Dubai property must kiss and make up with investors

Dubai developers are demonising investors and speculators - the same gamblers who fueled Dubai's historic construction boom.

Dubai needs to woo property investors back. Sarah Dea / The National
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Dubai property executives have found their bogeyman. Forget wildly misguided building strategies, poorly designed projects and an inflated sense of international demand.

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The real culprit that decimated the business, the evil force that undercuts the industry, is the dastardly investor. The callousness of these scoundrels toppled tall buildings and sliced the heart out of the market, according to the latest spin from developers.

It's their new mantra: don't blame us, it's all the fault of those darn investors.

Developers derisively call them "flippers" and "speculators", invoking images of riverboat gamblers playing fast and loose with morals.

The developer of Metropolis Lofts, a stalled Dubai project, fully embraced the demonisation of the investor in a recent letter to the press explaining the project's woes.

"The unfortunate reality is that a significant proportion of clients transpired to be speculators who were looking only at the prospect of buying the units and reselling them in a short space of time, thus banking a large profit," the developer, UKCIG, explained.

Only about 20 to 30 per cent of the buyers were "sincere and intended to be end users", the developer said. "The majority of the rest were opportunistic short-term sellers."

When, exactly, did "sincerity" become a key ingredient in a business transaction?

These investors put their money down and took a risk on unbuilt projects. They were, in fact, looking to buy units then resell them at a profit. That was the deal.

When it became clear the projects were not going to turn out the way they had hoped, some of those investors decided to bail. And they paid the price.

Under terms of their contracts, the investors forfeited their deposits, which they decided would be better than giving more money to a developer they no longer trusted to deliver.

And, by the way, the developers kept the money.

The demonisation of investors ignores that the Dubai development community spent years wooing these very same scoundrels. They promoted their projects around the world, offering low-deposit deals and teaser prices, hoping to snare speculators and flippers.

Some investors were allowed to buy units by putting up only 20 to 30 per cent as a deposit, an arrangement the developers should have known was a risky proposition.

But that wasn't the mindset at the turn of the century. These investors fuelled the growth of Dubai, one of the biggest construction booms in history.

If the investors were gamblers, so too were the developers who decided to launch projects based almost exclusively on the money from these investors. And so were the banks and other lenders.

But now it's all the fault of the investors. Developers hounded by buyers who simply want their homes built shrug their shoulders and point the finger at the speculators, even though they promised to deliver the project.

Some even try to invoke the force majeure clause in contracts, suggesting the economic downturn that pushed investors to default was an unforeseeable act of nature.

On one level, the rhetoric is accurate. The investors were gamblers. They were betting on Dubai. They were gambling that developers would make good on their promises and the market would continue to thrive.

They gambled and lost.

Many of those investors weren't scoundrels. Some were men and women with families looking for a sound investment. Some were small businesses who looked at Dubai as a place to grow and expand their operations.

Now more than ever, Dubai needs these demon investors. The road to recovery lies in international money returning to the market. Nothing will spark the market better than investors coming in to buy all the empty homes and infuse developers with badly needed cash.

Instead of casting investors as criminals, Dubai needs to woo them back. Property executives should be working to convince them that Dubai is a sound investment, worthy of their interest and funds.

Instead of vilifying these gamblers, Dubai needs to prove to them that the UAE is once again a good bet.

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