The Essential role of property asset managers

The role of the property asset manager is misunderstood by many, with the majority of property investors and other industry participants thinking that the role does not extend beyond the collection and remittance of rental receipts and acting as a buffer between the landlord and the tenant.

Little do they realize that a good property asset manager will generate a greater return from a property portfolio and enable long term portfolio strategic objectives to be realized.

Any investor in property would benefit from a professional property asset manager but it is essential to   know what to look for in selecting a professional to manage their property(s)?

  1. Astute investors understand that you need a professional who is experienced in the market. Not just any market, but the Dubai market. Typically, if you find somebody with at least 10 years’ experience, you will have found somebody who has survived the global recession, and that should provide a reasonable indication that they are in the business for the long term and that they had the skills to navigate and survive Dubai’s property slump. Many didn’t.
  2. Strategic Approach. A competent property asset manager will provide a whole host of services for the investor but the most important is the development of a Property Portfolio Strategy. The professional must be able to articulate and present his thoughts after conducting a thorough assessment of your personal situation and property portfolio. He must be able to provide you with a credible strategy and activity plan which is designed to harness the true potential of your property and provide you with the maximum rate of total return. It is essential to have a well thought out strategy for your property portfolio if you are to maximize your returns.
  3. Knowledge and Understanding. Not just anybody can formulate a credible and implementable strategy. It requires years of expertise and a fundamental understanding of what makes Real Estate such a worthwhile and superior investment. A true professional will have a strong knowledge base on topics including industry history, current market factors and trends, risk factors, and the likelihood of relevant future events that will affect the performance of your property investment. This knowledge should span global, regional and local landscapes and will require a good understanding of economic factors, industry knowledge extending to government policy and regulation, finance and market dynamics.
  4. Planning Expertise and Ability to Implement. Forming a strategy is one thing, but being able to bring the strategy to life is quite another. A true professional will provide an activity plan which will include details of pricing and marketing, customer relationship management and tenant management and policy for the entire portfolio. Essentially, this area of expertise is related to the “topline” or revenue generation and management of the property. Equally important is the cost management and maintenance supervision of the property. Many times, I have seen excellent “topline” performance being eroded due to poor operational and maintenance cost controls.
  5. Organizational Ability and Communication Skills. Managing your property portfolio will also require proper performance measurement, communications and review schedules, and status reporting and financial statements. Investors should always seek examples of these elements as transparency and candid performance appraisals are essential for managing your portfolio correctly by addressing shortfalls to objectives, issues requiring addressing and opportunities for performance improvement, in addition to your peace of mind.
  6. Customer Centricity. It’s important to choose a property manager who you can work with and who, you believe, has your best interests at heart. Your property manager must be customer centered and, unfortunately, in this business, this is not always the case.
  7. There is no point entering a business relationship that is lacking in mutual trust and respect. The investor must have confidence in his ability to manage a business … the investor’s business… which just so happens to be a property portfolio. As with all investments, but especially investments in property, there will be good times and challenging times. There is no such scenario as “set and forget”. It doesn’t exist. If you do not respect the manager you have appointed, the relationship will not survive the challenging times and you will need to go through the whole process of finding a replacement.
  8. A History of success. The investor should be sure to ask for referrals and call some existing clients. It’s important to seek out success stories and ask to see examples of client reports to assess their completeness, continuity and timeliness. The investor must ask the property manager carefully thought out questions to gauge the depth and breadth of knowledge that he possesses.
  9. Finally, it’s essential that the organization the investor is dealing with has the resources to support the manager of the portfolio. In these times of eliminating overheads, individual performance can be inhibited because of a lack of organizational support. The investor should ask to meet the team.

Choose Wisely The investor must ensure that the property asset portfolio is in good hands providing expected returns with as little hassle as possible. But the investor must realize that once a property manager is appointed, the ultimate return on the investment is largely in his hands.

More buyers get lawyers to read the fine print

Property owners are concerned over growing disputes and investment security.

The number of property dispute cases filed in Q1 2009 increased by 55 per cent compared to Q4 2008. (EB FILE)

Increasing real estate disputes and concerns over security of a property investment are prompting buyers to seek legal advice prior to making a transaction, according to agents.

“Clients have serious concerns over the security of their real estate investments. Further, increase in number of real estate disputes is a result of many prospective buyers seeking legal advice prior to making a transaction,” said Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director, Harbor Real Estate.

“This was not the case in previous years which also contributed greatly to the problems that clients were facing as proper due diligence was not conducted prior to the sale and purchase of property,” he said.

Speaking to Emirates Business in a round table, Shilpa Guruswamy, Head of Legal and Sales Coordination, Asteco Property Management; Charles Neil, CEO, Landmark Advisory & Landmark Properties and Liz O’Connor, Director – Residential Sales & Leasing, Better Homes, said they were ensuring all correct steps were followed within their companies and ensuring all documentations were in place before a transaction is completed.

Do you have a law firm that advises you on the authenticity of your real estate transactions?

Guruswamy: Yes, we have a legal department, which oversees our transaction details and is also responsible for the compliance and risk mitigation process.

Neil: We have law firms to draw up all our documentation which protects the rights of our clients. Our accounts are audited by one of the four big auditors in order to ensure there is a clear distinction between our funds and our clients’ funds.

Real estate agencies, however, should be careful using companies claiming to be trust companies as they are not regulated, and if they have doubts they should use a reputed company of lawyers instead.

