By: Mohanad Alwadiya
Published: Gulf News Freehold

With the advent of globalization and the exponential rise of cross border capital flows, the number of factors that affect local economies and the industries that operate within those economies has increased dramatically in both number and complexity. Here are some that we will be considering as we advise our clients in 2017.

Oil. Despite the amount of diversification that has occurred in the Dubai economy and the small proportion of Dubai’s GDP that oil represents, the price of oil still affects liquidity levels, oil dependent economy’s performance and overall investor confidence. There is no doubt that that maintaining oil at or above the $50 / barrel for the duration of 2017 will assist in creating market stability.

Currency rates. With anywhere between 40% and 50% of investment in Dubai property coming from investors who usually deal in currencies that are not pegged to the US dollar, any strengthening of the US dollar makes it more difficult to invest in Dubai for those investors. A recent example is the devaluation of the Russian ruble which resulted in Russian investment declining significantly in Dubai’s property market. The USD is likely to strengthen in 2017 as we see the US Federal Reserve continue to raise interest rates and the effect of Trumpenomics and “America First” protectionist policies begin to take effect.

Political instability. Almost omnipresent for well over a decade, the level of political instability in the world today seems unprecedented. From Middle East conflicts, Chinese actions in the South China sea, North Korean nuclear ambitions, Brexit and even significant dissatisfaction with the US election result and subsequent presidential performance, the world is a very unsettled place which leads to investor nervousness. There are no signs that political instability is going to ease any time soon.

Demand and supply. As always, economic fundamental will always play a role in any industry performance. 2017 will see a continuation of balancing of the demand / supply situation in the market as the recent pivot towards affordable properties makes up a greater proportion of deliveries and the demand generated by the rapidly approaching 2020 Global Expo accelerates.

Legal framework. The legal framework that has been developed for the property industry in Dubai has is both comprehensive and effective in protecting the rights of tenants and investors and holding developers to account. Developments will continue in 2017 further increasing the already high levels of confidence among investors with regards to their legal protection and risk minimization.

Mortgage market/ regulations. Historically, mortgages have represented no more than 30%-35% of property sales in the emirate. This ratio has now climbed to well over 45% during 2016 and, in some months, levels of 60+% were achieved.  This is great news for several reasons.

First, this trend highlights both confidence of lenders and consumers, mostly owner occupiers, in the market. The second reason why this is such good news is because we are witnessing, in real time, the market adapting to legislative changes that were made in early 2014. There is no doubt that the implementation of the mortgage caps earlier in 2014 had affected the demand for many first home buyers who were relying on a mortgage to acquire their dream home

Finally, a growing number of mortgages are being undertaken for properties that are purchased in the more affordable areas of Dubai, which further demonstrates the systemic shift to affordable housing in the Dubai property market is becoming even further entrenched as a long-term characteristic.

Confidence levels/ buyer’s sentiment. Confidence levels of investors globally have been shaken by the global events of the past few years. The levels of uncertainty surrounding economic policies, geo-political turmoil and social discontent in many countries around the world has created an environment of indecision amongst investors. Nevertheless, the property industry has weathered this quite well and showed a maturity and flexibility that wasn’t evident earlier in the decade. Sure, prices have declined since 2014, but this has been more because of a much-needed market correction. While global events have had an effect, the market’s resilience has been impressive.

Performance of other investment instruments (stock markets, gold, equities, bonds). There is a global competition for a greater share of the capital pie. Capital will always follow the best risk adjusted returns and movements can be swift and of great magnitude. They can be so dramatic that some governments will restrict capital flows. For example, China recently announced new restrictions on capital flows out of the country. Observations from property industry pundits all around the globe suggest the new restrictions are already putting the brakes on what has been the biggest global real estate accumulation by any nationality in modern times. While Chinese demand will continue to benefit many markets those who had not previously established off-shore assets will find it significantly more difficult to invest beyond Chinese borders until the restrictions are raised.

Infrastructure development / government spending. The ongoing commitment to economic development and the associated infrastructural spending has been well-chronicled. The continuing preparations for the 2020 World Expo will help the local economy achieve around 3.5% GDP growth for the year which is very healthy by global standards.

