Money & Me: 'I sold Dubai's most expensive property for Dh185m'

Chris Boswell, one of the city's luxury go-to real estate agents, says money buys freedom and forges unforgettable experiences

Chris Boswell is a record-holding Dubai property agent pictured on The Palm, Dubai on May 6th, 2021. Chris Whiteoak / The National. 
Reporter: Ian Oxborrow for Business
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Chris Boswell, 39, is one of the Middle East's most successful real estate dealmakers with more than $1.15 billion (Dh4.22bn) in total sales.

He still holds the record for selling Dubai’s most expensive private residence for Dh185 million in 2015, and has also sold luxury homes in Los Angeles, London and New York.

An avid collector of art and memorabilia, Mr Boswell is also a PropTech investor, adviser and divides his time between Dubai, Lake Como in Italy and his family home in Scotland.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in Birmingham in the UK with my mother and Irish grandparents. Our household was pretty much working class, but from a very early age I always dreamt of one day having a large house with a fleet of luxury cars.

My grandfather was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and came from extremely humble beginnings. He was a very frugal person and set in his ways. Like many in his generation, he worked extremely hard for many years to afford what he had and he always told me to try and find a stable job/career that resulted in a good pension –  this terrified me!

He would often say my head was in the clouds and I grew up being disillusioned about many things. I refused to believe that those things I dreamt of that only big money could buy were out of my reach. This made me more tenacious and determined not to live a conventional life.

I can recall watching a TV commercial showing a young boy visiting a Porsche dealership on his bike and sitting in the new Carrera 911 before telling the salesman he'll be back in 20 years. That reminded me of myself at that age.

How much were you paid in your first job?

My first ever job was a glass collector on weekends in my local community Irish club. I was about 16 and was paid the mind-blowing amount of £3.50 (about Dh18) per hour.

Why did you move to the UAE?

I was very fortunate, as it was an almost serendipitous event. My brother was the founder and chief executive of Ocean View Real Estate, which at its height in 2007 was the leading real estate brokerage in Dubai. In late 2005, despite seldom visiting the UK, he arrived for a short stay and offered to bring me over to Dubai and employ me as a sales consultant.

He gave me a desk and a phone and told me to shadow the sales team and basically find my way. This “thrown in the deep end” approach was the best thing for me and I am very grateful for being given the chance to work for that company, which was the start of my real estate broker journey.

What are your biggest career milestones? 

I would say the business I did in 2015 and the first quarter of 2021.

I sold more than $105m worth of Dubai real estate in 2015, which included the highest private residence sale in Dubai’s history and the highest ever amount paid for a private residence on Palm Jumeirah.

I retired from Dubai real estate in early 2016 as I moved back to the UK to focus on Prime Central London property (needed a change) and ended up still selling over $35m in Dubai property from my office in Mayfair and also completed a sale of a $38m property in Bel Air, Los Angeles.

In January of this year, I decided to move back to Dubai and have since closed more than $56m in sales, including a $19m Palm Jumeirah Signature Villa (pictured below), the highest sale achieved for a villa of that type.

What has been your best investment?

The best investment I ever made was purchasing our family home in Scotland. I’m a very strong believer that owning your home is the best decision you can make.

I share the sentiment of the US financial adviser Suze Orman, who was famously quoted as saying, “Owning a home is a keystone of wealth – both financial affluence and emotional security" and she is absolutely right.

When the pandemic hit, my UK home paid an enormous dividend for me and my family. We have a beautiful four-bedroom rural gated farmhouse surrounded by fields and forestry. I basically closed my gates and went into lockdown with no pressure to pay a mortgage or any rent and did not fear the financial uncertainty that lay ahead.

What’s your smartest financial move?

I would say my art and memorabilia purchases. In 2010, I purchased a piece of pop art from UK artist Paul Oz titled Heath Ledger's The Joker Oil on Canvas, which is one of one in the world and has increased in tremendous value since I bought it.

I also own a very special signed letter by “The King of Cool” Steve McQueen, which is the only signed letter that has been authenticated by his former assistant and is accompanied by personal photographs of Steve that are nowhere in the public domain. I was recently offered $100,000 for it from one of my clients but I respectfully declined.

Does money make you happy?

Yes. Money gives you freedom and opportunity. Above all, money pays for those experiences that form lasting and unforgettable memories. The most paramount thing money has given me is the freedom to do what I want, when I want without having to answer to anybody.

I’m an extremely spontaneous person and prior to Covid-19 would often fly off with my family for a vacation or, before my children were born, my wife and I would on many occasions book a flight the same day and head off for a week or two. We flew to many places in my 20s, such as New York, Miami, Monte Carlo, Paris, Sydney, Phuket and London over the years all on a whim.

In October 2019, I decided to fly out to LA and take my children to Disneyland and Universal Studios, which was one of the best experiences of my life. Having stable employment would not have allowed me to do this on such short notice, so I’m lucky, but I work very hard for what I have.

Chris Boswell is a record-holding Dubai property agent pictured on The Palm, Dubai on May 6th, 2021. Chris Whiteoak / The National. 
Reporter: Ian Oxborrow for Business
Chris Boswell has sold properties in LA and London as well as Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

I made many millions of dollars in my 20s and spent a fortune on cars, watches, socialising, holidays and clothes, but would not change any of it. I do wish I had kept my Ferrari F355 Spider, which I paid around $60,000 in 2014 and would have been the only car I bought and sold that has increased in value.

The one piece of advice I would give to myself would be to have purchased more real estate instead of all the depreciative assets I purchased.

How did you see education affecting your future earnings?

I never really thought about any correlation between the two. I always knew that one day, somehow I would make my fortune. From the age of 16 until I started my real estate career at 23 I wanted to make movies. I was, and still am, quite a creative person and wrote a script, produced and directed a short film at Solihull Technical College in 2002, which was shortlisted at several UK film festivals.

I didn't go to university, but had many friends that did and I practically moved in with one of them for a short time and would often sneak into some lectures (I have no idea why!).

Do you have a financial plan for the future?

I believe in having a tangible asset-rich portfolio. Although I have invested in stocks in the past, I prefer real estate above everything else. I am putting a large portion of my income into residential property and creating passive and residual income. I also want to be able to move around frequently during my retirement from city to city, so am about to purchase a vacation home in Lake Como and another in LA later this year.

I am also looking to buy some high-yielding smaller assets in Dubai, which I’ve found offering eight to 10 per cent return on investment in areas like Jumeirah Village Circle.

Chris Boswell is a record-holding Dubai property agent pictured on The Palm, Dubai on May 6th, 2021. Chris Whiteoak / The National. 
Reporter: Ian Oxborrow for Business
Chris Boswell pictured on the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Do you prefer using a credit card or cash?

I never carry a wallet – I'm Apple Pay all the way. My preferred payment method is my Platinum AMEX, which has a huge amount of benefits and is the best card out there.

Will we be seeing you on Netflix smash hit Selling Sunset one day?

Well, I am partnered in a PropTech company based in West Hollywood, so I hope to be in Los Angeles more frequently once travel becomes more flexible.
Some trivia – I did sell the Oppenheim brothers (Brett and Jason, who own the Oppenheim Group, the property company that is the subject of Selling Sunset) a domain name I owned in 2011, which they still use today, so I may pass by their showroom the next time I'm on Sunset Boulevard to say hello!

What car do you drive?

A Porsche Carrera 4s 911.