Dubai property draws Nigerians

Wealthy Nigerians are flocking to Dubai on the hunt for investment properties

Up to $6 billion has been invested in Dubai's property market by Nigerians over the past three years. Sarah Dea / The National
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More wealthy Nigerians are investing in Dubai property, encouraging a growing number of property companies to target buyers from Africa's most populous nation.

About Dh193 million (US$52.2m) has been sunk into the emirate's property market by Nigerians in the first six months of the year, according to data from the Dubai Land Department. The flow of investment has risen in the past year or so, say property industry experts.

Glamorous sales girls are a familiar sight in airport terminals and hotel lobbies in Lagos and the capital, Abuja, trying to sign up rich Nigerians to "exclusive viewings" at the emirate's latest property developments.

The most Osita Nwanisobi has ever seen of Dubai is from the inside of its airport. But that is not stopping the Central Bank of Nigeria official from considering buying a flat in the emirate.

"Dubai looks like the world centre now if you look at the people coming in from all over the world. It would seem to be a guarantee of a return for an investment," he said, clutching a glossy brochure.

For years, Nigeria's rich have ploughed their money into buying second homes in London, New York and Paris and other global cities where they like to shop and do business.

Dubai began to appear on their radar during the emirate's property boom a few years ago before its subsequent downturn hurt the wallets of Nigerians and investors from around the globe. Signs of recovery in the emirate's market is generating interest once more.

Asked why he was considering investing in Dubai rather than his homeland, Mr Nwanisobi said he had "serious concerns" about Nigeria because of security.

"Dubai looks safer," said Mr Nwanisobi, whose only glimpse of the emirate came when he transited through Dubai on the way for medical treatment in India.

Increasing activity by the terrorist group Boko Haram in recent months is already taking its toll on the Nigerian property market. Property prices in some northern states have already slid by up to half, local media reports have suggested.

Up to $6 billion has been invested in Dubai's property market by Nigerians over the past three years, estimates Harry Smith, a sales manager at The First Group, a property company based in Dubai. Nigerians account for 60 per cent of all sales by the company.

Mr Smith helped to launch the group's Nigeria operations with a team of just five people three years ago. Today the firm has 258 sales staff spread across offices in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt.

"We have seven blocks we've sold out completely in Tecom and Dubai Sports City," he said. "They are buying up units or floors. One client at the moment is looking at buying 27 apartments in Dubai, and they're all $450,000 each."

The First Group's Abuja office, located on the seventh floor of one of the city's most modern towers, lures clients with models of glitzy towers and flat-screen TVs promoting the emirate as a safe investment destination and a global centre for tourism and business.

Emirates Vacation Club, a company offering timeshares in its Dubai hotel, is setting up offices in Ikoyi and Victoria Island, two of the more affluent neighbourhoods of Lagos. Already, 20 per cent of the company's customers are Nigerians.

"The reasons Nigerians love Dubai is the same as for any other nationality but the difference is there are 160 million Nigerians, more than most other countries," said Ashraf El Zarqa, the chief operating officer of Emirates Vacation Club.

But others in the industry suggest another reason that Nigerians are drawn to Dubai's property market.

"There are not the same checks on the sources of money coming into Dubai as there are in London and elsewhere," said Humera Khan, a former sales manager with Al Zarooni Group, a diversified UAE company with interests in property.