It’s the million-dollar question. Has the Dubai property market turned a corner? Hesham Al Qassim pauses and his face breaks into a wide smile. “What do you think?” he asks. I mutter something unintelligible about increased demand for premium areas of the city.
Al Qassim’s smile widens. “The market is starting to roll over again,” he corrects me. “I think it’s the right time for it. The market has to move at some point; it’s four years from the time that everything started to slow down, and I think that prices have gone below the right level. It’s the right level to buy again.”
It’s fair to say that nearly every self-proclaimed expert has had his opinion on the state of play in Dubai’s real estate market since the bubble burst in 2008. But then again, Al Qassim is in a far better position than most to give a transparent assessment. He is the CEO of Wasl Asset Management, which looks after the property portfolio owned by the government’s Dubai Real Estate Corporation (DREC). Put another way, Al Qassim heads up the emirate’s biggest landlord.
Wasl’s reach stretches throughout Dubai; from the older parts of the city to New Dubai, its leasehold footprint covers residential, commercial and hospitality projects. As a result, Al Qassim’s opinion matters. And taking a look back at Wasl’s deliveries during the four years between 2008 and now, it’s clear that the firm hasn’t kept quiet — adding almost 10,000 units to its portfolio in what has been undoubtedly a tough time for the market.
In fact, while other developers stayed well clear of the market, Wasl kept on adding new properties, after a short hiatus in 2009. That year, it added 1,154 units, but this figure was ramped up to a sliver under 4,000 units in 2010, 3,191 units in 2011 and 414 units already delivered this year.
“In 2006 and 2007, the plan and the view was that we needed to have more residential for medium-income people; that was delivered between 2008 and 2009 and was leased out very quickly,” Al Qassim says. “Then we had the requirement that for more villas to be developed in Jumeirah, and again, that was successful.”
Those efforts appear to have paid off. Of the 25,689-strong portfolio currently under Wasl management, Al Qassim says that just over 98 percent is occupied. Part of the firm’s success has been down to its diversification strategy.
“In 2010 and 2011, we predicted that the hospitality and leisure sector would really need a lot of new projects,” he adds. “So we announced last year a list of our leisure projects, which will take us through 2012 and 2013.”
As a result, Wasl has several mixed-use projects in the pipeline (see box) — two in Jumeirah and one in Deira. That move looks to have been prescient, given the recent performance of the hotels sector in Dubai. Last week, Ernst & Young reported that revenue per available room (RevPAR) in the emirate rose by 12.7 percent in the first half.
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