Good broker, bad broker


By Mohanad Alwadiya

Does your agent do things right? Here’s what you need to look for:

We work in an industry that stirs up as much emotion as it does distrust and, in extreme circumstances, disdain. As an industry professional, I am not always comfortable with how my profession has been categorized, being compared at times to dodgy lawyers and unscrupulous used car salesmen. Not fair, I say.

There is no doubt that there are both good and bad practitioners in every profession; the trick is separating the gold from the gravel. Finding a strategic real estate partner to manage your project, however large or small, and act as a real extension of your team is not easy. There is a lot at stake and you want to engage a capable and reliable ally who you can trust to deliver the results that you expect. As the owner-occupier or investor, there are many considerations you have to take into account.

Look for an experienced and passionate team. You want people who really enjoy what they are doing, not just collecting the commission. It also helps if you engage an agency that can provide you with a broad range of services because investing in real-estate typically does not stop with a single transaction. Check whether the agency has a history of innovative solutions delivering tangible results. It’s a crowded market, and you want somebody who can make your property or project stand out. The key to getting the price that you want for your property is generating high levels of interest and intrigue. This requires excellent marketing and sales skills, and your broker should possess ample expertise in both.

The broker should also be in a position to immediately provide examples of past successes. An important part of the skill set that your broker must possess is the ability to advise how to best stage your property. Too many brokers limit their property presentation advice to a coat of paint and sweep of the floor. A properly staged property will always stand a much greater chance of commanding a premium price. Look for longevity.

The recent recession cleared out lot of marginal operators from the industry, and those who survived must have been doing something right. Seek an agency with strong network of corporate and industry partners. The agency that has good relationships with key industry stakeholders such as the major developers and authorities such as the Dubai Land Department, Real Estate Regulatory Agency, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and Department of Economic Department will be able to operate more efficiently and effectively.

Find a company that exhibits a breadth and depth of industry knowledge and expertise. Those who under-stand the industry are more likely to succeed within it and the advice that you receive from a knowledgeable, experienced and committed broker can save or make you tens of thousands of dirham’s. And finally, look for an agency that has received some form of industry or peer recognition. These are the hardest plaudits to get.

Mohanad Alwadiya is Managing Director of Harbor Real Estate and advisory board member and instructor at the Dubai Real Estate Institute, the official training and certification arm of the Dubai Land Department.

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Only the strongest will survive

Reality Check

The number of real estate brokerages and agents who operate within them will always fluctuate in accordance with market cycles. Wherever there is opportunity, those with a desire to capitalise will readily set up operations.

This phenomenon is not unique to the real estate industry and will occur any where there is economic opportunity coupled with relatively low capital requirements to start a business, where the skill set is not perceived as being particularly specialised or rare, and where there are minimal legal, political or policy barriers to launch a commercial enterprise.

However, in any industry, especially those yet to fully mature and develop such as Dubai’s real estate, there exists a natural process that essentially eliminates the weakest entities. Competition is fierce and only those that compete by applying experience, knowledge, skills, adaptive capabilities and business acumen will survive.

Put simply, as a market or industry matures, only the strongest survive. The cyclical nature of the industry facilitates this process by testing who can best capitalise on the opportunities in a growth market and who can best sustain operations in a contractional cycle.

So the fact that some brokerages are closing their doors is inevitable as the industry continues to mature, and the well-chronicled phase of correction the Dubai market is experiencing has played a natural role in eliminating the weakest players that cannot compete.

It is actually healthy for the industry as Dubai has too many brokerages. At the time of writing, there were 2,389 brokerages registered with Dubai Land Department. This is simply too many for the industry to support during the inevitable contraction or low growth periods. And one of the key drivers of industry maturation is to have fewer, but higher quality, brokerages and agents.

The levels of professionalism, quality and customer service in the industry still require a lot of attention. While good progress has been made by the Dubai Real Estate Institute (DREI) towards elevating the standard of real estate practitioners, too many poor performers remain, effectively hindering the development of the industry into the efficient and transparent marketplace we all desire.

