Increasing signs of a pickup are appearing in Dubai's high-end residential market, with estate agents reporting arise in enquiries and sales of luxury properties.
"It's definitely better," said Jackie Johns, the managing partner for Dubai Luxury Homes. "We've had more sales and enquiries than ever since the crash."
In recent months there has been renewed activity in properties priced above Dh15 million (US$4m), said Catherine Clarke, the head of residential valuations for Colliers International's Dubai office. But she said luxury properties in some developments were selling for 15 per cent to 20 per cent below asking prices.
However, in areas "with a good master plan and good developer, they are still doing quite well at the moment, from a transactional point of view", she said.
There have been seven purchases of more than Dh10m recorded in Dubai in the past three months, according to REIDIN.com. The company uses Dubai Land Department transaction data, which reflect the date the purchase was registered, not the actual sale date.
The largest recent sale registered was a 5,063 square metre apartment in the Dubai Investment Park, which sold for Dh28m, according to REIDIN. The next most expensive transactions were the Dh26.7m purchase of a 1,885 sq metre apartment in Business Bay and the Dh15.6mpurchase of a 975 sq metre apartment in Dubai Marina.
But costlier villas are typically attracting more attention than apartments, industry executives say. Apartments prices in Dubai were down 7.48 per cent in the third quarter of last year, compared with the same period a year earlier, while villa prices increased by 0.9 per cent, according to REIDIN.com.
"Fundamentals for villas are much stronger," said Ahmet Kayhan, the REIDIN.com chief executive. "Demand is higher."
High-end buyers are shopping for deals, agents say. While the volume of transactions is relatively small compared with the boom years, the number of enquiries on luxury properties has risen in recent months, said Musa Ayoob, the sales and leasing manager for Navi Real Estate.
"People are anticipating that prices aren't going down any further," Mr Ayoob said. "People think that all the distressed sales have left and they might actually see some growth in the next 12 months."
Some luxury developments have cut prices by up to 60 per cent in the past two years, agents say. Projects drawing buyers' attention include Emirates Hills, Palm Jumeirah and Arabian Ranches, which are part of large master-planned developments situated around golf courses. Projects that do not yet have amenities in place are finding it more difficult, agents say.
There have been "seven or eight" sales in Emirates Hills in recent months, Ms Clarke said, mostly where owners are flexible in their pricing, she added. "There are quite a lot of negotiations." Two properties sold in Arabian Ranches in the past month, for Dh6.5m and Dh7.5m, Ms Johns said. One buyer was South African, the other British, she said.
The new luxury buyers are savvy and selective, agents say; they know the market and are focusing on completed developments with infrastructure and services in place.
"Demand for off-plan property is virtually non-existent given the number of project cancellations in the past several months," Jones Lang LaSalle noted in a recent report.
Most buyers plan to live in the properties, at least part time, agents say. Shoppers tend to have very specific standards and they are in no rush to buy, Ms Johns added.
"People have a criteria list as long as their arm," she said. "They know exactly what they want and they're not going to compromise."