On the eve of Christie’s latest auction, all attention was focussed on the contemporary art, and watch collections set to go under the hammer.
The auction house was combining a bumper collection of modern and contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art with the largest sale of watches in the Middle East for its 17th sales season and interest was at fever pitch (with combined sales reaching $15.8 million by the end of proceedings).
But behind the scenes, another less prominent event was taking place, the launch of the auction house’s property wing, Christie’s International Real Estate’s, latest affiliate.
The company, which specialises in connecting ultra high-end property with ultra wealthy buyers (many of whom regularly participate in Christie’s auctions) has chosen a start-up for its new Dubai unit, headed by Brian Etemad, a licensed Attorney at Law from New York, former MD at Hamptons International Real Estate Middle East and legal council at Emaar Properties.
“Very frequently, we will find an established company with a long term track record that we’re happy to invite in. In some markets, however, it works better having a start-up,” said Joachim Wrang- Widén, SVP and regional director for Europe, Middle East, Russia, India and Africa, Christie’s International Real Estate.
Etemad, who is representing the likes of Armani House, Polo Homes and Dubai Hills, will be working to facilitate the sale of penthouse apartments, villas and even the off-plan property of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNW), with an expected transaction value of $3 million to $5 million and above.
The sale of a $99 million Arabic palace is one of the first properties the unit will be handling from its office on the seventh floor of Emaar Business Square.
Christie’s International Real Estate will not be taking an equity stake in the entity or participate in its day-to-day operations, but will provide the unit with a global marketing and PR platform and a network of affiliates in 46 countries for referrals.
In explaining the real estate arm’s Dubai entry, Wrang-Widén said there are six key metrics he looks for in a market
– capital import, capital export, capital transit, capital management in terms of wealth management and private banking, whether the auction house has a local operation and if there is a strong local residential market.
“We are not in the business of putting flags on maps. If someone can afford to pay us but we don’t think we’ll make a difference to the market, we probably won’t go to entry,” he said.
But while the Dubai property boom now appears to be subsiding, with sales prices for apartments and villas slowing 1 per cent and 4 per cent respectively quarter on quarter in Q3 2014, according to real estate consultants Asteco, the SVP is not concerned about Dubai’s long-term prospects.
“This type of peak, trough and regeneration is very good for the market itself because you need to move through two or three cycles before you get the fundamentals right,” he said.
“I would not want to have an affiliation in the market if I had any concerns about its long term sustainability and solidity.”
The executive is also not coy on Christie’s International Real Estate’s plans for the region, having previously revealed to Gulf Business in London the firm was eyeing three to four offices, with Bahrain a potential target.
“Obviously we would like to grow our business in this part of the world, we think its sensible to start in Dubai and the UAE for obvious reasons but we do keep a close eye on what goes on in other markets as well.”
But coming back to our meeting in London we will have more offices in the Gulf, definitely.”