Dubai: Good Buy? Bad Buy?

It was a trip down memory lane to write this article in the Independent on Sunday about what has happened to those ‘emerging markets’ around the world which many of us spoke about so enthusiastically in pre-downturn 2006.

Of course if we knew then what we know now we would have acted and written differently. But what was most startling in researching this article was what is going on now in Dubai. Is it ‘recovery’ or another crash?

To prepare for the Independent story - which looked at Las Vegas, Bulgaria, Turkey, Montenegro and Dubai - I contacted about 60 estate agencies active in international property.

Three responded with market information about Turkey; two about Montenegro; none about Bulgaria or Las Vegas; but 19 responded about Dubai. In other words, while many property professionals still steer clear of other fragile markets, estate agents are piling back into Dubai.

They are doing this because there is money to be made thanks to the apparent return of investors.

Many residential sector commentators active in Dubai before its 2008/9 crash - when prices fell up to 60 per cent in six months and an estimated $75 billion worth of mostly high-rise schemes were mothballed - are dusting down the superlatives again.

For example Cluttons says “confidence in the economic sector has led to fresh developments and a new wave of property investment” insisting there is “robust growth in the majority of Dubai’s residential market” with annual price rises of 12.7 to 20.2 per cent in sales and rentals. “Projects stalled in the 2008 collapse are now moving ahead” it claims.

CBRE refers specifically to developments called Dubai Marina, Emirates Living, Palm Jumeirah and Downtown Dubai, claiming these are “incredibly popular.” It outdoes its rival companies with talk of two bedroom units in these schemes witnessing “a 27 per cent [price] increase year-on-year” for sales and 40 per cent rental rises in selected locations.

Many other agents, almost all with properties to sell in Dubai or acting as consultants to developers with mothballed or new schemes, say similar things with similar superlatives. You get the picture - the market is booming, albeit from an extremely low base.

But what I have yet to hear is why prices are rising again now, and what different factors make today’s residential investment in Dubai any safer than six years ago?

There may be solid evidence to explain the rises and the market's new-found solidity even in the UAE where housing processes are less transparent than in many other countries and despite the fact that ruling families within the Dubai emirate have high levels of involvement in many development firms.

But if there is this evidence, it seems slow to appear. Why is Dubai booming again? And this time, will its market last more than a few years without another crash and another bailout?

If someone comes up with the evidence, I'd be delighted to share it with the rest of the world.

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