O’Connor: Yes, we do have a lawyer on board who manages our legal procedures and contractual obligations on transactions. Through our in-house lawyer as well as our managers, we ensure that all correct steps are followed and documentation is in place before a transaction is completed.

Alwadiya: In 2009, we joined forces with Prestige Legal Consultants, an international law company, to provide counselling and representation to all our clients in all legal matters concerning real estate in Dubai.

This partnership was started to keep in line with our vision to evolve our services from traditional real estate brokerage of merely bringing buyers and sellers together to world-class end-to-end real estate services. The holistic real estate legal services will complement our diverse line of services and govern all the activities and transactions of our clients.

The combined real estate experience of our firms enable us to provide clear candid counsel and guidance to our clients at all times to ensure that their rights are always protected.

Is this a new trend due to the downturn in the real estate sector?

Guruswamy: Real estate transactions, whether sales, lease, or appointment of sub-agents, are all essentially structured through legal contracts. Therefore, all these underlying documents need to be verified to ensure compliance to statutes and contract laws.

It is not a new trend but as the market matures there is greater emphasis on regulation and transparency. Therefore, there is increased need to have people with necessary legal background and expertise to scrutinise or draft documents. It is in no way related to the downturn because we had a legal department in place and operational long before the onset of the downturn.

Neil: We feel there should be laws allowing the setting up of trust accounts, but in our case customers trust us as we have strong finances and strong shareholders.

O’Connor: No, for us this is not as a result of the downturn in the real estate sector. We created this position a number of years ago due to volume of transactions and to oversee our international operations.

Alwadiya: Real estate-related enquiries have increased since the 2008 financial downturn. Many of the clients have serious concerns about the security of their real estate investments.

It was estimated that the number of cases filed in the first quarter of 2009 increased by 55 per cent compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. This drastic increase in the number of real estate disputes is a result of many reasons ranging from investors not fulfilling their obligations, sale and purchase agreements containing provisions that contradict the law about developers not delivering projects on time, and many more.

Prospective buyers are also seeking legal advice prior to making a transaction. This was not the case in previous years and also contributed greatly to the problems that clients were facing as proper due diligence was not conducted prior to the sale and purchase of property.

Most of the current legal enquiries that our legal division receives are usually concerned with the real estate regulations and legislations.

The profound perception of the industry and the daily interface with real estate clientele have resulted in the espousal of a fresh innovative legal counselling scheme. According to a recent study conducted by Harbor research division, majority of people perceive legal counseling as an exhorbitant service which leaves them with no alternative other than staying unaided and frustrated.

For that reason, the legal solution introduced by Harbor & Prestige is viewed as a results-driven method. Customers who seek legal counselling will incur minimal fees and no extra charges will be required in case of not winning the case.

Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) recently proposed a free legal advice service for buyers and sellers, an initiative that we applaud. We believe that this innovative policy will assist in boosting the confidence levels in the real estate industry.

Can you specify which particular transactions are scrutinised by your analysts and lawyers?

Guruswamy: The legal department is involved in overseeing all transactions not limited to primary sales, secondary sales, leases, registration at the Land Department verification of power of attorneys etc. Should a party to the transaction be a corporate body, incorporation documents of companies need also to be verified.

Neil: We do use lawyers for more complicated transactions and are working with one firm to do conveyance transactions.

O’Connor: We have standardised processes and procedures that govern every transaction. Our in-house legal advisor oversees all the legalities of these processes to ensure that all parties, wherever possible are secure.

Alwadiya: The legal services introduction is vital as the real estate market matures through the current economic crisis to become a more structured and regulated market. We obtain legal counselling for all our transactional activities in order to ensure providing our clients with a secured transactional experience. Needless to say, the more complex and high-end the transaction is, the more legal involvement we require.

Do you collect a deposit from a client in order to lock-in your clients?

Guruswamy: We generally do not encourage collection of deposits. However, should there be a delay in completion of transaction, a deposit may be collected by the agent to secure buyer’s interest and lock the seller to a commitment. In this case the agent takes up the role of an escrow agent.

In case of default, deposit maybe forfeited and returned to the aggrieved party. On successful closure of the deal, the deposit is adjusted towards the balance sale price of the transaction.

Neil: We only take deposits as part of a transaction and to secure the rights of the parties involved in a transaction, we don’t take it in to lock in a client. If the deal falls through, then the deposit is returned in the manner agreed upon by the parties at the time of signing the agreement. Sellers can no longer demand deposits and hold on to them.

O’Connor: We have now begun to encourage our customers to hold their deposit with a Rera-approved escrow facility, but in the absence of an escrow we take a deposit from the buyer as security for the seller.

Alwadiya: Accepting deposits from potential buyers or tenants is a common practice in the property market which is usually used as a closing technique or a gesture to test the seriousness of the potential client. More sellers and landlords are starting to ask for deposits as well in order to secure their interest in the transaction, especially when the closing date of the transaction is delayed for justified reasons such as releasing a property mortgage or finalising the transaction contracts or obtaining a date to conduct the transfer at the developer’s office or the Land Department.

We try to avoid retaining any deposits at our end as this is an added liability on us and it can place us in a conflict of interest situation as we usually represent only one part in the transaction. Having said that, we usually recommend that deposits are usually handed by a financial or legal third party entity with neutral position in relation to the parties involved in the transaction.

Do you maintain a separate account to receive agents’ commissions?

Guruswamy: Commission fees are payable to the agent by the parties involved and shall not form a part of the purchase consideration.