Obviously, progress will require the continuance of the good work already done by DREI and Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA), but improvements cannot be achieved by these industry bodies alone. All participants need to embrace the idea that a sector that is comprised of a body of professionals who are knowledgeable, conversant, proficient, ethical and highly motivated will play a significant role in providing sustainable and profitable growth over the long term.

Put simply, the more efficiently and effectively an industry operates, the greater the rewards will be for all. This requires better people, not necessarily more people. As industry leaders, it’s up to all of us to make it happen.

Unfortunately, to introduce a “foolproof” system is always very difficult, but there are some common sense steps that every consumer must take.

First, it is always essential to determine the brokerage is registered with the Dubai Land Department. If not, walk away immediately.

In addition, careful investigation as to the reputation, online presence and market visibility of the company should be undertaken along with a meeting at the company offices to get a feel of its size, resources and stability. In addition, ensure that any individual brokers you deal with are registered and ask for proof of identification.

Only when you are 100 per cent sure that the company looks safe, solid and trustworthy should you consider handing over any monies that may be vulnerable to misappropriation. Ensure you get a written receipt.

In some circumstances, usually where large transactions are being conducted, funds advanced may be held by third-parties such a lawyer or bank in a form of an escrow arrangement. This can help ensure that funds provided are only released when certain conditions are met, making it much harder for any party to misappropriate the funds. With the resurgent real estate market of the past three years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of brokers. However the rate of growth was highest in the first two years, slowing significantly in 2014 and now showing signs of decline. This is due to many factors including the tougher guidelines and policies that are being introduced by RERA.

There are stricter requirements due for introduction by Dubai Land Department as well. For example, the pass percentage for brokers taking the mandatory exam to renew their licenses has been increased to 85 per cent from the current 75 per cent. Emirates IDs will replace broker ID cards as part of a new smart system allowing all the details regarding an individual agent to be monitored, including when they change employers. This will ensure that only licensed brokers operate in the market. Any broker who does not officially record any transaction for six months will be warned and if no improvement is apparent within one year will be deregistered.

In addition, new brokerage firms in Dubai will be restricted from employing more than four agents. If the agency can demonstrate good performance over the first year, an additional broker can be hired.

The quest for improvement is never-ending and regulatory frameworks should always be enhanced, updated and improved to ensure the industry operates as efficiently, effectively and equitably as possible.

Sales show improvement in key realty projects

Downtown Dubai has the highest number of listings by most realty agents.

Downtown Dubai, Emirates Living, Dubai Marina and Dubailand top the listing chart for sales and leasing queries, according to agents.

“Downtown Dubai has the highest number of listings by most realty agents in Dubai. The second popular area is Dubai Marina with a large focus on Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR),” said Mohanad Al Wadiya, Managing Director, Harbor Real Estate.

For Harbor Real Estate, the number of listings in these areas has increased by 20 per cent to 25 per cent in 2010. “Business Bay with a larger focus on the recently launched Executive Towers comes third, according to us,” he added.

Al Wadiya said Downtown Dubai and Dubai Marina have always been ranked high and are one of the most sought-after areas in Dubai.

“The location of both these areas is good, which is the most important decision investors take while investing. Further, the current price points have also made these two districts more attractive as they have became more affordable.

“Another key reason for this increased attention and demand is the fact that both these areas include popular attractions such as The Dubai Mall, The Marina Mall, The JBR walk, The Marina walk, the free beach in JBR and Burj Khalifa.”

Better Homes’ Liz O’Connor, Director – Residential Sales and Leasing, said: “Our top-selling districts between November 2009 and February 2010 have been The Emirates Living District, Marina District, Downtown District and the Dubailand districts.”

“For us, between November 2009 and February 2010, we received the most listings for the Emirates Living District, such as The Greens, Emirates Living, Jumeirah Village, Jumeirah Lake Tower (JLT), followed by Dubai Marina, Dubailand and Downtown Dubai districts,” said O’Connor.

