The new reality: Expo 2020 already boosting Dubai's realty sector

Published December 25th, 2013 - 02:07 GMT
That the Expo 2020 win would prove a catalyst for new trends in Dubai’s real estate sector was a foregone conclusion.
That the Expo 2020 win would prove a catalyst for new trends in Dubai’s real estate sector was a foregone conclusion.

The Expo 2020 effect is already starting to show up in Dubai’s land values. In the days immediately after the win, asking prices at some of the emirate’s emergent freehold master-developments have seen an appreciable spike.

“The feedback has been that some plots in Dubai World Central — which is part of the area where the bulk of the Expo 2020 infrastructure will be created — has been pegged at Dh130-150 a square foot against the Dh90-110 a square foot earlier,” said Manish Khatri at the brokerage firm Aqua Properties. “At MBR [Mohammad Bin Rashid] City, particularly in the areas closer to Meydan, some of the smaller plots are now demanding Dh300 a square foot against the Dh120-140 earlier.

“Master-developers too have been offering incentives in terms of the payment structure because of the sudden price gains; for higher valued plots they are offering flexible payment plans and not an immediate upfront one-off.” That the Expo 2020 win would prove a catalyst for new trends in Dubai’s real estate sector was a foregone conclusion. Opinion was only divided over when the impact would become noticeable. But some market sources believe after the initial rush towards higher values, things should quieten down in another six months or so.

Meanwhile, prospective new players are scouting the marketplace for opportunities. India’s publicly-listed Sunteck Realty has confirmed interest in possible development activity, most likely with super-premium residential projects in the city’s recently created master-developments. “It could take the form of a joint venture model or as joint developers,” said Kamal Khetan, chairman and managing director. “Unlike some Indian developers who spread themselves wide, we remained focussed on select markets — Mumbai and Goa, for instance — and that too only with very high-end projects.

“An overseas venture for us is not about playing on the currency; our P&L [profit and loss] is derived solely from what we manage to do with the property itself.”

Khetan declined to go into specifics on where the company — which recently firmed up a venture with Disney for a themed ‘city’ in Mumbai — plans to acquire its initial plots. But MBR City and Downtown could be prime candidates. If it decides to take the plunge, Sunteck could budget $250-500 million [Dh919 million-Dh1.83 billion] in the 2014-15 financial year as its initial commitment in the local market.

While developers keep an eye on greenfield possibilities, existing ones are just as interested for investors. “There have been a series of recent joint ventures that new high networth investors have done with developers of stalled projects to revive them,” said Khatri. “It’s been particularly noticeable in the past year, as by doing JVs these investors need to commit all of their own funds.”

While property values in Dubai have soared, for investors there is still the sizable gap that exists vis-a-vis the 2008 peaks. As the gap closes, this is where they hope to derive their margins from.

“We feel that the confidence never really left Dubai; most cautious investors adopted the wait-and-watch approach,” said Hamzah Abu Zannad, director of operations, Royal Star International. “2013 was a great sentimental boost for all Dubai residents. The market has performed very well and, most important, check valves were placed to cool down any overheating activities. We believe that more regulations are yet to be implemented.”

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