Dubai property investors look to Expo 2020 as job losses detract from Cityscape buzz

:: The buzz that surrounded the three-day Cityscape Global property exhibition in Dubai this week belied a market still suffering from expat job losses and investor uncertainty.

While property investors hope for an Expo 2020-related rebound, prices remain weak.

Still, the prospect of a further weakening of the dollar may provide a silver lining to the clouds that hang over the market.

The US dollar, to which the UAE dirham is pegged, has lost about 7 percent against the euro in the last three months, while it is about 4 percent down on the pound over the same period.

“Though slow economic growth in the region and continued new supply may keep a lid on capital price appreciation, new activity arising from events such as Expo 2020 may provide a floor for price depression,” said Anita Yadav, Head of Fixed Income Research at Emirates NBD. “The slowing economy has led to lower job creation and lower immigration of expats into the region,” she added.

Similarly, the relatively strong US dollar, while losing some ground in recent months, has made property purchases expensive for many overseas buyers.

Dubai residential property prices and rents are set to fall further this year as losses of high-paying jobs and dwindling household incomes boost vacancy rates, according to Phidar Advisory, a real estate consultancy, in a report published in April.

“Sales volumes of completed properties are at a six-year low and vacancies are rising across the city,” the report said.

Prices of single-family homes, known locally as villas, slid 10.2 percent on average over the past 12 months, while apartment values remained unchanged. Villa rents dropped 4.9 percent while apartment leases fell 3.4 percent in the period.

Still, positive signs are emerging on the buyers’ side of the market from the UK, India and Pakistan as their currencies gain ground against the dollar.

Analysts said this may explain a slight improvement in apartment sales volumes.

Dubai resident Faraz Waqar feels the time is not yet right to buy a home. He had even thought about selling a property he owns in Pakistan so that he could buy in Dubai — but the experience of his friends changed his mind.

“Some of them invested and have lost around 30 percent on the value of their property so far in the last couple of years. So I am happy with the current scenario — that I stayed away from property investments in Dubai,” said the marketing professional.

Salman Hameed, who has in the past invested in Dubai, is now having second thoughts. “It’s all a matter of supply and demand. Too much supply reduces the investment appeal,” he said.

But beyond this basic economic equation, the emirate still offers many positives to investors that are hard to find elsewhere in a volatile region.

“This attracts end users who want to make Dubai their home and want to save on rent. But for the speculators, I don’t think Dubai offers a good opportunity anymore. They are better off investing in their own countries,” said the Pakistani medical practitioner who has been living in the city for over a decade.

The models of outlandish projects which have become a hallmark of the show over the years were in plentiful supply, such as a floating home with a basement from which to observe passing marine life. However, despite such attractions, the sales agents appeared almost to outnumber the visitors around some stands.

This did not prevent some of those visitors sounding upbeat about the property market before the exhibition ended on Wednesday.

Fahd Dawood, a real estate consultant based in Dubai, believes that investors continue to have faith in Dubai’s market.

“I was not expecting that this year’s Cityscape Global was going to be that busy, with genuine buyers around,” said Dawood, noting that direct property sales had returned to the halls of the exhibition after being prohibited for a number of years following a return of rampant speculation.

Data from the Dubai Land Department (DLD) revealed the list of nationalities that formed the bulk of buyers in the period between January 2016 and June 2017.

Emiratis made close to 12,000 investment transactions worth 37.4 billion dirhams ($10.2 billion), while Indian, Pakistani, Saudi Arabian and British investors ranked second, third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Saudis led the Gulf nations with 5,366 transactions worth 12.5 billion dirhams and UK citizens took top spot among the European nationalities with 4,188 transactions worth 9 billion dirhams.

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