Saudi Arabia to sell ultra-luxury homes in the 'Bel Air' of its Diriyah project

Developer will put on sale up to 50 units in the high-end Wadi Safar community for a minimum of $25 million each

Australian golfer Greg Norman designed the championship golf course at Wadi Safar, in the vast Diriyah project that lies north-west of Saudi capital Riyadh. Photo: Diriyah Company
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Diriyah Company, the developer turning Saudi Arabia's historic district into a vast tourism project, is selling luxury homes in its Wadi Safar community as part of its broader residential strategy.

The company plans to put on sale between 40 and 50 units at a minimum price of $25 million each.

The upscale units in Wadi Safar, west of Diriyah, are aimed at “ultra high-net-worth” buyers and already have a waiting list, Diriyah Company chief executive Jerry Inzerillo said on Thursday.

The development will also feature a championship golf course and a polo club.

“When you look at Riyadh as a city of 15 million people in the context of 2030, Diriyah will be, as a comparison, a pedestrian-friendly cultural heritage [similar to] Beverly Hills in the metropolis of Los Angeles,” Mr Inzerillo told reporters at a media event in Diriyah.

“Diriyah is the Beverly Hills. But Wadi Safar is Bel Air – very, very high-net-worth.”

Saudi Arabia is developing its capital to become one of the world's biggest 10 cities as part of its economic reform strategy, with projections that Riyadh's population will double to 15 million by 2030.

To meet this ambitious growth target, it is adding real estate projects around the city, including a range of housing options at its Diriyah project.

The Diriyah Company has also put on sale 106 Ritz Carlton-branded luxury villas whose price ranges from nine million Saudi riyals ($2.4 million) to 26 million riyals.

“We decided to test the high end of the market to see where the market is going,” Mr Inzerillo said.

Buyers have put down a total of more than one billion riyals in deposits on more than 71 of these residences while the remaining villas have been reserved for top government officials and royalty, he said.

“They went very fast. We said that when we get to 75 per cent of the sales, we will hold some back because you’re gonna get a call from a minister or a member of the royal family,” Mr Inzerillo said.

The Diriyah residential sales centre showcases a model of these villas, which are in the Najdi architectural style.

The villas have three to five rooms and are between 315 square metres and 860 square metres in size.

“We were successful in understanding where the market is. Now, we have a feeling of where market is on the low end and high end,” Mr Inzerillo said.

The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will span 14 square kilometres and have 42 hotels, more than 100 restaurants, nine museums and 30,000 homes when it is completed in 2030.

The residential plans at Diriyah come amid a shortage of accommodation caused by an influx of residents into the kingdom, which is offering a 30-year tax break as an incentive for global companies to move their regional headquarters there.

House prices in the capital have increased by 45 per cent to 50 per cent since January 2020, which has begun to dampen demand, consultancy Knight Frank said in a summer 2023 report.

However, the influx of domestic migrants and foreign workers has begun to create more demand for rental property in Riyadh, with 62 per cent of the capital's residents keen on renting than owning, the report shows.

This is being driven by shortage in cheaper housing and more workers moving to Riyadh from elsewhere within the kingdom, it said.

On the supply side, the kingdom's Ministry of Housing is continuing to work on providing affordable options to meet the growth in demand and achieve the government’s 70 per cent home-ownership target by 2030.

Several projects have been delivered during the first half of 2023, adding about 23,000 “affordable” units, the Knight Frank report said.

Diriyah project at a glance

- Diriyah’s 1.9km King Salman Boulevard, a Parisian Champs-Elysees-inspired avenue, is scheduled for completion in 2028
- The Royal Diriyah Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
- Diriyah’s first of 42 hotels, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
- On completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is forecast to accommodate more than 100,000 people
- The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to the kingdom’s GDP
- It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visits a year
- About 2,000 people work for the Diriyah Company, with more than 86 per cent being Saudi citizens

'Saudi Arabia's Silicon Valley'

Under its residential strategy, Diriyah will have “an extremely wide range” of housing options, said Mr Inzerillo.

It will include homes for Saudis and residents who will live and work in Diriyah, which is slated to become a “walkable” city centred around the kingdom's culture and heritage.

Diriyah will be home to Saudi Arabia’s version of “Silicon Valley” as it becomes a base to 500 technology companies, 100 media companies and 50 entertainment companies, he said.

As the district becomes a base for hundreds of companies, it is expected to create demand for studio apartments and one-bedroom and two-bedroom houses.

The residential units will be available to rent, with plans for freehold property in the future, Mr Inzerillo said.

“Saudis and expats that come in to participate in vision 2030 have a wide range of housing needs,” he said.

“We know absolutely that Diriyah has a very, very high demand because there are a lot of very affluent Saudi and Gulf residents that want to be around the density of amenities that we’re building, to be around the hotels, the restaurants, the shops.”

The master plan for the historical city is designed with an emphasis on being pedestrian-friendly, in line with the requirements of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said Mr Inzerillo.

“The Crown Prince didn’t see Diriyah in a kinetic energy of Cairo or Rome. He saw it as a walkable Florence, Marakkesh, Fez, Siena. He feels very strongly about getting people outside, that’s why we have so many parks and plantings, because he sees that as quality of life,” he said.

“We want people to walk or bicycle or scooter to work, pray, live … the way you would in a city.”

Updated: December 15, 2023, 4:23 PM
Diriyah project at a glance

- Diriyah’s 1.9km King Salman Boulevard, a Parisian Champs-Elysees-inspired avenue, is scheduled for completion in 2028
- The Royal Diriyah Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
- Diriyah’s first of 42 hotels, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
- On completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is forecast to accommodate more than 100,000 people
- The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to the kingdom’s GDP
- It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visits a year
- About 2,000 people work for the Diriyah Company, with more than 86 per cent being Saudi citizens