Vineet Kumar, Head of Leasing and Sales – Dubai, Asteco Property Management, said: “Majority of listings we received in the past two months are for recently handed over projects such as the Loft apartments in Downtown Dubai and the Executive Towers in Business Bay.

“Other areas, which have received good level of listings are Dubai Marina and JLT, villas in Emirates Living such as Springs and Palm Jumeirah.

“Also, Sheikh Zayed Road continues to draw interest from tenants looking for quality residential buildings.

“Listings are always linked to the status of handed-over projects. As more projects have been handed over, or are nearing completion, we have seen a growth in the number of listings in these select locations,” he added.


Real estate agents said the main reason for these areas recording the highest listings has been due to recent handover within these areas and the fact that these communities offer a complete lifestyle with lesser construction happening in these areas.

Al Wadiya said: “The overall market condition in Dubai is stabilising and the appetite of all the stakeholders in the property market is improving as there is a general consensus that the prices have bottomed out and if there is any further decline, it will be very marginal and will not affect areas or developments that are completed.”

O’Connor said: “For residential real estate, location plays a big role in the demand for these areas. People want to live in popular areas that provide them with a good lifestyle and one which are easily accessible.

“Our customers are increasingly looking for The Emirates Living district, followed by Dubai Marina, Dubailand and Downtown districts,” she added.

Kumar said: “Buyers will show interest in master-plans that are developed and offer convenience of living and at rates which are attractive. Further those buyers who receive handover of their property and do not wish to occupy them for self-use will often offer these for sale or leasing.”

Meanwhile, listings for properties (sales and rentals) in JLT and Discovery Gardens has dropped due to buyers looking at other value for money investments in other parts of Dubai.

Al Wadiya said: “During the second half of 2009, we were seeing more listings for JLT and Discovery Gardens. The listings have been reduced in these areas mainly because of the shift of focus to the more popular areas of Dubai such as Downtown Dubai and Dubai Marina.

“Prices are more affordable in these areas, hence buyers especially end-users and investors are shifting to these areas. In addition, Downtown Dubai and Dubai Marina offer a more established community lifestyle with less construction going on in the area,” he added.

He said the number of transactions in these areas could have fallen during 2010. According to Better Homes, no significant drop in listings has been noted in any particular areas.

“There are always shortages of a particular type of properties within a certain area for the right price which leads to a shortage in particular communities. Certain communities in Dubai, particularly those with villas, do not have many units becoming available as they have end users living in them who are there for the long term.

“The villas in Phase I Green Community are an example,” said O’Connor.

“Further, not having listings in a particular area could mean a number of things, such as a shortage of property within these areas for the right price.

“It could also mean that property owners are leasing rather then selling in these places,” she added.

Harbor Real Estate said the company does not remove any particular area from its listings.

“However, we focus more on the areas that have more demand. Having said that, we continue to provide minimum support to off-plan projects as the demand for these projects is still very low,” said Alwadiya.

Kumar said: “We have identified certain locations and focus on those areas alone. However, we have not removed any areas.

“You may find we do not have a presence in certain areas such as Downtown Jebel Ali and Dubai Waterfront. We will revisit these locations once we believe the market will be interested from a price-point which is agreeable to the sellers.”

Real estate agents said delivery of new properties in Dubai is likely to increase the number of distress sales.

O’Connor said: “Delivery of new properties in Dubai are likely to see a number of ‘distress sales’ coming into the market. In fact this is already happening. In all situations the reasons to sell are unique; however, we generally expect to see distress sales coming from areas where projects are not expected to be completed or cancelled.”

She added that in the case of a property with mortgage attached, the extent to which a seller is willing to sell his property would depend on the mortgage finance, as the final selling price must cover the bank’s finance amount. In the case of cash sales, however, there is no limit to which a seller may sell.

Kumar said: “As more inventory gets delivered there will be sellers who will prefer to exit from the purchase but the value will be linked to quality of project, status of the master community etc.

