Dubai realty's reigning divas

Dubai RealtyImage Credit: Supplied

No stranger to the real estate industry, here are five women who have not just watched Dubai blossom into a promising land of opportunity, they have also contributed significantly to the business of real estate brokering and have some of the strongest track records in the market. They are at the forefront of their field, bringing a unique and remarkable perspective to the business.

Linda Mahoney
Chairman, Better Homes

Mahoney, a 71-year-old Canadian expat, started Better Homes in 1986. With no experience in real estate, she decided to use her background in medicine to bring an important ingredient to the table — the ability to empathise with people and help them no matter what their concerns are.

She confesses that making the switch was easier than expected. “Both [professions] deal with people who have issues that need resolving,” she says. “In both environments, there is a level of satisfaction in knowing that you have helped someone solve a problem, whether it is in terms of their health in medicine or in terms of renting, buying or selling property in the real estate industry.”

Women empowered: “Women have a tendency to identify with the home. They consider a large variety of details when looking for a property to match a family. Women will consider everything from the cupboards in the kitchen to the number of electrical outlets throughout the house, in addition to things like checking for adequate storage.”

Challenges: “There are a number of things, but probably issues like budgets, cash flows and a general knowledge of profit and loss were skills I did not require in the nursing field. The everyday challenges of any business, not just real estate, were skills I never had to use. I had to learn these on the job, and it took me time to grasp.”

Uniquely Dubai: “The emirate’s property sector is a relatively new industry that has grown at such incredible speed. Rarely does one have the opportunity to be part of the growth of a country from all perspectives. There were just basic roads and relatively few villas and apartments not more than 25 years ago, and now we have complete infrastructure development and a massive stock of residential, commercial and retail property.”

Remarkable changes: “The industry has changed in the past few years. There are more long-term investors who are willing to put their money into property for an increased period of time. In the past, it was a speculative market when property was purchased off-plan with few constraints. Once we were into a secondary phase, then regulations needed to be addressed, including strata laws, mortgage regulations, escrow accounts, and licensing of agents, to mention a few. All this is work in progress, which takes time to fine-tune, with the objective of being in line with international norms.”

Zarah Evans
Managing Partner, Exclusive Links

Evans relocated to Dubai in 1997 from Australia and joined a leading real estate and relocation firm as General Manager in 2000. In 2007 she was appointed Managing Partner at Links Gulf Real Estate and led the company through the industry peak of 2008 as well as the economic downturn. In 2011, Links Gulf Real Estate merged with Exclusive Real Estate. Evans continues to spearhead Exclusive Links as a market leader.

The driving force for Evans has always been a love for people. She believes that “whether it’s your customers, team or staff, it is the people who go in and out of your life that help you build a story”. After globetrotting across Asia, Australia, Papua New Guinea and the UK, Evans feels at home in the UAE. “I always adopt a passionate approach to most things I do and try to make everything matter in some way or to someone,” says Evans.

Facing challenges: “It is all about finding the right balance between building a family and a business, which I have done side by side. Raising two teenage children while dealing with the demands of the business is an everyday challenge as you don’t want either to be compromised. I am a leader and want to teach by example and this is in the home and in the office. It’s all about prioritising and juggling your day and week, and I can’t say I always get it right but if my kids and my business are testimonial to what I’ve achieved personally and professionally, I’m happy.”

Uniquely Dubai: “Dubai is one of the most dynamic and rapidly growing cities in the world. The initial success of earlier developments and its rapid recovery after the recession has fuelled more and more ambitious projects unimaginable in other parts of the world. The prominent and central geographical position of the UAE is supported by government initiatives, tax advantages and year-round sunshine. As one of the most popular cities to invest in and realise your dreams, Dubai delivers on all accounts.”

Remarkable changes: “Since I have worked in the industry prior to the introduction of foreign property ownership in 2002, I have witnessed many changes to all aspects of the business. New regulations are continuing to be introduced in the market and developed as the industry is learning and growing. Further legislation and tightening of real estate practices is creating a platform for a healthier and respected future for all stakeholders in the industry. The excitement created by the off-plan frenzy of 2013 contributed to a more speedy recovery and confidence in the market. The loyalty and endurance of our most seasoned professionals is commendable, having weathered the dip in the market and preparing us for what the future may hold. Dubai is driven by its ambition to lead with innovation and that vision in itself is remarkable.”

Elaine Jones
Director, Hadley Gates Real Estate Consultancy

Jones moved from the UK to Dubai in 1980 and has worked in the industry ever since. Jones started Asteco in 1985 with property management as its core business and is a shareholder in the company now. She runs her own consultancy at present. “I got involved in real estate through opportunity and not by design,” she says. “We had just moved to Dubai and needing to work, I took the position of villa lady with Cluttons. I like overseeing projects and witnessing a development crystallise from an idea to a fully operational and functioning property.”

Women empowered: “I don’t believe that gender has ever been an issue in this country. In fact, Dubai’s business sector has been very receptive to women. The clients and customers are so varied with so many different facets to consider that gender is never an issue that creates a barrier.”

