Despite a more subdued atmosphere at the opening of Dubai's International Property Show, brokers and professionals nevertheless remained on the lookout for a good deal. "As the first show of the year, this is a good barometer for the market," said Vincent Easton, the sales director for Sherwoods Independent Property Consultants. "It's slower, yes, but we have seen that some of the smart investors are starting to come to Dubai. They are looking at the medium-term to long-term. They know there are some good offers out there."
At similar conferences before the market turned last summer, investors would queue for the chance to buy an apartment that was often well out of their price range. With the general slowdown in sales and a decline in prices, many of those amateur investors appear to have abandoned the market. Mr Easton said he was seeing mainly professional investors with clear business models in mind for their purchases and end-users who had been waiting for the market to subside.
"In many ways this is a good thing," he said. "Prices were rising so quickly before that it was becoming borderline unaffordable to live here... Population growth is key to the real estate sector here." One of the most popular areas during the first day of the three-day show was the pristine white stall of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) and the Land Department where people were keen for information on the changing regulatory environment.
Khalid Obaid al Mutaiwei, the senior director of the real estate development trust account department at RERA, said he and his colleagues had dealt with many disputes between buyers and developers since the market began to slow. Where possible, they play the role of mediator. But in some other situations they could only direct the offended person to the Property Court to file a case, he said. "It's a slowdown, but it's not a recession," Mr al Mutaiwei said. "Prices are returning to what they were before. Personally, I like it better now. When everything was quick, that's when we started having problems."
He said his role was to get developers to ensure that each project had its own escrow account, whereas, previously, developers sometimes put all project money into a central account. He said that there were now about 670 escrow accounts set up by 500 registered developers. "The key now is complete transparency," Mr al Mutaiwei said. "We are all in the same boat." Several developers put on a confident face with costly stalls, including Bonyan International Investment Group and Falconcity of Wonders.
Salem al Moosa, the chairman and chief executive of Falconcity, said his enormous project in Dubailand was going ahead as scheduled. About 360 villas in the first phase were expected to be delivered soon, he said. "I would love to see Falconcity go as planned and it is currently ongoing," he said. "Unless there is a force majeure, like the mortgage market crashes or an earthquake, I don't think there is any hindrance to going forward. We are confident, especially because the Government is supporting infrastructure, market development, the banking system and new regulations.
"We can't have a loose market in the UAE. People were trying to make a quick buck. That is over now." Mr al Moosa's thoughts echoed the upbeat remarks of Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, the head of the Land Department, earlier in the day. Sheikh Mohammed said at the opening of the show: "Dubai will be the fastest city to recover from the impact of the ongoing credit crunch, and the emirate's real estate sector will once again witness a period of long-term boom. However, developers need to remain focused on their goal of continuing with the projects that they have already started and ensure that these projects are delivered on time."
There were pockets of genuine gloom too. In one corner, a British salesman was trying to sell distressed property in Florida to distressed owners in the Emirates without much success. firstname.lastname@example.org