2020: A Year in Review

Written by Arpan Ghosh

The end of the year is a time for reflection, to celebrate the highs and learn from the lows of the previous 12 months. And 2020 has been full of lessons for everyone, from proper sanitisation and hygiene to fiscal responsibility. It is nowhere close to the year that we expected it to be - a year when highly anticipated movies would be box office hits, when new destinations would be ticked off travel bucket lists, and when Expo 2020 would dominate the last quarter of the year and usher us into 2021. Sadly, none of those things happened as planned. Instead, we found ourselves warily reading about a mysterious new virus that was spreading at the start of the year and became a pandemic in the blink of an eye, forever altering the history of the world.

However, the human spirit is resilient and human ingenuity knows no bounds when the situation calls for it. And so we endured, finding hope in the world’s darkest corners, a hope that has grown brighter in the past month. As we look forward to a new year with a cautious sense of optimism, let’s look back at the year that was.

Image Credit: The National (thenationalnews.com)

Dubai in Lockdown

We have always waxed poetic about Dubai, how it is one of the best cities in the world to live in and raise a family. A cosmopolitan population, strong government-backed initiatives and excellent infrastructure have helped a small fishing village grow into one a global giant that is known for its grand ambitions and impossible feats of architecture and design. The idea that a city like this could be closed off to the world was baffling to the mind - it is one of the world’s foremost travel hubs and home to an award-winning airline. Yet it was in mid-March that we saw the city’s borders sealed off as part of a nationwide lockdown. Beaches, shopping malls, highways, tourist attractions such as the Burj Khalifa and Palm Jumeirah - all thronging with people at the start of the year and then completely deserted.

Commerce and tourism, two of the major pillars of the emirate’s economy, were crumbling. The Dubai real estate market, which had begun to see increasing levels of activity during the first two months of the year, saw a sharp plunge.

For us as a company, it was a devastating blow. We are, after all, a Dubai brokerage with a global footprint, attracting buyers and investors from all over the world. With clients unable to come to the city to view properties, to meet our property specialists and to finalise deals in person for an indefinite period of time, the outlook seemed grim.

The Power of a Digital Destination

We found ourselves facing an incredible challenge - operating as a brokerage without the ability to personally interact with clients in a world where every country had become an island. At the same time, this presented us with a unique opportunity. LuxuryProperty.com has always touted itself as a digital destination, with the ability to reach anyone in any corner of the world without the need to travel. This was a chance for us to highlight what that really means.

 

Our private client advisory team remained in constant contact with clients through email, Zoom and other channels. We shared property images and videos as much as possible, and even went out of our way to conduct virtual walkthroughs and tours to maintain engagement and interest. As a result of this, when international travel resumed, we had clients who were primed to buy from us.

V-Shaped Recovery

With the reopening of borders, optimism slowly crept back into the market, and it was expected that business would go back to normal over time. But nobody predicted the flurry of activity that followed. The summer months, which are generally a bit slower compared to the rest of the year, were among the busiest we have seen in some time. By the end of the summer, market activity had already surpassed its pre-lockdown levels. In November alone, AED 7.65 billion worth of real estate was transacted, breaking a seven-year record. The government of the UAE must be commended for their swift and decisive actions during the early days of the pandemic, which helped the economy to pick up as quickly as it did.

The latter half of the year proved to be incredibly busy for us as well, with a combined AED 180 million in sales at Emirates Hills, AED 29 million on Palm Jumeirah and AED 17 million on the island of Pearl Jumeirah. We currently have deals on the table at the Palm and in Dubai Hills Estate that, once transacted, will get us off to a great start for 2021.

Making these deals would not have been possible without the right team of advisors for the job. During a time of uncertainty when layoffs were becoming the norm, we managed to retain some of the strongest members of our private client advisory team. And in the following months, we were able to expand that team to triple its size. Our little boutique brokerage quickly grew to be a very major player in the market, a fact that was cemented when we found ourselves being nominated in every major category at the Propertyfinder Real Estate Awards. It was yet another sign that we were doing things right, and navigating the pandemic successfully.

Government Initiatives

Even as the UAE grappled with the COVID pandemic and took measures to bring it under control, the nation was busy reshaping its own history and that of the wider region. Perhaps the biggest news story to come out of that was the Abraham Accord, a peace treaty between the UAE and Israel. This groundbreaking agreement would see unprecedented levels of cooperation between the two countries and may possibly be among the first steps toward achieving peace in the Middle East.

Many new laws were brought into effect (and old ones overturned) that will also alter the course of the UAE’s future. Retirees will now be able to avail of a 5-year visa, consumption and purchase of alcohol will no longer require an alcohol license, and cohabitation between unwed couples will be legalised. Changes in divorce and inheritance laws are particularly significant - whereas these were dictated according to UAE law previously, they will now fall under the jurisdiction of the residents’ home countries. Mainland companies, which were previously required to have a majority Emirati shareholder, will now be able to have 100% foreign ownership.

Each of these initiatives will help to make the UAE an even more attractive prospect for future residents and for investors, building confidence amongst international visitors to the country, particularly those who may seek safe haven in the UAE as they escape spiraling COVID infections in other parts of the world.

Prevailing Trends

The one thing that has been on everyone’s mind since the pandemic fist came to light is personal safety and the safety of loved ones. Amongst our clients, we have seen a greater shift from apartments to villa communities, where families will enjoy a greater sense of privacy, allowing them to feel more secure.

It has been a strong market for rentals, particularly in the affordable luxury sector, which has really come into the spotlight this year, Our own focus had to shift to accommodate this trend, as we formed and built up a team focused primarily on affordable luxury communities such as Mudon, Town Square and Akoya Oxygen. As we see handovers of new units in District One, mansions in Dubai HIlls Estate, and several other villa communities across the city, we can expect to see this trend continue well into 2021.

We believe that 2021 will also be known as the year of the penthouse. Projects such as One at Palm Jumeirah, Royal Atlantis and the Residences Dorchester Collection will be handing over next year, and each project features an exclusive and gorgeous selection of penthouses. You get vast amounts of space, beautiful contemporary design and hotel-style amenities - they will undoubtedly be among the most popular options of the year.

Lessons Learned and the Road Ahead

2020 was a major learning experience for everyone. There was of course the obvious lesson regarding sanitisation and maintaining proper hygienic standards to stem the spread of the infection. But on a deeper level, this year emphasised the more overlooked aspects of daily life. Spending time with family, picking up new hobbies and learning to let go of personal extravagance were some of the key takeaways of the year. Working from home was a respite for some while others missed the camaraderie of an office environment.

Most importantly, particularly for us in the real estate sector, was the importance of having the right type of home that suits your way of life. As we mentioned, there was more of a shift toward larger homes and communities, and both buyers and tenants were much more particular about communicating their exact needs rather than settling for something that was close enough.

As a company, we have come to appreciate the value of our digital offering more than ever, leveraging our platform to maintain relationships with our clients throughout the year. We have made huge strides this year, expanding our brokerage team and writing record levels of business.

We are greatly looking forward to 2021. Aside from the distribution of COVID vaccines, there is plenty to be excited about. Life is slowly inching its way back to some semblance of normal. Expo 2020 has been pushed back by a year, so we can expect to see a fresh wave of hype over the next few months. And there are clients aplenty waiting to connect with a trusted property advisor who can help them find the perfect home. All in all it should be a very good year, and has the potential to be one of the best years for Dubai real estate.