Facing challenges: “When the market was opened to international purchasers in the early 2000’s a number of overseas real estate companies moved into Dubai. The Asteco team was targeted as potential employees and although it is a pleasure to see colleagues grow and prosper, being used as a training ground is always painful.”

Uniquely Dubai: “What makes the markets here so different from the rest of the world is personal security in a multicultural society and a leadership that wants people to do well, respond to challenges and enjoy the benefits of hard work.”

Remarkable changes: “There has been a continuous flow of potential investors — business operators, property investors as well as private and second home buyers. The influence of the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) and the corporate governance that is in place today continuously improves and enhances the property offering. Buying property and its registration provides a level of comfort to buyers. The homeowners’ association team at Rera is effective and promotes fairness so that the cost of owning a property does not become prohibitive. I would like to see more affordable projects being developed to meet the real and growing demand.”

Lucy Ghattas
Managing Partner, Group Seven Properties Consultancy

The UAE was a brand new nation when Ghattas arrived in Dubai in 1972 and lived here until 1984, at which point she moved to Canada and joined Royal Le Pages, the largest and only corporate real estate company in North America. With a husband who is an architect and builder, real estate has always been part of dinner table conversations, she says.

“I love real estate because it is such a challenge to be able to find the perfect match between what a client wants and what is out there,” says Ghattas, who returned to Dubai in 1992 to join Better Homes, specialising in commercial real estate. Those were the exciting and challenging times, reminisces Ghattas who covered everything from offices and warehouses to retail, servicing almost every blue-chip company in the region, starting from oil companies to automobile majors.

Women empowered: “Real estate is no different than any other profession. It requires skill, knowledge and understanding of the market and it is all about seeing a project through from start to conclusion, regardless of whether you are a woman or man. But I find that women are more perceptive and focused in one-on-one situations.”

Facing challenges: “I have faced and overcome all the usual obstacles that a woman in any profession goes through to rise to the top. In Dubai there seems to be trend towards anyone and everyone wanting to become a property broker, but the industry is challenged by how many enter it, without sufficient understanding of the market and what it takes to be a good agent.”

Uniquely Dubai: “The UAE and Dubai is unique by definition. It’s the perfect hub for global companies to be based out of here to manage their interests in the region. It’s a forward-looking nation that has a great vision. In fact Dubai carries the blueprint for the future.”

Remarkable changes: “Dynamic changes have occurred in this part of the world, which, in other continents, would have taken centuries to achieve. The country and especially Dubai has gone through tremendous highs and some lows, but it has always emerged with a greater insight and having learnt its lessons from the past. Take real estate, for instance. It has always been a very sensitive measure of the overall market and although some regulations are necessary, avoiding overregulation should be considered.”

Helen Tatham
Managing Partner, Prime Places

Tatham moved from the UK to Dubai in 2003 and co-founded her first real estate company, Dubai Luxury Homes, in 2004. In 2012 she took up the position of Director of Residential with Knight Frank UAE and engaged its residential services in the domestic market. A year later Tatham felt it was time to establish her own company once again and set up Prime Places.

Her passion for a real estate brokerage firm was “fuelled by my ability to identify the opportunity of entering a market that had barely [taken off] and the thrill of meeting interesting people from different countries and all walks of life”, says Tatham.

Women on top: “Women are just as proficient as men at selling property and running their own businesses as can be seen when you examine the Dubai market. The gender gap is closing in the residential sector whereas commercial has a more masculine status attached to it.

There is no differentiation in earnings as agency roles are largely commission-based so the more dedicated you are, the more you can earn regardless of your gender.”

Facing challenges: “In such a fast-moving and competitive industry, success has to be based on true dedication to your work. I’m my worst critic, which means that I analyse a lot and, therefore, work often takes over my personal time. One needs to be pretty resilient in this market to keep up with its momentum; there are so many changes taking place, and with people constantly vying for business, endeavouring to be different can be challenging.”

Uniquely Dubai: “The speed at which this country has developed has been unbelievable, but the world-class names that have become involved in the architecture and infrastructure are second to none. Dubai was a blank canvas and the communities that have been built within the last 10 years such as Downtown, Dubai Marina and Emirates Living are some of the most desirable in the world, and feats of iconic construction that have been accomplished such as Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa are at the forefront of global admiration.

“The government brought in measures and legislation to provide for more investor protection, which has contributed to getting Dubai back to being one of the most popular destinations globally to live and work in.”

Remarkable changes: “The downturn from 2009-2011 cleaned out the wheat from the chaff in the real estate industry and made buyers reconsider investment strategies going forward. The bid for Expo 2020 was a burst of excitement for the property market and was instrumental in driving investment even before Dubai won in November 2013.

“The Arab Spring was also a driver for money coming in from neighbouring states as the UAE was considered a safe haven. A re-assessment of investor risk was reinforced by the major developers protecting the market this time around with internal resale restrictions, such as disallowing a transfer until 30-40 per cent of the purchase price has been paid.

“It’s difficult to comprehend the inventory coming to market over the next five years but the huge retail and leisure parks in Dubailand and Meydan will attract new residents and create jobs. The UAE has always been ambitious but there is still so much that it has to offer, and to all nationalities.”


For Rent


View more properties

For Sale


View more properties