Sunday, 28 September 2008

Evictions postpone fall in Dubai properties

Analysts have revised their predictions of a sharp drop in Dubai’s property market, saying a recent surge in property prices combined with a flood of people coming on to the rental market because of a villa eviction campaign will delay any price decrease.

“Demand will rise, and prices will follow as a result,” said Cecilia Rabess, a senior analyst at Investment Boutique.

According to a recent Morgan Stanley report, Dubai property prices were due for a correction of at least 10 per cent by 2010, following a nearly 79 per cent increase since the beginning of last year. As a property-related downturn spreads across the globe, analysts have doubted whether Dubai will buck the trend entirely.

However, last week’s eviction notices distributed by Dubai Municipality to families living in shared villas have led some to believe that a correction may be further off than previously thought.

Two months ago, a one-bedroom flat in the Dubai Marina area was renting for an average of Dh120,000 (US$32,600) a year, according to analysts. By the end of last week, it was nearly impossible to find one for less than Dh140,000. Over the past year, the sale price of villas in Dubai have skyrocketed by 76 per cent, while apartments have shot up 63 per cent, a survey by The National found last week.

Even Morgan Stanley, which first predicted the downturn, is now warning of a soft landing.

“The good news for Dubai is that you have underlying economic strength and, as a result, our base case reflects a soft landing for the emirate,” Sean Gardiner, head of MENA research at Morgan Stanley, said last week.

Andrew Gilmour, an economist with the Samba Financial Group, said the fundamentals of the Dubai property market remained strong. “The demand is there and, so long as they can access the credit, I don’t think you will see a particularly strong downturn too soon,” he said.

However, if demand remained strong and prices continued to rise, ”eventually it will become more a question of affordability,” said Ms Rabess. “Prices can only go up so much before people will no longer be able to afford to live in Dubai.”

Ms Rabess said the Government’s campaign could have been intended to encourage people to move into apartments in places such as International City and Discovery Gardens, which they may have previously avoided in favour of sharing a villa. Eventually, however, it could push people outside of the city.

“Unless the developers start building more affordable housing, people may start looking to places like Sharjah or Ajman for places to live,” she said.

The city began the villa eviction campaign in July, but declared a final 30-day deadline last week for all over-occupied villas in the city. Families in Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim, Al Rashidiya and Abu Hail were hit especially hard.

A spokesman for Dubai Municipality said last week: “No more notices would be issued to villas. Even those families who are sharing villas but have not received notices must move out within the deadline.” Once the deadline expires, violators will have their water and electricity supplies cut off, and landlords would face heavy fines – up to Dh50,000.”

The move comes at a time of increasing uncertainty in the Dubai property market, amid fears that foreign investors and the cash-strapped banks may cut off funding for local projects.

Cash scarcity could destabilise the market, analysts say, and possibly precipitate a fall in prices. Last Monday, the UAE central bank announced an emergency Dh50 billion lending facility meant to ensure banks have enough money to keep local infrastructure and property projects running.

In August, a Morgan Stanley report described Dubai the “bellwether of the whole GCC property market”, saying that a drop in prices there could extend to Abu Dhabi and all of the other major economies in the Middle East. However, barring such a fall, Morgan Stanley predicted that Abu Dhabi could see prices increase by 25 per cent before 2010. Qatar’s property market is expected to increase by 15 per cent during the same period.

“The Dubai real estate market is one of the real Achilles heels of the UAE economy,” said Giyas Gokkent, an economist at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.