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One of the key developments over the past year has been the increasing diversity of asset types available for investment in real estate in the northern emirates. Previously, areas like Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Ajman offered limited options for freehold properties open to all nationalities, while some were open to GCC freehold – UAE and other GCC country nationals. But with upcoming projects, part of UAE Vision 2021 and plans to diversify the economy to one less oil-dependent, many areas have opened to foreign investment, creating asset types unique to the region.
In Sharjah, investors and those looking to own homes have more choices now, with an increasing number of freehold properties entering the market. Existing offerings like Al Zahia, Tilal City and newer products from Sharjah Investment and Development (Shurooq) and Diamond Developers, Ajmal Makan, and Arada are providing varied real estate options including land plots, increasing investment opportunities in Sharjah’s real estate sector. This includes Shurooq’s new Sharjah Sustainable City project which is expected to offer residents up to 100% savings on electricity, 50% savings on water, with zero service charges for the first five years. Arada’s Aljada project also recently launched the student housing product Nest for direct investment for the first time, creating a new type of investment asset in the Sharjah real estate market.
Shurooq’s announcement last year to invest AED 5 billion in tourism development is another positive step that could raise demand for residential and hospitality assets as the number of tourists and business travellers increase. With real GDP set to reach 2% growth until 2021, tourism will play a key role, along with manufacturing and construction, according to S&P’s predicted trajectory for the emirate’s economy.
Another emirate with a major tourism drive and changing demographics is Ras Al Khaimah. With tourism marked as a key growth sector for RAK – close to 90% expansion in hotel capacity is expected by 2020 – RAK is expected to double its share of tourism to the GDP to 10%, while attracting a projected 3 million visitors by 2025. Concurrently, development of the emirate’s container port is also expected to improve investment in free zone areas. This raises the prospect of increased development activity in residential offerings, which, prior to the renovation of the Corniche area, remained limited to waterfront apartments spread over a small area.
New projects on RAK’s southern coast includes hospitality offerings in upcoming waterfront communities, such as Movenpick Resort Al Marjan Island, a five-star all-inclusive resort managed by Spanish hotel group Barceló, and a man-made cluster of four coral-shaped islands featuring 23km of waterfront, 6,500 residential units, 8,000 hotel rooms, wellness retreats and 600 holiday villas to attract foreign investors and end users. Authorities will want to take advantage of the investor-led property market in RAK, dominated by local and regional investors, as well as investors from India and Pakistan.
New freehold opportunities are also in the pipeline for other emirates, particularly Ajman. There is growing demand for apartments, particularly along the Corniche and in Ajman City, which has led to the development of projects targeted at expatriate investors and end users. Similarly, in Fujairah, new joint ventures with the government in line with the Fujairah 2040 Plan, could potentially open up the emirate to foreign investment in real estate.
As the UAE moves towards raising its non-oil economic portfolio over the coming years, the property market will play a key role in providing investment opportunities. The new unique and varied opportunities like student housing and land plots for investment could well signal a welcome change in the country’s maturing real estate market.
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