Normally, the purchase consideration is exchanged between the buyer and seller and the commission is paid to the agent. Therefore, there is no possibility of both of them being booked into the same account. However, should the agent be involved in collecting the booking deposit, it is booked separately into a designated account, which is distinct from all other operational accounts. Such payments are held on behalf of the buyer and seller and do not form part of the operational funds of the agent.

Neil: No comment.

O’Connor: We have an accounts department and we run a series of profit centres, most of which have commissions as the primary revenue source.

Alwadiya: Our company’s bank account is supervised by an independent certified accounting and auditing firm. Our internal accounting and finance resources follow the processes and guidelines set by this consultant/firm in order to ensure complete compliance with the best financial and accounting standards.

High service charges hit rental yields

Service charges for some properties in Dubai range between 18 per cent and 48 per cent of annual rents, according to a recent report by Investment Boutique (iB). Further, falling rents coupled with high service charges are contributing to lower rental yields for an investor in Dubai.

Real estate analysts also said that developers in Dubai were not necessarily following the service charges set out by the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera). “We don’t see all the developers abiding by the service charges set out by Rera. For example, the rate for luxury-serviced apartments should be around Dh50 per square foot yet some luxury projects in Downtown Dubai are charging Dh63 per square foot,” said Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director, Harbor Real Estate.

Meanwhile, iB in its latest fourth-quarter report – Market Pulse – said developers of some properties in Dubai continue to charge high service fees despite the Rera regulating service charges in the emirate.

“A 1,000 square feet one-bedroom unit in Discovery Gardens at Dh24 per square foot amounted to service charges of around Dh24,000. Current average rents are Dh52,300, which means that service charges constitute an exorbitant 46 per cent of rents. What this does to an investor’s rental yield is but obvious,” said Heather Wipperman Amiji, CEO, Investment Boutique.

According to Alwadiya, high service charges coupled with falling rents can reduce the rental yields for an investor. “High service charges can burn up the capital appreciation and annual rental yields for end-users and investment buyers.”

Elaine Jones, CEO, Asteco Property Management said: “Currently Although we have seen rents stabilise over the past three months, it is also possible that as developments settle and the true level of maintenance and upkeep is determined that service charges will soften. Different owner occupiers also have varying levels of expectation with regards to security, common area cleaning, landscaping etc. and whilst initially the most cost effective route is chosen in the medium to long term a recognition of the added value that a well cared for and maintained property can bring or add to the sale or rent value is significant.”

She said that property in New Dubai is subject to master community charges in addition to local community service charges and property maintenance.

The impact of service charges has been felt throughout Dubai with developers facing concerns from property owners on the high service charges and perceived low quality of service.

In the case of apartments, service charges constituted between 15 per cent and 32 per cent of rents in the first quarter of 2008. Downtown Dubai and The Green Community charge the highest service fees in the apartment and villa category respectively, with Jumeirah Lake Tower (JLT), Arabian Ranches and Emirates Living being the cheapest.

According to the report, service charges also vary substantially from community to community with JLT currently the most attractive to investors as service charges are between 21 and 23 per cent of rents. Developments such as Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa have relatively higher service charges.

With charges remaining more or less stable and rents declining substantially, service charges now constitute between 18 per cent and 48 per cent of annual rents.

Discovery Gardens, a mid-end development with modest facilities called into question the rationale behind high service charges. Owners organised themselves in an effort to force the master developer to reduce the charge. However, they met with limited success as the final rate was reduced by Dh5 per square foot.

Previously in 2008, there were increases across the board with Emaar’s Arabian Ranches doubling, Union Properties’ Green Community also witnessing a 50 per cent rise. The reasons cited included initially subsidised charges, rising labour costs, increasing costs of utilities, such as electricity and water, and inflationary pressures on raw materials.

In December 2008, Salwan, a subsidiary of Dubai Properties and the property management company for Jumeirah Beach Residence, upped service charges at the beachfront community by 129 per cent from Dh9.5 per square foot to Dh21.75 per square foot. In February 2009, Salwan reduced the service charges to Dh15.32 per square foot. Soon after this, owners of units in Nakheel’s Discovery Gardens also realised that their own service charges were well above market rates at Dh29 per square foot, almost double of Jumeirah Beach Residence, with fewer facilities.

Lack of clarity

According Investment Boutique, there continues to be a lack of clarity and solutions with respect to service charges in Dubai. The Strata Law has yet to be ratified, owners’ associations are slow to set up, developers and property management companies continue to charge unjustified rates even with Rera trying to control the increases. Owners and tenants continue to be dissatisfied with the level of service received.

The iB report said some MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) and facilities management professionals speculate without reference to any specific project that the high service fees quoted may be the actual cost of the service provided, but they are unnecessarily high due to poor selection of equipment and materials at project inception as well as a poor maintenance programme.

FM consultants

Including facilities management (FM) consultants at the design stage helps save substantial costs over the life of a building. As the market begins to open to investors, more are interested in the rental yield than capital appreciation. These buyers should also invest in FM advisory services to ensure that running costs to date have not been kept artificially low.

Analysts outlined the various reasons for service charges for villas to be higher than those of the apartments. According to Harbor, service charges for villas are low mainly due to the fact that service charges for villas are calculated based on the plot area of the villa. “In addition, villa communities have less MEP and other common elements in villas compared to apartments,” said Alwadiya.

