Ismail Al Hammadi, the managing director of property investment, development and management company Al Ruwad Real Estate, is a man of many hats, and after a diverse career that has seen him transition between the government and the private sector and across several industry lines, he’s come to one conclusion: knowledge is power.
Speaking candidly to Arabian Business, the amiable and talkative Emirati fondly recalls how his career has taken innumerable twists and turns before arriving at where he is today; a journey that began in 1997 as a licence inspector for Dubai’s Department of Economic Development, where he worked for eight years.
We shouldn’t just have dreams about Expo 2020. It’s one event, not the target”
In 2004, however, he took a position as general manager of government relations for Dubai Industrial City, and then took a job working for Dubai Holding company Tecom Group. It was there, he said, that he developed a keen interest in media, public relations and information – and how he can make those things work to his advantage in business.
“This is where the idea of studying public relations was born, to know the media industry and how it can be linked to any kind of development,” he says.
“This was my first step to understanding what PR is, what media is, and how any product can be sold by understanding its function and how to do the transaction.”
Armed with this knowledge, in 2013 Al Hammadi founded Al Ruwad Real Estate, and immediately set about fixing what he considered – and still considers – a problem in the industry: a general lack of knowledge of its intricacies, even from those who work in the field.
“There is no college here to study real estate. Most of the people that one faces come to you with the experience of selling units, but they don’t know what’s inside the unit, how it’s been built, the contractor, what the quality is, who the consultants and designers are,” he notes.
“If it’s a villa, as a real estate advisor I need to know the age of the villa, when it was completed, what the surfaces are like and how many owners it’s had. It’s similar to selling a car. The same questions need to be asked, but the technique will be different in terms of answers.”
This lack of understanding, he says, extends across Dubai. In Al Hammadi’s view, far too few people – particularly potential real estate investors – have taken the time to truly understand Dubai’s growth, what it will look like in the future, and the impact this will have on the real estate market.
“Dubai has become three times bigger than it was ten years back, but [many people] don’t seem to notice that. When people listen to the news or hear in the media that this developer is launching that new project, what is the first thing they ask? Where it is,” he says.
“They don’t think towards the positive side, that we’re building a new city, different from the city of before.”
According to Al Hammadi, in the course of his business day-to-day he often finds himself faced with uninformed – and too readily repeated – questions from people who have not taken the time to properly research what they might have heard from others.
"[People] just hear a story and repeat it. Recently I was in the UK and in the US, and they were talking about an economic crisis [in the Gulf region],” he says.
“Maybe they go to other people and repeat that, and those people don’t want to pay [for property], don’t want to pay service charges, or don’t want to renegotiate their rent. This is something I face on a daily basis. People ask me every day how the market is. But I don’t work at a fish market, where the answer will be different today than it was yesterday.”
Speaking to Al Hammadi, it’s clear that the topic of false information is one that’s very near and dear to his heart – and one that causes him considerable irritation. He’s quick to point out that conditions in Dubai are the envy of many in the Middle East, and indeed the world.
“There is no war next door, major companies aren’t announcing bankruptcies and banks are not collapsing,” he says.
In particular, Al Hammadi is particularly irked by the oft-repeated assertion that large tracts of Dubai will be left empty in the years immediately following Expo 2020, such as Dubai South, an area which he believes is ripe for the picking by wise investors keen to take advantage of the billions worth of investment being made into infrastructure in the area.
“I don’t understand why there is an assumption that there is an overestimation [about Dubai’s growth], and that Dubai will be empty given the amount of construction taking place,” he says.
“I’m here to challenge anyone about that… now we have an event [Expo 2020], but the government of Dubai isn’t just talking about the Expo. They’re talking about 2021 and beyond. That gives me a signal that we shouldn’t just have dreams about Expo 2020. It’s one event, not the target.”
A misunderstanding of the nature of the Expo, Al Hammadi says, is causing a “massive problem”, with many potential investors he meets assuming that property – particularly in Dubai South – will be difficult to sell in the future, or that original property values will be impossible to maintain, a notion that he scoffs at.
Looking at Dubai’s real estate environment, Al Hammadi is particularly excited about the prospects of Dubai South, an area he sees as being perfect for investors hoping to cash in on an influx of people coming to Dubai around 2020, as happened in other previously barely considered areas of Dubai that are now residential hubs.
“Almost 40,000 people are [already] on the ground working in Dubai South, based on our analysis of the news and the press release that we’ve seen. That shows you how many deliveries the area will see in a couple years, or even a few hundred days,” he says.
“Ten years ago, nobody knew anything about Sports City, Motor City, Jumeirah Village Circle. None of these were here. It was just empty. Just look at the development and how we got to where we are. We must look into the future.”
Another topic prone to misunderstandings is rental rates. Al Hammadi says he hears constant and repeated – but in most instances unsubstantiated – rumours that Dubai rents are falling across the emirate. While this may be true in some areas, he says it’s difficult, if not impossible, to generalise rents across Dubai. Part of the problem is that the average Dubai resident tends to compare between the Dubai of 2018 and the Dubai of 2014.
“I respect all the reports, but at the same time they often don’t give me the full information,” he says. “The number of units in the market in 2014 was different than it was in 2015 or it is in 2018. The number [of units] is always increasing, so in any comparison I should know that any report was based on this number of units. Every day you have new completion certificates and new buildings coming up, so you can’t really compare.”
Plans for Dubai South’s Residential District call for approximately 10,000 residential units to be constructed by 2020 to house an estimated 35,000 residents.
The area – which is adjoining the Expo 2020 site, the Logistics District and a staff village – will also include schools, nurseries, hospitals, retail outlets, food and beverage options, a swimming academy and a sports centre.
Among the sub-areas already announced are The Pulse – where studios are expected to start at AED280,000 – as well as Parklane and The Villages, both of which are composed of apartments and townhouses, and Sakany, a community of staff accommodation units starting at AED650 per month.
Although Al Hammadi says that trust is a key pillar of Al Ruwad’s corporate ethos, he doesn’t want customers to take his word at face value – rather, he implores that everyone in Dubai’s real estate ecosystem do their research and verify for themselves that they are dealing with someone reliable.
“Let’s say that a landlord comes to me, as a property management company, and tells me he wants seven percent of the total investment back; I could just increase the rent to get one percent,” he says. “He could tell everyone that Al Ruwad Real Estate is getting the maximum possible from their real estate, but he doesn’t know what I’m doing. It’s a number, going to his account, but it damages the ecosystem.”
Al Ruwad’s success, Al Hammadi adds, is the result of the trust it has established in the market by being honest with its customers.
“You need to know whether you have a good product or a bad product. If I conduct a feasibility study and it shows that a real estate investment is bad, I’ll be the first one to tell the landlord to take it off the market and tell him he won’t make any money,” he says. “The problem here is that people sometimes take wrong information, which results in wrong outcomes.”
Emaar Properties announced that residents in Emaar South – a joint venture with Dubai South – will be able to check into their homes in 2019.
The seven kilometre square Emaar South is being billed as a “park-side lifestyle destination” catering to professionals working in Dubai South or at the Al Maktoum International Airport.
The area will offer a mix of tiered townhomes, townhouses, villas and apartments, as well as community swimming pools, play and barbecue areas, and residents will be able to access a nearby golf course, driving range and golf clubhouse, along with a number of F&B outlets that are slated to be built along the golf course promenade.
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