Dubai Tycoon Sajwani ‘Amazed' at Property Bounce, But Analysts Say Buyer Beware

Artur Widak | NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Damac Properties founder Hussain Sajwani says Dubai’s “amazing” property market bounce is the start of “something long term” despite analysts warning of a “fragile recovery”
  • Maple Invest, a company controlled by Sajwani, is accelerating plans to take Damac Properties private, citing international expansion plans.

The billionaire behind one of the UAE's biggest property developers is taking the company he founded private, saying Dubai's nascent real estate rebound is here to stay.

"Amazing," Damac Properties founder Hussain Sajwani said on Monday when asked to describe the recovery in Dubai's bust-to-boom property sector, which is on an upswing after years of price declines and rampant oversupply.

"I've seen Dubai over the last 20 years, and it's gone through cycles," said Sajwani, a veteran of the sector known for his brash marketing campaigns and luxury-on-a-budget developments that have shaped the Dubai skyline.

"I don't think this is something temporary. This is something long term," the realtor said.

Residential real estate prices in Dubai have been rebounding strongly from a record low, on the back of pent-up demand, improved investor and consumer sentiment, a rebound in oil and gas prices and a gradual macroeconomic recovery, according to S&P Global Platts.

Dubai saw its "best third quarter in history" for property sales transaction value, according to the Dubai Land Department. The agency said September saw the highest value of real estate sales in one month since December 2013, as Dubai shunned lockdowns, ramped up vaccinations and enacted new policies to entice people to stay through the depths of the pandemic.

While many countries re-imposed lockdowns and travel bans over the last year, Dubai stood out even among its neighboring emirates by allowing hassle-free travel for most destinations. It's also eased business and visa regulations, bringing a host of digital nomads into the emirate after its population dropped by nearly more than 8% in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Commuters drive along Sheikh Zayed Road past commercial and residential properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Christopher Pike | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Commuters drive along Sheikh Zayed Road past commercial and residential properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

It is currently hosting the mega-event Expo 2020, which has already seen hundreds of thousands of visits. Dubai has also hosted major events like the IDEX defense fair and Gitex technology conference, several concerts and sports matches, and will host the Dubai Air Show and ADIPEC energy conference in November.

Sajwani said people came to Dubai during lockdowns in their countries and found safety, healthcare, vaccines and security, making the city a more attractive place to invest. "Dubai is really booming from that point of view," Sajwani added.

Renters in Dubai have felt the sharp rise in the market, too. Many young professionals have posted ads looking for rooms in shared homes, leaving their apartments as they say their landlords are increasing rent prices by 30% to 50%.

Change of tone

Sajwani's comments are a major turnaround from the tycoon's last assessment on the market. In 2019, he made headlines by calling for an immediate halt to construction, warning Dubai would face "disaster" if oversupply continues.

Analysts at S&P Global Ratings, who place Damac on a negative ratings outlook, believe Dubai isn't out of the woods. "The structural oversupply of residential properties in Dubai will challenge price increases over the long term, making the recovery fragile," the group said in a research note published in October.

But Sajwani isn't concerned. He said Dubai's major developers, which include his longtime rival Emaar, had become "more mature and more careful" out of the pandemic. He said prices "probably will not" escalate at the pace they have been over the past 12 months.

Dubai's Department of Economic Development expects growth of 3.1% for 2021, driven by the reopening and the impact of Expo 2020. It forecasts 3.4% economic growth in 2022.

Delisting plans

Sajwani also offered more insight into his plans to delist Damac Properties from the Dubai Financial Market, following several years of lackluster investor returns. Damac Properties reported a net loss of 291 million AED ($79.2 million) in the first half of 2021.

Maple Invest, a company Sajwani controls, is offering 1.40 dirhams ($0.38) per share to take Damac private. An initial offer of 1.30 dirhams was rejected by minority investors.

"I think 1.40 dirhams has been a reasonable number," he said, while also pushing back on investor criticism that Damac was going private as the Dubai market shows signs of recovery.

"We felt it was in the company's interest to go private because we're expanding overseas, and there are risks," Sajwani said, adding that the burden of quarterly reporting was taking its toll.

"Your competitors know all your information, all your data, all your profits, your sales... and in a very highly competitive market that works against you," he said.

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