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Imagine being lulled to sleep by the sound of soft waves, woken up by sunbeams reflecting off the clear blue ocean, or having romantic dinners on your private beach — these are things many people associate with waterfront living, and it is no wonder that properties that offer this lifestyle are among the most desired and sought-after real estate in the UAE.
''I couldn't dream of a better place to stay than in [my] Palm Jumeirah villa,'' says Zoe Lamprecht, an interior designer who recently moved from Austria to Dubai with her husband.
''At first I thought this is a secluded location and there will be no community feel. But apart from the idyllic private setting, there are lots of things to do and many restaurants and shops within a short distance. I wouldn't want to change this place with a home in some highrise far from the beach.''
Developers have cultivated the waterfront living trend with a number of luxurious projects. At the beginning they catered to discerning owners with independent beachside villas, but later transformed waterfront living into a lifestyle with additional facilities that form entire communities, including restaurants, retail outlets, yacht clubs, leisure and recreational facilities as well as cultural activities.
Property Weekly takes a look at the most popular waterfront projects to find out whether investing in them is worth your buck.
Abu Dhabi has been traditionally keen on waterfront projects as the Yas Island master plan shows. Other developments such as Al Bateen Waterfront, a beachside project that contains retail, hotel and residential units, a souq and meditative landscape zone, Mina Zayed Waterfront, a mixed-use luxury urban resort development, or Saadiyat Lagoons, which are villas on tiny islets boasting a leisurely boating lifestyle, are just some examples.
There's also Aldar Properties' Al Raha Beach development, which claims to completely redefine waterfront living.
Aldar Properties says Al Raha Beach is the ultimate Arabian water city, built along 5.2 million sq m of natural beachfront with a mix of residential, commercial, cultural, entertainment and public facilities. Located off the main highway leading to Abu Dhabi from Dubai, it will house up to 120,000 residents across three precincts, each with its own distinct personality and appeal.
''Aldar is seeing high demand for waterfront living and Al Raha Beach has confidently claimed a position as the most attractive destination in Abu Dhabi,'' says Mohammad Khalifa Al Mubarak, CEO of Aldar Properties.
''Each beautifully designed contemporary apartment has fantastic views of the beach, water and Yas Island. The community is also served by some of Abu Dhabi's most distinct and high quality retail outlets.''
Cashing in on the canal
In Dubai, one of the most exciting future waterfront developments will be without doubt the 3km Dubai Canal. Unveiled in October 2013 and slated to be ready in the next two years, the project will consist of luxury housing, hotels, restaurants, a shopping centre, walkways, cycle paths and private marinas. The canal will start at Business Bay and flow through Safa Park and Jumeirah into the Arabian Gulf.
In terms of prime waterfront destinations, Dubai Canal will be complemented by Nakheel's Deira Islands, which will create an additional 40km of waterfront, including a creek marina for large yachts and additional marina facilities directly outside the residences. It will also have about 1,400 retail units in a souq plus a hotel and an amphitheatre.
''Deira Islands will add 21km of beachline to the emirate's coast, enhancing Dubai's position as a world leader in innovative waterfront development,'' according to a Nakheel spokesperson.
Needless to say, yacht manufacturers and marina designers are happy about these developments as they will create a new leisure marine lifestyle that will boost sales of yachts and boats. ''Dubai has a longstanding boating tradition and it is really embracing its passion for yachting and water sports,'' says Emmanuel Delarue, CEO of New Design Architecture, a global design and marketing consultancy in the waterfront, leisure tourism and well-being industries.
''With people flocking to the UAE to enjoy its waterfront lifestyle and a [large] number of high-net-worth individuals looking to spend millions on superyachts, in vesting in marinas with lifestyle [offerings] and expanding waterways [will allow] the nation to continue developing as one of the world's most desirable tourism and outdoor living destinations. Marinas are increasingly serving as gathering points and hubs for commercial and social interaction.''
Nakheel has built other iconic waterfront and island projects such as Palm Jumeirah, which has become a landmark in Dubai, and some of The World islands. Upon completion, The World will have spectacular facilities such as custom-designed marinas, underwater villas and high-tech transportation such as subsea limousines for its residents. ''Palm Jumeirah and The World projects added more than 300km to the Dubai coastline, paving the way for the development of waterfront hotels, resorts, and leisure and residential developments, and catching the attention of hundreds of investors who see value in seafront land plots and homes,'' says Nakheel's spokesperson.
''[They] have placed Dubai firmly on the world map as a highly desirable place to live in and visit.
''Waterfront land and property in Dubai are more likely to command and retain high values due to their sought-after location, easy access and unique position.''
According to a report by Dubai-based property consultancy Asteco, Palm Jumeirah was the only development to experience an increase over 2008 prices.
