Money & Me: 'We've expanded our workforce since the start of the pandemic'

Nick Grassick of PH Real Estate Brokers says Covid-19 initially caused property sales to drop but they've bounced back to beat targets

 Nick Grassick, MD of PH Real Estate Brokers Dubai.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

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Estate agent Nick Grassick, 44, moved to the Gulf from Australia when his wife was offered a job with a local events company. With a property-centric career spanning more than 20 years, the UK national has managed capital transactions in London, Sydney and Dubai.

When Mr Grassick came to the UAE in 2008, he ran a consultancy offering sales and marketing training solutions to the Dubai real estate market, before taking joint ownership of the UAE-based property brokerage, PH Real Estate Brokers. The company specialises in realty-based investment opportunities for clients seeking incredible lifestyle experiences. He lives with his wife Natalie and their son Eeli, 6, in an apartment they own on Palm Jumeirah.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in a working-class neighbourhood of Birmingham in the UK. My parents instilled a good work ethic: 'pocket money' was something to be earned, such as by washing the car on Sunday. It was just enough to buy a Beano or Dandy, and maybe some sweets and things. But if I wanted any toys, or a pair of Puma Dallas trainers, I had to do extra chores and save the money.

During any period of unrest, there are opportunities created. Provided the property provides sufficient reward for the associated risk, there will be a buyer.

What was your first job?

In addition to the car washing and the obligatory rite-of-passage paper round, I was a milkman’s assistant while at school – although this was short-lived with 5am sub-freezing starts! My first real job was a weekend job selling furniture while I was at college, and offered my first taste of commission. That was about £200 (Dh944) per weekend.

When did you first realise that property could be your fortune?

No one ever wakes up one morning wanting to be an estate agent. I fell into real estate at the age of 19 and promptly dropped out of university. I was promoted to become the company’s youngest branch manager at 21. It was only when I started buying and selling my own properties that I found out how lucrative property can be.

When did you buy your first property?

I bought a new-build two-bedroom starter home for about £50,000 when I was 20, and I made every mistake under the sun. It was in a village called Balsall Common on the outskirts of Birmingham. The market didn’t move for a number of years, so when I decided to sell it about four years later, the equity allowed me to buy two belt-driven turntables and a mixer. That shows both how long ago this was and how much profit I made.

You’ve since worked in property in the UK, Australia and the UAE. Which country offers the biggest potential to accumulate wealth?

Very much the UAE. Due to the nature of the commission structure here, with no basic salary but 50 per cent commission, the earning potential significantly outweighs anything either UK or Australia can offer. Commission-only can be viewed as risky, but definitely offers the greatest rewards. Naturally, the tax-free element adds to the equation.

What has been your weakest financial moment? 

The most difficult or embarrassing time was having a credit card declined while trying to pay for food shopping in a supermarket at the age of 19. I could literally feel the weight of the stares from the other shoppers waiting to pay for their items as I had to gradually unpack a week’s worth of food.

How did that happen?

There was no money in the current account, and I hadn’t made the minimum payment on my credit card. The moment was a turning point as it served to make me think about moving to a better job that actually paid a decent salary.

What has been your proudest financial moment?

Becoming joint owner of a real estate company in a global city renowned for its property sector.

What prompted you to move to the Gulf?

We relocated when my wife secured a 12-month contract in the events industry in the region. That was in 2008 and we were in Sydney, where I’d landed when I sold my shares in the UK business and went travelling in my late 20s. I was working in commercial real estate in Australia and there was huge uncertainty because of what was happening across the planet at the time. So I threw it in and said I’d come along for the ride.

You’re quite the risk-taker. Does that extend to your financial portfolio?

I have successfully lost money in stocks and shares – I tried to be clever and diversify into oil and gas, student accommodation and I also drank the Kool-Aid about cryptocurrencies. But they didn’t work out.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business?

We have seen property values drop by 10 per cent to 15 per cent over the past three months. This is simply the amount being offered by buyers, and the amount some sellers are prepared to sell for if they need to free up liquidity. Conversely, there are sellers who do not need to release their equity and are reserving the right to remove their property from the market until values return.

 Nick Grassick, MD of PH Real Estate Brokers Dubai.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)


Everybody has recorded a similar trend. The number of transactions halved in March and April during the lockdown because we couldn’t show people around. Tenancies, in particular, became no-go. But we did manage to secure some buyers with virtual tours and help from incumbent residents. Some sellers were prepared to buy blind, taking the long-term view. Once we came into May, there was this pent-up requirement, almost a bit of euphoria. Dubai is very much driven by emotion and that just fed into the property market. So in May, we broke our company sales record, and beat our target in June. We’ve now also hired more people, expanding our team with a 15 per cent staff increase.

What's the outlook from here?

Consolidation will be a good thing for the sector. As we experienced during the global financial crash, the companies who survive are typically the better quality, more reputable brokerages – this can only be a good thing for buyers and sellers. During any period of unrest, there are opportunities created. Provided the property provides sufficient reward for the associated risk, there will be a buyer.

Why is it a good time to invest in UAE real estate now?

Given how dynamic, some may say volatile, the pandemic has made most sectors, there are greater opportunities now than when the market is stable. If you take a longer-term, macro view on property as a whole, the [Dubai] Land Department stats show a strong resurgence in volumes through Q4 2019 and early 2020. Eventually, the world will settle and I believe we will see a return of the trend that started last year and which was only curtailed by the largest pandemic in living memory. I’ve worked in real estate for 25 years. During that time I have worked through recessions, global financial crashes and now a pandemic; the one truism is that property values work in cycles. I defy anyone to accurately pick the absolute nadir of a cycle, but no one can dispute there will be one and when it passes, prices increase. There is always a need for a home; it’s something that cannot go out of fashion.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I don’t think you can be one without being able to be the other. But I’m more of a spender.

What’s the biggest luxury item you’ve spent on?

One luxury I do afford myself are watches.

Where and how do you save?

We have a mix of stocks and shares across sectors such as energy, finance, even e-currency. More stable assets include a property in the UK, one in Sydney and three here in the UAE.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

I have Dh230, £20 and A$50 (Dh131). The pound and dollar notes are more for sentimental reasons and they’ve been there for a couple of years.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Keep the faith and keep an eye on the pennies, the rest will all work out.