Taxes and transaction costs (registration and transfer fees, commissions, NOC fees) The costs of transacting in real estate in Dubai compare well globally and no new costs or fees are expected to be introduced in 2017. Somewhat conversely, we expect the slew of offers in the market place designed to increase affordability to continue. Great news for first home buyers and investors.

Annual service charges and overall cost of ownership (utility fees, maintenance, insurance, PM costs) Similarly, the costs of owning and operating property is expected to remain stable and should not affect buyer’s decisions other than normal calculations regarding yields, cashflow and asset protection.


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.

Ask the Experts

Every month we invite you to have your property questions answered by an expert. This month, Mohanad Alwadiya tackles the task.

Q I’ve been looking at a few Union Properties developments, but am unsure about buying leasehold. How does this differ to freehold property in Dubai?

A The choice between freehold and leasehold property depends mainly on your particular needs and the asset type you wish to invest in. If you wish to buy a property for a limited number of years or you are buying a property to benefit from its annual rental yield, leasehold should be your preferable option as the cost would be considerably less compared to freehold. Similarly, the cost of leasehold for 30 years will be less than that for 99 years. Leasehold is common in many established overseas markets for high-rise apartments and integrated communities. This represents a benefit for owners in Dubai particularly as certain owners may visit infrequently and ‘forget’ to pay their maintenance bills. Under leasehold tenure contracts, the landlord could apply for an eviction order after a long period of non-payment, therefore safeguarding the integrity of the whole property or community.

Q Judging from the property classifieds, rents in Dubai Marina haven’t gone down much at all. Some even seem to have risen despite more supply coming on to the market. I’d like to buy an apartment to live in at the Marina; I’m just wondering which towers and areas of the Marina are the best options for long-term appreciation?

A During Q3 2009, Dubai Marina apartments witnessed a noticeable increase in rental rates, fuelled by the increased demand from visitors and tenants from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This factor provided sellers and landlords with room to reconsider their offered prices with the aim of maximising their return on investment. Estimating long-term capital growth requires some careful thinking. This is where certain considerations such as location, property type, views, quality of structure, fit and finish, amenities, developer reputation and an estimation of future demand are taken into account.

You should seek some professional advice from property consultants. Given your personal objective is to maximise capital appreciation, I would recommend you consider towers in the central part of the Marina next to JBR (e.g. Al Sahab or Marina Promenade towers), and minutes away from The Walk.

Q I’m thinking of leaving my job and setting up a small company in a free zone. I’ve been impressed by some commercial buildings at Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) as I do a lot of work in Abu Dhabi. Should I get a multiple-year lease at a discounted rate, or opt for something more short-term?

A I believe that the recession may be the best time to start a new business as you will be able to generate great savings and benefit from the reduced inflation rates which can impact your start up costs. JLT enjoys a strategic location and has a fantastic master plan. It also has a good balance between office and residential space.

Office tenants have the tendency to relocate less frequently compared to residential tenants due to cost of relocation, interior design and building client familiarity with their location. Since you will be able to obtain a better bargain from a long-term lease, I would suggest you opt for the multiple-year lease contract at a discounted rate which will only help reduce your set up costs and overheads over time.


Construction targets to be met

Dubai-A total of 32,047 residential units are expected to come online this year, providing construction targets are met, according to Colliers International. Apartments are expected to account for 77 percent of the new residential units while villas will make up the rest.

The upcoming supply is set to bring down average rents and put pressure on landlords who, besides contending with lower prices, need to cover maintenance fees through rental yields as quickly as possible.

“In certain areas the increase in supply will potentially have an impact on rent being paid,” said Elaine Jones. Chief executive of Asteco Property management.
Negotiating Power

While tenants have considerably more negotiating power than they did 18 months ago, most landlord still expect payment in three to four cheques.

“The average number of cheques is still three and this has been relatively consistent for the past six months. Of course, there are still rental contracts based on one cheque and 12 cheques, but the majority are two to four cheques,” said Jones.

“During the last quarter, we also witnessed that the distress rentals that so characterized the rental activity of the first two quarters of 2009 have all but disappeared.

“Some landlords are now sticking to their negotiating positions and are more prepared to hold on to their properties and wait for the inevitable recovery,” said Mohanad Alwadiya, managing director of Harbor Real Estate.

“There is a belief that prices have reached realistic rates and there is very little room for price negotiations. Most of the tenants now negotiate payment terms and added value elements.”