Jones said: “District cooling, housing tax and Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (Dewa) costs are usually borne by the occupier. Traditional Dubai property that we have managed as full block management will have cost between 20 per cent to 30 per cent of rent income, dependent on air-conditioning, age of building etc. New Dubai property is a little higher due the additional Master Community Charge.”

“Rera reviews and approves the service charge assessed by the home owners association. Rera is also involved in the apportionment of area charges where there is a mixed-use development. The costs that make up the service charges are transparent and the home owners association will usually collect three quotes for each service line so as to ensure that the most competitive rate is secured – bearing in mind always that cheapest is not always best.”

Utility costs will be estimated in the first year based on advice from consultants. The second year’s service charge may well be more accurate than the first as the level of service required and the actual consumable costs are defined. “Service charges are for the common areas of which villas have far less of. Most villa plot and property maintenance costs are individual costs and not shared. The roads, street lighting, landscaping, garbage collection are the only shared amounts,” said Jones.

In case of villas, the service charges are charged on the basis of the plot size. The case of villa service charges differ completely from the fees, accounting for between three and nine per cent of rents, except for The Green Community, which is relatively more expensive. The huge difference in the service charges between apartments and villas is due to a typical building budget.

Villa service charges are substantially lower when compared to apartments as there are fewer common areas to maintain. Security, landscaping and the upkeep of pools and lakes are covered by the service charges, but municipality fees are paid separately and maintenance of the individual villa is the owner’s responsibility.

Chilled water for common areas accounts for a third of maintenance costs, other utilities account for one-sixth and the master community charge accounts for one-tenth for the average property.

A typical breakdown of other costs includes soft services such as pest control, façade cleaning and swimming pool cleaning and treatment, while subcontractor services and repairs cover the emergency lighting system, aviation warning lights, water tank cleaning, automated doors, building management unit (cradle) and its certification, building management system (BMS), fire alarm system, fire protection system, generator, CCTV, access control system, apartment intercom, public address system, lighting control system and gym equipment.

Majority of expenses are specific to apartment blocks and not to villas, which explains the difference. Variations in service charges needs to be taken into consideration by investors choosing between apartments and villas as this could impact both rental yields and capital appreciation. The report also called for more clarity from the developers and property management companies with respect to the manner in which funds are used. It is hoped that once the Strata Law is introduced, owners’ associations will have a say in the matter and the resulting transparency will only benefit the Dubai property sector.

The last quarter of 2009 was when the optimists had predicted that recovery would happen.

“According to our analysis of the market, we still have some time to go before we see recovery in the UAE property sector, especially in Dubai,” said Amiji.

Transactional activity

The majority of transactional activity in 2009 occurred in the completed property sector. The off-plan market has seen very little transactional activity at all during this time period and as such has not effectively been re-priced.

If off-plan projects are completed and enter the market en masse there will need to be an asset re-pricing in terms of rental values and capital values, which will also have an impact on the local market. However, by the end of 2010, we expect some stabilisation as there will likely be more certainty in global markets and local exposure to bad loans. Over the course of the year, project stakeholders are likely to take stock of their situation and either cancel projects with little economic value in the new market of 2010 and absorb the write-offs or allow the supply to come on stream and let the market adjust accordingly.

Residential affordability is key

While rents and sale prices have suffered considerably in Dubai, declining by more than 50 per cent, Abu Dhabi has proven more resilient with rents estimated to have fallen by 23 per cent between the first and last quarters of 2009. Even though Abu Dhabi faces an undersupply, rents have fallen due to factors such as redundancies and job insecurity, the substitution effect of Dubai’s more affordable housing market, and limited selection of high quality or easily accessible units due to the abundance of construction and infrastructure activity.

While sale prices have also been moving downward, properties close to completion on Al Raha Beach and on Al Reem Island have managed to trade at premiums to opening prices although these have fallen between 30 per cent and 46 per cent respectively from their 2008 peaks.

Downward pressure on rents

The greatest contributing factor to the downward pressure on rents in the Abu Dhabi market has been the mismatch between Abu Dhabi income levels and rental values.

There is a lack of affordable property for the majority of people in the emirate. Prices and rents will continue to fall until they reach the level at which the average middle income or upper income end-user can comfortably rent property, assuming an international benchmark of 25 per cent of income on housing expense, or comfortably purchase property assuming a benchmark of 30-40 per cent of income spent on mortgage payments.

As such, excluding the last two categories, which account for 29 per cent of Abu Dhabi’s population, rents in Abu Dhabi are not affordable to the majority 71 per cent of the population, and thus there is a downward pressure on rents in Abu Dhabi given Dubai’s substitution effect.

According to the analysis, affordable unit prices average around the Dh1,000 mark. While prices were reduced substantially in 2009, a further decline is required to bring prices in line with income levels, especially given the fact that average prices in the neighbouring Dubai are currently lower than the Dh1,000 mark.

Developers will need to keep this in mind while pricing new productsbest non gamstop casinos uk

JLT and Marina to have 10,200 new units in two years

Nearly 10,200 units will be released in Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Lakes Towers alone in the next two years, according to Harbor Real Estate.

“In 2010, oversupply will be an issue in the market. An estimated 60,000 residential units and 30 million square foot of office space are coming on stream by the end of 2011,” the real estate consultancy said in a report.

“The property scene is facing some significant oversupply challenges. With prices in Dubai for residential properties climbing five per cent from the previous quarter, the perception of the effect of looming oversupply, common knowledge to most people, suggests that for certain investors seeking certain property types, the price is just about right. The first quarter results will bear testimony as to whether this is the beginning of a sustainable recovery trend or a minor blip in the stabilisation process.”

