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But, there are still a few out there who prefer to go it alone. Count Sweet Homes Holdings among them. Recent headway has been made on the construction side at its Ajman Uptown and Rainbow Towers projects, with the company calling on in-house support through Sweet Homes General Contracting for the main contract. "The market downturn gave us an opportunity to work more rigorously with our labour force to achieve targets on time," says Abdul Sattar Dero, chairman.

Dero is well aware of how infrastructure lacunae, especially on the power supply side, are a constant niggle for property buyers in Ajman. Infrastructure glitches have been investors' pet peeve in Ajman. To address the power situation, Sweet Homes has initiated work on the utility lines. "Until such time [as] power is arranged by the authorities, the developer will arrange for generators. We want to avoid delays in connecting to the power network."

Property values in Ajman have dropped by 20 to 30 per cent from their peak, confirms the developer, but Sweet Homes says that its developments are maintaining their launch prices.

"Historically, Ajman has had very competitive prices," notes Fahad. "The cost of land is less compared to Dubai, and prices here did not go down as drastically as they did in the other emirates. "We haven't dropped prices. Except steel, all building material prices remain the same."

The developer has not let the lack of recent sales at its developments impact construction plans. Of course, there is the cushion provided by 70 per cent of the 1,504 villa units at Ajman Uptown getting sold at the time of the launch in November 2007 and well before the Ajman realty market went into a tailspin in 2009.

 

Dismissing rumours

Dero is dismissive of the prevailing notion that Ajman was the worst affected among the emirates by the downturn. "Off-plan sales and bulk buying were happening elsewhere too," he counters. "There is no difficulty [working] in Ajman per se, although affected by the slump, we remain steadfast in our commitment to hit delivery targets for our projects.

"Whatever we did not launch has been delayed. We are managing current projects till such time [as] they are complete. We've even started handing over projects, for instance, the Al Khor towers for which we are exclusive marketing agents."

The villas in Ajman Uptown should commence handover from December, while components such as the mall, sundry retail outlets, a hotel and a hospital would be delivered in phases thereafter. A hotel operator is yet to be identified, but Sweet Homes confirms that the necessary building permits are all in place and the design finalised.

By eschewing bulk sales so favoured by other developers in the northern emirate during the boom phase, Sweet Homes claims its investors remain mostly individuals. And when the market went into correction mode, Sweet Homes could easily identify those of its investors who wished to stay the distance.

 

Financial transparency

An agreement with Dubai Islamic Bank ensures all payments made towards units in Ajman Uptown and Rainbow Towers are remitted to the respective escrow accounts. Ajman Bank has since come on board to offer home finance for investors in Sweet Homes' projects. "We believe mortgage financing for investors looking at Ajman will further encourage investment activities in the market," suggests Fahad Sattar Dero, CEO, Sweet Homes Group.

At this point in time, it does sound like wishful thinking, more to do with the strained circumstances in the UAE's banking sector than lender reservations about Ajman's property market.

To convince investors of its intentions, Sweet Homes opened offices in Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Qatar, London and Canada. Investors flustered by news of absconding developers and misplaced funds can approach the offices and seek details on the construction progress and escrow accounts. "We didn't want to further confuse our investors in an already depressed market," says Dero.

But Sweet Homes is willing to accommodate buyers facing payment issues. "We are willing to reschedule their payments, we aren't taking action against bounced cheques," insists Fahad. "We can accommodate requests from buyers without compromising on the cashflow of the project."

Record progress

In Emirates City, one of the few ‘cities' in Ajman recording progress on the ground, Sweet Homes' Dh1.7 billion Rainbow Towers is heading for completion in the fourth quarter. The three residential buildings are nearly 75 per cent sold. "Almost all buyers are end-users who either intend to live there or lease for rental income," says Abdul Sattar Dero.