Dubai: Five years ago, when Conor McKay, a teenager studying business in Ireland, would watch Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles, a reality TV show featuring young real estate agents selling high-end properties in Los Angeles, he wished he could be like one of them. As the savvy agents rubbed shoulders with the world’s wealthiest people and clinched top dollar property deals in Beverly Hills, Malibu and other exotic locations, what struck him was their business acumen and savvy, not to mention their handsome earnings and lavish lifestyles.
Talk to McKay, who is a Dubai-based expat today, and the just 24 year old will tell you: “I am far better than what I could have imagined back then.”
And why wouldn’t he be? Having secured the sale of a Palm Jumeirah villa at Dh280 million for his company – Belleview Real Estate – earlier this month, McKay has smashed all property sale records in the city to date.
Grateful to Dubai
Never mind who bought Dubai’s most expensive villa, McKay is the man of the moment for brokering the deal for the 33,000 sq ft, 10-bedroom mansion with a 70-metre private beachfront. Up until now, the highest amount that a property in the emirate fetched was Dh185 million, when a signature villa - again on the Palm - was sold in 2015.
So what does the Dh280 million deal mean for McKay? “Well, it makes me very proud. I feel like the top broker in Dubai, a city that I am extremely grateful to,” he says.
He vividly recalls how he first flew into the emirate on a one-way ticket on February 2, 2017. And needless to say, there’s been no looking back since.
Rejected by three brokerages
Armed with a dream and the determination to realise it, the lad from the Irish market town of Limavady had managed to secure a job with a real estate company in Dubai after three other brokerages had rejected him because he was still a teen.
“The company saw potential in me and agreed to recruit me,” he said, noting that he himself had discovered the salesman in him as a little boy. “I used to sell sweets and soft drinks when I was a school kid and I ran an online shop selling golf clubs when I was in college. I loved a good deal right from those days.”
McKay, who has established himself as an uber luxury property consultant, lets on that in the one month that he struck the Dh280 million transaction, he also managed to broker deals worth Dh150 million. Last year, the total worth of the properties he brokered stood at staggering Dh750 million.
Which leads us to the big question: How much money has he made from his stellar deals?
McKay refuses to divulge the figure.
But suffice it to say that even at the industry average commission of two per cent that brokers in Dubai usually take from buyers – and sellers in a rising trend – we’re talking of millions of dirhams.
The first commission
McKay says he has worked very hard to reach where he has today. “The first ever deal I struck in Dubai was for a Dh140,000 rental of a two-bedroom villa in Jumeirah Village Triangle in 2017. I took home Dh3,500 as my commission. By the end of 2018, I made my first villa sale and received 60 per cent of the Dh420,000 payable commission. It was around this time that I progressed into full-time sales from doing premium rentals, including some villas that commanded Dh1million or more, earlier.”
He firmly believes his young age is a huge advantage. “I am full of energy, extremely driven and quick on the ball. When I broker a deal, I make sure I have the fullest knowledge about the property - I can even tell a client who his neighbours will be and what their dogs are called,” he says.
Being available 24/7
McKay also prides himself with being switched on 24/7. “My clients can phone me anytime and I will answer them. Last night, I got a call from someone with an inquiry from Los Angeles at 2.30 am and I was on the phone with the person till 4.30am. And when there’s an appointment, I turn up. It’s important to be available, honest and reliable in my line of business.”
He says his billionaire clients appreciate good service more than anything else. They belong to different countries and nationalities and mainly comprise businessmen, dignitaries, celebrities and movie stars, all of whom come through referrals. Building and maintaining a trusted relationship with them is integral to a successful deal, he adds.
The 280m villa deal
As a case in point, he talks of how he assiduously worked on brokering deal for the Dh280 million from when it was still under construction. “One day, I was driving past the villa when it was being constructed and I decided to pop in. I was told that it was not for sale. I was determined to find out who its owner was and get in touch with him. Again, I was told in no uncertain terms that it was not for sale.”
This was back in 2020. When the villa was ready, McKay believed it was the most unique residence on the island. Again, he approached the owner who had by now moved into the property. He tried convincing him to sell the villa but in vain. A few months down the line, however, he received a call and was told that the owner was willing to “show”, not sell, the place to anyone who was okay with the price he was quoting.
Over the next four months, McKay worked on getting the photographs and videos of the villa done to show potential buyers. He tapped into his vast networks and started viewings 14 months ago. “We showed the villa to five serious parties but the owner declined their offers. The final buyer came to us through a referral from another client. They fell in love with the place. Negotiations went on for three months and it took another three months for is to close the deal.”
According to McKay, one major reason why people are investing heavily in Dubai realty is the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “While we experienced a very strict lockdown, within six weeks Dubai had one of the most comprehensive testing infrastructures globally, allowing life to return to normal almost immediately. Within 12 months, 89.7 per cent of the population was vaccinated. This response saw an influx of high-net-worth individuals from overseas. Combine that with an already undervalued property market and the result is the explosive growth we have witnessed in the last year,” he says..
Peter Smithson, Sales Director at Belleview, agrees. “While a short-term view of the market can be intimidating, when we look at the overall history, we see the current average dirham cost per sq foot of property is only 78 per cent of the previous peak in 2014. Consider how strong Dubai is now, compared to then, and you have no option but to predict further significant growth,” he says.
Five years from now, McKay too sees himself moving to a custom-built signature villa on the Palm. By then, he wants to expand his scope of work in the global market to cover cities like LA, Miami, New York and Moscow. “Hopefully, my name will come up in some conversations globally,” he says.
For now, McKay, who stays with his three Pomeranian dogs, has enough and more reasons to celebrate, having achieved so much in such a short span of his life.
“I turn 25 on April 25,” he says sheepishly.
Well, here's wishing the billionaire's broker a very happy birthday.