Over the last five years, the UAE's two biggest cities have had entirely different rides in the property market. John Henzell and Alice Haine look at what you can get for your money now.
Home truths of the Abu Dhabi and Dubai renting roller coaster
Anyone who has ridden Ferrari World's Formula Rossa ride will have found it good training for renting in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It features unexpected twists and turns, more than a few screams and, for some, moments of raw fear. And the world's fastest rollercoaster can be just as entertaining.
When Abu Dhabi was high, Dubai had been low, and thousands of those who work in the capital shifted to Dubai, deciding that the twice-daily commute along the E11 was justified by much lower rents.
Now Dubai is resurgent and rents are rising just as tens of thousands of new homes in Abu Dhabi are becoming available. Together with the Abu Dhabi decree that its government workers have to live in the emirate, it is reversing the dynamic that saw Sheikh Zayed Road clogged with intercity commuters.
The building boom to address the capital's housing shortage means that some areas, which only a few years ago were little more than futuristic models at Cityscape, are becoming nascent residential hubs for a multitude of people.
For Abu Dhabi's brand-new housing, most of them featuring facilities such as pools and gyms, prices have stabilised or risen, with the most coveted areas - Saadiyat Island, Raha Beach and Raha Gardens - recording rent hikes of between 18 and 25 per cent.
But for older buildings in the city centre, prices have been steadily dropping compared with the peaks of 2008 and 2009. The Bateen area has seen the biggest drop.
Matthew Green, the local head of research for the property consultancy CBRE, says Abu Dhabi is going through the same kind of polarisation that Dubai went through. In the next two years, 45,000 new homes will come onto the market.
"Landlords for all types of older stock in secondary locations will find it tougher to rent out any property that does not offer a certain level of facilities, and landlords will have to look at other ways of occupying these buildings - either by dropping rents, refurbishing or redeveloping them," he says.
In Dubai, there has been an exodus from what is seen as blue-chip areas such as Dubai Marina, The Palm, The Springs, The Meadows and Arabian Ranches, where new rents are up by 25 to 30 per cent compared with a year ago.
Mario Volpi, the head of sales and leasing at Cluttons' Dubai office, says that although Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been out of sync, the two property markets remain linked.
"Prices in Dubai are going up because the emirate's property market is so far ahead of Abu Dhabi's," he says.
"Don't forget, when Dubai was going down in price, Abu Dhabi was still going up, so the capital is lagging behind. So what is happening now in Dubai will happen to Abu Dhabi in 18 months to two years, potentially."
So what do you get for your money? Here are a few of the better choices for rentals in both cities.
Dh300,000 In this price range, you can get a taste of the future of Abu Dhabi that is a 10-minute drive from the Corniche but seems a world away from the high rise towers of the capital's downtown. Saadiyat Beach Villas is close to the 9 km-long beach facing the Gulf, the golf course, the Monte Carlo Beach Resort and a range of five-star hotels. At this price range, you can get a stand-alone Mediterranean-themed villa with four bedrooms and a maid's room, extensive terrace and outdoor areas and access to the shared community pool. The complex has 24-hour security. Contemporary and Arabic-themed villas in the 344-home development command similar prices.
Other options: The four-bedroom penthouse in the Al Zeina complex at Raha Beach offers a large, covered terrace with expansive sea views over to Yas Island's Formula One circuit. Shared facilities include pools, a gym and a private, white-sand beach.
The peaceful view over Abu Dhabi's extensive mangrove forests seems at odds with the Eastern Mangroves Residence's location on one of the capital's busiest roads. Dh300,000 gets you a three-bedroom, five-bathroom apartment next to the Anantara hotel and spa.
Dh200,000 A four-bedroom villa in a leafy and established compound with a communal pool in a quiet but conveniently central part of Abu Dhabi Island is the most archetypal form of housing in the capital. You can rent one in Al Karama Complex near 24th Street and Defence Road (11th) for Dh190,000. The compound has been around for a while so the bedrooms are a little small by modern Abu Dhabi standards, but to compensate for that, there are the trees that make it feel established, especially compared with the newer developments that still resemble building sites. There's also a maid's room with a separate entrance. Compound facilities also include 24-hour security, a function room and a basic gym.
Other options: For a stand-alone villa with more than four bedrooms, you have to look off the island to places like Khalifa City A, where six-bedroom and seven-bathroom villas in walled grounds cost Dh200,000 a year.
For those who don't need the space and want better amenities, a three-bedroom apartment is available for Dh190,000 in the brand new Al Marasy development overlooking the Bateen marina. You can also get a berth for your boat.
Dh100,000 One area absolutely dominates the field for those looking for a relatively modern two-bedroom apartment in this price range: Al Reef. The sprawling development east of Abu Dhabi airport might seem distant, but the Sheikh Khalifa motorway across Saadiyat Island makes access to downtown Abu Dhabi easy, the restaurants of the burgeoning Raha Beach development are nearby and the location knocks 30 minutes off the drive to Dubai. Bedroom sizes are more generous than those in some similar developments in Abu Dhabi and two-bed, three-bathroom homes can be found from Dh90,000 and offer two levels, backyards and communal park areas. Residents report a stronger community spirit than elsewhere in the capital but critics highlight the distance to shopping centres and lack of other amenities within the development.