Depending on the popularity of the area, certain units lend themselves more to rent negotiation. “If there are high occupancy rate in that particular building or development then there is usually little negotiating room on the rental rate,” Jesse Downs, director of research and advisory services at Landmark Advisory, told Gulf News.

“In this case, landlords tend to prefer to negotiate with the number of cheques or with an additional one month ‘s rent at no charge. For less desirable locations, developments with lower occupancy rates, or new buildings, there is usually more room to negotiate the rental rates. Of course, negotiations depend largely on asking prices.

There is variance in pricing strategies between the different agencies. Some brokerage firms list inventory at inflated levels and bring the rents down in the negotiation stages. Others list their inventory at more realistic rates and have low bid- ask spreads.”


A continued trend of relocation from the outer emirates such as Ajman and Sharjah to Dubai can still be seen.

“Given the decline in Dubai rents in 2009, more people who are currently working in Dubai are opting to live in Dubai. As average rents decline, we expect this trend to increase with additional relocation from areas like Sharjah,” said Downs.

The trend seen in the fourth quarter of 2009 is predicted to continue early into 2010 with only a slight change in dynamics during the second quarter, especially when there is a better outlook of recovery, the projected supply and population figures.

A further drive that will affect rental rates is population growth generated by healthy commercial activity.

“Dubai needs to ensure that as the world economy starts to recover, it has positioned itself competitively as a place to do business,” said Alwadiya.


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.”


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.


Rent caps set to be maintained at 2009 levels

Dubai-His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Moaktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has announced that the rent increase caps for 2010 remain at the same rates as 2009.

Endorsed by the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), the rent cap states the maximum increase in rent landlords can impose each year.
The 2010 figures have been formed following the trends shown in RERA’s latest rental index. It states that increases can only occur if the property is more than 25 per cent below the average index price.

If the rent is 26 per cent to 35 per cent less than the average rent for a similar property, the maximum increase will be equivalent to 5 per cent of the rent value of the year 2009.


If the rent is 36 per cent to 45 per cent less than the average rent for a similar property, the maximum increase will be equivalent to 10 per cent of rent value of the year 2009.

If the rent is 46 per cent to 55 per cent less than the average rent for a similar property, the maximum increase will be equivalent to 15 per cent of rent value of the year 2009.

If the rent is less by a percentage that is more than 55 per cent of the average rent rate, a 20 per cent increase is permissible.
‘Positive move’

“I think the decision to keep the rental cap the same as 2009 is good as it keeps the market in the same condition and doesn’t have that much of an impact as of now.” Sudhir Kumar, managing director of Realtors International told Gulf News.

The decree was implemented to curb the sky-rocketing rents and to regulate relations between landlords and tenants.

“It’s a positive move because it shows that regulatory operations are taking charge. However, there should be more enforcement on the individual landlords who are still breaking the values of the caps and are not abiding to the decree. A closer eye should also be kept on the fluctuating prices with the rent cap keeping up to speed.” said Mohanad Al Wadiya, managing director of Harbor Real Estate.

Making owners pay service charges a major challenge

A lack of transparency over the cost of maintaining a building, low quality standards and services and confusion over what is covered by service charges have angered owners and led to many refusing to pay the charges, say industry sources.

Adrian Quinn, Chairman of Dubai-based strata management firm Essential Community Management, said that if a building has service fee arrears of 40 per cent, it would not be possible to continue maintaining it internally or externally.

The available funds would have to be used to make payments to the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, insurance companies, master developers and district cooling suppliers.

Essential Community provide strata management services to more than 40 developers in Dubai and has worked with master developers Emaar and Nakheel.

Quinn said the major challenge for the strata sector in Dubai is making owners pay the building service fees.

“The delay in the enforcement of the strata law is allowing many owners to avoid paying their strata service fees,” he added. “This is due to many developers not wanting to – or not knowing how to – recover the outstanding service fees via the terms and conditions of their contracts of sale.

“Most contracts allow for the developer to sell the apartment or villa in the event of non-payment and also recover all the legal costs and penalties.”

According to a recent survey by Dubai-based real estate broker Harbor Real Estate, the average annual service charges for buildings across Dubai are Dh16 per square foot.

