With total investments reaching around Dh400 billion, Ajman's property market has succeeded in attracting vital resources for the growth of the emirate's economy, thanks to the Ajman Government's efforts to develop the sector.
Rami M Dabbas, Chief Executive Officer of Aqaar Properties, and the representative of the government in its joint venture projects with the private sector, told Emirates Business in an interview about the company's 12 towers and the Ajman One project.
Aqaar Properties started with Dh250 million and after just 17 months of operation, has projects valued at around Dh7bn, he said. Also, as the head of Ajman Real Estate Development and Ajman Investment and Development Authority, he spoke about the government's vision and plans to further boost the real estate sector by improving infrastructure, especially expanding water and electricity projects.
Dabbas talked about the different projects in Ajman and analysed the property market in the emirate. He said the property marked in Ajman has seen rapid bookings which is a reflection of the confidence of investors in the young market. Ajman's success in this sphere was beyond expectations, he said.
Let us start with Aqaar Properties. Tell us about the company.
Aqaar was formed in 2006 in association with Ajman Development and Investment Authority (Adia). It was set up to spearhead the expansion of Ajman into a successful tourism and business hub by developing a number of projects to support the Adia's mission of economic diversification. Aqaar's long-term vision is to expand its influence outside its home emirate and beyond the UAE's shores. Our first project is Ajman One.
What was the capital of the company? And what are your assets now?
We started with a Dh250 million paid up capital and after 17 months of operation the value of our projects have reached Dh6 billion to Dh7bn.
Ajman's property market is known to be competitive. Many developers have chosen Ajman for their investments and provided a range of facilities. How did Aqaar Properties grab the attention of clients in such a competitive market?
Our vision is to enrich the lives of our stakeholders by leveraging our unmatched real estate expertise and provide a smart alternative to the market by delivering lifestyle solutions at an excellent value. And our mission is to build a compelling and passionate lifestyle brand that delivers excellent customer satisfaction, sustained through the right professional expertise and in-house CRM systems, with a genuine commitment to deliver.
Planning successful developments requires insight that can only be acquired by significant research and investment into understanding the ever-changing landscape of the property market. There is also a need to understand the end-user's requirements. Decisions made today will affect the daily lives of people who will ultimately live in the projects. It is also vital to keep abreast of technology that can be incorporated into the buildings. Infrastructure advancements and the evolution of design is an important element of Aqaar's success.
If there was one key reason behind your success, what would it be?
Our success can be attributed to the confidence and trust that we have built in our investors and buyers. Confidence is the key factor for the success of any developer.
Although there is no definite property law in Ajman, from the first day Aqaar applied for an Escrow account with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. And our sale contract stipulates that the buyer is a member of the project's owners' association.
Please tell us about Ajman One.
The Dh3bn Ajman One is a mixed-use development on a 72,000 square metre plot featuring residential, commercial and hospitality complexes consisting of 16 towers.
It also has a hotel, convention centre, and leisure and retail amenities and is located on the coast. The project is divided into two phases. Phase one has 12 residential towers and the second phase of the project comprises three commercial towers, a hotel and convention centre.
What is the progress on Ajman One?
We have sold out 96 per cent, or 3,500 apartments, in the 12 residential towers that we started constructing in January 2007. This was beyond our plan – which was to sell the project in three years. The project offers freehold ownership, a reason that could be behind such a rapid sale.
In June, we will launch three towers that form Ajman One's second phase. The towers will be allotted for offices and a fourth tower will have a hotel and serviced apartments. This phase is the first business hub in Ajman. The hotel is linked to a convention centre and we have signed an operations and management contract with a prominent hotel management company.
Can you name the hotel's operator?
All I can say at present is that the operator has extensive experience and is already managing hotels in Dubai. The name will be revealed after the agreements have been signed by both parties.
What facilities will the business hub phase of the project offer?
Phase two offers freehold ownership and free zone operation rules. The buyer can immediately get an investor visa whereas employees' visas can be granted after the hand over of the office space to the owner.
What is the value of the second phase of Ajman One? And what is its progress so far?
The one million square foot project is worth Dh1.8bn. We have finished the designs and now eight contractors have submitted their bids, which we are evaluating.
