Dubai’s property market has been on something of a rollercoaster ride over the past few decades – and Linda Mahoney has been on board for the duration.
Ms Mahoney founded Better Homes in Dubai back in 1986, having spotted a gap in the market for an estate agency serving expats.
That was many years before Dubai’s gleaming high-rise skyline rose from the sand, and preceded, of course, the equally spectacular ‘boom and bust’ in the property market, in which prices raced up, boosted by speculation, and then crashed dramatically during the global downturn, writes Ben Flanagan.
With Better Homes now boasting a network of offices across the Arabian Gulf, Ms Mahoney has seen it all. And so it is on good authority when she says the days of wild fluctuations in Dubai’s property market are over.
In the more mature market, the extreme highs and lows in prices become much less likely, argues Ms Mahoney, who is now chairman of Better Homes.
“Speculation is no longer the driving force as the secondary market is well established,” she said.
Here the property expert describes how Better Homes grew from a one-woman operation to a pan-Gulf giant – and her own experience of expat life in the UAE.
What was it about the Dubai market that spelled an opportunity when you launched Better Homes in 1986 – and did your family ever envisage the scale of the expat boom that followed?
Thirty years ago I think there were few who could have conceived of present day Dubai, even with all of the vision boards and plans. At the time, the perception we had of Dubai was a unique and dynamic city with an active business community and uniquely progressive government.
Tell us about how Better Homes has expanded over the years, and which new markets – if any – are on its radar.
The main thrust of our expansion resulted from the government’s introduction of ‘freehold sales’ enabling hundreds of agencies to open. Properties were no longer allocated to just a few areas around Dubai; rather, the potential for new developments expanded throughout the emirate with new demands for relevant support services. Better Homes used the opportunity to launch our branch office concept, opening a series of offices all over Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, making it easier for our customers to reach us. Our present focus is on growing specific divisions within our core brand rather than expanding into new markets, though expansion may be on the radar for a later date.
How are the demands of expats changing when it comes to the UAE property market?
Expats are more discerning when it comes to renting or purchasing as demand continues with an ever-broader range of options available. Today, expats want to see and evaluate the product before making a commitment and generally take longer to make a decision. This is a positive thing as it drives the development of better quality product to the market.
A lot of analysts point to the need for more affordable property to both rent and buy – what’s your view of that segment?
It is challenging to find investors interested in this property sector because land is expensive which affects the profit margin. Affordable housing is a complex machine in any country, as the implementation requires government, municipal and social coordination. In my experience the prevailing opinion here in Dubai is that supply and demand will fill the gap for the time being as more properties are built allowing rent and sale prices to adjust accordingly which will offer the market a greater variety of price points.
Dubai property sale prices and rents have fallen considerably over the last year, but there hasn’t been a ‘crash’ as such. Do you think the ‘boom and bust’ cycle is over, or is there worse to come – and what is your outlook for the market over the next 12 months?
I think the days of mass speculation are over and I’m no longer willing to forecast freely. However, because we’re no longer in the nascent period of the country’s development and enjoy a more mature property market, this in itself reduces the chances of the severe highs and lows the market experienced in the past.
Have you noticed signs of an ‘expat exodus’ from the Arabian Gulf, as some have claimed?
This has always been an active claim and of course people do leave; however, many new expats still continue to relocate and ex-expats return.
What do you personally find to be the best and worst thing about expat life in the UAE?
I personally love the quotidian lifestyle in general, and by that I mean safety, security, efficient municipal services, responsible government and easy access to elements that involve both work and play. I’d say the greatest challenge is the July and August summer heat, however I’ll take a warm climate with sunshine over a cold one any day!
Bio: Linda Mahoney
Linda Mahoney grew up in Montreal, Canada, and embarked on a career as a registered nurse. She travelled internationally with her then husband, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, before coming to the UAE in 1981 to set up a surgical clinic.
Realising there was a need for a property agency to help expats in Dubai find places to live, in 1986 she left medicine behind after 25 years to establish Better Homes, a business that would grow into the leading real estate agency in the UAE.
Today, while her son Ryan is at the operational helm as CEO, Linda is still actively involved in the business.