“The highest service charges recorded were in and around Downtown Burj Dubai at about Dh22 per sq ft, while the lowest were in the Greens at Dh11 per sq ft,” said Harbor Managing Director, Mohanad Alwadiya.

“Consumers are no longer able to ignore the pinch of the economic downturn and investors and owner-occupiers alike are starting to evaluate very carefully the impact of service charges on the financial performance of their property and their own personal wealth.”

The survey, shared exclusively with Emirate Business, reveals that the overall average charge for villa communities is Dh2.5 per sq ft calculated on the overall plot size. Charges for villas are highest on The Palm Jumeirah, where the highest are between Dh4 and Dh5 per sq ft. “The lowest price is about Dh1.16 per sq ft for some of the villas in the Meadows community. This is broken down into Dh1.03 per sq ft for the general fund, Dh0.05 per sq ft for the capital reserve fund and Dh0.08 per sq ft for the master community levy,” said Alwadiya.

He said many developers who sold off-plan properties had not calculated the service charges at the time of sale, leaving many investors not knowing what the fees would be until the buildings were handed over.

“This makes it difficult for investors to determine the yield estimates on potential investments and adds a further element of uncertainty in an already uncertain environment. When buyers are considering purchasing properties, a unit that is complete with fees already apparent is more appealing than an off-plan transaction,” said Alwadiya.

“The majority of developers of projects that are still under construction do not provide service charge figures until the building is completed. On the other hand, most buyers and sellers, and even brokers, will not mention this important subject until the final stages of the negotiation process.”

Walid Jaafar, a partner at the Dubai-based Fichte & Co Legal Consultancy, said the official gazette announcement of Law No27 of 2007 on Ownership of Jointly Owned Properties in Dubai – the strata law – was published on December 31, 2007. Article 33 of the law says the legislation will come into effect within three months of the date of publication – ie on April 1, 2008.

“However, the law has still to be implemented,” said Jaafar. “The law does not address the issue of tenants. The law is intended to regularise the relationship between the owners of units in a specific development.

“This matter is usually left to the owner and the tenant to agree on. However, in practice, unless agreed otherwise between the parties in a tenancy agreement, the service fees should be covered by the owner.”

Fichte & Co has not yet seen any cases involving disputes over unpaid service fees, but does not exclude the possibility that a few are being reviewed by courts.

“In the absence of a regulatory law and the absence of any owners’ associations, the only possibility to file such cases lies in the hands of the master-developers or the sub-developers,” said Jaafar. “The claims in such a case would be based on the sale and purchase agreements and the master declarations attached to them.”

Quinn said that, once implemented, the strata law would create more transparency within owners’ associations. “If a building does not use all the budgeted funds in a year, the owners at the annual general assembly would have the right to decrease the next year’s budget or transfer the funds into the sinking fund,” he added.

The law makes it mandatory for every strata to have a 10-year sinking fund to ensure that money is set aside to pay for long-term capital expenditure.

“We at Essential Community automatically create a 20- or 25-year sinking fund to ensure all major plant and equipment are properly budgeted for on normal lifecycle cost structures.”

A strata general manager is appointed by the landlords of the building to create a draft budget, which is then reviewed by a board.

“After it has been approved by the board it is sent to all owners before the annual general assembly and is then approved there,” said Quinn. “After the meeting has approved all the agenda items it is then up to the strata general manager to enact all the motions and ensure they are carried out.”

Quinn said the most important duties of a strata manager are to oversee the facilities management companies to ensure they and their sub-contractors carry out the jobs they are contracted to do.

“There is a major conflict of interest if a strata management company has its own facilities management company,” he added.

Landlords will control what the owners’ association does and how it spends funds through the elected board.

“This means that the individual landlords will have some power in what the service fees will be and be able to rectify things. The enforcement of the strata law will make it possible to split buildings into multiple cost structures,” said Quinn.

“The first is the master cost structure, which would pay the master community service fees, buildings insurance, essential service costs, the managers’ fees, the facilities managers’ fees, district cooling charges, etc.

“The second cost structure would be the residential component of the building, so it would pay all the costs for the specifically residential component, for example lifts, foyers, gyms, pools and car parks. The third cost structure could be then the commercial portion of the building and cover all the commercial areas.”

