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Thu 10 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

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Personal shopping service

Mark Leale, sales and marketing director of Luxury Homes in Dubai explains how his company is taking the pain out of house hunting for buyers in the UAE.

Mark Leale, sales and marketing director of Luxury Homes in Dubai explains how his company is taking the pain out of house hunting for buyers in the UAE.

How would you describe what you do?

We provide a personal shopping service for people who want to buy property either to live in or to let. We will even find commercial premises for companies and then find suitable apartments for heir staff.

Everything that was being released onto the market was residential. We get big corporates looking for whole buildings plus residential units for their staff

So we're a cross between being a real estate agent, a rental service and a property management company. We provide a snagging service and help
with relocation.

If it's a company they might say they have 20 guys coming out next month, we'd help with everything from getting their driving licences sorted out to telling them how to apply for their liquor licence.

Why can't people find their own property?

It takes all the hassle out of things. There's just too much going on in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for one person to do all the research and then try to narrow it down.

If they arrived here and jumped in a car and started driving around the city they would never make a decision. It's nearly impossible. We know what's going on here, how everything works and what the developers are doing which makes it much easier for someone who has never been here.

How do you set about helping them?

I prefer to start with a phone call to find out as much as possible about what attracted them to Dubai and what they expect from their investment. It's an education process. A lot of people still prefer to come our here and meet their agent face-to-face.

Who are your clients and what age and income bracket do they come from?

They're mostly western expats, British and other Europeans, some South Africans and Australians either based here or overseas.

About 40% of our business comes from the UK. It could be somebody in the UK who wants a holiday home.

They might have say US$140,000 to spend on a place in the sun. We get 60% of our business through referrals. Or it could be a premiership footballer earning ridiculous amounts of money and wondering what to do with it.

There's a lot of interest from sportsmen because of Sports City and all the golf courses that are being built.

What kind of deals are they looking for?

Some people are prepared to take a risk and buy off-plan because they believe it will give them the greatest profit.

Others prefer to wait till building is at least half way there. In other words you would be buying someone's contract. Then there are those who want to wait till the whole thing is complete.
It goes back to what their motives are, what capital they've got and what they want to achieve. Some people are risk-takers, others prefer the safer option.

For example people are now expecting great things off the back of the increase in the prices of The Palm Jumeirah and getting great deals of 20% down payment to Nakheel on The Palm Jebel Ali.

Where does a 25-35 year-old couple with a healthy income want to live in the UAE?

Our main area of expertise is Dubai although we are opening an office in Abu Dhabi in January. There are more larger scale units in Abu Dhabi and there is a lot of activity there.

One of the most popular areas in Dubai is the Downtown Dubai around the Burj.

The whole area is being developed by Emaar which gives people confidence because it's government backed and you can get a mortgage loan.

Also Emaar isdeveloping the quality of their customer service as well as the finishing of their properties to a high standard. People like living and working there.

There are three hotels and lots of restaurants and clubs as well as the Dubai Mall. When properties were released there it was like the launch of Harrods sale.

People were queuing up to hand over their cheques. Some were buying as many units as they could and selling some of them off to people at the back of the queue.

How much would they have to pay for a two-bedroom apartment in a good area?

Probably from about US$600,000 to US$700,000 for a really nice two-bedroom flat in Dubai Marina.

How about companies looking for office space? What can you do for them?

We get small businesses looking to buy their own office so that they aren't at the mercy of the landlords. They didn't have that option till recently.

Everything that was being released onto the market was residential. We also get big corporates looking for whole buildings or multiple units plus residential units for their staff. Recently one company bought an entire building of 200 or so apartments plus office space as well as some investment property.

What sort of safeguards are there for investors?

Until quite recently everything was done on a handshake. People might take offence if you even asked a question.
And I would still offer a word of caution because sometimes people here don't even hire a lawyer. It's so easy for them to sell here. But the Lands Department has now set up the Real Estate Regulatory Agency to try and standardise documentation and regulate the activities of landlords and brokers to offer greater peace of mind to investors.

So any complaint can be submitted to them with the relevant paperwork. It's the right time for the market and the government wants to attract big international investors who expect these kind of safeguards.

We will advise people and help them through all this. We would never, for example, tell people that if they buy off-plan they can get their money back easily and we would sell their property for them or that we can arrange finance if they buy. We speak to the banks first. The frustrating thing is that there is always someone else who will lie to them and offer them some amazing deal so we lose that client but we would rather lose a deal because we told someone the truth.

We may lose one sale but we prefer that to giving a client bad advice.

Is it still worthwhile buying to let?

There isn't as much demand there now. What happens is that rents fall and you have to decide if you can still afford to do it and still get a return on your capital investment. The average stay in Dubai is getting longer. People used to come out here and they were able to rent a place for three months or six months. You can't do that any more unless you pay through the nose. Now it's 12 months up front or if you give the landlord post-dated cheques the money goes up proportionately.

How do people find out about you?

Mostly through online advertising directing people to our website. If you are sitting at your computer in the UK and key in words like Dubai, housing, property or homes, we should come up. We have a company in the UK that manages the website so it's always up to date. We don't really advertise locally because people get very confused. There are four supplements in a local newspaper for example and you see the same property with half a dozen different agents.

How much has your business grown in the past few years?

In the past year alone we have done five times the business. This year it will be more like 50% because we have had a massive step up in staff and overheads increases with new offices on Sheikh Zayed Road.

My wife Pauline set up the company in 2003. We both worked in banks before that and my job took me out here. I was a high-end financial adviser and Pauline gave up her job to come here.

She didn't want a job in another bank because we would never have seen each other so we started thinking of what she could do.

We started out with a staff of five and now have 35. It was a big risk but I gave up my job with the bank and came in to look after marketing.

Luxury Homes has received a number of international awards since then including Best Real Estate Agency in the CNBC Arabian Property Awards

What's your cut on a deal and how much extra does it cost the customer?

We take 2% on a resale. It makes sense to come to us because if you go straight to a developer they will give you the hard sell because that's all they've got. We are unbiased and we get paid a commission by the developer so it doesn't cost our clients any more to buy through us.

Do’s ... & don’ts• ensure that you use a registered, licensed real estate broker

• make sure that you spend time looking at your alternatives before committing to a property purchase

• speak to a bank to obtain a decision in principal prior to putting down a deposit on a property

• remember you are at risk of losing your home and money invested if you default on your stage payments

• give yourself some leeway with the end of your rental contract, new projects can be delayed

• buy a property unless you are clear on how you are going to pay for it

• forget that flipping property can be profitable but returns are not guaranteed

• discount the possibility of buying a property off-plan rather than one which is already completed or vice versa

• be drawn in by clever marketing campaigns, ‘too good to be true' deals often aren't as good as they seem

• ignore the fact that this market can still move extremely quickly and well priced properties in popular areas can sell in days