Khaleej Times column: The evolving UAE real estate market

UAE real estate market

Renan Bourdeau, our Deputy CEO, reflects on how the UAE property market has transformed since the downturn and why the solid growth is likely to be a sustainable one.

The evolving UAE real estate market
Renan Bourdeau (Property focus) / 6 April 2014

Steering towards maturity, the UAE real estate market has taken off to a solid start this year. It’s no secret that property prices have begun surging. However, despite significant price rises, average apartment prices in Dubai continue to be lower than where they were during the 2008 peak, suggesting that they still have scope to rise. The UAE has also seen a population rise of close to 400,000 over the last two years with Dubai recording a 200,000 increase in resident numbers during the same period.

Investing in UAE property

The market has also transformed significantly since the downturn. More regulation is kicking in with the industry moving away from the off-plan sales model towards a longer-term model and experiencing growth in terms of prices, transaction volumes, equity and rental yields. The Dubai Land Department recently revealed that property transactions in 2013 jumped 53 per cent from 2012 figures. The department, which increased property registration fees to discourage flipping, has indicated that more regulations to control speculation are likely to be announced in the coming months.

At the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa, Dubai is a global investment hub, featuring amongst the world’s strongest performing and fastest growing luxury property markets. The population of high net worth individuals attracted to the emirate’s favourable tax environment, multi-world charm and plethora of properties is rising. Whilst Indians, Britons and Pakistanis have always topped the list of Dubai’s most active buyers, Chinese investors are now one of the fastest growing investors in the market. Many wealthy Chinese seek to invest abroad to diversify, given that prices in Dubai are much lower than those in China. Expo 2020 will further enhance Dubai’s status as an investment destination as buyers home in on the city ahead of the exhibition.

Dubai skyline

Aside from mega projects, newer addresses are emerging due to the development of infrastructure in suburban areas in preparation for the Expo. The launch of master-planned communities in Dubai World Central, which includes the Expo site and the new airport, are driving the trend towards developments in the fringes of the city. Our latest quarterly report provides statistical evidence to illustrate the growth that these emerging addresses offer — both to investors and renters — for their developing infrastructure, affordable pricing and long-term value. For instance, we see a 100 per cent quarter-on-quarter rise in renter interest in Dubailand. The community has moved up one spot from its position last quarter, ranking fourth in the list of neighbourhoods most searched by buyers this year. Dubai Sports City, which placed 11th in Q1 2013, has also climbed two places to grab ninth spot in the list of sought after rental neighbourhoods this quarter.

Burj Khalifa Downtown Dubai

Interestingly, we’re also seeing the blending of real estate with leisure. Developers are launching projects that integrate luxury residences with world-class tourism ventures and using real estate to fuel Dubai’s ambitions of trebling the contribution made by tourism to its economy. The increasing impetus on real estate can also be seen from the launch of new projects every other week. Emaar has been rolling out new developments since the start of this year, beginning with the “Lila” Spanish coastal villa project in Arabian Ranches, “Vida Residence”, “Boulevard Point” and BLVD Crescent” in Downtown Dubai, other townhouse communities in and around Arabian Ranches and the latest Samara villas project.

Whilst all this growth is exciting, price expectations and supply need to be managed in the years leading up to 2020. We also need to sustain the positive investor sentiment and build greater transparency so that we continue to move ahead as a mature market. Earlier last month, Abu Dhabi and the UAE Central Bank agreed to refinance the $20 billion loan is a sign of confidence in Dubai’s recovering property market. Late last year, Dubai became the first country to announce its support for an International Property Measurement Standard, an initiative that looks at addressing global inconsistencies in the way property is measured, leading to greater transparency and market stability.

UAE real estate

Given Dubai’s ever-changing landscape, don’t just consider the immediate value a property may offer you. Instead, hold on to it, because by 2020, Dubai — in terms of its skyline, resident mix and economic performance — will be different from what it is today.

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