Being the government's representative in many joint ventures and the head of the real estate development, can you tell us about the soon-to-come Property Law?
The law will be announced very soon and will aim to address the needs of all parties involved in a development. Its stipulations include Escrow accounts and the formation of an owners' association. After the draft law was prepared, it was sent to developers for their comments, which the government has taken into consideration in its review. Getting the opinion of developers was essential to frame the most appropriate regulations.
What, according to you, is the market trend in the property sector?
There a common trend among expatriates residents to own a house in the UAE. Also, many people overseas who are looking for a second home are choosing Ajman. Most of the buyers in Ajman One were expatriates and a significant portion was foreigners living outside the country.
What are the new projects to be rolled out by Aqaar Properties?
We are working on a project worth more than Dh3 billion, which is totally different from Ajman One. The new project is for the high end of the market in terms of location – at Ajman Corniche – quality and design. It is a multi use residential, luxury and tourist project, comprising condominiums, duplex houses, restaurants and entertainment facilities at the beach. The project will reclaim 140,000 sq mt from the sea and will offer a marina for 70 boats up to 45 feet in length.
What is the progress on it so far and when is it going to be launched?
We have signed a contract with the Australian company EDAW for the design of the project. We have already assigned a consultant for the marina and another consultant for the transport. The project will be officially launched at the next Cityscape Dubai event. The progress so far is smooth.
The price of property has been going up in the past five years in Ajman. What do you think is the rate of increase?
Over the past five years, prices have generally increased by more than 150 per cent. And I can tell you that our prices, since we started operations 17 months ago, have increased by 45 per cent. We started selling at Dh400 per sq ft and now our price is more than Dh700 per sq ft.
Do you think there is a shortage of office space in Ajman?
Yes indeed. There is a big shortage of office spaces in the emirate and this has prompted owners of residential and commercial building to opt for renting apartments to companies. However, the second phase of our Ajman One project will provide a total area of one million square feet for offices. The project will help meet future needs of the emirate and will help attract companies and businessmen here.
Being a member of the Al Zorah Development Company's Board of Directors and representing the Government of Ajman on the board, can you tell us about this massive project?
We sold Dh10bn worth of properties in the Dh220bn project during the pre-launch phase. On May 7, we closed pre-launch sales. The project is a 50/50 partnership with Solidere International and has a built up area of 22 million sq mt.
It is a sustainable city as a single development. Apart from the residential buildings it will have hotels, schools and health centres. It is one of the biggest single developments across the UAE and will provide accommodation to about 200,000 people.
Following the directions of His Highness Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ajman, the project aims to project Ajman as the future business and residential hub in the region. It is scheduled for completion in the year 2023. We will start with providing infrastructure that includes the construction of a road that connects the project with the Emirates Road.
Providing electricity and water is a challenge for new projects, especially in the Northern Emirates. Are there any initiatives being taken by the Ajman government to prevent electricity and water shortages in the emirate?
Power and water are a real challenge. The government of Ajman will not allow this problem to form an obstacle for the developments in the emirate. The government is studying this issue very seriously and has given it top priority. Officials are discussing ways to attract investment in this vital sector. Even developers are encouraged to invest in this service sector.
Can you tell us about the Dh11bn joint venture Ajman Marina in which you are the government's representative?
In June we will offer some plots in Ajman Marina for sale. Part of the project will be developed by private companies and the rest by the Ajman Marina Company.
Beginning June, we will start land reclamations and the construction of the Marina wall, which will together cost us Dh170m.
What do you estimate as the total value of the property market in Ajman?
With the launch of Al Zorah, the value of the property market has reached Dh400bn.
PROFILE: Rami M Dabbas, CEO of Aqaar Properties
Rami M Dabbas, a Jordanian, started his career with Dar Al Handasah-Shair and Partners. He worked for Emaar from 1998 to 2005 as Director Projects and then moved to work for Ajman Government. Currently, he holds multiple positions in the emirate.
He is the Chief Executive Officer of Aqaar, the Head of Real Estate Development at Ajman Development and Investment Authority (Adia), a member of the board of directors of Al Zorah Development Company and member of the board of directors at the Ajman Marina. Dabbas has a bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and an MBA from Syracuse University, New York.