Cafu founder unveils new PropTech start-up to ease Dubai's residential rental market

Rashid Al Ghurair's Urban app aims to simplify the relationship between tenants and landlords in the emirate

Emirati entrepreneur Rashid Al Ghurair, the chief executive of the fuel-booking app Cafu, rolled out a new technology start-up to streamline the rental journey for tenants and landlords in Dubai.

Urban, a mobile and web application, allows tenants to find preapproved homes, check out a property through a virtual tour and pay the rent in 12 monthly instalments — all through their smartphone.

"Our aim is to make Dubai's residential rental market more transparent and efficient by using technology … globally it is a $1 trillion [Dh3.67tn] industry and offers immense scope of growth in our region," Mr Al Ghurair told The National.

About 70 per cent of Dubai's population is currently renting, Mr Al Ghurair said, adding that this presents “a huge opportunity and our aim is to bring all of them under the umbrella of Urban".

Urban aims to address concerns raised by Dubai renters in a 2019 YouGov survey commissioned by Intelligent B, the technology incubator behind Urban, which is also owned by Mr Al Ghurair.

Two-thirds of poll respondents admitted “viewing a home that did not match their expectations”, while 30 per cent said they “faced difficulties while co-ordinating timings” with agents.

More than three in 10 Dubai residents found the present rental process stressful, the survey of 1,000 Dubai tenants in October and November found.

Urban features more than 200 properties located in Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Beach Residence and Jumeirah Lakes Towers, with more locations expected to come online soon.

“Two hundred is just the beginning … we are working rigorously to add more to our inventory. Dubai will act as a perfect launching pad and help us to expand to other regions,” said Mr Al Ghurair.

However, the entrepreneur said Urban had no immediate plans to expand outside the emirate.

“We will surely move to other regions but currently we are only focused on Dubai … we will proudly market ourselves as a ‘made-in-Dubai’ start-up," he added.

Dubai's real estate market has slowed following a drop in oil prices that began in 2014, with further pressure from an oversupply of properties.

The emirate is expected to receive 50,000 additional residential units in 2020, according to property consultancy Asteco.

A total of 31,000 residential units were handed over in Dubai last year, comprising approximately 23,600 apartments and 7,400 villas, with communities such as Damac Hills, Dubai Hills Estates and Akoya Oxygen accounting for the bulk of completions.

Mr Al Ghurair, who comes from one of the most prominent business families of Dubai, said the idea for Urban, a self-funded start-up, came to him nine months ago.

Downloading and installing the app is free … but once tenants find a suitable home and they submit the bid that is accepted by the landlord, we will charge 5 per cent fees [of the annual rent].

“Today, we are a team of 40 people and I am looking to hire new talent from the UAE and outside,” said Mr Al Ghurair, who did not disclose the amount invested in Urban.

His previous start-up experience includes the 2018 launch of Cafu, the region’s first fuel-booking application, that aims to make refuelling cars more convenient.

Urban, which is available in English, is compatible with both iOS and Android operating systems. Its Arabic version will be released in the coming days.

“Downloading and installing the app is free … but once tenants find a suitable home and they submit the bid that is accepted by the landlord, we will charge 5 per cent fees [of the annual rent],” said Mr Al Ghurair.

Urban also offers easy payment options to renters, who can avoid the cumbersome process of submitting cheques by choosing to pay in 12 monthly instalments on their credit card instead.

The app's competitors include cloud-based property management start-up Happy Tenant. Founded in January last year, this Dubai platform connects tenants to their neighbours, property managers and owners.