From the buyers perspective, this is a good time to buy a piece of real estate at realistic value with the aim of holding the property for the mid to long-term.”
He added that the term, “distress sales” should never be used, as selling a property is a seller’s personal decision.

“The reasons for selling the property at the value they deem right is the seller’s choice. We might use the term ‘motivated seller’ but not distress. Quite often such sales are at lower than market price and could translate into a financial loss for the seller. However, market conditions may be only one reason for such sales.”

According to Harbor Real Estate, the term ‘distressed sale’ emerged during the early days of the crisis during the last quarter of 2008 and has soon become a common property jargon.

“Few people really know what it means and how to qualify a property as a genuine distress sale,” said Al Wadiya. “The global credit crunch has hit the property industry hard. Developers find themselves in the position of having built projects which now have no buyers or the people who bought off-plan are now trying to pull out and recoup their deposits,” he said.

He said that distressed properties are properties that are in danger of facing foreclosure proceedings or that have already been scheduled for sale as a result of default on the part of the owner.

“A property is said to be distressed when an owner gets behind on mortgage payments or a direct payment to a developer and the lender or appropriate debt collector begins to start the necessary proceedings to sell the home in order to collect the outstanding debt.

Distressed properties can cover any kind of real estate, from commercial spaces to apartments. It’s a great chance to save, often ranging anywhere from 40 per cent to 60 per cent off their actual market value or buying price, but it’s also a great chance for making a good investment, since purchasing for a discount often means creating a huge margin for future profits,” he said. O’Connor said: “It is important to understand that a ‘distress’ sale is really only where the seller is willing to sell for less than he paid for, particularly if the property is off-plan.

“Some sellers are willing to sell for the original price of the property or less, but many sellers – in particular those with ready properties rather than off-plan – are unable to emotionally ‘let go’ for less than they think it should be worth.”

She said that many sellers will describe themselves as ‘distress’ sellers, even though they may expect to receive quite a bit more than they paid for the property.

“However, in the case of investors off-loading their off-plan properties, those that are prepared to incur a loss will generally accept up to 40 per cent less than the original price in order to just get some of their investment back,” she said.

“Owners looking to sell are increasingly twitchy about moving their properties off the market and banks have large numbers of repossessed property stock effectively sitting on their balance sheets when what they really need is liquid cash sitting in the coffers. All of this adds up to something that buyers love more than almost anything else – the opportunity for a bargain,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor said the situation occurs mainly with cash buyers. “This is a worse situation for a finance buyer, because he has to pay the bank and pay the difference directly from his pocket; in many of the finance distress sales, the client will walk away.”

“It is important to say that using the term ‘distress sale’ without the permission of the owner is considered a breach of the agents code of ethics introduced under by-law No 85 of 2006 because agents are supposed to be trusties for the owners and they should not disclose the owner’s financial status under any circumstances,” she said.

The real estate agents said some properties like JLT, Greens, Dubai Marina, Downtown Dubai are providing some good value for money investments for buyers.
“Some of the apartments in JLT are value for money and will prove to be a good investment when the infrastructure of the community is complete and the metro is fully operational. However, investors need to choose carefully. Those towers on Sheikh Zayed Road side of the community are proving to have the most popular locations,” said Al Wadiya.

“Greens is due to shortly handover and many investors are anxious to off-load their property at original price and in some cases for less,” said Al Wadiya.

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.

Rera’s colour-coded norms will not impact agent commissions

Agent commissions will not be impacted under the colour-coded system introduced by Dubai’s Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) whereby brokers are authorised to sell a particular type of property in a specified area, according to realtors.

Natasha Pereira, Area Manager-Dubai, Sherwoods Property Consultants, said: “Areas such as Discovery Gardens, International City and Dubai Silicon Oasis generate lesser revenue than others. For agents who have been assigned these areas, we also give them (parts of) other areas to handle the sales and rentals as well.”

She added: “Our agents are already classified into specific areas and asset classes.” While some real estate consultancies said they were already segregating the functions of a real estate agent based on specific areas and asset classes, others felt now was not an opportune time to introduce the colour-coded system.

