Every year around this time, I am forced to enter into an elaborate sparring match with the rental company that manages the property I live in.
It generally starts with a curt email from them, proposing a hike in my annual rent that is not only enormous but, as per Rera guidelines, illegal. I have lived in the same house for six years and am loath to move – I have cultivated a now flourishing garden, spent hours painting walls in my preferred hues, invested many a dirham in annual maintenance and have made lots of friends in my neighbourhood (plus, the mere idea of having to sort through and empty my storeroom is enough to incite a panic attack).
So I respond with a strongly worded missive expressing my outrage at their proposal. After much back and forth, we reach an impasse. Finally, I make a trip to their office (which used to be in Deira but has thankfully moved to Business Bay, which is at least less of a trek) and try to negotiate with them in person. I try to appeal to their sense of fairness; I cite UAE property law; I get frustrated; I get upset. This elaborate performance has been repeated so often that both sides now slip into their parts almost unthinkingly. While we eventually reach some kind of compromise, it is invariably precluded by this merry dance. And I always leave that meeting feeling a little bit cheated.
This year, I thought I had them. For a start, property prices in my neighbourhood have dropped slightly, so I am currently paying above the market rate. On top of that, there is a new school being built directly across the road from my house, causing a considerable amount of disruption to my daily life – one night this week, the crew was pouring concrete until midnight, their industrial strength spotlights searing through my bedroom curtains as a backdrop to all the beeping, chugging and banging.
The aforementioned real estate company was unmoved by such tales of hardship. They refused to reduce my rent and even tried to insist that I continue to pay it all in one cheque – a process that, let’s face it, is so 2010. I eventually managed to negotiate a three-cheque payment plan, but am annoyed that I am supposed to view this as some kind of victory.
It also rankles that I have now spent ten years paying rent in the UAE, which, when added up, amounts to nearly Dh1 million that I will never see again. So, to buy or not to buy? That is the question.
I have long sat on the fence with this one. I arrived in the UAE thinking, like many before and since, that I was going to stay for a couple of years and then be on my way. While I have long since begun to consider Dubai home, that mentality has perhaps subconsciously stuck, and prevented me from investing in a UAE home of my own. Because many of us don’t know how long we will be here for, we hold back from making the kind of long-term financial commitments that we might if we were in our home countries.
Added to that, when I first arrived in the emirate, the build quality of many of Dubai’s residential communities was questionable, which was another reason to hold off on investing. Witnessing the 2008 financial slowdown firsthand may also have left some residual reticence. But ten years on, this hesitance has come with a heavy price tag.
I have also been burnt by bricks and mortar in the past. Many years ago, while I still lived in Cyprus, I invested in a “starter flat” – a charming but oddly laid out ground floor apartment that, I subsequently discovered, was plagued with rising damp and had practically zero resale value (particularly after the country’s economy all but collapsed in 2012). This has made me incredibly risk averse.
But, fresh from my battles with my landlord’s lackeys, and with this week’s Cityscape reminding me of the real estate opportunities available and the UAE Government’s new five-year retiree visa now in place, I am tempted to at least start looking into the possibility of buying my own home here. And I am not alone – in a recent YouGov survey, a quarter of those polled said that they hope to acquire housing in the UAE in the next 12 months.
That offers some measure of reassurance. That many people can’t be wrong. Can they?