Developers are seeing more defaults by home buyers and property investors.
Property buyers struggle to make payments
Property developers are seeing more defaults by home buyers and property investors, who are caught between declining prices and a shortage of lending by banks, Dubai's property regulator said today. Marwan bin Ghalita, the chief executive of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (Rera), said some developers had reported up to 40 per cent of buyers falling behind on their payments where units were sold off-plan by developers before they are completed or in some cases where construction has yet to even begin.
Most cannot sell the units they have purchased because buyers are scarce. But they cannot continue to make payments because banks are tightening lending amid the global credit crisis or will not pay because they are concerned the project may never be built. Some are simply walking away and leaving their downpayments. Defaults are particularly high among speculators who bought properties without financing, aiming of re-selling and pocket a quick profit.
The federal government is now moving aggressively to try to reinvigorate mortgage lending, while many developers are adjusting installment plans to accomodate some delay in payments before default. But Mr Ghalita said defaults could climb to the 40 per cent level in the off-plan, secondary market for property "if banks do not provide finance and developers do not change payment plans by the end of the year since payments are due," Mr Ghalita said.
Precise figures on defaults and overdue payments are not available. But Mr Ghalita said he saw evidence of rising default levels in his department's monitoring of what is known as the "trust account," which is controlled by Rera and takes in payments from buyers until a project is completed. "In projects where the percentage of speculators is high, there are cancellations," he said in an interview in his Dubai office. "But in projects with end-users, cancellations are less than 10 per cent," he said.
According to Rera statistics, there are 922 residential and commercial property developments in Dubai, of which 479, accounting for 46,000 units, are under construction. Industry officials and analysts said rising default rates may push prices lower in the short-term, That could help refocus the market on end-users rather than speculators over the long term, but could put stress on many developers as their cash-flow from investors dries up even as loans are tough to obtain.
"We would obviously see more downward pressure on real estate prices," said Robert McKinnon, the managing director of Al Mal Capital, "The closer people get to defaulting, the more they panic. Developers themselves will have to take a lot of these assets, that they recognise as sold back, on their books. You are going to see a hit to their earnings also." Developers say the government is tracking default levels closely and could make finance available to companies with viable developments if necessary. But prices may continue to adjust until new buyers enter the market in significant numbers. "I believe eventually that the issue is actually more about affordability," Mr McKinnon said. "Real estate prices are going to come down to a point where consumers or end-users find it attractive for them to buy."
Buyers tend to fall behind on payments for several reasons. Some cannot afford to keep up payments because they do not have the cash and cannot borrow. Others decide to stop paying out of a lack of confidence in the developer, or because they fear the value of the asset has already dropped below what they agreed to pay for it. The Government has begun to address the shortage of credit from banks by merging the two largest home loan companies into a state-run bank, and launching a new government-backed mortgage company.
Mr Ghalita said the government has also moved to bolster confidence in projects by barring developers from cancelling sales contracts if construction had not started. The government has also moved to discourage speculators from withdrawing from purchase agreements with a new rule that buyers must forfeit 30 per cent of the property's value if they default. Buyers had previously forefeited just 30 per cent of what they had already paid, according to lawyers.
Some investors argue the rule provides an incentive to developers to cancel projects and walk away with the money. Mr Ghalita said government will prevent that by requiring approval from the Land Department before any project can be cancelled. "The Land Department is not allowing cancellation without evaluating the whole project. If we cannot reach an agreement, they will have to go to the court to force the cancellation, which will take a long time," he said.
Mr Ghalita said the authority was acting as a mediator and was negotiating with developers who have run into financing problems. In the meantime, he said the rise in missed payments underscores the urgency of government efforts to get the flow of mortgage lending going again. "I think finance is important for off-plan market continuity," he said. "The market will change by itself. Developers will be smart enough to start a project, get the finance, then think of selling or keeping it for rent. This will happen 100 per cent. They will not depend on off-plan sales anymore. For sure." firstname.lastname@example.org