x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

On the Money: Get a better deal when renting in Abu Dhabi

With sky-high rents a thing of the past and amenities such as pools, gyms and private parking becoming more common, the capital's rental market is finally becoming tenant favourable.

Gary Clement for The National
Gary Clement for The National

Every year come March, I begin to feel a little apprehensive. No surprise, really, when you consider that March is the month that I renegotiate my lease - or decide to move elsewhere.

I blame it on the days, circa early 2008, when the capital was bursting at the seams, demand far outstripped supply and rents were at a premium.

There wasn't much choice and you had to take what you could get, regardless of the quality - and in many cases, regardless of the price - simply because you were desperate to find a home for your family.

We've all read or heard about the horror stories of those days: agents taking prospective tenants to damp, dark, unliveable places that posed as flats and sported all manner of mould and mildew sprouting from the walls. That's if they had them; I've even heard that wardrobes were used as walls to separate flats in sub-divided villas.

The most recent tale of woe is that of tenants in a compound in Abu Dhabi Gate City, in which the municipality ordered that illegal walls had to be removed in December and residents had to move out, despite paying their rent a year in advance.

These days, however, we have more choice, which is great news for renters. Quality is the catchword and many new residential buildings are offering a better standard of living, not to mention solid walls (to the relief of many, I'm sure). And it's become the norm to throw in gyms, pools and those much-needed private parking spaces.

Even better news is that rental prices have eased further since I last signed my lease a year ago. I thought I got a great deal last year, but this year, I have even more to celebrate, having negotiated my rent down even further. In fact, it is the cheapest rent I've ever paid in my four years in Abu Dhabi, which saw me at one stage forking out Dh140,000 a year.

The credit for this, of course, goes to the people in my company's housing department, who negotiate on my behalf and who know what I should be paying for my flat. The savings they've afforded me this year are a welcome boost to my personal finances and have given me more incentive to grow my nest egg.

According to Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL), the days of Abu Dhabi's sky-high rents are a thing of the past.

In its fourth-quarter report for 2011, the property specialist says rents in the capital are fast catching up to the cheaper housing costs that our counterparts in Dubai have enjoyed for the past couple of years.

"The softening of rents is decreasing the rent premium that Abu Dhabi has maintained over Dubai in recent years, which may help draw commuters back to the capital, increasing demand for real estate across all sectors," it says.

So it is good news that JLL is positive about the rental market in Abu Dhabi. But this is mainly because there are about 28,000 units that are expected to come online this year, which will see the rental market become more "tenant favourable" and put pressure on rents to come down to more realistic levels.

"Due to the significant development pipeline, rents will continue to experience downward pressure," JLL says.

"The increased choice and falling rents will provide opportunities for upgrades."

"Upgrades" and "tenant favourable": now there's three words that weren't bandied about in 2008. Or 2009 and 2010, for that matter.

JLL says other positives for tenants this year include the extension of the rent cap, which was introduced in Abu Dhabi in 2005 and is aimed at restricting landlords from increasing rents by no more than 5 per cent a year. The Government has extended the cap to November 5 this year.

Before I re-signed my lease, I thought it was worth checking out what was available on the market. Remarkably, I found a small villa for Dh140,000 a year and even went as far as viewing it three times. Was this proof that rents really were coming down and I'd get my upgrade?

It was older, having been built in the early 1980s, but still, it was bright. It came with a small outdoor space, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a tiny kitchen and private parking. Perfect for my small family.

But then it all started to unravel. I met who I thought was the landlord, but who turned out to have an old document giving them "permission" to rent the villa out.

"Will you be renting the villa personally?" they asked me.

"My company will sign the lease to the villa on my behalf if they approve it," I replied.

Silence. "Ah, then that will be complicated," they said, before launching into a very complicated, long-winded speech on why it would be complicated.

I offered them Dh125,000, but they said I'd have to be responsible for all maintenance at that price. I assume that would have included replacing the air-conditioning or hot-water systems if they broke down, but we never got that far.

The more I thought about it, the more I didn't like it. Something wasn't quite right and I didn't think the risk of losing my current home was worth the migraine of taking something like this on. For all I knew, it was a white elephant.

So I withdrew my offer and instead took the plunge and re-signed my current lease. For which I've been richly rewarded.