand that the real estate in­dustry globally will go through cycles of growth and contraction.

Know your stuff

Investing in property is about recognizing and capitalizing on op­portunities that support your objectives. To do this, you must have some knowledge about the industry. This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert, but you need to be able to communicate intelligently with the experts.

Plan to eliminate risks

Plan your finances, cash flows, capital requirements, debt levels, etc, very carefully. Always plan for the worst and hope for the best.

How is the sector changing?

Real estate markets are feeling the effects of a general decline in glob­al economic growth. The world is still, after some eight years, trying to shake off the effects of the global financial crisis and while some economies have fared reasonably, others are still struggling. The re­sulting effect on consumer and investor confidence is quite negative. Yet the market is still developing. It is not stagnant. It is always a very promising sign when an industry demonstrates the flexibility and resilience to undertake a structural shift when market requirements change or develop.

News that the total value of real estate transactions in Dubai, at AED113 billion in the first half of 2016, represented a decline of around 12% from the first six months of 2015 may have disappointed some, but it did not tell the whole story. This figure was generated by 28,251 transactions, almost 25% higher than the same period last year, which is very good news. It demonstrates a market that is grow­ing in health, because it can provide more affordable solutions to a broader spectrum of investors.

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.