ASK THE AGENT

I have accumulated a portfolio of apartments and villas in Dubai. Is there still a way to make any profit during this slowdown period?

There are too many investors who are under the illusion that investing in property is almost a “set and forget” proposition, but nothing could be further from the truth. The property industry is incredibly dynamic and requires constant attention as factors influencing its performance as an investment are as broad as they are complex. Investing in property is no different from investing in any other assets. Its purpose is to create wealth but it needs to be nurtured and managed just like any other investments. With a portfolio this large, you need professional help to manage your investment, particularly during times when yield is harder to generate. You need a good property manager who will ensure that you maximise returns from your property portfolio and enable your long-term strategy to be realised.

 

We’re a new company looking for an office space with the best value. Should we rent or buy?

At this stage, you need to keep costs down until you become fully established in the market. The old cliché “location, location, location” is all about the convenience and prestige it can bring to any business. For instance, great value, affordable and well-constructed office spaces are found in areas like Business Bay, but may not work for your business if the location is a hindrance to your operations. We always advocate businesses acquiring their own premises if they commit to operating long term in Dubai. There is no tax advantage in leasing in the UAE and as long as your office space is appreciating, your balance sheet will grow stronger over time. If you decide to lease your premises, look for the best deal and lock it in for at least three to five years. Lease rates in Dubai will soon increase, going forward, so make sure you take advantage of current rates.

 

How do I know if my property consultant is giving me the correct advice?

In any relationship, trust is key. Do some research to verify the veracity of his claims and assertions. If in doubt, seek alternatives as there are plenty of property consultants out there hungry for your business. Look for experience and passion. Ask friends who recently conducted a real estate transaction and listen to their feedback. Find a consultant that exhibits a breadth and depth of industry knowledge, and expertise. Look for an agency that has been in the industry for a long time and has built good relationships with major developers or authorities such as DLD, RERA, DEWA or DED for they will be able to operate more efficiently. And finally, look for an agency that has received some form of industry or peer recognition as they lend credence to the reputation of the realtor in question.

 

I come from overseas and I am looking to rent a home. I heard about “district cooling.” What exactly does it mean?

District cooling for the provision of chilled water has emerged globally as a way to provide cooling to buildings in a more environmentally sensitive way. It is considered to provide great benefits in the long run and helps save on the costs of electricity. Most units serviced by chilled water district cooling are offered at slightly lower rental rates. However, ask how your cooling charges will be calculated and which are included in the cost. As to consumption charges, I assume you will have a BTU metre installed in your apartment. If so, you will be billed directly by the cooling services provider. The DEWA savings will be offset somewhat as you may incur an additional utility charge as some unit owners equipped with district cooling will be passed on the slightly higher utility charges involving the remuneration of the capital cost of providing the infrastructure.

 

Question of the Week

I am looking at the UAE as a possible destination for retirement. I would like to buy a property here, rent it out initially and later use it myself. Any advice?

The key to choosing your property is determining the right balance between the amount to be invested, the returns you require in the interim period before you retire, and what type of property you want to enjoy during your retirement. The good news here is your tastes are likely to be shared by your tenants in the interim so renting it out should not be a problem. There are many quality properties available; however, if you want to purchase in the prime areas of Dubai, either in Downtown Dubai or somewhere close to the beach or with a golf course view, the amount is double or triple. You can expect a minimum net rental return of around 5 to 7 percent which, given the cheap financing available at the moment, makes for a solid investment in preparation for outright ownership and retirement. Be careful with fluctuations in exchange rates. Factors such as location, the developer’s record and reputation, quality, service fees, building management and a functioning owners association will require a reputable local real estate professional to help minimise risks in your investment, whether during the procurement stage or until you are ready to assume occupancy.

Alternatives real estate assets

While Real Estate Investment Trusts are common in many Real Estate Markets around the world, they are a relatively new here in the Middle East with the Emirates REIT, being the first, launched in 2010. In November of 2016, Saudi Arabia created its local version of a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). The reasoning behind this move was to enable the smaller investors to provide liquidity to the market and support government efforts to resolve a housing shortage and increase the percentage of housing generated by developers to 30 per cent from its current level of 10 per cent. Now, more recently, there has been a second REIT launched in Dubai, the ENBD REIT.

