Set on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, Al Reef is a sprawling community of villas and multicoloured apartment blocks. It is also one of the most popular and affordable villa communities.
It was billed as the city's first affordable housing project more than a decade ago when it launched. Prices have dropped since then.
A five-bedroom villa, which fetched Dh200,000 ($54,000) a year at the top of the market, can now be rented for as little as Dh140,000.
But rents have gone up recently as Al Reef villas are in demand. The pandemic has led some people to seek bigger homes with more outdoor space, pushing up prices in the community.
The development comprises 2,000 villas and 2,000 flats.
The villas are set in four different theme zones – Arabian, Contemporary, Mediterranean and Desert.
The design of the villas in each of the areas are broadly similar, but take architectural influences from their regions.
The rooms are fairly spacious and each villa comes with a garden.
The development has a strong community feel, which is a pull for many residents.
Jennifer Bell is happy for her two children, aged 12 and 10, to play outside with their friends in the neighbourhood.
She first moved to Al Reef more than 10 years ago when it was new.
“I first moved to Al Reef’s Desert Village one year after it opened. It was the appeal of living in a villa that was relatively cheap in comparison to other areas I wanted to live in,” said the Briton, who has lived in the UAE for 15 years.
“It was also out of town. At the time, they had just implemented Mawaqif across the city and it was hard to get a parking space. We also didn’t really enjoy apartment living and wanted somewhere with a garden.”
In the early years, there were no stores in the community – now there are lots, including a tailor and a stationery shop.
She left Al Reef some years ago and briefly lived in Khalifa City A but returned to the community in 2019.
“We are once again enjoying life here,” she said.
“I have noticed, however, that the facility management has gone down in quality and it’s now commonplace to find people who have just thrown furniture out on the street in front of their house, which is a shame because it is such a lovely community.”
“It would be nice to see people taking more care of it because it is a nice place to live in,” said Ms Bell.
She is not the only one to notice lax behaviour of some residents.
Others living in the area have also complained.
“I walked to the park the other day in Arabian and there were wires exposed. It’s such a risk,” said Lisa Gerber, a mum of one from South Africa.
“My baby just started walking so he goes to those points and I have to get in the way to stop him.
“I have been here six or seven years and you can just see how the place has gone backwards since then.”
Ms Gerber said she has complained to the management about the problems, but they have not yet been addressed.
She even proposed a residents’ clean-up event to spruce up the development, but could not obtain permission to hold it.
“I can honestly say I have tried every single avenue,” she said.
“We are trying to establish an owners’ association by law to get the company to do something. But the numbers are quite slow. We need to get 2,000 people. We are working on it.”
Despite all this, Ms Gerber said the area still has a lot going for it, such as the sense of community and convenience of the area’s many varied shops.
“We even have a stationery shop. We have absolutely everything,” she said.
“I always go to Starbucks and I meet many people and we have conversations. So for me that’s one of the best things – the people who live there.”
How well connected is it?
The community is well connected.
Although the area is a bit further out – an approximate 30-minute drive to Abu Dhabi city – it lies at the top of the Saadiyat/Yas road, also known as Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Highway.
And anyone who wants to access the other side of the city can take Khaleej Al Arabi, which is a right turn at the roundabout outside Al Reef.
Another big benefit is its proximity to Dubai.
“It’s 50 minutes to Dubai Marina,” said Ben Crompton of Crompton and Partners property company, a resident of Al Reef.
“The road connections are amazing.”
Location and landmarks
When Al Reef first opened, it seemed pretty far from all the action.
But more than a decade on, it is close to other housing developments on Yas and Al Raha Beach.
Yas Mall and the theme parks on the island are all a five-minute drive away.
At one time, a four-bedroom house fetched as much as Dh160,000 a year. Now they can be rented for as little as Dh135,000.
A one-bedroom flat is between Dh48,000 and Dh55,000 a year, making it the cheapest across the city, according to data provided by Crompton and Partners.
A two-bedroom flat is between Dh62,000 and Dh70,000 and a three-bedroom flat is Dh80,000 to Dh90,000.
The rent for a two-bedroom house is between Dh80,000 and Dh90,000; for a three-bedroom villa it's Dh95,000 to Dh110,000; a four-bedroom villa rents for between Dh135,000 and Dh150,000; and a five-bedroom house will cost Dh140,000 to Dh165,000.
Location and landmarks
The closest landmark is Yas Mall, a five-minute drive down Sheikh Khalifa highway.
Al Reef has several swimming pools, playgrounds and gyms spread across the development.
There are no malls, but plenty of retail stores, including pharmacies, salons, supermarkets, coffee shops, a tailor and a stationery shop.
There are also ATMs, a money exchange outlet, a small medical centre and lots of restaurants.
Schools and nurseries
Al Reef is very popular with young families.
There is a nursery in the community, but no schools – as yet. There are, however, a number of them nearby on Yas Island, on Saadiyat and in Khalifa City A.
One group, Orbital Education of the UK, plans to open a British-curriculum school for 2,500 pupils.