Family affair

Mohammed Zaal, CEO of Al Barari, talks wealth, rising prices, and the next stage of the luxury villa developer’s growth plans

Lush, luxurious and secluded, it’s no surprise that some of Dubai’s wealthiest residents have chosen to live in Al Barari. And with villa prices at the site based just off Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road (formerly Emirates Road) starting at AED20m, it certainly takes deep pockets to secure your foothold there.

But none of the residents are complaining about the price; as much as 80 percent of the land in the first phase of the project is covered in thick, fresh greenery, lending an air of privacy that is seldom seen anywhere else in the emirate. And that air of exclusivity is exactly what the buyers appear to be after. No Emirates Hills show-offs here, then.

Mohammed Zaal, Al Barari’s CEO, pauses when asked whether he’s had to turn any prospective buyers away.

“We do like to know who is buying, put it that way,” he says. “It’s very hard to say no to someone, but we have said no to people before. It’s a community, after all; I live here, I want to know who my neighbour is. And the owners expect that of me as well.”

While Al Barari is a relatively new project — originally launched in 2005 — its founders, the Zaal family, are certainly not. The family can trace its roots in the region back until the early nineteenth century. Mohammed Zaal is just the latest scion of the Zaal clan; his father Zaal Mohammed Zaal is the chairman, while mother Leslie Zaal looks after interior design for the villas. Sister Kamelia is the project’s creative landscape director.

The decision to choose the Al Barari plot was an easy one.

“Honestly, I just felt it,” says Zaal. “We drove onto the plot, and it felt peaceful. It had all the right facilities and had a fantastic view. It borders the wildlife reserve belonging to the late Sheikh Maktoum [Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai until he passed away in 2006], so you’d come here and see gazelles and oryx running around, which was beautiful.”

The original plan for the land was simply to build the Zaal family home. Later on, the family came up with the idea of building a fully fledged garden centre on the site, and when the Dubai real estate boom hit, the Al Barari concept came together. Right from the beginning, however, the Zaals were clear that their project would be completely different from any of the hundreds of other housing developments shooting up elsewhere in the UAE.

“We’re avid travellers,” says Zaal. “We’re always staying in hotels all around the world, and we really wanted to put our ideas into what we believe a hotel should look like.”

The first phase of the project involved 300 villas, all grouped in clusters. Right now, there is 90 percent occupancy, partly due to the fact that the Zaal family has decided to hold some units back to rent. Set alongside those villas is The Farm, an 80-seat restaurant in landscaped gardens that serves a menu based on organic food.

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