However, the satisfaction of demand has been hindered throughout 2009 by the lack of available credit, tightening of lending policies and the inability of potential consumers to comply with such policies, the report said.

In 2010, the increase in the flow of credit into the market place will be gradual at best. In addition to not having sufficient funds on hand for lending, mortgage providers and investment financiers are still not in a position to fully and confidently assess the level of risk they can prudently assume, mainly due to uncertainty, which surrounds the risk inherent in their current loan portfolios. One of the consequences of a recession is that industries are rationalised.

In 2010, consumers and investors will be extremely cautious, the report said.

“Gone are the days of the easy sale to the investor. Simply put, many people have been hurt by the real estate price correction. In effect, they have developed a risk aversion which will take some time to overcome.”

Confidence in overall investment opportunities will only be achieved this year with increasing levels of transparency. Industry data and laws and regulations regarding developer disclosure and developer communicaons are the bare minimum. In addition, economic data, released in a timely fashion will assist investors assess the feasibility of their intended investment activity by gaining an appreciation of the economic strategies being deployed.

“The legal framework which surrounds and supports the commercialisation of real estate in Dubai has come a long way. The challenge has been to keep pace with the rapid development of the industry. Investors, especially those from overseas need to feel that their rights will be protected and, in case a dispute arises, resolution will be equitable, accessible and timely. There has been significant progress but there is still a way to go.”

Rera has been inundated with disputes arising from project delays, cancellations and investor dissatisfaction with alterations to payment plans and has been successful in providing the facility for dispute resolution. The efficient settling of cases will be critical to restoring confidence looking forward.

The balance of power within Dubai’s real estate scene will have dramatically tipped towards the buyer, probably for a long time.

“Buyers, particularly those with cash are the new kings. This year, real estate professionals will need to serve the customer and serve them well. The main drivers of buyer dissatisfaction have been in the areas of knowledge, consultative ability and empathy. This responsibility does not only lie with brokers but also with developers who must ensure that end-consumer needs are understood,” the report said.

“In addition, they will need to be creative with regards to how they ‘package’ their product to potential consumers because, in the vast number of instances, the consumer now has a myriad of alternatives. And alternatives for investors will not just be located within the local market or even regionally.”

China, for example, is experiencing a real estate recovery of significant proportions, while other nations such as Australia are also recovering well. In the competition for the global dollar, developers need to understand where they stand in the value comparison and ensure that the mistakes made over the past five years where lack of planning, customer focus and attention to market fundamentals are not repeated, the report said.

Meanwhile, landlords and sellers of existing properties will have a role to play as well. The initial presentation of a property is the key to gaining buyer interest. They will have to understand that every potential customer who is dissatisfied results in less revenue for a landlord or seller. In 2010, the professional relationship between a broker and seller is an important one and if both parties actively contribute and collaborate in successfully selling a property, greater returns can be realised, Harbor said.

Last year has been quite challenging for anyone wanting to obtain a mortgage in Dubai. In response to the global financial turmoil, banks tightened their credit policies, reduced lending ratios and increased interest rates.

“It appers the worst may now be behind us and lenders are once again opening up their credit policies. While obtaining a mortgage is still not simple and may not be so for a while, lenders are now more willing to consider applications. Interest rates are also on the way down. The average rate is now approximately 7.5 per cent, down from about 8.5 per cent a few months ago. As the property market stabilises and banks improve their liquidity, we should see further improvements in the mortgage market,” said the report.

In 2010, Harbor expects to see further industry rationalisation and additional considerations being given to mergers and acquisitions similar to the recently abandoned venture between Emaar and Dubai Holding’s real estate subsidiaries.

“The decision not to go ahead with the merger is an interesting one as it still leaves the question as to what degree of rationalisation and restructuring is still to be undertaken within these entities and throughout the industry as a whole. Clearly, a lot of work is still to be done.

“One benefit that the merger would have provided would have been an increased ability to control supply coming into the Dubai market. It is estimated that once the merger was completed, the new entity would have controlled more than 50 per cent of the supply currently in the pipeline causing anti-monopolists to shake their head in disapproval. But the issue remains as supply in the short term will remain as a prime determinant of any progress made to restoring confidence in Dubai’s real estate industry,” said the report.

The year 2010 will be a challenging one for everybody associated with the Dubai real estate industry. The only exceptions are those who have sufficient cash to buy or invest because they will be in an enviable position to exploit the considerable opportunities arising from recession.

World economies in 2010 will emerge from the recession at different levels. And so will Dubai’s economy. Globally, competition will be intense as every country in the world will be looking to grab a lion’s share of the world’s capital as the recovery gathers momentum. Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong spring to mind.

However, competition within the Middle East will be just as fierce. In 2010, infrastructural spending will continue to drive the economy funded by an oil price that will annualise at a price of between $75 (Dh275.25) and $85 per barrel.

The real estate industry in Dubai will continue to be stressed as more projects are completed. The Dubai economy will be reliant upon other forms of revenue-generating activities as the economic model of the emirate is re-configured in response to the new realities. Dubai will need population growth, and fast, Harbor said.

It will be the key to economic prosperity and will be determined by the success of growth strategies in its commercial, trade and tourism sectors. With a population declining anywhere between five per cent and eight per cent in 2009, population growth is the primary factor in generating the demand needed to kick start the industry again, the report said.


