Day in the life: CBRE Mena residential head cultivates international links

Former journalist turned estate agent, Safina Ahmad, only needs six hours sleep a night – giving her plenty of time for international calls with her CBRE colleagues.

When Safina Ahmad was still at school she dreamt of becoming a journalist and changing the world. But ever since the Briton secured her first weekend job at the age of 15 at an estate agent in her small hometown in Wales, life has led her in another direction. While studying journalism at university, she worked for an estate agent in Bournemouth, in the south of the United Kingdom, and sold homes on the exclusive Sandbanks peninsula, which is home to the fourth most expensive properties in the world.

After doing a few placements with the likes of The Times, BBC and News of the World, she decided journalism was not for her after all, and committed to a career in property after being headhunted by Harrods Estates.

Ms Ahmad, who is in her early thirties, speaks about a typical day working as the head of residential at CBRE Mena.


I get up. I am quite fortunate, although I don’t know if fortunate is the word, but typically I need only about five or six hours’ sleep a night. Because I deal a lot with my colleagues in the United States, the first thing I do is check my phone as I will have received emails from the US overnight. That’s when I really start planning my day.


I head straight to see a client at his office. The buyer decided he had to go to London over the weekend and was wondering whether he should look at a building or two that we had already discussed.


I arrive back at the office and check my emails. The reason the US emails are important is because one of our colleagues, from the capital markets team in New York, is coming to Dubai in about three weeks’ time. She is bringing three very big assets over.

We would look to introduce her to any banks we know that would be interested in purchasing or might be representing family offices or buyers who could be interested.

Yesterday I spoke to a family office with a significant portfolio in the region. They have always invested within the GCC only and their portfolio comes to about US$2 billion, so they are now looking to start diversifying and are looking at New York and London.


Lunch. Unless I have a meeting with a client I usually have it at my desk.


In the afternoon there is a lot of work that I do with my colleagues. I work very closely with my valuations team, to, for example, identify what level of activity they are seeing in the market. We have seen the market slowing in Dubai. If I was out here two years ago I would have been able to take a view very confidently myself, but it is more important than ever that I am collaborating so that we understand everyone’s perspective. It even involves speaking to the agency team to understand where there is new office demand because you tend to find it reflected in the residential demand. Yes, on the one hand the market is not looking amazing but office demand is still there, which means that the residential requirements are still going to be there.


I take all of that information and feed it in to reports I prepare for clients. Those reports will outline all the options we have available to them and the pros and cons of each of those options.


My head goes back into London. My colleagues in London will just be coming back from their lunch break. We look at the pipeline of new developments that we will be launching to the market. This is a conference call that will include London and include South East Asia.


My colleague in New York is coming back online. There’s usually an update to her following a conversation I would have had with a client earlier and their initial reaction to that project. She is very conscious of the time difference, so that would usually be a half-hour chat.


I finish work. I go out two or three nights a week but if it’s a Sunday I definitely head home. On Saturday evenings, I do all my batch cooking for the week. I have all my food containers in the freezer so I don’t have to do anything when I get home.


I go to bed. Because of the late finish, and I know there will be something to do as soon as I wake up, I put together my to-do list for the morning, so I pretty much know what I have lined up for the next day. I leave my reading to the weekend.

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