Property industry in visa limbo

The property industry is calling for more details on proposed changes to the property visa law it hopes will boost prospects as the autumn selling season approaches.

Under the new law announced three weeks ago, foreign property buyers will be able to obtain visas for three years instead of the current six months. But no specifics have been released, leaving the industry in limbo.

The summer is the slowest time of the year for property sales, but local executives hope the three-year visa could be in place to boost sales before the end of the year.

"We don't know what's going on yet," said Tomas Ghassemi, the managing director of the Property Store. "People have received it very positively, but they are waiting for the next step."

Specifics of the visa policy are still being discussed, a government spokeswoman said last week. And there is no timetable for the release of further details.

The change was widely applauded by the industry and property company stocks jumped in the wake of the announcement. The inability to obtain long-term visas was often cited as a hindrance to home sales, particularly to second-home buyers and retired people.

Under current law only owners of property worth more than Dh1 million (US$272,257) are eligible for a six-month visa. To stay in the country they have to get the visa renewed at a cost of Dh2,000 every six months.

There is still no indication whether the new visa will require a minimum property purchase. Unconfirmed reports that the Dh1m limit may be retained have made some buyers hesitant to consider properties prices at Dh900,000 and prompted some sellers to raise their prices, agents say. House hunters are also wary the new visa law may carry expensive fees or be available only to certain nationalities.

The visa announcement was "positive news", said Thomas Bunker, an investment sales consultant at Better Homes. "But if new visas are not applicable to everyone, we're not going to see the boom times."

Extra fees and additional red tape could also dampen enthusiasm for the visa. Shoppers are looking for a simple to way to stay in the country without a lengthy renewal process, agents say.

Some industry executives are wary the visa announcement will backfire if the visas are too complicated or too expensive to obtain.

"It's like being hit over the head with a fur-lined cricket bat," said Mario Volpi, the sales director for PowerHouse Properties. "You can't hit us with good news and then have it be a ridiculous sum."

The government announced it would extend the property visa specifically to provide a boost to the economy, according to a statement published on the WAM news site. Prices are down 50 per cent in some neighbourhoods since the peak in 2008 and there is an over supply of both apartments and villas in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, analysts say.


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