The Dubai residential real estate market is experiencing moderate declines in rents and sales prices and transaction volumes are also down, according to the latest UAE property review.

The analysis report from Asteco suggests that a focus on affordability is becoming more prominent in the emirate’s real estate market.

Whilst no significant rent reductions were recorded during the first quarter of the year this may have been due to limited supply and the general trend continued to be towards increased competition amongst landlords.

Leasing demand was stable in the first two months of 2016, however, a slowdown was recorded from March onwards, especially for more expensive properties where take-up was slower than usual.

On average, rental rates stabilised in the affordable segment, and declined by 2per cent and 3per cent for mid and high end apartments, respectively. Asteco says that this minimal decrease was due to a combination of landlords trying to retain tenants rather than insisting on higher renewal rates, a decrease in the number of newcomers to the city, and in some sectors, housing allowance cuts and redundancies.

Compared to the previous quarter, sales prices remained stable, with the exception of high end apartments and villas where 2% average declines for both markets were recorded.  However, according to the Dubai Land Department (DLD), the first quarter of 2016 was considerably worse than the first quarter of 2015 as the overall residential transactions by total value were down by 25per cent, transaction numbers by 17per cent and the average sales price by 11per cent.

Leasing activity at the beginning of the year started well, however, enquiry and transaction levels tapered off in March. The report suggests this was partially due to property owners keen to retain their existing tenants, and therefore willing to negotiate rental rates instead of having a property vacant.
As a result, fewer tenants were seeking to move to a new unit. Asteco also noted a tendency for the more expensive units in buildings to remain vacant for longer, as tenants became more conscious of their spending habits.

Whilst declines were limited over the quarter, year on year comparisons indicated an average of a 4per cent decline across the board. The most affected areas were those that had seen previous rapid rental increases for a relatively undifferentiated product. For instance, Jumeirah Lake Towers recorded a 12% decline year on year.

‘Indeed, whilst the community is attractive overall, the quality of most residential towers are below the tenant’s expectations considering the high rental levels.  We have noted an increase in demand for affordable units. However, rental rates have not fallen far enough to warrant tenants to relocate from the Northern Emirates to Dubai yet,’ the report points out.

‘This is further compounded by the fact that for a similar priced product in the Northern Emirates would equate to a much smaller unit in Dubai. For instance, AED60,000 would mean a two bedroom unit in Sharjah as opposed to a studio or a small one bedroom unit in Dubai,’ it adds.

Due to a limited supply of villas completing, rental rates were relatively stable across the board compared with the last quarter of 2015. Whilst some areas also recorded increases, average rates continued to be 5% lower compared with the same period last year.

The most notable increases were in communities that had been handed over in the last 12 months and where improvements such as landscaping works, addition of retail elements and other facilities were being implemented. Furthermore, as fewer units were vacant, landlords were increasingly able to achieve their asking rate.

This was the case in Mudon and Sustainable City for instance, where rates were up by 6per cent and 2per cent since last quarter, respectively, the report says but in a majority of other areas, rates did record a moderate decline, or at least did not witness any increases indicating pressure remained.

Asteco believes that this scenario is likely to continue throughout the year as more villas are handed over and many tenants seek to downgrade to cheaper properties.

Leasing activity in Jumeirah and Umm Suqeim increased this quarter, after landlords reduced their asking prices in the previous quarter. As a result, units that had been vacant for a long time are now occupied.

The report also explains that in the last few months the property market has begun to favour buyers because of a drop in prices, which has consequently unlocked demand from both investors and to a certain extent, the end-user.

‘Cash buyers have had a strong negotiating position and were able to secure attractive bulk deals this quarter. They are monitoring their investment opportunity as prices appear to be bottoming out, the report adds.

Although transaction levels were still considerably lower than last year, down by 17perc ent by transaction numbers according to the Dubai Land Department, Asteco has noted an increased interest from investors who are on the lookout for investment opportunities that can be obtained more readily.

Overall, on average, prices were 5% lower compared with the first quarter of 2015, although some areas witnessed a modest increase in the first quarter of this year.

Villa prices were down, on average, by 6% compared with the same period last year and 2% compared with the previous quarter. The report suggests that this was due to the continuous stream of new projects available for sale in the market.

Villas priced at the higher end of the market continued to be the most affected, as high price points deterred buyers from concluding deals. As a result, sales prices were down predominantly in the most expensive communities such as Jumeirah Golf Estates, The Villa and the larger sized villas at Arabian Ranches, with rates 14per cent, 11per cent and 13per cent lower, respectively, compared with the same period last year.

The report adds that in communities such as the Springs, where prices had dropped significantly over the year, sale prices recorded an increase in rates as the opportunity for good deals attracted buyers.