Structural Shift

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. This is exactly what has happened in Dubai’s property and real estate industry.

It came as no surprise to those that take a broader view of the industry that calls from a variety of industry participants including the government, banks and the more visionary industry observers for more affordable housing in Dubai had gathered volume and intensity over the past few years. In so doing, there was a recognition that the most important investor in Dubai’s Real Estate market had been forgotten too often by developers and brokers and that a refocusing on building affordable, robust and sustainable communities to be inhabited by the average family living frugally on an average salary was of irrefutable importance if Dubai’s economy was to develop and grow to the next level.

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 only recently have they attracted focus in Dubai’s rapidly maturing industry which is more proportionate to their importance.

Owner occupiers see Real Estate in a different light. Typically they are normal people, not overly wealthy, who are concerned with providing the family with a future. For them, it’s about creating a lifestyle. Its 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.

Healthy, vibrant and progressive communities are built around the stability that owner occupiers bring. They are less likely to migrate to another neighborhood and are more concerned with regards to the overall well being of the community that they are part of. They establish relationships that strengthen the fabric of a community which itself can become a powerful voice for progress.

And these communities are now springing into life all over Dubai. Communities such as Skycourts, Q Point and Motor City in Dubailand have shown how rapidly communities can develop and grow to provide a lifestyle that belies their affordability.

So who needs to ensure that this most important consumer segment is catered for in an industry which can be notoriously out of touch with consumer requirements? Well, just about everybody who plays a role in our industry but, more significantly, the government, the financiers and the developers. And given the results of 2016, they are to be congratulated for initiating the structural shifts that we are witnessing.

The dialogue regarding the dual objectives of affordability and profitable sustainable growth for the real estate sector must be ongoing as a continual and constant review of possible initiatives and regulatory actions that will ensure that the considerable progress already made and foundations laid in strengthening and modelling the industry is continually built upon. The health of the industry is too important and the issue of affordability is critical to the broader economy as well. Dubai can ill afford becoming cost uncompetitive in the global market in the lead up to the 2020 World Expo.

For any Real Estate market to function efficiently and effectively, it requires a banking sector which is also functioning efficiently and effectively. Banks play a fundamental role in enabling prospective home owner occupiers own a piece of Real Estate. If you consider that in most global markets, anywhere between 65% and 85% of residential property transactions involve some form of financing, and reflect on the fact that in Dubai the number of residential property purchases financed by mortgages in 2016 was around 50% there appears to be plenty of scope for more growth. This number is actually up from the 33% historically seen in the emirate so it appears that the banks are discovering the formula of providing accessible finance to a broader consumer base without taking on excessive, whether real or perceived, risk.

Developers have come a long way in providing greater supply of affordable housing. To their credit, they now have a deeper understanding of what is required by this segment of the market. They themselves have improved in providing recognizable value, emanating from a greater focus on the customers and their requirements and value expectations. Some have demonstrated innovative approaches to delivering affordable solutions which are valued by the customer, and done so profitably.

Virtually every industry has faced this challenge over the last 5 decades and many have demonstrated that giant strides in the provision of true value while retaining healthy margins is possible. Dubai’s property Industry will continue to follow a similar path in 2017.

Aspire to be a Property Owner

By Mohanad Alwadiya
CEO, Harbor Real Estate
Senior Advisor & Instructor, Dubai Real Estate

Among the most fundamental (and practical) dreams people share in common is the dream of owning a home. But why is it that not everyone succeeds in this endeavor? Economics, of course, plays a significant role in the overall scheme of things. So, given the opportunity to purchase a property, or your home, no less, would you not hold on tightly and make sure you own (pun intended) it?

In Dubai, while there has been a correction in rental values, it has essentially lagged behind the correction in property values, and I do not believe that the general rent decline will exceed 10% in most areas. Rents will eventually start to rise from 2017 as preparations for the 2020 Expo start gathering pace.

I have always held a view that owning a property is essential to underpinning the accumulation of wealth and building net worth. Obviously, the accumulation of the property asset itself must be done judiciously and with a high level of diligence and care but, in my experience, the vast majority of people who have taken the step towards property ownership have benefitted significantly.

The essential question to ask is “How do I use my money to increase my wealth instead of the wealth of my landlord?”

Buying your home is a positive step towards establishing your financial security by building your equity or “net worth”. Owning property allows you to change the application of your hard-earned dirhams from covering an expense which offers you no financial return to investing in an asset which does. In a way, it’s a forced form of saving which will reap benefits for you in the future.

Conversely, paying rent actually detracts from your ability to build net worth because, not only are you paying out money for no financial gain, but you are at the mercy of rental inflation as well. This is a problem because you are consistently being asked to pay more while your salary increases are lagging behind, effectively eroding your ability to build wealth. By owning your home, inflation is working in your favor because, in all likelihood, your property is increasing in value and, if kept for a number of years, will enjoy an inflation-driven compounding effect on its value. This allows you to build your individual net worth through the capital appreciation of your property – something which is very important for your financial future.

The fundamentals of buying real estate in Dubai are no different from those elsewhere in the world. As an expat in a new country, you may be even more anxious regarding the decision to buy which is all the more reason to stick to some tried and true principles.

First of all, you need to be very clear as to why you are investing in real estate. Whether it’s to provide the family with a home, generate a steady stream of income or build equity for the future, make sure you are very clear about what your expectations are and quantify them wherever possible. Plan for the long term as the industry is cyclical yet very rewarding if you ride out one or two cycles.

You also need to ensure that you know what you can afford. If you have the cash to pay for the property that you really want, I suggest you pay for it outright; however, don’t be afraid to take out a mortgage and make the purchase as at least your repayments are building equity, not being lost forever on rent.

Then it’s a case of finding the right property. I suggest you contact a reputable real estate brokerage to assist you in doing this, but make sure that you conduct your own research as well. It’s a big decision you are making, and you need to make sure you take the responsibility and are fully aware of what you are doing.

As always, stick to the basics. Think carefully about location, building quality, developer reputation, completion status and quality of infrastructure and building amenities. Properties which are close to the beach (especially with a sea view), a golf course view or part of an iconic development such as Downtown Dubai is a good place to start. If you can have close access to the Dubai Metro, even better. These locations are more likely to provide superior appreciation in capital value as well as be able to ride out cyclical volatility with less distress.

You also need to consider the effectiveness of the owners association, service charges and the quality of maintenance services.  Facility management is becoming increasingly more important to determining the value of buildings, and it will have an effect on the long-term value of your investment.

Finally, think clearly and rationally. If you cannot find a property immediately that will satisfy your requirements and objectives, do not settle for less, regardless of what’s happening in the market.

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.