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Home market out of balance

Comment A healthy property market is built upon a balance of power and rights between home buyers, developers and banks. Mashreq's decision to change the way interest is calculated on hundreds, if not thousands, of its home buyers shows this does not yet exist in the UAE.

A residential property market stays healthy when there is a balance between home buyers, developers and banks. Each relies on the other two, and when one group becomes too powerful, it threatens the prosperity of all three. Mashreqbank's decision to charge a new rate of interest for its home finance customers upsets this equilibrium and could hamper a recovery of the entire market.

By replacing the old floating interest rate with its more opaque Mashreq Prime Rate, the bank puts thousands of people, who are already dealing with the fact that their homes are now worth less than they paid for them because of the downturn, at risk of defaulting. The maths is simple. Many people who received a mortgage from Mashreq agreed to pay the equivalent of the Emirates interbank offered rate (Eibor) plus three percentage points. This would currently be 5.16 per cent.

Under the new rate, which was quietly implemented this month, the same buyer would pay 7.5 per cent. This will translate into additional payments of tens of thousands of dirhams a year, and even more in some cases. Worst of all, the group bearing the brunt of this pain is not speculators, but people who bought homes to live in. Mashreq's attempts to increase the rate are only the latest symptom of an imbalance in the property market. Foreclosures are beginning to take place, but there is no sign that negligent developers are being forced to liquidate their assets to pay back investors.

It is up to the country's regulatory bodies, such as the Central Bank, the Real Estate Regulatory Agency, as well as the Land Department in Dubai and the Urban Planning Council in Abu Dhabi, to step up to the challenge and begin making decisions that will shape the business of building, buying and financing homes for years to come. @Email:bhope@thenational.ae

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