Dubai property agents have opened up about the fast-paced reality of life in real estate — from marathon working hours and fierce competition for clients to the huge risks and rewards of a career where the winner takes all.
Netflix show Selling Sunset and more recently Dubai Hustle, currently airing on the BBC, have put real estate high-rollers selling luxurious properties to the wealthy in the spotlight.
But for many it is a pressure-cooker environment in which workers often walk a tightrope between fortune and failure, with one mega sale able to make or break their year.
And for those working on the rental side of the business, scrambling for commission can be intense, but without the dangling carrot of a multi-million dirham property sale to reach out for.
The National joined real estate agents on their search for sales this week, as they revealed the harsh realities beneath the veneer of glitz and glamour.
'High demand, low supply'
Known for being an incredibly demanding industry, there is no doubt the rewards from real estate can be enormous if you are prepared to make the necessary personal sacrifices.
This is the attitude of Matthew Smith — an estate agent with Powerhouse Real Estate in Dubai, who took home Dh750,000 in commission last month alone.
“The biggest sacrifice I have to make is sacrificing my time," said Mr Smith, whose agency's website listed several properties valued at more than Dh50 million this week.
"I am constantly working and on the phone or with clients and it digs into the time I’d like to spend with my girlfriend.
“The competition comes from everywhere.
“There are so many buyers in the market at the moment with so many different agencies and we’re dealing with a high demand of clients, and low supply of properties currently, so when a good property comes to the market it’s imperative to sell it first.”
Elif Dulger, a consultant with Haus and Haus who specialises in properties in the Arabian Ranches area, said it takes time and effort to be successful but you also have to fend off competitors.
“It took me about two and a half months before I made my first sale,” she said.
“Competition here can be really fierce but that's part of the excitement too.
“You can easily lose a listing — but that just shows why it’s so important to have great relationships with your clients and a good track record. Most of my business is from referrals.”
Subversive tactics between agents can include calling each other up and posing as clients to find out which properties are on the market. They could then get in touch with the owner of the property and try to convince them to use their services too, and also list their property.
As a result, agents will often arrange viewings by only telling clients the apartment building or the street where a home is, and only after meeting in person directing them to the available property.
This can be a problem for clients, who might be shown the same unit more than once. It also means buyers interested in a specific community and equipped with a copy of the layout cannot check whether the available property is in a desirable street by simply asking for the unit number over the phone.
Early starts and giving up weekends to get deals over the line make up the bulk of an agent's work. There is the often mistaken perception that days are spent driving around meeting clients for meals in pricey restaurants.
Ms Dulger who normally sells property in Arabian Ranches, where villas typically go for about Dh5.5 million, says to fit everything into her day she must set her alarm early.
“I normally get up at 5am every day,” said Ms Dulger.
“Especially if I want to work out because I won’t get it done any other time because the working day is so busy.
“I am usually working by 7.30am and do on average about 12 viewings a week.
“We have to be available to our clients seven days a week and it can be a very unpredictable job.”
Business is booming at the moment in the sector with more than 6,300 transactions in the emirate’s property market in April, an increase of 43 per cent from April 2021.
As well as the number of sales rising, buyers are also handing over more money to secure their new property.
Average prices of villas in Dubai have risen by more than 20 per cent in the last year, figures released by consultancy company CBRE show.
A 10-bedroom villa was recently sold in Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah for what was reported to be a record breaking Dh280 million.
While Ms Dulger accepts the market is thriving right now as it recovers from the pandemic, she insists there is still a need for agents to roll up their sleeves and work hard.
“Real estate is no different from most industries in that it has its glamorous and not-so glamorous sides,” said Ms Dulger, who has been working in the sector for more than 20 years.
100 per cent commission
Working on commission means every second counts when it counts to selling real estate in Dubai, which can increase the need for sacrifices to get a sale over the line.
Commission is typically 2 per cent of the final sale price but that can vary slightly from company to company.
“What most people don’t realise is that behind the glamour of working in real estate is a lot of hard work and very long hours,” said Ms Dulger.
“Sometimes the work hours take me away from my family during weekend and evenings — often with last minute changes to plans.”
Doing the groundwork
Another expert reckons people new to the job in Dubai should be prepared to give themselves at least a year in the role before making any real money.
“You should be prepared to spend the first six months learning and building up contacts and leads,” said Reshma Khan, a sales director with TS Real Estate.
“Then the next six months should be spent putting what you’ve learnt into practice.
“After that you will know if it is going to work out for you or not.”
She trained as a lawyer in India before moving to the UAE where she worked as cabin crew before becoming an estate agent.
Ms Khan said agents in Dubai must be prepared to work around the clock to make sales and meet clients’ expectations.
“It might be all glamour from the outside but it’s really hard work,” said Ms Khan.
“What you see in the television shows is representative of less than 5 per cent of the estate agents here.
“The reality is you have to work very, very hard and be prepared to give up your free time and holidays.”
Sometimes the competition is not only from rival firms, she said.
“Sometimes agents working for your own company can get hold of the listings and sell them through a competitor to get higher commissions,” she said.
Within half a decade she plans to be able to retire having made her fortune from the industry.
“I want to retire somewhere with lush greenery where I can live in a farmhouse,” said Ms Khan.
Abu Dhabi may be a different market but a building boom has led to significant demand for sales and rentals.
“My workday is very long as we are on call for our customers throughout the day but I try to end my day around 10pm,” said Faozia Aman, from Yemen, who works as a sales manager with Metropolitan Capital Real Estate in Abu Dhabi.
“I work solely off commission and it pushes me to work harder. Understanding the requirements and then identifying the right property, putting all the pieces together and co-ordinating with all the different parties does come with its own set of challenges.”
She said the competitive nature of the market means estate agents had to remain alert at all times to avoid losing out on sales.
“It's competitive, just like any sales job. Especially with a lot of new companies and agents entering the real estate industry, many different agents working towards the same goal of buying and selling real estate and winning new business,” she said.
“The sacrifices come in the way of time, money and sleep in some cases.
“I might be invited to a weekend event that I will have to pass on in order to go to a viewing. You never want to lose out on a deal because you didn't work hard enough!”