Jaafar said: “When the owners have control of their buildings they will, through their board, review complaints of tenants and issues to ensure a good relationship is maintained.

“At present a tenant may have problems and issues with the building he is in, but the developer does not want to know about it or does not understand what they need to do to rectify them. There are some developers that are doing a good job in running their buildings, but everyone still has problems with conflicts of interest issues on maintenance items.”

Jaafar said according to Article 25 (2) of the strata law, if a unit owner fails to pay the service fees, the manager of the owner’s association would take action against the owner three months after notifying him through the notary public, enforceable by the execution judge in any competent court.

“However, the unit owner may object to this decision within the three-month period. In such a case, the execution shall be withheld until a decision in the subject of the objection has been reached.” Meanwhile, analysts called for the strata law to be enforced as soon as possible.

Nicole Betts, Senior Manager of Asteco Association Management, said that while Dubai awaited the regulations that supported the jointly-owned property law, Asteco had been working for several years with a number of high-profile clients well ahead of the implementation of the law.

“We have been helping companies establish informal owner associations, set up service charge and budgeting models, set community rules as well as facility management and service provider selection procedures based on best international practices,” she said.

“Some companies are actively encouraging owners to take control for themselves – albeit at this stage this has to be done under the developer’s name.

“A good example is the MAG Group which is dedicated to transparency. We have worked with them from conception of their MAG 214 Jumeirah Lakes Towers project through to delivering onsite management services to an informal owners’ association. Our team works closely with the owners’ management board to assist them to preserve, maintain and enhance the tower.”

Mohammed Nimer, Chief Executive Officer of MAG Group Property Development, said: “We have always operated in an environment of transparency, so it was natural for our company to introduce best practice in property management to enable owners to truly run their own buildings.”

Asteco has also been working with another developer for the V3 Tower, also located at Jumeirah Lakes, where handover to owners commenced recently.

“Our role is to administer day-to-day operations and assist in the formation of an informal owners’ association and a management board,” added Betts.

Local and Federal Authorities Need to Form Much Closer Ties

The UAE real estate sector must have more co-ordination between regulatory bodies in different emirates and the proposed federal real estate regulatory body to tackle various issues concerning the sector, analysts said.

“What the government needs to do is have real estate regulatory bodies of each emirate to liaise with one central regulatory body and the federal immigration department to oversee real estate issues such as visa regulations,” said Chet Riley, Vice-President, Equities Real Estate Analyst, Nomura International.

“Three years ago, people were trying to encourage buyers through visa offers. When the market got overheated, visa rules were tightened. Today there is a lot of confusion over the rules and regulations in the real estate sector regarding visas.”

He said: “A central regulatory body for the oversight of issues such as immigration is probably required to ensure the consistent application of immigration law and prevent forms of regulatory arbitrage related to real estate.

“There are aspects of regulations that we think should remain at the emirate level, which could include dispute resolutions and arbitration, planning consents and associated municipality issues such as infrastructural requirements.”

Emirates Business reported yesterday that the Ajman Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Arra) had submitted a proposal to federal authorities to overhaul current property visa regulations. Arra wants to remove property values, fixed incomes or compulsory exits as criteria for granting or renewing six-month residency visas. 

Ajman’s regulatory body put in a five-point submission and said it should be possible to renew visas every six months for up to three years without the need to leave the country.

Parvees Gafur, Executive Vice-President – Sales, Gowealthy real estate, said: “Co-ordinated efforts are needed between real estate regulatory bodies in various emirates of the country and a central regulatory body that will work in close connection with the immigration department of the country to tackle visa issues of real estate investors.”

“We would even recommend that the immigration department allocate representative resources to each of the real estate regulatory bodies to provide an integrated service package and assist investors with their visa queries promptly,” said Gafur.

He said: “At an operational level, a decentralised approach with individual real estate bodies within each emirate will be far more efficient and effective to govern real estate regulations as each emirate has different challenges, visions and focus. 

“However, a central authority established to monitor the progress of individual bodies will help in guiding various factions towards overall positioning of the emirate to occupy a strategic place within the global economic platform. 

“Such an entity can facilitate best practices and federal-local interactions that can have a positive influence on shaping the overall identity of the emirate.”