Avais Najam, Managing Director, Venture Horizon Real Estate, said: “There is already an oversupply of real estate brokers in the market since business activity is yet to pick up in Dubai. Further, most brokerage firms continue to employ real estate agents on a commission-only basis, rather than enrolling them in their companies.” He added many brokerage firms and agents were unaware of rules that require a colour-coded system and have sought more clarity on the system’s implementation from Rera.

Najam said: “We are already segregating our real estate agents on the basis of the territories they work in. Most of our agents follow a specific territory.”

Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director, Harbor Real Estate, said: “At the moment we are not ready for renewals of our agents. However, we have been following our own policies similar to that set out by Rera. All our agents follow the system. For example, for handling Dubai Media City, Internet City and Tecom areas, we have one designated person since these are all free zone areas. We also have a specific division that specialises in office space.”

In September, Rera announced the four-tier broker classification system whereby brokers were granted one of four types of licences authorising them to sell property of a particular type or in a specified area.

Under the new colour-coded classification, tier one brokers, those issued a blue licence by the Department of Economic Development (DED) and registered with Rera, will be allowed to carry out all types of brokerage activities and operate throughout the emirate, including free zones if authorised to do so by the authority. These have the widest sphere of operation.

Tier two or yellow licences will be issued by the appropriate free-zone authorities to carry out the full range of brokerage activities but will be registered to operate only within “designated” freehold areas owned by that authority. The tier three registered brokers, having green licences, will be authorised by the DED and registered by Rera, to sell only properties of specific companies or developers. The last tier of licenced brokers will be issued a red licence to promote, sell or rent time-share units.

This move by Rera is a step towards regulating professional services in the sector and enhancing rights of buyers, sellers and tenants. The agents also called for the “Agent Trust Account” to be put in place at the earliest to help further regulate the brokerage industry.

Broker firms in Dubai current employ legal firms to oversee some transactions into the account and help them manage accounts in cases where deposits may have been taken by the agent from the customer.

Najam said: “For us, all the commission earnings go into an account and in cases where we receive a deposit, we take on a solicitor to safeguard the client’s deposit money and see to it that it is secured and the transaction made is accurate.

“We sometimes take a deposit of about five per cent to 10 per cent to lock in a client. The deposit money can either be in cash or cheque. In such a scenario, we usually have a solicitor on board to ensure the transaction is valid.”

According to Alwadiya, Harbor Real Estate has hired a professional legal firm to audit its transactions.

Penthouses in Dubai more resilient than other assets

Penthouses in Dubai more resilient than other assets

Buyers of penthouses do not sell their property at low rates as their holding capacity is much better. (SUPPLIED)
of penthouses in Dubai have been relatively lower than other types of residential units as their buyers have the financial capacity to hold on to the units, realtors said.

However, owners need to offer “higher” discounts to find buyers in the secondary market since the product caters to a niche buyer segment.

Vineet Kumar, Head of Sales – Dubai, Asteco Property Management: “Buyers of penthouses do not sell their property at low rates as their holding capacity is much better since they are more financially stable.”

Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director, Harbor Real Estate said: “Penthouses in Dubai seem to be more resilient than other residential assets. Last year, there was an increase in the rental demand for penthouses in prime areas. This demand was mainly from high profile tenants who could take advantage of high quality units at affordable rates.

“In addition penthouses are limited in number, which has helped retain its value.”

Yolanta Farah, Associate Director, Head of Residential, Sales & Leasing, Group Seven Properties, said: “Penthouses are faring better than average units. More than regular units, penthouses are owned by end users as first or second home or guest house. These owners are not selling in current market, except in cases of higher necessity as part of property consolidation. Penthouses available on secondary market are usually not the truly special ones that a penthouse should have such as a top floor with a great view, good location and space.

“There is very little demand for any property at the moment, but there is hardly any availability of really special penthouses, either.”

