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The price cycle of Dubai's property sector was a near mirror image of what happened in the first boom cycle of 2011-12, with luxury leading the fray. Image Credit: Shutterstock

2021 turned out to be a banner year for Dubai’s luxury real estate, reaching a “Black Friday” fever pitch, and catching almost everybody off guard. As the year progressed, mid-market property started to pick up as well, albeit from a far lower base level with moderate upticks, signaling an increase in confidence as businesses started to stabilize.

The price cycle was a near mirror image of what happened in the first boom cycle of 2011-12, with luxury leading the fray, followed by the mid-market. Broadly speaking, with payment plans continuing to be the main driver for new sales, that trend is expected to repeat itself this year, especially as the headwinds of a rising interest rate cycle come into play. In that sense, repetition can itself be a pleasure: it creates and fulfills expectation at the same time, and provides an illusion of control.

We get what we are expecting - and what we wanted. That is the satisfaction of formula fiction: we know that the mystery will be solved and that all will be well at the end. But it can also be a painful repetition of being helplessly stuck in a pattern, in thrall to an obsession, a habit that we cannot break.

With repetition, the story becomes a cliché, a dead metaphor that has lost its figurative power. Yet as Dubai’s experience states, the story of every price cycle has led to the spawning of new communities where tens of thousands of investors and end-users benefit, through a process of gentrification, revival of stalled projects and re-zoning opportunities that lead to a more efficient allocation of capital going forwards.

Unlock value from stuck projects

In 2022, while these themes will continue to perpetuate themselves, the accelerated pace of change translates into tapping in the world of the unconscious, of deep-seated anxieties and desires. It is this aspect that gets most derided in analytical literature, as first-time buyers remain the holy grail for most developers.

For investors caught in the cycle of stalled or delayed projects, the propensity to invest again becomes the biggest obstacle. This remains the driving factor as to why the revival of projects will continue to play a major role this year, especially as value discovery has returned to the fore in developed communities like Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Village, Business Bay and parts of Dubailand. This is even more visible in upcoming communities. But the evolutionary solution - which at the higher end involves end-users constructing their own villa residences and/or protracted litigation punctuated by below replacement value sales from distressed owners - hardly qualifies as a non-zero sum game outcome.

Everything is still in play

Even as brokerages offer “swap mechanisms” (which ultimately is a simplistic mechanism of baking higher prices into newer projects), the ultimate goal remains the disentanglement and the unlocking of values from these delayed projects, a process we have witnessed in other parts of the world. There is no doubt these projects are an externality of rapid urbanization. Yet, as 2021 has shown, these externalities can be overcome and where they have, it has allowed affected investors to renew their confidence in the marketplace.

The picture then, that we see swimming into focus, is that of a city with a direct gaze that is challenging, a half-smile that is all knowing about what lies in store.

It is unlikely that the white hot pace of 2021 will be repeated. But there will be common themes of repetition; namely the renewed focus on mid-market housing, attracting first-time buyers and enticing existing owners to move up the ladder. These stories have been endlessly told and scrutinized. In addition, what we hope is a laser-like focus on investors who have not fully participated in the upside of past years.

The reforms, along with the price action and capital influx have been the perfect cocktail to induce activity on this front such that the demand curve (rather than the obsession of supply) can get a a jolt higher. If the stories of 2022 can include in its count of victors those who have managed to break past patterns, the market will have surely catapulted itself into the next stage of evolution.

This has been a long time coming. Dubai’s history suggests that this is now inevitable.

-- The writer is Managing Director at Global Capital Partners.