x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UK estate agents head to the Middle East

With up to 15,000 UK property professionals facing unemployment, many are moving to the UAE and Middle East.

An estimated 15,000 estate agents in the UK are expected to lose their jobs by the end of the year.
An estimated 15,000 estate agents in the UK are expected to lose their jobs by the end of the year.

The slump in the UK housing market has led to a surge in the number of property professionals seeking work in the UAE and wider Middle East, according to recruitment experts. A recent report by the UK-based Centre for Economic Business Research (CEBR) said estate agents in the UK would be worst hit by the market downturn, with an estimated 15,000 expected to lose their jobs by the end of the year. But the slowdown has also had an impact on other workers in the property sector, including those who structure finance for property deals, architects, quantity surveyors, facilities managers and mortgage brokers.

CEBR predicts that a further five per cent of those working in the UK property sector will lose their jobs by the end of next year as banks rein in lending and the rate of housing transactions continues to slide. But the influx of property professionals from the UK could now help to plug the skills shortage gap that the regional property sector has been grappling with in the last few years. William Buck, an international director at the recruitment firm, MacDonald and Company, a UK company with offices in the UAE, said the firm had seen an increase in the number of UK applicants in the past six months.

"Because we're a UK company, we've always had a large number of applicants from the UK, but the downturn there has certainly seen the number of strong professionals coming here increase," he said. "We also expect to see more from the UK and other faltering markets internationally, which will naturally affect recruitment here. But the situation has definitely helped to fill skills shortages here. It will also help employers in the long term and shift the balance from where we currently are."

Mr Buck added that the biggest take-up in job applications had come from property investment people who structured the finance in property deals such as joint ventures, followed by property agents and project managers. "But as more areas of the property sector in the UK get even more depressed, we're seeing applicants from across the board," he said. "Also, people from the UK are more open to coming to the UAE than they were before, although now it is a necessity, as there is nothing for them to sell back home and there are no new developments coming onto the market."

Fewer housing transactions in the UK and tighter home loan conditions from banks have also led to an increase in the number of mortgage brokers seeking work in the region. The sector for mortgage brokers in the UAE has strengthened in the past few years as more banks have started to provide property loans. At the same time, home buyers are beginning to turn to mortgage brokers to facilitate their transactions.

"Mortgage brokers work on commission, so if the market's buzzing and they're selling mortgages, then great, but when transactions stop and banks are reluctant to lend, then they either get a new job or carry on trying to sell where they are," said Chris Dommett, the chief executive for the Dubai subsidiary of the UK-based mortgage broker, John Charcol. "We've seen some movement from our UK office to Dubai. It's not that we're poaching - if there isn't much business happening, then people want to go where they can earn money.

"Also, Dubai has had a lot of publicity in the UK over the last few years, and people are looking towards a place where transactions are being made." But despite the upturn in the number of professionals looking for work on the property side, the construction sector is still struggling to draw key talent from the UK. "There has definitely been an increase in the number of people coming here - we don't have to go hunting for them as much as before, as they're coming to us," said Nigel Timms, a recruitment manager at Millennium Solutions. "But from a construction point of view, the trend isn't so much that the highly qualified engineers are coming here - it's more tradesmen, such as people at foreman or site manager level, who want to work their way up the ladder."

Mr Timms added that while high profile construction projects in the UK were under way - such as the development of the site for the London Olympic Games in 2012 and the widening of the M25 - fewer top construction professionals were attracted to the UAE. "These are good jobs to have on their CV, so any opportunity here has to be good enough for them to make the move." @Email:agiuffrida@thenational.ae