On the hunt for houses: tips on how to find a home in Abu Dhabi

Navigating the property market's perils and pitfalls can appear daunting. We speak to residents and agents for practical advice on finding a home in Abu Dhabi.
It may seem a little unsettling for those not used to the practice here, but sticking to these timescales will save you a lot of emotional energy and worry while searching for a home. Christopher Pike / The National
It may seem a little unsettling for those not used to the practice here, but sticking to these timescales will save you a lot of emotional energy and worry while searching for a home. Christopher Pike / The National

Time it right

Properties are usually only available for viewing once the previous tenant has vacated. Landlords tend to expect a fairly swift turnaround for maintenance and finding a new tenant. Those already living in Abu Dhabi and wanting to move will need to give two months’ notice to vacate their current property. But as Jan Morrow from Select Homes points out: “While you may want to start looking for a new home before giving notice, the reality is that none of your shortlisted properties may be available until you are within two weeks of your actual move-out date. Our advice is to start searching a maximum of three weeks before your earliest move date.”

For those new to the city, ­Morrow explains what documentation is needed to get the process started. “Many management companies and landlords in Abu Dhabi currently allow one to two weeks to start a new contract. An employment visa and Emirates ID is required (or to be under process) to lease a property.”

It may seem a little unsettling for those not used to the practice here, but sticking to these timescales will save you a lot of emotional energy and worry.

Working with agents

Agents are the link between the landlord and tenant, and oversee the rental deal and all of the associated paperwork. Agents charge the new tenant a one-off five per cent fee based on the annual rent. Many of the larger management companies will call this an administration fee. Only occasionally do you see properties “direct from owner” that may mean you can avoid this cost.

David Crook, a long-term resident of Abu Dhabi and property professional, created a Facebook group, Tenants of Abu Dhabi. On this page, he summarises three ways to find an agent or property:

• Use one of the large banks. All have real-estate subsidiaries and tend to have the largest portfolios of property to lease. These are ADNP (part of NBAD); ADCP (part of ADCB); FGP (part of FGB) and MPM (part of ADIB).

• Use one of the well-known agents in the market.

• Word of mouth or referral. This is a good practice for sourcing ­anything, not just companies to find you your home.

What to expect

Leena Gupte, from the United States, has just arrived in Abu Dhabi with her husband. She has found the path to her new home a little rocky and stressful. “It feels like such a big decision,” Gupte says. “Do we rent a house that works for the family or do we take a house that we are not so keen on but like the community feel of the place?” After chatting about expectations before she arrived and looking at pictures, she found “the other surprise was the kitchens. I love to cook, but even in the top-tier houses, the quality and the grandness of the kitchen was not quite there.”

Every unit or villa is different, and even in the same compound, there can be variations. The fixtures and fittings may also be of differing quality. As Gupte has experienced, keeping an open mind and being prepared to compromise are important in the home search.

When things go wrong

“I thought I’d hit the jackpot and found the perfect apartment – the right price, right location and it even had parking. As I started to think about moving in, everything suddenly went quiet. I got angry, but was told that the agent was sorting out the final ­paperwork because of its recent sale to a new landlord,” says Sonia ­Yasir from France, recounting her own property experience.

Ben Crompton, from ­Crompton Partners, advises house hunters not to “hit the nuclear option too early. Abu Dhabi can be inefficient, but it can also be efficient if there is enough impetus behind an issue. So if something is not happening, it’s often not because it can’t happen, but because someone is not doing it. Talk to the agent and landlord, and impress upon them the ­seriousness of the situation and things can then free up and get moving much more easily.”

Counting the costs

“I didn’t go over my budget for my one-bed home search, but was aware that next year I may be looking at a rent increase, so I asked my agent to try negotiating the annual rent for me. On a Dh105,000 rent, I managed to reduce it by Dh3,000. For me, that’s a good situation, and I am now likely to stay in this unit for two years,” says John Lythgoe, an expat from the United Kingdom.

Rent is traditionally paid a year upfront in one cheque. Some landlords will negotiate two or three cheques, but they will come with a small fee for this service. This is along with a refundable deposit that’s usually up to five per cent of the annual rent. The agent’s or administrative fee is five per cent, and should be paid only once the paperwork is complete, the keys have been handed over and you’re happy with the property.

Your landlord should maintain the property for the duration of the lease. Make sure you understand exactly who will provide maintenance and how to contact the contractor. If you don’t have a private parking spot, Mawaqif charges Dh800 per year for an annual permit for your first car and Dh1,200 for the second.

Keeping it legal

Abu Dhabi Municipality issues Tawtheeq for every legal dwelling in the city. Before any money is handed over, you must make sure that the property you want to rent is registered and that Tawtheeq will be issued along with the signed lease by the landlord. This document is required by the General Directorate of Residence and Foreigners Affairs if you plan to sponsor your family and by ADDC to open an electricity and water account.

Subletting and sharing units with non-family members are both regulated by the law. Terms and conditions in leases are fairly standard. Generally, you’re committed to the year’s rent, but may be able to give two months’ notice and incur a penalty. If you want to move out, it’s important that you put it in writing to the managing agent. If you plan to stay, they’re required to give you two months’ notice of any change in annual rent.

Writing the contract

Depending on your work contract, you may have the lease in your name or your company’s. Regardless of whose name the lease is in, the agent should provide you with proof of who the owner is and certain registration documents from the municipality. If the landlord gives power of attorney to a third party to manage the property, then these documents should be seen. This is why it’s important to use a good agent who can look after you and follow correct procedure. Make sure you read through the contract (it will be in English and Arabic) so you understand the terms and conditions.

Getting the keys

Once you have agreed the start date of the lease, the rental payment and deposit will need to be paid. However, it’s common for landlords to only start the move-in preparations and maintenance at this stage. Be prepared for very little to be done before it needs to be done. Be ready to organise a cleaner to deep clean the property once the maintenance is completed, because properties are often handed over in “brushed-through” condition. When you move in, document the state of the property. Take pictures and share them with the agent/landlord. This will help you when it comes to ­checkout.

Next year

Thinking ahead, rental prices can be increased. The citywide rent cap was removed in 2013, and it’s common for landlords to push for a five per cent increase in annual rent when it comes time to renew.

You should be given two months’ notice of the landlord’s intentions. Knowing the price of properties around you and in the city generally can help your argument when it comes time to negotiate.


Published: September 1, 2016 04:00 AM


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