The introduction of property consolidations and credit notes last year by developers has been positive for the real estate market as it has helped many investors gain ownership of a property more quickly than if they had continued to remain invested in a deferred project, Harbor said.

The practice of credit notes and property consolidations has allowed developers to either cancel or delay projects without totally dissolving the investor’s capital. It has allowed investors to realise returns on their investment a lot earlier than if they had continued to remain invested in a deferred project. Even if some investors lost out on some of their investment, taking the bigger picture in view reveals that more projects are likely to be put on hold or cancelled in Dubai.

In such a scenario, property consolidations and credit notes are helping investors to remain invested in Dubai and start to gain a return on their investment. “We will need to wait and see as Rera is assessing which projects are unviable and should be cancelled,” said the report.

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New property laws help turn Dubai into global destination

Laws and regulations introduced under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, have transformed the emirate into a more mature market and global real estate destination.

“The vision and leadership of Sheikh Mohammed has positioned Dubai as a global city and one of the most renowned business hubs in a record time. His Highness focused on attracting international investors and building a world-class infrastructure which made Dubai, as we know it today, the location of choice for residents, businesses and visitors,” said Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director, Harbor Real Estate.

When it comes to real estate, Dubai set a new global benchmark and has introduced iconic projects to the world that covered all kinds of asset types and interests including the Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City, Knowledge Village, Burj Al Arab, Emirates Towers, Dubai Marina, Business Bay, Dubai Festival City, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Downtown Burj Dubai, Emirates Living, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), Burj Dubai and the Palm Trilogy.

Sheikh Mohammed’s vision did not start with the real estate developments, he ensured establishing the suitable infrastructure to support the real estate boom and its sustainability. The development of the Dubai Ports Authority, the introduction of Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and industrial and specialised business zones have contributed to setting Dubai up to become one of the main trading, tourism and culturally rich cities of the world, he added.

Dubai, under Sheikh Mohammed, became the first city in the Gulf Co-operation Council to introduce a real estate regulatory body under the auspices of the Land Department.

The Land Department has continuously strived to keep up with the development and prosperity of the emirate. Through the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed, who always strives to be the best and definitely world-class in everything he plans, guiding with an extraordinary skill, passion and intelligence, the “vision of Dubai” has become the world’s most incredible reality and yet still, there is even more to come.

Supported by Sheikh Mohammed, the Land Department is planning and implementing services to participate towards making Dubai the leading city of the world, the Department said on its website.

The Government of Dubai instituted new rules, regulations and laws in the emirate to regulate the market, to protect the rights and interests of consumers, and to ensure Dubai property investors are assured the highest possible service standards from real estate agents, brokers and property developers transacting business in Dubai and maintain the integrity of all the developments.

The Department launched a number of laws and regulations that regulate the property sector. Starting with Law No7 concerning land registration in Dubai, Law No3 concerning areas of properties that can be owned by non-UAE nationals in Dubai, Law No8 concerning property trust account in Dubai, Law No 85 concerning real ease agent regulation and the upcoming strata law.

Alwadiya said: “The young Dubai property market has come a long way with regards to regulating the real estate industry. While the efforts to protect rights, lift standards of professionalism and establish a transparent, credible and functional framework are to be applauded, there is still a long way to go before the industry can be said to be in the final stages of maturation.

“Over the past years, the government has adopted numerous legislations and regulations to protect everyone in the real estate sector, and most importantly establish a safe environment for investors. Dubai has proven to be the world’s greatest improver in terms of real estate transparency over the past two years. With the establishment of regulatory bodies such as Rera, investor representative bodies, the establishment of codes of practice for real estate practitioners combined with laws relating to freehold ownership, escrow accounts and strata titling, Dubai has reduced drastically the concerns of expatriate and foreign investors,” he added.

Transparency has also been given a boost with the introduction of the credit information law, a positive step towards transparency and risk mitigation for banks. The law will create a framework of rights and obligations for data providers, information users and individuals alike, Alwadiya said.
Saeed Mirsaeedi, Investment Manager of Sherwoods Real Estate, said: “Introduction of new laws has been a positive development and has helped Dubai’s emergence as a mature and prosperous economy.

“Clear-cut regulations and increasing transparency make Dubai property most attractive to overseas investors,” he said.
Although previously non-Gulf Co-operation Council expatriates were only permitted to rent property, or own property on a 99-year leasehold basis, all changed in 2002 when the Dubai Government took the initiative and permitted the ownership of freehold property to expatriates. This bold initiative changed the perception of the real estate industry in the Middle East and the Gulf.

The Dubai Government began the promotion in 1997 by setting up Emaar Properties. The next year, Emaar began work on Dubai Marina followed by the Emirates Living Community developments such as the Springs, the Meadows, Emirates Hills, etc. However, the major property boom in Dubai occurred in May 2002, when Sheikh Mohammed issued a decree to allow foreigners to buy and own freehold property in selected areas of the city, now referred to as New Dubai.
On March 14, 2006, Dubai’s Government issued a law legalising foreign ownership of properties in designated areas of Dubai.

“It was the adoption of freehold tenure in general, and foreign ownership in particular, that sparked the great real estate boom in the Dubai property market,” said Alwadiya.

The introduction of the freehold law by the Ruler transformed Dubai into a true success story capturing the imagination and admiration of countries worldwide. Many countries followed the Dubai model and benefited greatly from its visionary experience.

Dubai has developed several iconic real estate projects, which have acquired international recognition, marketing the emirate as a destination of choice for business and travel and for investment in real estate.