Bernard Aoun, Manager – Residential Sales & Leasing, Better Homes, said if a client owns a penthouse it can be considered they may have a higher holding capacity.

“The penthouse properties have suffered just like any other real estate property in Dubai during the crisis. However, because there is limited supply they have survived better than the rest.”

According to real estate agents, penthouse prices have dropped anywhere between 25 and 50 per cent in the past one year. “The asking prices have seen a drop of 25 per cent to 30 per cent,” said Kumar.

“The selling price in secondary sales started from Dh2,000 per square foot for a penthouse in Emaar’s building in Dubai Marina. The recently released Executive Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road has a penthouse of 5,877 sq ft selling at Dh1,600 per sq ft amounting to Dh9.4 million.

Aoun said on an average, the prices of the penthouses in Dubai have come down by 50 per cent from 2008. Alwadiya said that prices of penthouses dropped by an average of 35 per cent since last year.

According to Group Seven Properties, some penthouses in Dubai’s secondary market are in the Golden Mile, with building number 4 developed by IFA going for Dh4.2m. Bayside Residence in Dubai Marina, developed by Trident at the 22nd floor; with a total area of 6,500 sq ft and a full Marina view is around Dh10m.

In South Ridge, Burj Downtown, a three-bedroom apartment of 3,003 sq ft area plus balcony with Burj views is around Dh5.9m. Indigo Tower in Jumeirah Lake Tower, a four-bedroom penthouse apartment of 3,745 sq ft area with lake views is Dh4.1m.

Real estate agents said that average return on investment (RoI) is between five and seven per cent for penthouses.

“We are looking today at between five per cent and seven per cent RoI, which in a depressed market is considered as a great return on investment,” said Aoun.

Better Homes also said average rental yields for penthouses currently are a minimum of five per cent in a case-by-case scenario.

Alwadiya said rental yields for penthouse is currently around three to five per cent compared to other residential assets.

“We believe penthouses can offer very handsome capital growth opportunities over the longer term. We estimate an average of 40 per cent in capital growth would be realistic over a six-to-seven year period and the downside risk to achieving this is considered minimal.”

Farah said while over-investment in real estate during 2008 put some people in trouble, those buying penthouses are generally educated buyers who know that buying the best in the best location is safer, regardless of market conditions.

Kumar said unlike the rest of the world, Dubai’s penthouses offer options to buyers to buy it as shell and core so buyers can finish the apartment to their liking with their personal choice.

Aoun said that it is not possible to compare Dubai and the rest of the world in terms of real estate because the emirate is still an emerging market where taste and requirements are often different.

However, Alwadiya said penthouses in Dubai are much bigger in space and offer better value for money in terms of price per square foot. “In addition, there are no property taxes in Dubai which makes owning a penthouse better,” he said.

“By international standards, the prices of penthouses in Dubai are low. Prime penthouses in Central London are being offered between Dh9,000 per sq ft and Dh10,000 per sq ft. In South Mumbai, it ranges between Dh2,700 per sq ft and Dh3,500 per sq ft and in Upper Manhattan it ranges between Dh8,500 per sq ft and Dh11,000 per sq ft.”

Farah said that in the pre-freehold times, in “old Dubai”, there were landlords who built penthouses true to their name.

Top picks

Tower: Le Reve Tower
Location: Dubai Marina
Project status: Ready
Developer: Sulaiman Al Bassam
Price: Dh18 million/Dh2,950 per square foot

Tower: The Residences
Location: Downtown Burj Khalifa Area
Project status: Ready
Developer: Emaar Properties
Price: Dh16m to Dh17m/Dh2,000 to Dh2,100 per sq ft

Tower: The Address Lake Hotel
Location: Downtown Burj Khalifa area
Project Status: Ready
Developer: Emaar Properties
Price: Dh16m/Dh3,555 per sq ft

Tower: Al Seef Tower 1
Location: Dubai Marina
Project Status: Ready
Developer: Deyaar Development
Price: Dh11m/Dh1,570 per sq ft

