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An expert insight into the GCC property market

Emirateswoman.com logo Emirateswoman.com 19/05/2022 Olivia Morris
Downtown Dubai Skyline © Motivate Publishing Downtown Dubai Skyline

The GCC property market has seen a massive shift in the last few years, particularly in the UAE.

With new visas and new business options, this region has become a major hub for many to invest in property.

In addition, new mega-projects in the region in development are continuing to attract more and more expats to the region, as outlined by Property Finder President, Ari Kesisoglu.

While the UAE continues to be a particularly attractive place to invest in property, Kesisoglu outlines the development in Saudi Arabia is attracting investors.

“With such massive projects, we will see landscapes dedicated to housing projects, commercial spaces and office spaces that will shift living trends from existing cities to these up-and-coming projects,” he tells Emirates Man.

As well as this, the upcoming World Cup in Qatar is also, once again, shining a spotlight on the region.

Below, Kesisoglu gives us an expert insight into the GCC property market, outlines what his role as President of Property Finder entails and what is next for the real estate site.

Property Finder President © Provided by Emirateswoman.com Property Finder President

Can you talk us through the history and concept of Property Finder?

In 2005, Founder and CEO, Michael Lahyani noticed a gap in the market for a customer-friendly and trust-worthy real-estate listings portal. He then set off to launch the UAE’s first printed real estate classified to connect renters and buyers with landlords, sellers, and real estate brokers. His startup transitioned into a digital platform in 2007 – propertyfinder.ae – to do away with traditional newspaper classifieds, creating a seamless journey for holders and seekers. Michael has always been very passionate about empowering people in their home search journeys – and this goal is still alive across the company.

Since its launch, the company has penetrated across key regional markets including Qatar, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, and in 2018 secured a funding of $120 million from US private equity firm, General Atlantic.

Now, the concept behind Property Finder is to design new and targeted products to further ease and smoothen a home seeker’s real estate journey in the region. Each customer has an ‘ideal’ home in their mind when they head out for their search, and many times these searches may not always result in a transaction. Our job is to lead them to the right options for their ultimate decision. Property Finder is on its way to reaching its true potential of becoming a lighthouse tech company and I am looking forward to the journey and all that it brings with it for the company and our customers.

The digitization of Property Finder meant that all decisions – small or big – are backed by the plethora of data we gather through our customer journey. Together, with the entire Property Finder team, we continue to learn from our industry insights and adapt to the market’s ever-changing environment.

What does your role as President entail?

I was brought on board to transform the business into a tech-focused company. Since my appointment, our goal has been to leverage our extensive access to data as a tech enterprise, and build targeted and innovative products for our consumers – making product development the core of the company. We have added several exciting products and partnerships to our portfolio, including the first-ever residential rental index, Mo’asher, and the recent acquisition of Homevalue.

Apart from fine-tuning our offering and operations, Property Finder used to follow a corporate mentality and one of my first goals as President was to roll out a startup mentality – openness, enabled, support and equal. It may seem like a rather insignificant change, but startups encourage an open-door policy, welcoming members from across all teams and levels to voice their opinions, making room for fresh ideas and strategies that in turn contribute to the growth of the company.

By doing this, I aim to build the best team in the region and whether this comes from recruiting the right candidates or enabling our existing professionals, I am focused at helping them become the best version of themselves. I hope to achieve this is by taking the lessons I learnt from my career and implementing them in our corporate practices – to make sure that we are providing the right tools, helping them access supportive mentors, making sure they are open to feedback, and guiding them to have clear goals with the aim to do better every single day.

A post shared by Property Finder (@propertyfinder)

A post shared by Property Finder (@propertyfinder)

How has Property Finder evolved in terms of brand and logistics since its launch in 2007?

Property Finder today is not the same as Property Finder in 2007 – we have learned from the ever-changing environment and have continuously adapted our business model to: 1) meet the needs and demands of the market, 2) position the consumer at the core of all our business decisions and 3) remove the traditional corporate business model and create a flexible and open-door policy for all levels at our organizations. Each year brings forth new lessons and each year, we reflect on our decisions and aim to take more calculated risks moving forward and improve our day-to-day collective activities but also our short- and long-term goals.

We’ve worked very hard at shifting traditional business to online – as a tech-first company, operating the way we used to isn’t sustainable anymore; adaptability is crucial. We learn from the models that weren’t efficient, and fine-tune the ones that are. Adding the right products to our portfolio is also helping us in doing so. Currently, we focus on fixing problems when we can and with the help of technology, there’s always a solution somewhere and a precedent set in history that we can refer to. For example, one problem we had upon adding property listings on Property Finder was to ensure that our consumers are getting the right information to make the right decision – we recognized that problems may arise from there and we successfully added verification tags and live viewing options as a reliability standard between us and our consumers. We do this by verifying the broker whose listing it is – each broker that advertises on our portal needs to have a contract from the owner of the property and we have built our platform in a way that verified listings always feature at the top of a search for an improved user experience.

With that, one of our key focuses right now is to integrate some of the world’s best practices into different parts of our business. This has had a significant impact on our company basics and has brought us back to a ‘learning and growth’ stage. Via these new systems in place, we are working on launching an array of new and targeted products to further ease and smoothen a home seeker’s real estate journey here in the region.

