Meet the Dubai-based expat capitalising on weak pound to build his UK property portfolio

Schoolteacher Saif Mir is primed to take advantage of favourable exchange rate

Saif Mir, a teacher in Dubai, buys properties to let out in the UK. He has more than a dozen. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Dubai-based Saif Mir is one of a class of investors looking to buy property in the UK while the pound is weak.

Sterling has been falling against the dollar for most of the past year, and recently tumbled to an 18-month low over fears about sluggish growth and the mounting risk of a recession in the UK

The primary schoolteacher has experience of the market and already owns more than a dozen buy-to-let homes in the UK.

He sees now as a great time to add to his portfolio, as every dirham he sends back is worth more due to the weak pound.

And he is not alone, with many other Britons based in the UAE looking for ways to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate.

The opportunity was so tempting for Mr Mir, 33, who is saving to buy land and build on it, that he recently took a loan out in the UAE to send back a bigger lump sum.

“I borrowed some money to move it back just because the rate is so good,” said Mr Mir, from West Yorkshire, where all his properties are located.

“I can pay it back from my salary at a fairly low interest rate, whereas when the rates rise, it shrinks what our money is worth.

“If you look at it from that view, it can be a significant margin.”

These margins will have to be achieved against significant economic headwinds. Inflation is rising sharply and the Bank of England recently announced a fourth consecutive interest rate rise in an attempt to control prices.

Many families are already struggling. And it is predicted there will be more hardship to come.

Mr Mir is putting preparations in place to ensure his growing portfolio is able to weather a financial storm. But for now, opportunities beckon.

Building a portfolio

Mr Mir began buying property in 2016, following in the footsteps of some of his family members back home.

“The problem was, with property you need money, you need deposits,” said Mr Mir, who recently became a father.

“You need start-up capital, especially when it comes to buying properties and refurbishing them.

“I started in 2016 but I didn’t get very far. I had only bought a couple before I started running out of money.”

He saw a move to Dubai as a way to change that, relocating there two years later in 2018 for the sunshine, generous accommodation allowance and most important of all, the tax-free salary.

He began learning as much as he could about property investing, reading books and taking online classes in the evenings and at the weekends.

“Now I have a portfolio that is worth well into seven figures,” said Mr Mir, who posts tips and videos of his properties on his Instagram account.

He is also putting together a course for fellow residents to share everything he has learnt.

Mr Mir typically focuses on two-bed terraced homes in need of renovation.

He financially stress tests each one before he buys, to ensure they can absorb interest rates of up to 6 per cent and still offer a return.

Many of the properties he owns have already substantially gone up in value. And he is taking in more in rent, thanks to rising rental prices. All of the properties are rented out.

“When we make a property available to let, we are getting around 17 inquiries per property in the first couple of days,” he said.

The prospects for the UK economy may not look great, but he is not put off.

It simply means there are more opportunities out there.

“Because most people don’t have as much disposable income as we do, as investors. We seek out opportunities where we can add value, something that is run down, something that needs £20,000 or £30,000 spending on it to bring it back to life, to raise the value and to recover the deposit.

“Because the way we do it is to buy the property, we add value to it and then we refinance it at the new value. And this allows you to borrow at the increased value and release as much as the funds as possible that you have initially invested in.”

He is currently moving all his properties on to five-year fixed rates to protect against further rises in the interest rate.

If the UK does fall into recession, he would look to reduce his tenants’ rent if they needed that help. That way he would still be taking in something. But he also has rent guarantee insurance policies in place if all else fails.

“Anything can happen, you just have to prepare for every eventuality,” he said.

Mr Mir has benefited significantly from the rising property and rent prices in the UK and weaker pound. And he may even comfortably ride out a recession, at least for a while.

Taking advantage of the weak pound

If a UAE expat was already looking to invest into property in the UK, now is a good time.

“It’s always the bigger picture. You should never just do anything because of a currency move,” said Keren Bobker, a columnist with The National who is an independent financial adviser and senior partner with Holborn Assets in Dubai.

“It could go back the other way and by the time you have bought something it will have changed anyway.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 28 NOVEMBER 2018. A Practical Guide to Financial Independence event, Steve Cronin. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Alice Haine. Section: Business.

Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com, said buying property to take advantage of a favourable exchange rate is “classic timing the market”.

“Especially if you are going to buy something that takes a long time to invest in, like property.

“You should only buy UK property if you believe in the fundamentals of the UK property market. Or you need a property in the UK,” he added.

British expats looking to take advantage of the favourable rate can however profit by moving their money back, if that is where they intend to retire.

“A lot of them have been holding their money in dollars offshore, because that’s the advice I have given them, and they have been waiting for a good time to send the money into sterling,” said Ms Bobker.

“And that’s what they are doing to take advantage of the exchange rate.

“If your goal is ultimately to be back in the UK, it makes sense to have your cash in sterling.”

Updated: May 24, 2022, 8:17 AM
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