In most of the world's major cities - London, New York or Sydney - if you can afford to live in a block of flats where there is a concierge facility, spa or gym, then you are seriously rich. In Dubai, however, access to such five-star luxury is far more meritocratic: here, buyers with budgets that are more modest can afford to purchase in developments where the facilities are anything but. It's luxury for the masses. "In London, Dh3 million would get you a small one-bed flat in Chelsea, with no car parking space and no facilities," says Jade el Khalil, the chief officer for sales and marketing at Dubai Properties, who used to live in London before settling in Dubai. "For the same amount of money in Dubai, you could buy a two- or three-bed flat close to the sea, and within the development there will be a beach club, top-end shops, school, a spa - the works."
"Pools, gyms, high-end shops and excellent restaurants within developments are now standard," adds Soheil Abedian of the developer Sunland. "Competition in Dubai is fierce, and in order for developments to differentiate themselves from their competitors we are seeing more and more developers offering great facilities and services for increasingly lower prices. If you were to purchase a newbuild, two-bedroom apartment in central London, for example, you would expect to pay between approximately Dh3 million and Dh5 million at the very least. If you wanted a furniture package, concierge service, day spa and high-end retail outlets within the development, however, you would be paying upwards of Dh10 million at least. In Dubai, you could expect all these facilities and literally pay half the price."
The trend of including a concierge in a property development started in the US. A concierge is a mutation of the old-fashioned porter. His or her remit is fairly broad, but it often involves being a lifestyle fix-it person - walking dogs, booking restaurants, holidays and helicopters - and carrying out other, general string-pulling duties. As well as concierges, more and more developments are offering facilities similar to the ones found in luxury hotels: gyms, spas, hairdressers, maid service, butlers and chefs are available on tap. This looks set to become more common as property developers successfully tap into the lifestyle aspirations of their buyers, who know all too well that they couldn't afford these things back home.
Damac's Jumeirah Village South, for example, where one-bedroom flats start at Dh1.2 million, has a concierge. So too does The Crescent, which starts at Dh2.4 million, and Harbour Heights, in Abu Dhabi's Al Reem island, where a one-bed flat starts at Dh1.7 million. Sunland's D1 in Culture Village - where prices start at Dh6.1 million - has full concierge facilities similar to those of its ritzier sister development, Palazzo Versace, next door. D1's prices are half that of the newly launched Palazzo, where the actress Kate Hudson has snapped up an apartment.
"It is now a given that within a decent development in Dubai you will have a dedicated concierge offering five-star services," says Shirley Humphrey, the director of sales and marketing at Harrods Estates. "And because labour costs are low in Dubai, the costs for these hotel-style facilities are not prohibitively high. Service charges are far lower than they are in London or New York. In Dubai, the infrastructure and facilities within a development come first - then the property is built around the shops and services."
The new Dubai International Financial Centre development is a good example of how seriously lifestyle provisions are being taken by master planners. DIFC is an established area for working, but not yet for living. This will soon change, as a 1.2-kilometre boulevard is being built to house 2.5 million square feet of high-end retail boutiques. Made mostly of glass, it will guarantee a temperature-controlled environment, in the outdoor as well as the indoor shops.
Bordering the boulevard will be more than 850 serviced one-, two- and three-bedroom flats and penthouses, sold through DIFC Lifestyle and furnished, once again, with every luxury hotel-style service you can think of, including concierge, cleaning and maid service, a butler, valet parking, private dining and home delivery. Owners will also be able to order restaurant, theatre and shop services from within the wider DIFC district complex. Prices will range from Dh3,340 to Dh4,677 per square foot - half the price of property in equivalent districts of London or New York.
The developer Daman has launched The Buildings, also in DIFC, a somewhat unimaginatively named development that will include freehold apartments, offices, a luxury hotel and shops. Damac's Park Towers will consist of two 30-storey towers with apartments for sale, plus a swimming pool, a health club, housekeeping services and underground parking. Anyone who buys in this area will have more designer shops than can be healthy for the bank balance: Prada, Marni, Issey Miyake, Jil Sander, Viktor & Rolf and Chanel are confirmed retailers, and Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Tom Ford, Armani, Versace and Calvin Klein are likely to sign up soon. In terms of restaurants, Zuma and the celebrated Parisian cafe Ladurée are confirmed as opening, too.
"The aim is to enhance the success of the DIFC through these shops," says Abdulla bin Sugat, the CEO of DIFC Lifestyle, which is in charge of shaping the retail and dining experiences. "DIFC Lifestyle will be a combination of Canary Wharf, Knightsbridge, Wall Street, 5th Avenue and Paris's La Defence - only better." In other words, DIFC - and Dubai as a whole - is planning on offering the best of both worlds: like a hungry magpie, it is collecting ideas and replicating elements of the most successful districts and facilities around the world. Dubai is able to do this, says Shehzad Naqvi, a property investment consultant specialising in the Middle East, because it has a growing economy and lots of space.
"Obviously there's a lot of money to spend," he says. "There is also plenty of land to build on, so developers can add more facilities to their developments than, say, London, where having the smallest amount of space in a development dedicated to anything other than property is a huge financial sacrifice. Dubai is also selling itself on the quality of its lifestyle. I've heard stories of developments that come with their own Rolls-Royce Phantoms and chauffeurs permanently on hand to drive the owners of the apartments around. Other amenities being offered include memberships to exclusive golf and yacht clubs, rooftop gardens and infinity pools that wrap around the entire building so you can swim a complete circle. Here, you don't have to be a millionaire to live like one: you can be an average Joe and still be able to afford a statement apartment."