Poll finds UAE visa changes could lead to spike in buying property

Three-quarters of residents said they would be more likely to buy a home and settle down if they had a 10-year visa

A view of the older parts of Abu Dhabi, backed by the new high-rise buildings on Al Reem Island in Abu Dhabi as seen on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014.  (Silvia Razgova / The National)

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Three quarters of people would be more inclined to buy property in the UAE if they had a 10-year residency visa.

That is the result of an online poll of 3,400 people conducted by The National, after the Cabinet announced plans to offer 10-year residency visas to investors and key professionals.

A total of 77 per cent of people said they would buy if they were given leave to stay in the country for 10 years, while 16 per cent said they would not be persuaded, and 7 per cent said they were unsure, in the poll.

The changes were included in a raft of amendments to residency laws announced by the cabinet on Sunday night.

Under the plans, professionals working in medicine, science, research and technical fields – and their families – could secure visas of 10 years, while students would be given leave to stay for five years, or 10 years if they are 'exceptional', under the changes to the residency visa system.

Experts expect the changes to give the nation's fledgling owner-occupier market a sorely-needed boost.

It slowed in the wake of the collapse in oil prices in 2014 and has so far failed to recover even as oil prices have risen again. Residential sales and rental prices are forecast to continue falling, albeit at a slower pace, for the remainder of 2018.

Vishal Mahtani bought a home in International City in the heady days of 2006/2007, when some developers marketed their properties on the false promise of lifetime residency visas.

“The fine print came as a shock to home owners like me who realised the permanent visas was for a limited time period only. This was primarily because there was no real security that came with a high investment,” said the 43 year-old, from India, who still owns the property.

Far from being burned by the experience, he said he would happily buy again. And he expects others to do the same with the security of the 10-year visa behind them.

“I will definitely look at investing in the property market as cost of renting per year is equivalent to owning a home and it just makes sense for a person looking at establishing roots in the region,” added Mr Mahtani, the owner and founder of Artists-Alive.


Read more on the visa chages:

UAE's new visa regulations: what we know

Sheikh Mohammed announces sweeping changes to UAE's visa system

Residency changes could open the floodgates to property sector, say experts

UAE foreign ownership changes will boost FDI, spur economic growth


Imran Ellam bought his property in Al Muneera in Raha Beach seven years ago, between the first major crash and when the property market stalled.

“Basically the rent was a waste of money. It was so I didn’t have to throw money down the drain for rent. Nobody knew at the time that the prices were going to go up,” said Mr Ellam, senior residential consultant at BespokeAD.

They did go up, and he admits he was lucky, as others have not been so fortunate, he said.

“Another factor was to avoid the hassle of living in a rented property that is likely to be sold. A lot of the rented properties get sold,” added Mr Ellam, who hopes to stay in the UAE for as long as he can.

He expects the 10-year visa to encourage more to invest in the market, as he has, while making banks more eager to lend.

“With a 10-year visa, banks may or should look into financing long term residents more easily,” added Mr Ellam.

Mr Ellam is seeing very little buying activity in the Abu Dhabi market, which is the case across the country, according to property experts.

But there are still buyers out there.

South African expat and mother-of-one Sarah, who asked that her surname not be used, is looking to buy a home for her family in Abu Dhabi. She and her pilot husband, who have a young child, have lived in the capital for six years and hope to remain here indefinitely. They said buying would be a wise investment.

“We want to protect ourselves from fluctuating rental prices and maintain the property ourselves,” she said.