When you are searching for the right rental property, it's easy to get carried away by that perfect view or beautifully maintained garden, and fail to see those glaring flaws. But build quality can vary widely in this part of the world and properties have to endure particularly harsh climactic conditions. In many cases, landlords fail to appreciate the importance of good and regular maintenance, so it's easy for unknowing renters to get caught out.
If you don't want to spend the next 12 months dealing with pesky maintenance problems that could easily have been avoided, make sure to take a long hard look at any property before you sign the rental contract. Here are 10 basic things to consider.
Check whether the property is covered by an annual maintenance agreement. Find out whether you will have to liaise directly with your landlord if something goes wrong (not always the easiest option, especially if they live abroad) or whether they have enlisted the services of a property management or property maintenance company.
Companies such as Hitches and Glitches Facilities Management offer basic annual maintenance contracts that cover periodic preventive maintenance (PPM) and an unlimited number of free call-outs for as little as Dh7,000 a year for a villa in The Springs. Whether or not your landlord has such an agreement in place is telling of their approach to maintenance.
Ask how maintenance issues will be resolved - who you should call in the middle of the night if water is pouring through your ceiling, for example - before you sign your contract.
Look at the overall finish of the property and its structural integrity. Keep an eye out for cracks in the wall and for damaged, misaligned or raised tiles, which are a common occurrence.
"When you find a tile that looks suspect, knock on it and you will be able to hear whether it is hollow," says Malay Shroff of Hitches and Glitches. "With a tile like that, even if a small paperweight falls on it, it will crack because it is not properly supported."
"Open and close all cupboards and doors and make sure everything is working as it should," suggests Nick Pope, the commercial director of the home improvement company Under One Roof. Misaligned doors are a common problem, while the UAE's high temperatures can also cause doors to expand. It is not uncommon to open a door and have it fall of its hinges altogether, says Shroff, so beware.
And don't forget to check the windows and the sliding doors, since sliding mechanisms are prone to jamming.
Make sure to give wall sockets and light switches the once-over. Are they attached to the wall properly and do they work?
"Look out for loose wires and loose connections because this can lead to a short circuit and even a fire," says Shroff.
If you are moving into a furnished unit, check under beds and headboards for dust and termite infestation, says Denise McGinty, the managing director of the Dubai-based Housekeeping Co.
"Pull up the mattress and make sure you do not see any black specks, which could be eggs, termite shells or dried blood, and especially check for the light dusty mould that collects in corners and lines in the mattress and bed frame," she suggests.
Unfortunately, bed bugs are also a common problem and are very difficult to get rid of, says McGinty, so keep an eye out for those, too. With villas, check for ants and ask when the property was last treated by a pest control company.
Most importantly, check all plumbing thoroughly since a leak will be costly and difficult to fix.
Look out for signs of water damage, McGinty says. "Water damage can come in from bad sealants in water deposit areas such as under bathroom sinks, dishwasher areas or washing machine areas. Always use common sense to check these areas before you decide to take on the property. Make sure everything smells mould- and damp-free. The water pipes should be carefully and hygienically sealed, and any water marks or water drip marks obviously need urgent attention."
Because it is used so extensively, the air conditioning requires serious attention. Faulty air conditioners can be the source of leaks and bad odours, and will seriously affect your indoor air quality, potentially harming your health.
Make sure that you get a full air conditioning service and the service record before you commit to a property, Pope insists. Shroff also recommends checking when the air conditioning ducts were last cleaned. "Filters are cleaned as part of a routine service but that is not enough. Behind these filters is a long duct and it is important that this is cleaned once every two or three years. There are buildings where this has not been done since they were built."
McGinty suggests checking for mildew (black spore forming bacteria) around the air conditioning units and extractor air ventilation. "If this has been washed off in a haphazard way, the black streaks will still remain, and will start growing and spreading. If you think the problem may be exacerbated and may be leading in from another source, then check it out properly. It's common to have water leakage from hot water tanks in the ceilings. If this water is just left, it will eventually start to form black spore forming bacteria, which can lead to serious health issues," she says.
Is the property clean, or can it be easily cleaned up? If it's been lying empty for a while, it may be in a state of disarray, but look out for things that might be impossible to fix, like permanent marks on the floors or in the baths and shower enclosures.
Make sure that the property is cleaned by a professional company before you move in. Ask for walls to be repainted and make sure that any holes in the walls are filled in and plastered over.
Check that doors and windows can be locked easily, McGinty suggests. "Ensure locks don't have an accumulation of dirt build-up, which makes locking and unlocking a challenge every time you come and go," she says.
Also check that you can get hold of all the keys you need - don't forget that gate at the end of the garden, for example. Find out who has been given spare keys in the past and think about whether you need to change the locks. You may not be comfortable knowing that the previous tenant's gardener once had a key to the back gate, for example.
Spend some time in the neighbourhood and speak to people that already live there, Pope suggests. "If possible, talk to other residents to see if they have come across any problems that seem to reoccur consistently. Finally, spend some time in the area at different times of the day before committing."