The Palm trilogy and other iconic projects such as The World have put Dubai in international limelight. Furthermore, prospective developments of creative concepts, which are likely to attract significant visitors in the coming years, continue to take shape. Burj Dubai, the tallest tower in the world, will be opens today. Although Dubai International Financial Centre formally opened as a global financial centre in 2004 with the aim to become the global hub for financial services in the Middle East, it has also emerged as one of the most expensive addresses for real estate in the emirate.

In fact, property prices on residential units in the DIFC are becoming increasingly comparable with the leading capitals of the world. Dubai’s real estate industry dynamics are firmly entrenched in Dubai Strategic Plan, which strives to achieve a medium-long term objective of diversifying the economic base of the emirate in key growth areas, which have been defined as priority sectors within the associated blue print. Of particular significance is the focus of the plan on the real estate development and the construction sector, as well as travel and tourism, with the former providing necessary infrastructure for growth of all other businesses, and the latter ensuring sustained economic buoyancy through continuous and aggressive growth in visitors to the emirate.

The investor-friendly business environment in Dubai has promoted not only businesses but also a demand for office space, and the high real incomes have ensured that the labour force is increasingly imported from abroad, thus catalysing requirements for housing and retail.

Iconic projects

Dubai has introduced some of the most iconic destinations that cater for different lifestyles and asset categories. Some of them in the business and commerce segment are the DIFC, Business Bay, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, Knowledge Village, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai Maritime City, Tecom, Jebel Ali Free Zone and Dubai Healthcare City.

In entertainment, lifestyle and culture segment falls the Dubai Festival City, Downtown Burj Dubai, Emirates Living, Dubai Mall, Ibn Battuta Mall, Palm Jumeirah, Burj Dubai and Dubai Marina.


Brokers Must Adopt Fresh Approach

Despite the barrage of articles and opinions depicting economic doom and gloom of a mammoth scale, reports of tumbling property values, double-digit percentages losses by developers and property investors (the list goes on), no one is paying attention to the current state of the brokerage industry. The remaining standing companies still believe that, if things are done differently, with a client-centric philosophy, an incisive fact- based approach and a clear set of realistic objectives and values derived from truly objective assessments, the existence of real opportunities in the UAE real estate scene to create and build for the long-term was undeniable.

Pre-2008 saw all manner of people get into the real estate brokerage industry. The lucrative and easy to make commissions were too attractive to ignore. That is fine since there is nothing wrong in wanting to (legally) better yourself or income. But many thought their skills alone were what brought in results – none more so than the plethora of salespeople, who flocked to the field, many of whom were not familiar with properties.

Now, as the UAE property market matures through its first crisis, the nature of selling and buying realty is changing irreversibly and with it a lot of new industry and consumer trends are emerging, one of which is the lack of satisfaction of customers with real estate brokers. According to a survey conducted by Harbor Real Estate in October 2009, 61 per cent of consumers who bought property in the last two years are dissatisfied with the performance of real estate agents who brokered their purchases. What we have here is an indicator that brokerage companies need to shape up in order to survive during and beyond the financial crisis. The level of proficiency in effective consultancy, based on sound knowledge of the market and an understanding of the buyer’s requirements, appears to be the main shortcoming. Buyers today have choice and are more knowledgeable about the market, and they seek advice from professionals whom they feel they can trust. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, consumers are left feeling disappointed. This lack of trust is producing a lot of challenges for property brokers, including questioning of their standard commission rates, lack of sole representation or appointment and negative pre-judgment and perceptions.

The main concern is that these problems are not only affecting bad and illegal freelance brokers only but also impacting the professional and experienced brokers and overall reputation of the industry as well.

Traditionally, real estate has been viewed as a sales industry. The scenario is radically different in today’s environment. Customers have evolved to become more educated, better informed, more value conscious and demand more for their dirhams. Their expectations of the companies and the brokers they buy or sell through are much higher. They are no longer willing to be pushed around by unprofessional brokers. In short, they want better customer service. So brokers have to work harder and spend more effort and time to regain the trust of buyers and sellers. They need to realise that true and sustainable success comes from repeat business and word-of-mouth.

Customer service is one of the greatest keys that can help real estate service providers succeed. It can literally make or break a company. This is so because the entire business, marketing, sales, leasing and profits depend on customers.

Great marketing can help brokerage companies acquire new customers, but it is great customer service that ensures that the customers keep coming back. According to our survey, most customers quit dealing with a certain brokerage company because of an indifferent attitude towards them from the business owner, managers and/or employees. A typical brokerage company will only hear from a handful of dissatisfied customers; most of the rest of the customers will just quietly go away and never come back. To further compound the problem, a typical dissatisfied customer will tell an average of seven to 10 people about his problem and the bad service offered by the company.

Pas du tout, encore une fois, si ce n’est pas à l’intérieur trop longtemps. Il y a un autre danger: il n’y a pas beaucoup d’espace et un mouvement négligent d’un tampon peut pousser plus lisez plus ici d’où il est plus difficile de l’obtenir. Mais il y a un moyen de ne pas verser un lit sans tampon: appuyez sur le diaphragme, puis la sélection sera temporairement bloquée sans “bouchons” externe.

Study Shows Consumers Dissatisfied With Dubai Real Estate Brokers

Harbor Real Estate interviews 178 owners as a way to develop future company benchmarks

Harbor Real Estate Brokerage, an integrated real estate service provider in Dubai, says that 61% of consumers who bought property in the last two years are dissatisfied with the performance of real estate agents who brokered their purchases, according to a recent study conducted by Harbor Real Estate.

