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Building back: Is Dubai’s real estate market rising again?

Building back: Is Dubai’s real estate market rising again?

The emirate’s real estate sector has witnessed signs of a rebound in the wake of easing Covid-19 restrictions

What a year this has been for real estate in Dubai. Despite the crisis and the roller coaster ride we saw in transaction flows and buyer sentiment, we are currently in a very interesting
place.

Prices are now stabilising in prime areas where supply is low, and in some places, rates are also rising. We are starting to see multiple offers for properties in these areas as well.

So, how did we get here?

Going back to the start of the year, in January and February of 2020, Dubai’s property market saw month-on-month increases in real estate transactions following similar trends from H2 2019.

During these two months, the enthusiasm for Expo 2020 was still strong, and this was seen in the transaction volumes. This trend, of course, came ahead of concerns of Covid-19, which started to heighten in March.

There was a 12 per cent year-on-year rise in overall transactions in January 2020, with the figures growing 33 per cent year-on-year in February, with an incredible 76 per cent rise in off-plan transactions.

Individual investors were looking at this period as an opportunity to invest in a city that was going to be hosting the biggest show on earth, Expo 2020, and this interest was also backed up by the enormous amount of surplus supply the market still had from the previous year.

Looking more broadly at the first quarter of the year, Dubai real estate sales transactions grew by 9.74 per cent when compared to the same time period in Q1 2019. In fact, Q1 2020 had the highest number of transactions since Q1 2017, with the market cruising towards what looked like would be a record breaking year.

But when the pandemic came to the forefront in March, it was obvious that we would see a slowdown in transactions. Due to the UAE government’s proactive policies and swift and innovative efforts, we made it through this tough period quicker than most. Innovative efforts from the authorities also helped the real estate market to start transacting again.

One such decision from the Dubai Land Department was the introduction of online property transfers. Once the registration trustee offices came back to work with 30 per cent of their workforce, those looking to close a deal could book an appointment a day in advance and email the documents. That way the interaction on premises was reduced to a minimum. The online procedure implemented during the lockdown remain in place, and property registrations now can also be completely done online.

Dubai was in full lockdown in April, partially in May and didn’t start opening fully until June. Hence, the entire second quarter was affected by Covid-19. Overall, Dubai saw 5,552 sales transactions in Q2 2020 worth Dhs10.86bn, down 38.7 per cent (9,062 transactions) and 42 per cent (Dhs18.78bn) respectively compared to the same period last year.

As the average property sales cycle is 45-60 days, we saw the biggest impact of the lockdown on the sales transactions in the second half of May, with volumes dropping to their lowest levels at the end of the month. While the secondary market saw 40 per cent of the transactions in Q2, off-plan accounted for 60 per cent of the transactions.

However, that trend began to change in June, when, for the first time since the crisis began, off-plan sales transactions volumes dropped below those in the secondary market. Real estate sales transactions also grew in June, with an average of around 570 properties sold in Dubai every seven days. Sales and rental enquiries were also up compared to last year for both apartments and villas/townhouses, with the highest increase in enquiries for villas/townhouses.

So why would people look to buy property right after the lockdown and during a pandemic?

The answers – pent-up demand coupled with attractive prices and lower down-payment and funds required – a move that was implemented by the UAE central bank during the lockdown.

A strong June laid the foundation for a faster recovery and we started to see patterns of a V-shaped recovery, characterised by a rapid rise following a sharp decline. We slowly started heading back to the transaction levels of February and early March 2020. August typically has been a slow month for Dubai real estate when compared to the rest of the year, but not in 2020.

According to Data Finder, the data platform under the Property Finder group, August 2020 saw a rise of 11.3 per cent in real estate transactions compared to August 2019. In previous years, the summer months were typically slower for real estate transactions in Dubai because of the holidays.

This year, due to the Covid-19 situation, many residents chose not to travel. This, coupled with pent-up demand and attractive pricing drove transactions higher. Looking only at the secondary market, August 2020 had 22.4 per cent more transactions than August 2019.

New trends
The softening of Covid-19 restrictions by the UAE government has positively impacted market sentiment across the real estate sector. Real estate portals Property Finder and Mortgage
Finder saw an immediate increase in consumer enquiries and searches as movement restrictions were revised.

We have started to see signs of the market returning to a new normal. In addition, a new trend emerged which we didn’t see during the lockdown period – rental enquiries for villas in Dubai went up. Another trend we saw at the start of the crisis was an increase in searches for villas/townhouses with outside space such as gardens, balconies and pools. This was a clear indication that people are valuing personal, outside space in their homes.

The key new trends that have emerged are as follows:

• Significant increase in short-term leads, especially in Dubai
• The percentage of searches for “pool” and “garden” have increased
• People are increasingly searching for bigger houses
• In rentals, the high price category units are the least affected
• Payment terms for rentals are significantly more important now. Landlords are accepting a higher number of cheques to ease the financial load on the tenants
• The percentage of searches for warehouses in commercial real estate is increasing

During the lockdown, search and demand data on Property Finder showed that people started looking for bigger properties, shifting from the traditional small family apartments to
villa/townhouses. This trend has grown significantly since the crisis started and continues to have an effect on the market.

Since the start of the pandemic, the ratio of sales transactions for one-bedroom units has fallen by over 10 per cent and for studios by more than 34 per cent. The ratio of transactions for three-, four- and five-bedroom units has increased by 9 per cent, 20 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

When looking at the split between apartments and villas/townhouses, the volume of villas/townhouses sales transactions to the percentage of apartments increased gradually from a 12/88 split to now a 21/79 split.

In July, a total of 494 sales transactions were recorded for ready villas/townhouses, as consumers were looking for ready units to move into. This marks the highest number of villas/townhouses sold in a single month since transaction data was made available in 2008.

Talking off-plan
Another interesting trend that changed during the crisis was the split of off-plan versus secondary market transactions.

Over the last two years, the split between off-plan and secondary market always hovered in the 50/50 range. Once the crisis started, off-plan transactions started to increase and the split grew to 70 per cent by May. However, once the lockdown eased, the trend shifted and there was an increase in secondary market transactions. The split also reversed, with off-plan now only accounting for 30 per cent of all sales transactions.

Market movement
The market started strong at the beginning of the year because of the expectations surrounding Expo 2020 and fell drastically between March and April due to the Covid-19 impact.

The market reached its lowest point in May 2020 and once the lockdown was lifted, it began its recovery. Now, despite claims of a second coronavirus wave, the market appears to be fully equipped to handle the crisis. From what the data shows us, the market started stabilising in June and since then it has gradually improved. Listings are increasing, consumers are sending more enquiries and property agents are closing more deals – some even virtually – and the number of consumers looking for mortgage pre-approvals has increased by over 30 per cent.

We are seeing consistent growth, even if it is fractional. As we slowly return to our ‘new normal’ and the Dubai real estate market becomes more dynamic and adaptable to change, some of the new trends that have emerged during the crisis look like they are here to stay.

Lynnette Abad is the director of research and data at Property Finder

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