The influence of summer months along with Ramadan resulted in a marked slowdown in activity in the commercial office markets of Northern Bahrain in the third quarter of 2013, according to the latest Bahrain MarketView by global property advisor CBRE.
Mike Williams, Head of Research & Consultancy Bahrain, CBRE Middle East said, “As usual, Q3 was relatively quiet as the influence of both summer and Ramadan took hold. With most people away, there was little activity in any sector although land transactions did continue to move along aided by the launch of several high profile projects.”
Commenting on the leasing activity in Diplomatic Area, Williams added, ‘’The well documented poor parking and access issues that define Diplomatic Area continue to make prime space in the area very difficult to lease. When combined with the significant amount of new space that has entered the market within the last year, we find leasing space in this area to be a significant challenge at any price.’’
According to the CBRE MarketView, previously occupied space is drawing very little interest and in light of this, at least one of the new office buildings has undertaken a complete change of use to five star hotel properties.
“In Seef District, the increasingly cost-conscious potential office tenants are seeking smaller spaces that have either been previously used (and are therefore fully fitted out) or fitted or part-fitted space. There has been a high level demand for sub 100m² offices that are wholly or partially fitted out, that we have seen a small upward creep in rental rates in this sector,” added Williams.
According to the MarketView, commercial property sales are increasingly of interest to investors at yields of between 7% and 9% but actually finalising deals has proved slightly frustrating as both buyers and sellers await the next positive market movement. Given the price-sensitivity of the prime office market at present, the few iconic properties that exist in Bahrain are currently the subject of very little interest and continue to operate on marginally viable rental rates or suffer significant vacancy rates.
Commenting on the activity in the residential space, Williams stated, “The characteristics of the residential market have shifted through 2013 in response to changes in employment contracts which have resulted in a shift in the employee base and the family status of new employees.”
“Similar to Dubai almost a decade ago, Bahrain-based firms are increasingly offering all-inclusive contracts. These typically have the impact of shifting employment away from families with significant financial commitments in terms of flights, school fees and accommodation, towards bachelors with significantly fewer costs.’’
This has had the greatest impact in the north-west area of Bahrain which has traditionally offered family villas on residential compounds with a range of services and facilities. The fall in demand for family accommodation accompanied by increasingly congested traffic access points, has resulted in falling rental rates for compound villas in this area.
“During 2013 rental rates have dropped by around 10% to 15% despite demand from those who work in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia but prefer to have their families schooled and resident in Bahrain,” commented Williams.
In Seef District and on neighbouring Reef Island, significant new apartment supply has entered the market in Q3 but demand in this sector is strong and these locations are well-located and popular destinations for those who want to be close to the prime waterfront, retail and hospitality offerings of these two areas. Absorption of rental apartments continues to be rapid and despite the large volume of new supply, rental rates have remained steady as new units are absorbed by the rapidly increasing bachelor/singles/couples market.
“Apartment supply in Seef has grown less than on Reef Island through 2013, and as demand growth continues but supply growth eases we expect to see small rises in rental rates in both locations over the coming year,’’ adds Williams.
Apartments remain the predominant type of property on Amwaj Islands, and it continues to be popular with the non-family sector. Regardless, the small number of villas available for rent are attracting increasingly higher rates and occupancy is virtually 100% in this albeit small market sector. Apartment units are more plentiful on Amwaj and new supply has continued to enter the market through 2013 although most of this has been very rapidly absorbed.
“The similarly apartment-dominated area of Juffair has also experienced an increase in demand generally through 2013, in line with the increase in non-family expatriate employees in the Kingdom. However, the demand increase has been more modest than in Juffair and prices have remained broadly steady in the existing supply.”
‘’Some of the new properties such as Fontana Towers, have entered the market with a completely new level of in-house facilities and services which have been extremely well-received by the market to date and have generated strong interest and absorption together with increasing rental rates,’’ commented Mike Williams.
Riffa Views is undergoing a shifting dynamic as the market separates between buyers and renters. Sales prices at Riffa Views have now increased by 20% to 25% over the past two years. Buyers and investors in the project are increasingly Bahraini, while tenants continue to be a mix of expatriates and Bahrainis who prefer the quiet, golf and leisure oriented location away from the more troubled areas of Bahrain.
“Consistent with previous quarters over the past two years, sales prices have continued to show small upward movements particularly in the smaller three and four bedroom categories and rental rates have remained steady despite the decline in expatriate families coming to live and work in the Kingdom,’’ stated Williams.
The pricing of all residential units in Bahrain remains fundamentally affected by rampant land price speculation which has made private development significantly less affordable and the damage to the Kingdom’s real estate reputation caused by failed off-plan projects such as Marina West, Villamar and Amwaj Gateway.
“Buyers are increasingly drawn to projects which are completed with all infrastructure and services in place. As primary home projects such as Riffa Views and Amwaj Islands mature, with growing communities and established hospitality and leisure offerings, they will likely enjoy further growth, particularly in the sales sector,’’ concluded Mike Williams.
The change in the Saudi working week, together with few commercial development alternatives has resulted in a surge in the development of ‘luxury’ hotels. Five new luxury hotels are scheduled to open in Bahrain by the end of Q1 2014, adding to the 14 already operating in the Kingdom.
The new hotels include The Four Seasons Hotel and Resort, Bahrain Bay, the Ramee Grand Hotel and Spa in Seef, the Renaissance on Amwaj Islands, the Rotana at Bab Al Bahrain and the Swiss-Belhotel International also in Seef.