Money & Me: ‘I sold the UAE’s most expensive home for $76m’

Millionaire real estate broker Conor McKay came to Dubai on a one-way ticket with a $6,447 loan from his mother

Self-made millionaire Conor McKay recently brokered the sale of what is claimed to be the UAE’s most expensive property to date. The 10-bedroom, custom-built villa with 70 metres of private beachfront on Palm Jumeirah's coveted fronds sold for Dh280 million ($76.24m) at the end of March.

The transaction beat a previous Dubai record, set in 2015, and has been viewed as closing the gap between the emirate’s luxury market and other cities such as London, New York and Hong Kong.

Mr McKay, 25, came to Dubai on a one-way ticket five years ago with £5,000 ($6,447) of his mother’s savings. Striking out on his own has taught him a lot about money, he says.

The Irish national, who works for Belleview Real Estate, lives in Al Furjan in Dubai. He is unmarried but has a girlfriend and three Pomeranian dogs.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in a small town called Limavady, not far from Derry in [Northern] Ireland. We were a normal working-class family, with my father being a farmer and my mother running a small country crafts business.

Money had to be earned, so I needed to carry out some household chores to earn a few pounds or receive a pair of football boots as a treat. I learnt to respect money early on.

At what age did you start working?

I technically only started working around the age of 14 or 15. I sold sweets, chocolate and soft drinks to everyone in my high school and even had my friends working for me. That gave me an income of about £70 to £80 a week.

I took up a job when I was 16 but soon lost interest as the hours were long and the pay was not very rewarding. I wanted more.

I then landed a role in car sales, where I earned four times my earlier wage, up to £3,500 a month. On the side, I ran an online golf shop via eBay, making an additional £1,000 a month.

Conor McKay brokered the sale of the UAE’s most expensive property to date, a 10-bedroom, custom-built Palm Jumeirah villa, for Dh280 million this year. Photo: Conor McKay

What was the earliest lesson you learnt about money?

In my first job, I would spend my weekly pay straightaway as soon as I received it. I would then end up having no fuel in my car to drive to work!

That wasn’t cool. I learnt a lot from this.

What was your weakest financial moment?

I took a loan of £5,000 from my mother to come to Dubai. She collected this from her savings to offer me the opportunity.

It the first time I was independent and the first time I had to pay all the major bills, such as home rent, car rent and phone bills, on my own.

I soon used up the majority of the £5,000 and could not even pay the next month’s rent. I had to convince the landlord not to evict me but to trust me that I would pay within 60 days.

It was very disheartening and my stress levels were through the roof. The worst feeling in the world is financial worry and stress.

What brought you to the UAE?

I moved to the UAE to change my life and have a better lifestyle.

Have you achieved financial independence?

I don’t think one can ever find financial freedom as your goals and targets — or mine at least — will keep getting bigger and bigger. Maybe when I am worth $1 billion, I can say yes.

Who has been your biggest financial inspiration? Why?

Grant Cardone (real estate billionaire and author of The 10X Rule). I watched Grant before I moved to Dubai and quite recently on a TV show called Undercover Billionaire, where he is given $100 to make a multimillion-dollar company in 90 days without using his contacts or his name.

What was your first real estate sale?

My first sale was an off-plan one-bedroom apartment in Dubai Hills in 2018. It was a lead directly from our kiosk in the mall.

I made about Dh30,000 but my first big deal was a five-bedroom property that I sold in District One for Dh10.3m; the commission was around Dh420,000.

Tell us about the recent property record you set.

This was a special sale. It was never actively on the market, although I had built a relationship with the owner for more than 12 months. Building trust was key.

What were the challenges involved?

When dealing with such wealthy people, it can be hard to manage expectations. It never actually comes down to money, but more about ego and pride.

Conor McKay saves money for a rainy day but also invests in property, stocks, cryptocurrency and watches. Photo: Pawan Singh / The National

Can your current record be beaten in 2022?

I believe this record will be beaten as Dubai property is still massively undervalued compared with most major cities around the globe. On top of this, we are seeing huge demand for ultra-luxury properties, which outweighs supply.

Rarely do we come across such a top mansion where you can have no faults and when another one of this magnitude comes up, it will definitely be snapped up.

As a real estate broker, are you paid a salary or do you work on commissions?

I work solely on commission. At the company where I work, brokers can keep up to 80 per cent of the commission paid by buyers and sellers.

What attracted you to real estate sales?

The excitement of closing deals and breaking records. It is nice that commission cheques come along with this but I am a hustler and receive a buzz when brokering and closing deals.

How did the coronavirus affect your business?

Covid-19 has made me a better broker, I believe.

I have had to think outside the box when it comes to marketing properties, whether it be always having a 3D walk-through tour on a listing, creating more social media content, prompting a video meeting with a buyer and seller to help close a deal. Overall, it has definitely had a positive impact.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Closing real estate internationally in Los Angeles, Miami, London, Paris, and, of course, cementing my name in the Dubai market as the number one go-to luxury broker.

What emotions do you have around money?

Money can bring you much happiness and enjoyment in life but if played with in the wrong way, it can also bring much sadness.

Money for me is money, it means no more than that — but it is nice to have it and be able to use it.

What is your financial moon shot?

Achieving a net worth of $250m.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I am guilty of liking the finer things in life.

What is your most cherished purchase?

This is a tough one, it would have to be between my gold Rolex Day-Date or Range Rover Vogue.

I have always dreamt of having both, although my exclusive commissioned painting is cherished just as much.

Do you save or invest your earnings?

Both, I have always been told to keep some away for a rainy day but I also invest my hard-earned money in property, stocks, cryptocurrency and watches.

I prefer to keep my investments spread across different categories, so I am not all tied into one. Property for me is the safest as you can get an instant rental return, while having capital appreciation in an upwards market.

What has been your best investment?

My best investment recently has been in watches. I have bought and sold many high-end watches and made a lot of money as a side hustle.

What has been your worst investment?

I suppose probably a car; it depreciates in value and always has a cost when it comes to servicing and maintaining.

How did the coronavirus affect your investment decisions?

My investments in watches went up crazy!

Do you use a financial adviser?

No. However, I occasionally take advice. Maybe it is something to think about more for the future.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

Nothing. Only my debit card.

Updated: May 01, 2022, 5:10 PM
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