This year has been an exciting one for Sharjah. From new technology parks to airport expansion, and from new hospitals to a focus on digitisation, it seems the emirate has rarely been out of the news headlines.
This year has also seen announcements from major developers, who clearly see Sharjah as a strong location in which to build new residential, retail and hospitality projects. Indeed, Arada, a new developer of which I am chairman, also launched its first residential projects in the city, including Aljada, Sharjah’s largest ever mixed-use mega-project.
Why now? There are numerous reasons why developers are starting to take a real interest in Sharjah. First and foremost has been the government’s decision in 2014 to relax ownership rules, which has made it possible for everyone — not just citizens of Arab countries — to buy property in the emirate.
Then there’s the favourable economic environment. Sharjah’s government budget is hitting a new high this year, reaching Dh22 billion for the first time, despite the constraints that are affecting budgets elsewhere thanks to the lower oil price. Spending on infrastructure is up by 7 per cent, representing almost a third of the full budget.
Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s projects Sharjah’s real GDP growth to average 2.4 per cent between 2017-20 (or about 5 per cent on average in nominal terms), helped by the fact that fully a third of the UAE’s manufacturing base is located in our emirate.
Sharjah is already known as being the cultural capital of the UAE — our museums and galleries have been welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors every year for decades, and in 2019 the city will become Unesco’s World Book Capital. These efforts being complemented by the excellent work being done by Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), which is steadily developing a host of projects to showcase the incredible diversity of our emirate.
Elsewhere, upgrades to transport infrastructure, particularly in the roads that link Sharjah to Dubai, will improve the commuting experience for the thousands of workers that travel between the two emirates on a daily basis. Of course, a growing economy is often accompanied by a growing population, and the number of people living in Sharjah is now approaching 1.5 million people.
But is the current real estate mix in the city meeting residents’ expectations?
Our own research tells us that the supply of mid-market homes for end-users is not matching demand, which is one of the reasons why we launched Arada at the beginning of this year. And for investors, we see that yields on real estate investment are actually higher than in other parts of the UAE, again due to the lack of supply.
No wonder Sharjah was ranked third in the GCC, behind Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as an outstanding location for the region’s wealthiest property investors, in last year’s ‘Cluttons Middle East Private Capital Survey’.
While other parts of the Gulf have seen significant swings in property prices over the course of the last decade or so, the fluctuations have been less dramatic in Sharjah. Our investors know that investing here involves less risk, but can still generate significant returns.
All this explains why some of the region’s largest and most well-known developers — as well as local players like Arada — think now is the right time to invest in Sharjah. My own personal belief is that this is just the start.
Our plans are significant, and I am sure that there are plenty of other companies like us that have similar ambitions. Such plans can only be good for home buyers, for residents and for local businesses — as well as for Sharjah itself.
Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi is chairman of Arada and Chairman of Sharjah Media Council.