While there are advantages for any industry to have financial structures such as REIT’s to support burgeoning property and construction industries, what are the advantages for the investors who will be providing the capital?

There was a time when the property game was for the wealthy investor and those with only small amounts to invest had to look elsewhere to invest their hard-earned capital. This is no longer the case due to the rise of new investment platforms which enable even the smallest of investors to enjoy the returns of investing in property.

One such platform which is relatively new to the local market is the REIT. REIT is an acronym for Real Estate Investment Trust which, as a trust company that accumulates a pool of money through an initial public offering (IPO), buys, develops, manages and sells real estate assets. The IPO is identical to any other security offering with many of the same rules regarding disclosure and reporting requirements and regulations.

Investors, whether large or small, instead of purchasing stock in a single company, have the opportunity to buy a unit which is actually a portion of a managed pool of real estate. This pool of real estate then generates income through renting, leasing, selling and financing of property and distributes it directly to the REIT holder on a regular basis.

Units held in a REIT can be bought like a stock on a stock exchange. The REIT invests in real estate directly, either by buying, selling or leasing properties or by investing in property mortgages.

There are 3 types of REIT’s.  Equity REITs invest in and own properties and therefore are focused on increasing the value of those properties while also accumulating revenues from their properties’ rents.  Mortgage REITs deal in investment and ownership of property mortgages. These REITs loan money for mortgages to owners of real estate, or purchase existing mortgages or mortgage-backed securities. Their revenues are generated primarily by the interest that they earn on the mortgage loans while Hybrid REITs combine the investment strategies of equity REITs and mortgage REITs by investing in both properties and mortgages.

Individuals can invest in REITs either by purchasing their shares directly on an open exchange or by investing in a mutual fund that specializes in REITs that are listed on the stock exchange. Among other things, REITs invest in shopping malls, office buildings, apartments, warehouses and hotels. Some REITs will invest specifically in one area of real estate – shopping malls, for example – or in one specific region, state or country. Investing in REITs is a liquid, dividend-paying means of participating in the real estate market.

REITS allow both small and large investors the ability to invest in real estate without investing large amounts of capital or devoting a lot of time in directly managing a property portfolio. A REIT also allows a greater amount of portfolio diversification because of the large amounts of pooled funds available to the REIT Management team enables the accumulation and operation of different types of property assets in different locales.

Investing in a REIT is no different to investing in any company. Some companies represent lucrative opportunities, while some companies may represent too much risk or poor value.  Investors still need to look at the REITS performance in terms of Nett Asset Value growth and dividend payment history, current portfolio composition and performance, the management team, future plans for the REIT as well as have an understanding of the likely performance of the property market and overall economy in which the REIT participates. Investors, having completed a thorough and in depth assessment of the probability that the REIT will provide desired returns, can participate at the level that is consistent with what they can afford to invest.

Another investment platform which allows smaller investors to participate in the property market is Crowdfunding. A relatively new concept Crowdfunding entails the pooling of funds by a group of individuals to finance initiatives such as real estate investment projects. This is usually done via the internet.

The advantages are obvious. Investors get access to the real estate market with small amounts of money and can pick and can efficiently choose which Real Estate projects they wish to invest in, thereby spreading risk and enabling the possibility of building a portfolio made up of a variety of assets, in a variety of locations being developed by a variety of developers.

For developers, Crowdfunding provides another source of funding for their projects. Using the internet is an efficient way of attracting interest to their projects and the reach that the internet provides magnifies the potential for raising funds more quickly.

However, as with any investment, Crowdfunding is not without its risks. Obviously, investors will be exposed to any gyrations in the market along with all the other investors. In addition, the risk of default from developers can be higher when compared to peer-to-peer and direct real estate investment funding. In addition, unlike investing in a REIT, the absence of a secondary market restricts the ease with which an investor can liquidate his or her position. These risks need to be considered carefully when determining the type of return required and, as with any investment, extensive due diligence by all investors, regardless of whether they be big  and small, is of paramount importance.