More end users buying luxury

George Azar, Chairman of Gulf Sotheby’s International Realty, talks about the high-end buyers in the region, and their investment plans at home and abroadGeorge Azar

Gulf Sotheby’s International Realty is a franchise of the prestigious Sotheby’s Auction House. Founded in 2013 to cater to the UAE market, Gulf Sotheby’s represents now the Sotheby’s International Realty brand in the GCC and facilitates real estate services and opportunities through about 850 affiliate offices in more than 60 countries and territories.

In Dubai, the company represents some high-end products of groups such as Dubai Holding and Dubai Properties. These include Jumeirah Hills—the Palaces, due for an October launch. The 60 limited-edition palaces offer luxury freehold titles in Jumeirah, facing the Burj Al Arab.

Other luxury projects that Gulf Sotheby’s represents exclusively include the 118, a collection of 26 full-floor residences and two duplex penthouses with 360-degree views of the Downtown district. Also on the list is the Alef Residences, on the West Crescent of Palm Jumeirah and serviced by W Hotels.

How significant are the UAE and Middle East for you?

Gulf Sotheby’s is headquartered in Dubai with offices in Abu Dhabi, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait. We are opening offices in Saudi Arabia
and Qatar soon.

The UAE is the main hub for our business due to the variety of its expat communities, whereas in other GCC countries our presence is more geared to international and UAE project sales.

Is your focus on property sales in the UAE/GCC or serving buyers here for international acquisitions?

It’s a combination. As a global company, we offer a global reach, with Dubai as a hub. Most people in the UAE are expats and we support them in buying or selling. The international segment is as big as the local — roughly 40 per cent of our business.

How has the luxury property sector performed in the last year  across the world and UAE market?

The luxury property sector has been quite stable over the past five years across the key markets in the world. The UAE market is not different to any other global market. It is very cyclical, depending on the economy, appetite, projection of growth, and other components that affect every market.

Has the spend on luxury real estate gone down internationally?

Owing to a market slowdown, there are now more end user buyers of the luxury property. In the old days, they were simply investing in luxury properties. Today, people of all nationalities buy into the luxury segment to use it. This is true even if it is off-plan. From our local sales, 50 per cent is off-plan.

We hear that younger buyers from the region are now opting for more usable properties rather than the trophy investments their families may have already acquired.

Most of the UAE’s high net worth individuals’ (HNWIs) spending habits have evolved when it comes to real estate. Their knowledge is quite vast due to the two main factors: First, they have been investing for over 40 years, and secondly, real estate is a big component of their wealth.

They also have great interest in properties in the US and Europe. Many UAE nationals have been buying branded residences, mainly in New York — this has been one of our key focus areas due to our strong presence in the US.

Has London been a main focusforyour international clients? How has Brexit impacted this?

It’s too early to know the outcome of the Brexit vote. Seven of the biggest funds have halted all redemptions. That is a very strong sign. Some of them marked the funds up to 50 per cent lower than the valuation. We don’t know how this will impact the investment.

Considering the UK is the sixth largest economy in the world, it will find a solution. In the short term, there may be six to nine months of turbulence. The holding and markdown shows that some cracks have appeared very quickly. We don’t know the currency perspective — it’s too early to judge.

How significant are the HNWIs from India?

The largest single group of foreign buyers in the UAE is from India. We have an office in Delhi and a team of brokers. They handle all the transactions. Clients have different requirements and they are closer to them, culturally and in terms of a relationship, which is important.

Are you seeingmany new additions to the portfolio in theUAE?What are some highlights?

With Dubai Holding, we are working on their project in the Jumeirah Hills — The Palaces. With 60 limitededition palaces, it is the first ever selection of luxury freehold palaces in the heart of Jumeirah. This project is very exclusive and targets the ultra high networth individuals — so we deal with a segmented client base. It will be launched in October.

The 118 is a collection of 26 full-floor residences and two duplex penthouses with 360-degree views of the Downtown district. Dubai Properties’ 1/JBR attracts both investors and end users as they know that 1/JBR is a very good project to own. All units are fully sea-facing and spacious, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a contemporary design.

What will be the key trends influencing the luxury property market in 2016 in the region?

Pricing. I don’t really see prices of real estate coming down. Prices are stable. There is no debt, no forced sales. There are a few  defaulters — one or two — but the debt ratio limit has protected the market from a major downturn. There are people who bargain for good deals. But the prices in many key areas such as Downtown have not dropped much.

Payment plans are another key factor which has a strong impact on the market. There are good payment plans coming in. Plans need to protect the investor and development.

How is your affiliation with the auction house significant for property investors?

We work very closely with the Sotheby’s Auction House. The auction house refers its VIP clients who are interested in buying properties in the UAE to us.

We participate in most of Sotheby’s exclusive events— whether in New York, London, Hong Kong, or Dubai — allowing us to network with a very affluent client base and bring in more clients to our business. The auction house calls us in to provide the property where it can hold the event. Those properties are up for sale.

We also cooperate with the Young Collectors Club — a private, exclusive and international club whose members range from entrepreneurial and businessman to leaders in the media, entertainment, fashion, and financial industries.

Source: Shalini Seth, Special to PW


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