In the GCC market, how do property trends differ?

There have been interesting changes in the consumer dynamics and as a company, we are working hard to empower people in their home search journeys, whatever the dynamics are. Our ‘homes’ have always mattered, but with the pandemic and post-pandemic era, the role of a home in our lives is being redefined or becoming even more important. According to our recent consumer research conducted in partnership with YouGov in the UAE, we found that the highest reason of moving amongst renters was ‘needing a bigger home’ (37%).

This and some other changes in demand, like a desire to have more outdoor space, created an environment where more people wanted change. Therefore, Covid-19 was certainly a growth accelerator for the property market.

One could say Dubai was ready for this change, with multiple new developments located on the periphery of the city’s epicentre, which promised unparalleled housing solutions with an enhanced community experience. Property Finder has witnessed an increased interest in properties that sit further away from the city centres – areas such as The Valley, Akoya, Dubai Hills Estate, Town Square and Dubai land are gaining popularity, owing to their ability to offer large homes at competitive prices. Therefore Dubai, and to some extent, the rest of UAE, benefited significantly from the recent real estate demand.

At a regional level, trends also follow where projects arise – in KSA for example, we’re seeing massive cities being built around metropolitan projects, a big example of this would be Neom – Saudi Arabia’s First Cognitive and Smart City – a huge area with great potential. With such massive projects, we will see landscapes dedicated to housing projects, commercial spaces and office spaces that will shift living trends from existing cities to these up-and-coming projects. The same is also happening in Qatar with the World Cup – whilst the project is catering to the exciting football games, we’re also seeing large residential projects, hotels and commercial spaces coming to life around the area. Projects such as these aim to accommodate thousands of visitors and investors that pay a visit to experience them and the thousands of residents that will eventually move there as they attract more expats.

A post shared by Property Finder (@propertyfinder)

A post shared by Property Finder (@propertyfinder)

We’ve seen a major shift in property in the UAE & GCC since the pandemic began. In your opinion, what have been the biggest shifts?

The pandemic put us all in unprecedented situations and we are collectively still coping with the aftermath. We also are finding ways to be more efficient, to adapt to difficult situations, make wiser decisions and more importantly, how to take calculated risks. Thankfully, on the economic side of things, several strong and key initiatives launched by the UAE government aided in keeping businesses afloat and driving the economy forward.

The impact the pandemic had on the real estate and property industry was grand, but we know that when market volatility and interest rates are low – it will have a positive impact on real estate and related businesses. The economic improvements weren’t expected to be as swift but as a positive surprise to many in the industry, it happened that way.

The positive economic dynamics combined with some social trends such as an increased desire to live in bigger and better spaces (because of spending more time at home) led to a positive market movement in real estate. January 2022 was a good start to the year on record with 5,797 sales transactions in Dubai worth AED 16.69 billion, that is an 74.56% increase from January of 2021.

We have witnessed a common behavioural change amongst residents of the city – since the pandemic, with people spending more time at home and with an increasing number of organizations implementing a full-time or part-time remote working structure, people are now on the lookout for bigger and more spacious homes. More than just a roof over their head, one home now serves as their workspace, educational facility for their kids, a place to unwind, and more.

The demand for ready to move in villas and townhouses are at an all-time high right now, witnessing significant growth year on year. Several secondary or ready to move in villas and townhouses are being transferred at an exponential rate as Dubai comes back as an investment hub regionally and globally.

In terms of renting and buying in Dubai at present, what are the most sought-after areas for property?

The UAE is one of the most attractive places in terms of real estate investment, thanks to government regulations, transparency on ownership rights, and investor-friendly structures. A decent portion of investors are local. It has always been a popular place for investors from the region and East. One emerging trend we observe is that Dubai has started to have more and more investors from the Western world which is a natural result of great initiatives taken by the government during the pandemic.

According to Data Finder, the real estate insights and data platform under the Property Finder group, Dubai Marina, Downtown Dubai, Business Bay and Jumeirah Village Circle were amongst the top searched areas for apartment rentals and sale. Dubai Hills Estate, Palm Jumeirah and Arabian Ranches saw the highest number of sale-related searches for villas and townhouses; and Al Barsha, The Springs and Umm Suqeim were amongst the top five for villa and townhouse rental searches.

What’s next for Property Finder?

For the moment we are focusing on the countries that we already operate in. When the word “real estate” is mentioned in the region, the top country that comes to mind is the UAE, and it is one of our key markets, but we are also investing a lot in our other countries. A clear example is Egypt, which has a lot more runway in their economy. Egypt is a very important country for us: there is good stability from the economy for the past couple of years and the common opinion in the business circles is that this trend is likely to continue.

From a business perspective, we are also excited that in markets such as Qatar and Bahrain, we are still very much the sole player, and these countries prove to have great growth prospects in the future. Saudi Arabia as a country is working hard in its different economic programs and it’ll be interesting to watch the pace of the developments there.

2022 is going to be an exciting year for us at Property Finder – we made a lot of improvements and more importantly, added a lot of very strong leaders to the company. A lot of the things that we have been working hard on are starting to yield fruits already, so I am quite excited about the upcoming year.

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