Tower: Bayside Residence
Location: Dubai Marina
Project Status: Ready
Developer: Trident International Holdings
Price: Dh10m/area – 6,500 square feet

Tower: Tiara Residence
Location: Palm Jumeirah
Project status: Ready
Developer: Zabeel Investments
Price: Dh9.5m

Tower: The Executive Tower
Location: Business Bay
Project status: Ready
Developer: Dubai Properties
Price: Dh7m/Dh1,000 per sq ft

Tower: Emirates Crown
Location: Dubai Marina
Project status: Ready
Developer: GGICO/Mohamed Saif Mohamed bin Shafar
Price: Dh7m/Dh850 per sq ft

Tower: Jumeirah Beach Residence, Bahar
Location: Dubai Marina
Project status: Ready
Developer: Dubai Properties
Price: Dh6.5m to Dh7.5m/Dh1,100 per sq ft to Dh1,200 per sq ft

Tower: South Ridge
Location: Burj Downtown
Project Status: Ready
Developer: Emaar
Price: Dh5.9m/area – 3,003 sq ft

Tower: Building No. 4, Golden Mile
Location: Palm Jumeirah
Project status: Ready
Developer: IFA Hotels and Resorts
Price: Dh4.2m/Dh1,000 per sq ft

Tower: Indigo Tower
Location: Jumeirah Lake Tower
Project Status: Ready
Developer: Jumeirah Properties Investment
Price: Dh4.1m/area – 3,745 sq ft

Tower: Lake Shore Tower
Location: Jumeirah Lake Tower
Project status: Ready and occupied
Developer: Al Bodor Real Estate Development
Price: Dh3m

Harbor Real Estate appointed by Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority as the sales and leasing agent for the completed Cedre Villas project

Cedre Villas offer 40% more space and best value for lifestyle

Harbor Real Estate appointed by Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority as the sales and leasing agent for the completed Cedre Villas project.

Dubai, January 16, 2009: Harbor Real Estate, an integrated Real Estate Service Provider in Dubai, announced that it has been appointed by Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority for the role of real estate sales and leasing agent for the 400 villas of the total 1,047 units at Cedre Villas project in Dubai Silicon Oasis City in Dubai.
The ready community villas comprises of Executive villas, Twin villas and Townhouses. Cedre Villas units, which are available for as low as AED 553/sq.ft, entertain all tastes with 3 and 4 bedrooms offering vibrant lifestyle amenities and smart homes facilities to answer everyone’s needs.

“We are thrilled to be selected as one of the few Real Estate agencies to represent the ready Cedre Villas project, this is a unique project with huge potential to attract local and international investors due to its high capital gains and annual rental yields.” commented Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director of Harbor Real Estate “The superlative project is built with the highest international standards at competitive rates. The villas of the Cedre Villas project offer 40% more space than any other villa in Dubai from the same category.” Added Alwadiya

Buyers can enjoy special discounts and value added offers that are uniquely presented by Harbor Real Estate along with 90% pre-approved financing up to 25 years and the option of 1 year in-house payment plan for owner-occupiers. In addition to that, residents will enjoy state of the art restaurants, clubhouses, schools and nursery, playgrounds, swimming pools, shopping facilities and supermarkets, including Spinneys

Commenting on the new partnership, Waleed Bin Shafie, Director of Real Estate Sales at Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, said: “The Cedre Villas project in Dubai Silicon Oasis is a landmark development which comprises spectacular villas. We made sure that our clients are provided with uncompromised quality and generous spaces offered to create not only a luxury home but also comfort with an edge.”

The completed homes at the gated community, which were finished by one of the leading construction companies – Arabtec Holding, occupy the best lifestyle money can buy. Through its strategic location on Emirates Road, the residents are literally minutes away from every major development, leisure community and business center.

Dubai Silicon Oasis is a wholly-owned entity of the Government of Dubai and operates as a free zone technology park for the semiconductor, microelectronic and other high technology-based companies looking to set up their regional headquarters and R&D facilities in the Middle East and Africa region.