Other options: A few two-bedroom apartments in Reem Island's Gate District just sneak into the Dh100,000 price range, although prices have been rising. Facilities include communal pools and gyms but, in some towers, bedroom sizes are tiny.
Dh50,000 This category did not exist five years ago when the surge in Abu Dhabi's population outstripped supply and sent prices soaring. Even illegally converted garages on the island were being rented for more than Dh90,000. But supply has been such that prices for apartments have dropped considerably. Staying on Abu Dhabi Island usually involves renting older housing; a converted villa in Mushrif with one bedroom was on offer for Dh50,000, including water and electricity.
If you want better quality housing and to be on the island at this price, the compromise will be to downgrade to a studio. A studio in the relatively new Golden Towers in Al Mamoura (rented by First Gulf Properties) now goes for Dh50,000, and includes a pool, gym and balcony in a neighbourhood full of restaurants and grocery shops. There are also studios available in Khalidiya for this price.
Other options: In Khalifa City A, brand-new one-bedroom apartments often include balconies, but require a car to get to and involve a longer commute for those working downtown, which comes at a cost of time, money and grey hairs from driving on the main thoroughfares to the island.
Dh300,0000 At this level, you can consider sizeable villas and luxury penthouse apartments across Dubai, including in premier locations such as The Palm Jumeirah - a location that has always acted as a barometer of the Dubai property market. This stunning penthouse apartment is on the left side of the Shoreline. Spread over 4,900 square feet, it has four spacious bedrooms plus en suites with an additional maid's room and bathroom. Its two balconies have views of the Marina, sea and community. Shoreline apartments come with access to beach clubs, pool and gym facilities and are often considered the height of living the Dubai dream.
Other options: For Dh250,000 in one cheque, you can move into a spacious four-bedroom, five-bathroom Jumeirah Park villa from the Legacy selection. This brand-new development is located near Emirates Hills, but it has some way to go before the landscaping matches its neighbour as parts are still under development. For a more established feel, Dh300,000 can also bag you a four-bedroom, 10,043 square feet stand-alone villa, with its own private pool, at Jumeirah Islands.
Dh200,000 This sum will definitely get you a three-bedroom villa but not necessarily in the popular expat areas of Jumeirah and Umm Suqeim. However, for Dh200,000 you can move into a fully furnished three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa in Springs 4 with a view overlooking the lake. The property, being marketed by Better Homes, also has a study downstairs and a television room and terrace upstairs.
This community is 10 years old, so while the villas lack the new feel Dubai dwellers love so much, it does mean the landscaping is more established and all the community facilities are in place, with shops, a park and pool within walking distance.
Other options: The sky can be the limit, literally, if you are willing to stump up Dh200,000 in one cheque. It will secure you a fully furnished one-bed apartment in Dubai's premier location, Burj Khalifa itself. This 1,378-square-foot space , available from Cluttons, comes with a study area and a partial sea view.
However, if it's beachside action you want, then for Dh130,000 there is a two-bedroom apartment in Jumeirah Beach Residence. Located on the 25th floor, this 1,424-square-foot pad offers a partial sea view and sets you in the heart of the Marina area.
Dh100,000 Villa hunters may struggle to find something at this price but there are still deals to be had for apartment lovers. For Dh100,000, you can find a three-bedroom, four-bathroom apartment in Jumeirah Lakes Towers that also comes with two car park spaces. This 1,580-square-foot home in Icon Tower 1 also comes with a maid's room, a large kitchen and a balcony overlooking one of the community's lakes. There is extensive work being done on the road network in the area, so traffic can be an issue, but because of the proximity to Dubai's main artery, Sheikh Zayed Road, and the Marina, it is still a prime location in new Dubai .
Other options: For Dh85,000, you can have a 1,950 square feet, one-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse villa in Jumeirah Village Triangle, a Nakheel villa development off Al Khail Road and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed road. It has its own garden and a spacious family area upstairs and the surrounding development is nearing completion with landscaping work underway.
Or, if you fancy becoming a resident on The Palm Jumeirah, you can snap up a 1,184 square feet, one-bed Shoreline apartment for Dh100,000.
Dh50,000 In the current rental climate, this amount will not secure much more than a studio in the new Dubai area, but there are still bargains to be had if you do not mind compromising on space and location. For Dh33,000, you can get an executive studio in The Spirit Tower in Dubailand. The surrounding area may not have that finished feel, but this 353-square-foot pad from Better Homes, with views of the Els golf course, offers an all-inclusive solution for professionals on the go. The building is located close to Dubai Sports City and features an exclusive rooftop jogging track, separate male and female gyms, a sunlit pool area and sauna and steam rooms.
Other options: For Dh20,000, there is a fully-furnished studio with wooden flooring available in International City, an apartment complex off Al Khail Road near DragonMart. For something a little more upmarket in new Dubai, Dh50,000 will secure you a studio in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, an inland development of high-rises that overlooks the Marina.