The study interviewed 178 property owners over a four month period in a series of face-to-face interviews. Participants evaluated property brokers according to knowledge and skills, ethics and behavior, consultative ability, and empathy. The respondents were asked to rate their individual experiences on a 5 point scale ranging from excellent to very poor. Of those interviewed, 61% of respondents rated their brokers as either poor or very poor.

According to Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director of Harbor Real Estate Brokerage:
“What we have here is an indicator of an industry which is still relatively immature. The level of proficiency in effective consultancy, based on sound knowledge of the market and an understanding of the buyer’s requirements, appears to be the main shortcoming. Buyers today have choice and are more knowledgeable about the market, and they seek advice from professionals that they feel they can trust. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, consumers are left feeling disappointed.”

The research, originally intended to serve as a barometer on service levels in the local industry, has provided Harbor with valuable insights into areas requiring development within its own operations. Harbor has already begun to benchmark and monitor its own service-level performance against those of its overseas affiliates, with the aim of surpassing service levels of established successful operations in mature markets.

Of those interviewed, 73% had purchased their property prior to the recession—set as October 2008—while the remainder had purchased their property after October 2008 (post-recession). About 23% of those interviewed purchased within the last four months.

About 12% of consumers who made their purchase prior to the recession stated that their experience was excellent or good. In the post-recession period, that number fell to about 11%, although satisfactory ratings improved from 25% pre-recession to 31% post-recession. In the post-recession market, 58% of respondents rated their experience as poor or very poor, brining the two year average of dissatisfied customers to 61%. The main causes of buyer dissatisfaction were in the areas of knowledge, consultative ability and empathy.

“What we are seeing globally is a race for improvement,” said Alwadiya. “Real estate has been under tremendous pressure due to the recession, and those who wish to thrive in the market will only do so by identifying and responding to the needs of their clientele. Because we are a service industry, we can benefit greatly from observing and adopting best practices of more established markets around the world.”

More information about Harbor Real Estate Brokerage, including “The Harbor Report”, a quarterly publication on news and trends in the real estate industry, can be found at

61% Unhappy with UAE Estate Agents – Survey

A new report has found that 61% of consumers who bought property in the last two years in Dubai are unhappy with the performance of real estate agents who brokered their purchases. The study, conducted by Harbor Real Estate, interviewed 178 property owners over a four month period. Participants evaluated property brokers according to knowledge and skills, ethics and behavior, consultative ability, and empathy. Of those interviewed, 61% of respondents rated their brokers as either poor or very poor.

Consumers Dissatisfied

Harbor Real Estate Brokerage, an integrated real estate service provider in Dubai, says that 61% of consumers who bought property in the last two years are dissatisfied with the performance of real estate agents who brokered their purchases, according to a recent study conducted by Harbor Real Estate.

The study interviewed 178 property owners over a four month period in a series of face-to-face interviews. Participants evaluated property brokers according to knowledge and skills, ethics and behavior, consultative ability, and empathy

Property Buyers Dissatisfied with Realty Brokers

Some 61 per cent of property buyers in the UAE are dissatisfied with the services provided by real estate agents in the market, according to a new study.

The research was conducted across the UAE with a focus on Dubai by real estate broker firm Harbor Real Estate, which talked with 178 property owners over a four-month period in a series of face-to-face interviews.

The research revealed consumers who bought properties in the past two years remained dissatisfied with the performance of real estate agents. “It all boils down to the servicing style of real estate agents, which has not been up to the satisfaction levels of the property buyers in UAE,” said Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director, Harbor Real Estate.

“Currently, it is still a buyer’s market and services from realty agents need to be of high quality,” he said.

Alwadiya said the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) had been proactive to ensure that real estate agents deliver quality service, but the real estate broker market continues to be immature.

The study said Harbor intended to serve as a barometre on service levels in the local real estate market.

“Participants evaluated property brokers according to knowledge and skills, ethics and behaviour, consultative ability, and empathy. The respondents were asked to rate their individual experiences on a five-point scale ranging from excellent to very poor. Of those interviewed, 61 per cent of respondents rated their brokers as either poor or very poor,” said the report.

Of those interviewed, 73 per cent had purchased their property prior to the recession – set as October 2008 – while the remainder had purchased their property after October 2008 (post-recession). About 23 per cent of those interviewed purchased within the last four months.

About 12 per cent of consumers who made their purchase prior to the recession stated that their experience was excellent or good.

In the post-recession period, that number fell to about 11 per cent, although satisfactory ratings improved from 25 per cent pre-recession to 31 per cent post-recession.

In the post-recession market, 58 per cent of respondents rated their experience as poor or very poor, bringing the two-year average of dissatisfied customers to 61 per cent. The buyers objected to the lack of agents’ knowledge, consultative ability and empathy.

Alwadiya said: “What we have here is an indicator of an industry which is still relatively immature. The level of proficiency in effective consultancy, based on sound knowledge of the market and an understanding of the buyer’s requirements, appears to be the main shortcoming. Buyers today have choice and are more knowledgeable about the market, and they seek advice from professionals that they feel they can trust. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, consumers are left feeling disappointed.”

Harbor Real Estate is also monitoring its service-level performance against those of its affiliates.

“What we are seeing globally is a race for improvement. Realty has been under huge pressure due to the recession, and those who wish to thrive in the market will only do so by identifying and responding to the needs of clients,” it said.