Harbor Real Estate services have evolved from traditional real estate brokerage of merely bringing buyers and sellers together to innovative world class end-to-end real estate services. The company services include, Real Estate Tailored Research Services, Integrated Marketing Services, Sales, Leasing & Conversion Management Services, Real Estate Investment Portfolio Management Services and, Holistic Real Estate Legal Services.

For More information about Harbor and the special added value offers on Cedre Villas please contact Harbor on


Real estate legal advice a growing sector

Dubai – Real estate legal services are becoming more popular among existing investors and prospective buyers in Dubai.

Dr. Ali Al Jarman, legal partner – Harbor Real Estate and founder of Prestige Advocates, says real estate-related enquiries have increased since the 2008 financial downturn. “Many of our clients have serious concerns over the security of their real estate investments,” he says.

Prospective buyers are also seeking out legal advice prior to making transaction. “This was not the case in previous years and also contributed greatly to the problems that clients are facing as proper due diligence was not conducted prior to the sale and purchase of property. Most enquiries are usually concerned with the real estate regulations and legislations such as the date of completion of a project, delay penalties, invalidity of the contract, cancellations and payment commitments.”

RERA (Dubai’s Real Estate and Regulatory Agency) has recently proposed a free legal advice service for buyers and sellers, an initiative that Dr. Ali applauds: “We believe that this innovative policy could also assist in boosting the confidence levels in the real estate industry,” he says.


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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Realty brokers get new professional status

Dubai’s Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) yesterday announced an agreement with the Ministry of Labour (MoL) to have real estate brokers recognised as a new professional category.

Labour cards and residence visas issued to real estate brokers will now include their designation and henceforth not be categorised as “sales staff”.

Marwan bin Ghalita, Chief Executive Officer, Rera, said: “This is the first step towards a complete classification of real estate professions in Dubai.

“The practical objective is to make sure each real estate professional’s designation reflects what he does so buyers and sellers are clear that they are dealing with properly qualified, competent, licensed and registered professionals.”

He said: “The overall effect will be to increase transparency and professionalism across the sector. This in turn will boost confidence in property dealings and in the networks agents and third-party investors depend on to execute their transactions.

“Previously, there were no officially-recognised categories for real estate professionals and none was recognised by the ministry. Rera, as the custodian of these professional services, took the initiative and approached the MoL.”

“The ministry has now approved the first step of officially recognising broker as a professional category and this will be included in all the related professional and operations documents,” said bin Ghalita. “So when firms come to renew their registration and labour permits these will be issued with the new designation.”

Effectively, this step completes the three-stage formal approvals procedure of registration, licensing and now labour permit and residence visa to support the professional qualifications and training of real estate practitioners in Dubai. This compulsory system will take Rera’s campaign to outlaw “rogue practitioners” to its conclusion.

Rera has, as part of its agreement with the MoL, set up an electronic link direct to the ministry, which will allow the exchange of information to speed up processing of labour permits.

Humaid Al Rashid, Head of the Labour Affairs Department in the MoL, said: “We were only too happy to co-operate with Rera and to support it in its aims.”

Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director, Harbor Real Estate, said: “While the efforts to protect rights, lift standards of professionalism and establish a transparent framework are to be applauded in Dubai, there is still a long way to go before the industry can be said to be in the final stages of maturation.

“The new agreement between Rera and the Ministry of Labour to have real estate brokers officially recognised as a separate professional category is a step on the right direction.”

Hiba Jaber, Chief Operating Officer, Landmark Properties, said: “We support this initiative as introduced by Rera and MoL. We firmly believe that once professionals are properly categorised in accordance with their qualifications and credentials, investors and end-users will have a clear direction on who to contact when seeking help and advice from the professionals.”

Partho Bhattacharya, Director of HR, Better Homes, said: “This is a good step in the right direction where real estate agents will get recognition as professionals. The MoL must recognise the Rera certificate to grant a work permit. Such real estate professionals should not be asked for any other educational certificate for grant of work permit.”