Never has there been such an ambitious and creative drive to establish a property market as has been witnessed in Dubai over the past three years. Running short on oil reserves, Dubai’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed Al Marktoum, set out to turn Dubai into the financial, commercial and tourism capital of the Middle East and in the space of three years he has more than succeeded. The country’s GDP has expanded by 17 per cent over the past year and HSBC Bank estimates that there is $42.5 billion worth of projects under construction, compared with $20 billion for the rest of the neighboring oil states put together.
The result has been the rise of Dubai as the world’s most glamorous property investment market. Nothing in Dubai is understated. The tiny emirate, that only five years ago was nothing more than a simple fishing village has suddenly become the Manhattan of the Middle East. Following the mantra ‘bigger is better’ Dubai has proudly announced the world’s first seven star hotel, Burj Al Arab and is set to construct the world’s biggest shopping mall, the first underwater hotel and amazingly, the longest indoors ski slope.
Already the annual number of visitors stands at 5 million and is set to rise to 10 million by 2007. The scale of development has been unprecedented with apartment blocks being constructed by the dozen and selling out within days to hordes of zealous investors prepared to queue overnight to bag a bargain in Dubai. The projects being released are some of the most inventive and ambitious the world has seen, with man made islands such as The Palm and more recently The World capitalizing on the attractions of beach front living and redefining the world’s geography in the process.
With real estate as out of the ordinary as this, it’s not difficult to see why Dubai’s property market is attracting such large-scale international interest. There really is nothing like it and it seems everybody who’s anybody will have a piece of Dubai. Dubai’s more exclusive developments are being snapped up the celebrity classes and the world’s elite. Ageing English rocker, Rod Stewart is already the proud owner of Britain [The World’s miniature Britain that is!] and villas along the Palm are being bought by sports stars, film stars and anybody with upwards of EUR1.5 million to spend on a private waterfront retreat.
If so much has been achieved in three years, where is Dubai to go from here? Nakheel, the company behind the extraordinary Palm and The World projects already has its eye, literally, on a new development. Dream City, like the Palm is also a series of man made islands but out sizes the Palm significantly. When finished, Dream City will form the shape of an eye, with the residential element on giant eyelashes extending out into the Persian Gulf. Villas at Dream City start at EUR425,000 for around 371 sq m (4,000 sq ft) of accommodation. Townhouses start at EUR200,000, while one and two-bedroom apartments start at EUR150,000.
For the property investor seeking a lucrative return, a new market is always a risky one and the fear is that the market may collapse soon after it has taken off!. With plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that property prices in Dubai are rising by as much as 60% in one year, it’s tempting to rush straight in and grab a piece of the action. But the canny investors will have to consider if it is too much too fast.
The pace of the property market in Dubai makes is a speculators dream. It’s not unheard of for properties to have been transferred up to a dozen times even before the building is complete. Many opportunistic investors are booking 10 to 20 villas in new developments, selling them at significant profits before they have been completed.
Cashing in on this and perhaps in an effort to cool the market, builders are charging a fee of up to 7% each time a property is transferred and lending institutions are trying to keep some control on the market by agreeing to finance only the original sale price. In the secondary market, prices can exceed the original price by 10-70%, depending on the development’s popularity.
All the indications are suggesting that the initial hype is easing and prices are settling. A year and a half ago 900 houses in one development sold out in 7 hours. Many believe that demand will continue to be sustained and prices will continue to rise, though not at the frantic rates they have been rising over the past two years.
In comparison to other new and emerging markets, such as those in Central and Eastern Europe, Dubai appears to be a more attractive investment. Prices in the middle market are comparative to those in Eastern European cities such as Tallinn and Krakow. Unlike these countries Dubai has the sunshine factor and a glamorous edge, which is surely contributing to the high immigration from Europe, the Gulf Region and the Indian subcontinent. Over 100,000 extra people are expected to arrive in Dubai every year. Such large-scale immigration is sure to sustain the property rental markets.
Other property markets are seeing rental yields drop through the floor. Too many investors buying up properties and not enough tenants to rent them! Ireland, Britain and many of the New European capital cities are seeing yields drop to below 3%. In Dubai, rental yields have dropped from a very healthy 8-9% but are now holding firm at 6-7%. The fact that in Dubai rents are paid in advance, sometimes up to one year in advance, is surely a motivating factor for those considering a buy-to-let property in Dubai. On the downside, service charges on new development can be high, anywhere up to £4000 per annum and may be requested by the developer upfront!
Despite the current boom and huge immigration into Dubai cautious investors are raising understandable questions about the security of ownership in the UAE. As yet, no law has been passed to confirm the right of foreigners to own property in any of the projects launched to date. However, the UAE allows individual emirates to issue their own legislation to regulate ownership of real property. While Dubai is committed to encouraging overseas investment, they rule by decree and decisions can be changed overnight the whim of the current ruler. The government have promised that freehold would be granted in the near future. When this happens it is likely to further boost investor confidence in the Dubai property market.
If the property market in Dubai is to develop with any degree of stability, capturing the interest of second homeowners and expats seeking to relocate is essential. If the market continues to be speculator driven, the possibility of a speculative bubble is not unlikely. A revision of property ownership laws for foreign investors should encourage a more stable property investment climate, helping to avoid any crash that might be caused by a quickly exhausted investor base of opportunistic speculators.