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Tue 22 Apr 2014 02:02 PM

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Saudi Arabia's home finance firm may launch by year-end

Bidaya aims to raise low levels of home ownership in the Gulf kingdom, says founding sponsor

Saudi Arabia's home finance firm may launch by year-end
Cranes stand beside new high rise buildings under construction in the King Abdullah financial district of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Monday, April 9, 2012. Saudi Arabias gross domestic product expanded 6.64 percent in the fourth quarter from a year ago, the kingdoms statistics agency said. (Bloomberg)

Saudi Arabia's national home finance company, Bidaya, may open its doors by the end of this year, part of efforts to raise low levels of home ownership in the country, its founding sponsor said.

In development since 2010, the company is a venture between the finance ministry's Public Investment Fund and the Jeddah-based Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), a unit of the Islamic Development Bank .

Bidaya is in its last phase of development prior to launch and will submit an application for a licence as soon as regulations under the kingdom's mortgage laws are finalised, ICD chief executive Khaled Al-Aboodi told Reuters.

"Practically, we are planning to have the company operational by the end of 2014."

A shortage of affordable housing is an economic and social issue, and a source of price inflation, in the fast-growing country of about 30 million people, most of whom are under the age of 30; a lack of low- and medium-cost housing has been compounded by limited financing options for home ownership.

"Bidaya will increase access to finance for middle-income home buyers across the Kingdom. Bidaya is an important project for the ICD and Saudi Arabia given its impact on the Saudi market and the sustainability of the sector," Al-Aboodi said.

He did not specify the number of customers or volume of business which Bidaya expected, but said the "target size" of its paid-up capital would be SR900 million ($240 million).

The firm will use sharia-compliant financing contracts such as ijara (Islamic leasing), diminishing musharaka and hybrid structures designed to meet local regulations, Al-Aboodi added.

In diminishing musharaka, the lender and home buyer share the costs of purchasing a home; the home owner then pays rent to the lender while purchasing the lender's share of the house in instalments.

Capitas Group International, an international management firm with experience in setting up sharia-compliant mortgage and real estate finance platforms, has been helping to prepare Bidaya for launch.

Home ownership in Saudi Arabia is just 30 percent, compared to a global average of 70 percent, while mortgage penetration is estimated at just 2 percent of gross domestic product, Al Rajhi Capital said in a research note in January. Mortgage loans exceed 50 percent of GDP in many developed countries.

Home financing options offered by Saudi banks in the past have been limited; for example, buyers have had home payments automatically deducted from their salaries by lending banks.

In 2012 the kingdom introduced a package of mortgage laws to stimulate home financing, and since last December, the central bank has issued six real estate financing licences to institutions including Riyad Bank, Arab National Bank and Amlak International.

But commercial banks are still feeling their way towards using the laws in practice, so authorities aim to supplement their efforts with financing from other organisations such as Bidaya.

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