''As per Asteco's fourth quarter 2014 report, the price for Palm Jumeirah apartments was Dh2,000 per square foot, and for villas [it] was Dh2,850 per square foot,'' says John Stevens, Managing Director of Asteco.
''Interestingly, Palm Jumeirah is the only development that has experienced an increase from its fourth quarter 2008 prices, with rates up by 4 per cent.
''The increase is due to its establishment as a unique and exclusive villa community, appealing to both local and international buyers.''
In comparison, the average price for apartments in Jumeirah Lakes Towers during the quarter was Dh1,250 per sq ft, while the average villa sales price in the Meadows was Dh1,350, he says.
Nakheel is also developing projects such as Jumeirah Heights Fronds and The Palm Gateway. The former will be a lakeside residential complex of more than 1,400 apartments and villas at the northern edge of the Jumeirah Islands. It will also house Jumeirah Islands park, a recreation and retail centre as well as a new waterfront leisure and dining hub — all being built by Nakheel.
Work on The Palm Gateway at the entrance of the Palm Jumeirah resumed last year after it was put on hold. With slight changes, it will now consist of a three-tower waterfront complex with more than 1,300 homes, a beach club, and retail, dining, health and fitness facilities.
A new district
Emaar, which built the Burj Khalifa, has gone as far as to announce a new waterfront city district, Dubai Creek Harbour at The Lagoons, which will be a commercial and leisure development with residential neighbourhoods and parks. The project will be three times the size of Downtown Dubai — also developed by Emaar — and will be home to the world's tallest twin towers when complete.
Stevens has a positive outlook about waterfront developments in the emirate. ''[With] Dubai Marina as an example, marina living has become one of the most sought-after lifestyles in the world,'' he says. ''The exclusivity, status and rewards of a waterfront [residence] can be found at this meticulously planned development. Unobstructed views are a major selling point.
''Jumeirah Beach Residence residents also enjoy prime waterfront locations combined with exclusive shopping, hotels, restaurants and coffee shops at The Walk. It is one of the most desirable addresses in Dubai.''
However, this means that waterfront living can become even more expensive in the future. At any rate, Stevens says that ''due to the cost of waterfront living, the target audience tends to have a certain level of affluence'', adding, ''Of course, for the ultra-luxurious penthouses or villas on Palm Jumeirah, the target audience is much smaller and more exclusive.''
This also means that in terms of investment, waterfront developments have a distinct advantage. ''Their popularity means investors looking to rent out or sell will be in a strong position,'' says Stevens.
Joining the fray
Other emirates are following suit with their own waterfront developments.
Sharjah's flagship waterfront projects are Al Majaz Island and Al Majaz Waterfront. Located in the heart of one of Sharjah's most vital and popular areas, they consist of apartments, hotels, retail outlets, leisure and entertainment facilities, recreational and cultural spots.
The island also has the Al Majaz Amphitheatre, which opened last year and can accommodate 4,500 spectators. Meanwhile, Ajman has announced its own mixed-use waterfront development, Al Zorah. The project wants to provide a slice of nature and be a new lifestyle destination along the coast of Ajman.
Spread across 5.4 million sq m with 12km of seafront, the free zone development will have residences, serviced apartments, hotels, resorts, golf courses, restaurants, shops, a wellness centre and other facilities.
Property Weekly asked Gregory Lewis, Head of Dubai Residential Sales at property consultancy Knight Frank, what makes waterfront living in Dubai so attractive.
- What is the price level of waterfront developments as compared to standard ones?
There are a few factors that need to be taken into account while answering a question of this nature.
Taking standard villas such as Emirates Living and placing them against those in Palm Jumeirah, the markup in prices is approximately double the value of the same square feet.
- Who is the target audience for such developments and what is the demand like?
The target is a variety of investors, end users and holiday-homes users, similar to most developments in Dubai. These types of properties tick all the right boxes for such buyers.
- What facilities make a waterfront community?
Access to the beach, sea views, community clubs offering water sports and golf courses work great.
- Are waterfront properties better investment than regular ones? If so, why?
Yes, because they are limited. The Palm Jumeirah was created to build more waterfront properties and it's a success, which proves this point. Waterfront properties offer incredible views and access to the sea too, in most cases. This also works well if you compare developments to international waterfront properties where weather conditions such as storms and hurricanes have a huge impact. Dubai's developments offer good rentals as well.
- What makes certain UAE developments stand out as waterfront communities?
Location and views are what buyers are focusing on. Dubai has been excellent in developing waterfront property, and by doing so it has boosted activity in public spaces around them. Usually, developments are mixed-use with seamless interaction between indoors and outdoors, and this sets them apart from many European developments, which have walls that physically and psychologically cut off the communities from surrounding neighbourhoods.
Read more on the lure and appeal of waterfront properties
Source: Arno Maierbrugger, Special to Property Weekly