Farina Ahmed, CEO, BSEL Infrastructure, an Ajman developer, said: “Any co-ordinated effort taken to bridge gaps in the real estate sector is a welcome move. I believe there should be co-ordinated efforts among different emirates’ regulatory bodies and one central body.” 

Real estate analysts in the UAE have welcomed Arra’s initiative to submit a proposal to the federal government.

Mohanad Alwadiya, Managing Director, Harbor Real Estate, said: “The Arra initiative is a positive move towards attracting foreign investment and boosting the level of confidence among all the relevant stakeholders in the property industry.”

Iseeb Rehman, Managing Director, Sherwoods Independent Property Consultants, said: “The proposal is a positive move. Any effort taken to resolve real estate issues by real estate regulatory bodies is a step in the right direction.”

“In Ajman the real estate sector has been seeing some swift and timely action. The feedback from clients and developers is that Arra is resolving issues quickly and trying to provide clarity.

“Conditions for residing in the UAE is a federal issue, but they need to consider current market climate versus current income situation. Regulators need to be realistic and at the same time appealing to people looking to come to the UAE. If conditions become too stringent it will be harder for people to comply.”

Riley said: “Arra and Rera [Dubai Real Estate Regulatory Authority] are being relatively proactive in the area of co-ordination, which is a positive step and it is very important to continue dialogues among the six emirates. Under the present circumstances, Arra’s initiative, though in the initial stages, is a step in the right direction. We welcome the initiative to establish visa regulations and think this should be set at a federal level in conjunction with immigration authorities to remove any confusion. Currently, the major challenge faced by the region is one of customer confidence, be it investors, end users or even corporate entities.”

“It would, however, be difficult to have a minimum price level set across the emirates given the disparity of pricing in each area. The key issue that we see is the ability of the applicant to support themselves and their dependants, rather than the value of the property, if they were looking to reside in the country,” said Riley.

“Ajman is a different market from Dubai. Imposing limits across the board will be difficult in all the emirates,” he said.

Gafur said: “The proposal is a first step towards addressing visa issues. If implemented, steps such as these will give further impetus to a larger segment of investors and business entities that have long-term business plans in the region.”

“The minimum criteria for property investment should be looked into very closely and the medium- to long-term impacts of such steps have to be assessed using situational planning and forecasting studies. Investment strata-led visa restrictions, if planned efficiently, could have a positive influence in the market by ensuring the right kind of investments and investors are at play over substantial and optimum time periods.”

The BSEL CEO said: “The six-month visa regulation is not enough for an investor in Ajman. Residency permit should be for three years. With six months’ visa tenure, investors lose faith in the real estate market in Ajman.”

Alwadiya said the property market recovery in the UAE needs to be supported by solid economic drivers and regulations. “The visa issue is one that has placed a lot of pressure on recently retrenched expatriates when trying to find alternative employment or heading home. The Department of Naturalisation and Residency has implemented a law which will grant six-month renewable visa to those who invest in freehold property in the UAE.”

“While this is a positive move to assure potential investors, the six-month period is considered to be too limited a duration to be meaningful to many investors. It is thought the federal law should match the general residency law whereby investors will be eligible for a three-year residency visa provided they visited the emirate at least once every six months. This approach will appear to be far more appealing and enticing for investors,” said Alwadiya.

Gafur said: “Confidence-building measures at the federal and regulatory level is paramount in bringing back faith to the market and spur medium- to long-term investments into the country.”

“Fundamentally, the long-term success of an economy is influenced primarily by the potential of the economy to s
ustain itself on the basis of its inherent resources and the faith of internal and external stakeholders. 

“And this faith is determined by the strength of relevant regulatory systems that shape, manage and control various segments of industry that spur the economy, such as legal systems, banking and financial entities and industry bodies.”

Gafur said with substantially reduced market prices for properties and prevailing investor sentiment as the background, a planned and phased overhaul of visa regulations is critical to the long-term success of the emirate. 

“Visa regulation changes can have immediate and substantial effects on the long-term business and operational sentiment of the investing public and should be approached with extreme care. Ajman has come a long way in stamping its brand of investment potential, especially within the mid-segment of investors from South Asia and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, this growth has been fraught with teething issues, compounded by the present economic downturn.

“The immediate elements that need to be looked into would be infrastructure – power requirements, for example – and further clarity in regulatory and legal frameworks, especially within the real estate sector,” he said.