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Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) has long been known as a great alternative for those seeking an affordable home and a less-frenetic lifestyle. But like many other major property markets worldwide, the global financial downturn disrupted the emirate's plans, causing a slowdown in real estate activity and forcing many projects to be cancelled or scaled down.
This year, however, seems to be a turning point for the emirate as it enjoys a resurgence in real estate projects, including several luxury developments.
"The overall positive market sentiment at the start of the year has seen the restart of a number of stalled residential projects and the launch of several new projects in the northern emirates," says John Stevens, Managing Director of Aste-co. "The surge in the development pipeline is a positive reflection on the future prospects of the UAE real estate sector as a whole. We are seeing investor confidence return as the country pushes ahead with the next wave of infrastructure projects that will create opportunities to build new communities, supported by the requisite access, facilities and services that long-term residents would expect.
"Ras Al Khaimah has a number of developments that will add to the popularity of the emirate."
Indeed, there are several remarkable projects that have been announced in the emirate recently. Being only 45 minutes from Dubai, these upscale projects are attracting huge interest from both investors and end users.
Al Hamra Real Estate Development's (Ahred) multimillion-dollar Falcon Island, which is as a new phase of the more established Al Hamra Village, is one of the high-profile projects being undertaken in the emirate.
Comprising 150 luxury villas and waterfront mansions with private beaches, the development promises to be nothing short of luxurious.
"Falcon Island is the ultimate in sustainable waterfront living," says Benoy Kurien, General Manager of Ahred. "These luxury residences are built to the highest architectural and environmental standards, surrounded by the finest hospitality and leisure amenities."
Some of those leisure amenities are set to include access to a private marina, a world-class golf course and a five-star hotel. The villas and mansions were launched with a starting price of Dh5.2million. The project is expected to be completed by end of 2016.
RAK Properties' Flamingo Villas, which overlook the lagoon of Mina Al Arab, is another high-stakes project launched in the emirate.
"Investor confidence continues to ride high in Ras Al Khaimah, with many businesses and investors coming to set up shop here," says Rashed Al Khatri, Director of Marketing and Sales at RAK Properties. "The upbeat atmosphere has helped generate strong response for our Flamingo Villas project, prompting us to add more villas to address the demand of those wanting to buy into the development.
"The demand can be attributed to the project's value additions and the majestic views of the seafront."
With the encouraging response to the Flamingo Villas, RAK Properties followed through with the launch of its flagship development, Bermuda Villas, which comprises 141 units of three- to six-bedroom luxury, standard and town house-style villas. Located in RAK Properties' Mina Al Arab development, it is set to help attract investors and tourists to the emirate.
"We remain upbeat that Bermuda Villas will play a key role in reinforcing RAK's position as a premier tourist and investment haven," says Mohammed Sultan Al Qadi, CEO of RAK Properties.
While new developments offer residents more luxury residential choices in the emirate, there remain many affordable deals for both investors and tenants in existing projects.
"While previously the northern emirates have had relatively low occupancy rates, the increase in pricing in Dubai and Sharjah is leading many tenants to consider locations further off that offer not only attractive rental rates but also quality, water-fronting developments, including villas and apartments that are a good value for families," says Stevens. "This is especially true since Dubai is less than an hour's drive away. In addition, a lot of demand for these developments is driven by expatriates working in RAK itself, including those in RAK Free Zone, RAK Investment Authority and the numerous hotels in the area."
One of those who have made the move from Dubai . to RAK is Briton Ian Tonge, who relocated with his family to Al Hamra Village.
"We had put down a deposit with an estate agent on a town house in Jumeirah Village Triangle [in Dubai]. But before the contract was signed the landlord asked for more rent," says Tonge. "We decided to pull out but that potentially left us homeless. Then we spotted an advert for a town house in Al Hamra.
"We drove to RAK all the time thinking it can't be this far, but when we arrived we were sold out. It has certainly been cheaper for us to date. Unfortunately, landlords are now cashing in on the rebound in the market and rents are rising."
Although rents have increased, prices remain manageable compared to those in Dubai.
"Prospective tenants looking for prime accommodation in RAK can expect to pay up to Dh75,000 for a high-end, two-bedroom unit in a master-planned community," says Stevens. "Villas specifically have been very successful in attracting good demand levels with availability now at a premium.
"Modern, beachfront villas part of Mina Al Arab and villas within Al Hamra Village are extremely popular due to the cost and the vast array of facilities available."
However, while this is true of the rental market, there are also lucrative opportunities for those who want to buy property.
"In terms of sales prices, a three-bedroom villa with full facilities, including beach access, pool, tennis courts and more, can be bought starting from Dh2.2 million at Mina Al Arab and from Dh1.3 million at Al Hamra," says Stevens. "This clearly offers an affordable alternative to property ownership in Dubai."
However, with newer projects demanding more money, prices are changing in the emirate, although there is also a lot more to be gained in terms of lifestyle amenities.
"Ras Al Khaimah is a cultural community with beautiful beaches and mountains in the background. It is a holiday haven; people who live here feel as if they are on permanent vacation," says Karen Lorraine, Residential Consultant at Better Homes. "Living in RAK has all that you need — the infrastructure is in place, there are schools, great hospitals, plenty of recreational activities, shopping, restaurants and lively local and expat communities.
There are beautiful hotels here, including Waldorf Astoria, Hilton and Rixos to name just a few. The RAK Government is investing money in making the emirate a tourism destination."
Certainly, RAK is becoming a top tourist destination as the number of hotel offerings grow exponentially.
"In the first quarter of this year the hotels that opened on Al Marjan Island were the 655-key Rixos Bab Al Bahr Resort, which is the largest all-inclusive resort of this magnitude in the UAE, the 315-room Marjan Island Resort and Spa and the 484-key Double Tree by Hilton Resort and Spa," reveals Steven Rice, CEO and spokesperson of the RAK Tourism Development Authority (TDA).
Marjan Island added approximately 1,500 hotel keys. The 265-room Santorini Hotel on Marjan Island, a part of The Bin Ma-jid Group, is scheduled to open early next year."
Rice says one of the highlights in the emirate's hospitality sector was the opening of the 346-room Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah in August last year, marking the entry of the luxury Hilton Worldwide brand to the UAE.
With a selection of luxury hotels, visitor numbers to RAK are rising, growing 49 per cent between 2011 and last year, while overall hotel revenues rose 30 per cent, according to the TDA chief.
With so much on offer for both visitors and residents, it is not surprising that the emirate is shaping up to be a property boom town.
Source: Helga Jensen-Forde, Special to Property Weekly