x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Arab Spring nationals snapping up Dubai homes

People from Arab Spring countries who have rented for years in Dubai began buying homes here in the last year because of political unrest in their home nations.

Ramsey Ghorayeb, with his wife Micheline, last year sold an apartment he bought in 2007 and moved into a Dubai villa.
Ramsey Ghorayeb, with his wife Micheline, last year sold an apartment he bought in 2007 and moved into a Dubai villa.

DUBAI // Hisham Alqirbi rented a Dubai flat for four years until conflict in his native Yemen convinced him to settle down in the UAE.

Last year, Mr Alqirbi, who moved to the Emirates in 2007, bought an apartment in Dubai for himself, his wife and three-year-old daughter.

He is among a rising tide of UAE residents from Arab Spring countries who have lived here for a time and purchased property in the emirate in the past year.

They say buying a home here comes with the promise of stability and security that is not available in their native countries.

"We consider Dubai our home," said Mr Alqirbi, a senior manager at a leading money-transfer company. "The UAE is a safe haven to me. It provides my family security. I tell people, here you work hard and you will flourish."

Figures from the Dubai Land Department show that Indian and UAE nationals were among the top property buyers in 2011.

There has also been a trend of Arab expatriates from neighbouring countries who are buying homes in Dubai, property agents say.

The interest spiked following the removal of long-standing rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and continuing unrest in the region, they say.

The Land Department recorded Dh143 billion in property transactions last year - an increase of 16 per cent from 2010, the latest official data shows.

Buying property is now more attractive after prices tumbled due to the economic downturn three years ago. Bucking the overall decline in prices, a swell in villa sales reflected higher demand.

Sale prices for villas rose by 4 per cent on average compared with the last quarter, said Asteco, a real estate consultancy, in its first-quarter report.

"I'm closing deals with people from Libya, Egypt, Syria," said Hana Al Zamel from Al Zamel Real Estate Brokerage. "People from Arab countries with problems prefer to put their money here.

"They feel it's more secure than anywhere else."

After Mr Alqirbi purchased an apartment in downtown Dubai, he became an adviser to dozens of relatives and friends who have also bought property in the emirate.

"Migrants rarely put their full load of savings back in the place they work in, but I have more invested in Dubai than I have back home," he said. "I consider Dubai the real utopia of the modern world."

The prevailing mood may prompt others, such as Fares Sumairi, the Yemeni marketing director of an Abu Dhabi food processing company, to buy after a decade of renting.

"If you are Egyptian, Syrian, Yemeni, given the uncertainty abroad, the UAE is top of the list to invest," said Mr Sumairi, who lives in Dubai. "For many, it's more than that. It means they have a place of their own."

Residents also enjoy the multicultural society that thrives here.

"Especially now with Arab Spring, people are buying because they feel other countries are not safe enough," said MF, an Egyptian mother of two young boys who did not wish to be named. She bought a Dubai villa last year. "Part of the reason we buy is because we feel like we belong and we're not in transit," she said. "We feel settled here. Also, the kids are exposed to so many cultures. It's like living in the United Nations. We will be here as long as we can keep our jobs."

However, anxiety about changing laws and a lack of clarity about residency visas were reasons some people still preferred to rent, said MF, who works in higher education.

Since residency is linked to jobs and trade, homeowners worried about what would happen if they were to lose their jobs or their businesses failed.

The federal Government announced last June that visas for property buyers would be extended from six months to three years. But no details have since been released.

"One big issue is residency and there is no news yet on the three-year announcement," said a property lawyer, Ludmila Yamalova. Yet these concerns did not cloud the upbeat spirit of Ramsey Ghorayeb, a banker.

Among those who witnessed the turbulence in the property market, Mr Ghorayeb last year sold an apartment he bought in 2007 and moved into a Dubai villa.

"I believe in the story of what Dubai offers and I will put money in property again," said Mr Ghorayeb, who is Lebanese-Italian but was born in Egypt. "[The] Arab Spring has helped, with more people realising that the UAE has political stability and is open to all people who work hard. I see the UAE as the Switzerland of the Middle East."

rtalwar@thenational.ae