Pros and cons of buying real estate in the UAE

Buying property can almost halve rent and give exponential capital growth

Flamingo Villas units developed by RAK Properties within the Mina Al Arab community. Courtesy RAK Properties
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“Buy land, they’re not making it any more” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain which is often trotted out to prove that real estate is an asset worth acquiring.

Property is one of those investment classes that has had its ups and downs particularly in the UAE, but over time it has proved to be a solid bet, and my recent columns in The National have explained in detail what an asset it can be if treated properly.

Buying property can almost halve your rent, provide you with double digit rental returns and give exponential capital growth, but there are other reasons to buy your own home too, and there are the inevitable risks – which we real estate agents like to pretend do not exist.

The pros and cons of buying real estate are different depending on whether you are buying to live in or as an investment asset.


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When You Own Your Home

Owning a home is often something aspirational for people: “my own place”. When you own your home you can truly make it yours, you can renovate, decorate, and reflect your own personality, style and way of life in the place you spend the most time. You can really put time and effort into making it special, something people do not often do with rental properties.

Always make sure you have buildings insurance and an annual maintenance contract with a reputable firm.

Your landlord cannot raise your rent or ask you to leave, this is your place now. If you have bought wisely you should be paying bank payments which are well below what you would be paying as rent. If you have a fixed mortgage then the same amount will go out of your account each month (no more than  one cheque in advance). Saying that, if interest rates go up and your mortgage isn’t fixed then your payments will go up (or down if the rates decrease). Another drawback is you cannot take advantage of falling rental rates as now your rent is linked to interest rates and not the rental market.

Owning your own home does make your situation a little less flexible than if you are renting. It might be harder to upgrade, downgrade or move locality - although selling and buying property in the UAE is a very quick process. If you have to leave the country quickly, hand it over to a property manager and get it rented out.

When you own property as an investment

When you own property as an investment you have the holy grail of all incomes: passive income. Warren Buffett is often quoted as saying “If you don't find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die”. If you earn enough passive income you never have to work again.

The major plus for real estate as an asset is that banks will lend money against (taking security over it) even for the average person. The fact that banks will lend to you to purchase an investment asset allows you to buy a much bigger asset than you would otherwise (just with cash) and so get better returns.

Rental returns if you use leverage (see my article on this here) can give you double digit returns on cash, far better than anything you could get from a bank and a lot better than most other asset classes. If you do have cash and are looking to invest, putting it in real estate is hard to beat.

Your real estate asset may appreciate in value. According to the International Monetary Fund, world real estate has gone up about 3.3 per cent a year on average since 2000 till the present day. Using the principal of leverage, even modest value gains look very attractive.

Of course what can go up, can also go down. The recent real estate slump has been caused by oversupply and a lack of demand and prices have dropped making people wary about investing. The best way to deal with real estate prices dropping is to control when you sell and avoid panicking and dumping it at the bottom of the market. Consider having a property manager look after it if you have to leave the country and keep renting it out and covering the mortgage. Make sure you sell it only when you want to and ensure you never make a loss.

Ben Crompton is the managing director of Crompton Partners Estate Agents