Catering to a niche market in Dubai

Catering to a niche market in DubaiImage Credit: Supplied

The launch of Muraba, a new real estate company that started operation in November with a Dh300-million project on Palm Jumeirah, happened at a time when Dubai's luxury homes market has been witnessing slower growth in prices. In fact, according to Knight Frank's Prime Global Cities Index for Q3 2014, prices of prime properties in Dubai fell by 0.2 per cent. The timing of Muraba One, a collection of 46 luxury apartments and penthouses, could raise questions, but its founder, Ibrahim Al Ghurair, sees great value in it.

His confidence is backed by the fact that Dubai, despite being one of the most sought-after property destinations in the world, is still highly undervalued compared with other major global cities. According to Knight Frank's The Wealth Report 2014 that surveyed 20 global cities, Dubai ranks 19, just ahead of Cape Town, in terms of total prime property area one can buy with $1 million (Dh3.67 million). In the case of Dubai, it's 146 sq m, whereas, with the same money, you cannot buy more than 15 sq m in Monaco, the world's costliest place, and 95.7 sq m in Mumbai. Though a lot of concern was raised about the 17 per cent rise in property prices in 2013, the report suggests Dubai is still one of the most low-priced property markets in the world. This indicates, there is a niche luxury market that can be tapped.

That's the market segment Al Ghurair is targeting with Muraba One. Though it's his first project, Al Ghurair is not a novice in the real estate business as he has been the Managing Director of Al Ghurair Properties.

Now, he has teamed up with Dubai-based investors for Muraba, which will target both local and international buyers but with an emphasis on occupiers' interests. The price of apartments starts at Dh4.7 million, whereas a penthouse would cost Dh25 million.

In an exclusive interview with Property Weekly, Al Ghurair talks about the need for high-end properties and what he is going to do about it.

- Do you see a big gap/demand in the market for quality high-end apartments that can be tapped?

We believe there is a gap in the market for more contemporary, understated elegance, and there is a niche group of people who are looking for value in terms of the type of real estate they want to invest in. Those individuals are our target audience; people who do not want to own property just for the sake of it.

We cater to individuals who want a property that evokes an experience at every touchpoint. To that end, we want to be synonymous with beautifully designed spaces with the Muraba experience in mind. Not repeating a type of product but the feeling that you get when you're in a Muraba space. It's all about creating an experience of the place.

- In reference to the recent Knight Frank Wealth Report, why do you think Dubai ranks so low in per sq-m rate?

Dubai has a growing reputation as an international destination and its property prices are reflective of its status. In 2013, the city saw a 17 per cent increase in prices, showing there is strong de mand among buyers and investors alike.

To add to that, from our perspective, we are focused on creating truly remarkable living spaces and building designs that are based on value and not cost. To us, the conversation should not be on price per square foot, because we are offering a product you cannot compare based on that metric.

- Do you see the emirate's ranking in per-sq-m rate improving in the future?

While we understand why square-foot rates are used to standardise prices, we don't think that is an accurate reflection of the value of a property. Such metrics tend to overlook the value of privacy, stunning views, and world-class amenities among other property attributes.

- Can you tell us more about your first project. Who are you targeting?

Our first project was conceived in the summer of 2013 when we noted that there was a need for truly high-scale, high-quality living spaces that targeted people looking for a second or third home. Our buyers are not the kind who purchase a property to simply flip it for profit; we work with tenants who want an escape on Dubai's iconic waterfront. For this reason, we started our project from the perspective of maximizing the customer experience. By starting from the inside of the living space and working out, we achieved a quality unseen in Dubai.

- How are you going to manage factors such as viability and profitability, especially when land costs are so high?

Our location on the crescent of The Palm allows our buyers to enjoy several advantages — they have direct access to a semi-private beach along with unparalleled views of Burj Al Arab and Dubai's skyline. Most importantly, however, all 50 living spaces have a private and uninterrupted vista of the blue waters of the Arabian Gulf.

As with all businesses, generating profits is crucial. However, that is not why we exist as an entity. Our challenge is to address a perceptible gap in the market through quality and customer experience. As such, we are driven by our passion to deliver the best to a select niche of savvy customers.

- What is the status of the project? When do you expect to complete it?

We have broken ground and expect to complete the project by the second quarter of 2016.

Our appointed contractor, Khansaheb, is already on-site and has begun piling and shoring. We anticipate an 18-month build period as it is a low-rise building consisting of only nine storeys.

- Have you started accepting bookings for the project? How has been the response so far?

The response has been encouraging with more than 10 per cent of the apartments reserved so far — a positive indication of buyer interest during this soft launch phase. We anticipate that the momentum generated will continue in the coming months as we further expand our communication outreach.

- Who are the architects and designers for this project? Are you tying up with any international brands?

Our approach for Muraba is to create exceptional living spaces for individuals and families who appreciate style and design. With this in mind, we set out to find architects who shared our vision and found them in the award-winning RCR Arquitectes, a Spain-based firm. Known for its modern designs, attention to detail and dedication to integrating natural surroundings into the overall design, the company perfectly encapsulated the look and feel we wanted to bring to the market: simple yet elegant.

- What kinds of projects do you plan to launch in the future? Do you have any locations in mind?

Site selection is a key driver for us, and finding the right site will be important for Muraba Two and Three.

Our plan is to have developments completed before going to the next one. We will always want to stay small and have that control. From conception to reality, we want to be true to the Muraba vision.

- Are you looking to target a niche market segment of investors who want customized and boutique kind of projects?

All too often, we find that the real estate market is taken over by investors, people who purchase a space to flip it for profit. Rather than target investors, we seek to work with buyers looking for a long-term residence for their own enjoyment.

- How do you see the Dubai market behaving this year and beyond?

It is no secret that Dubai's winning of Expo 2020 has had an effect on property prices. This is a natural response to market demand. While there may be corrections, we think the market will continue to be competitive.

- What kind of projects do you think will be in great demand in Dubai? Do you see enough planned supply entering the market to meet it?

I think the more important question is whether or not developers are doing enough to meet demand with the right supply. Anyone can develop properties, but are they sufficient to meet the segment that Dubai is attracting? Are quality standards living up to the expectations of the incoming buyers? These are the types of questions that many developers aren't addressing at the moment, making Muraba ahead of the curve in that regard.

Check out the prices of luxury villas in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Source: Syed Ameen Kader, Special to Property Weekly


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