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Finding, Buying and Renting for Expats in the United Arab Emirates

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: March 2014

Finding Property

The most important means of finding property in the UAE is the internet. It is probably a good idea to use the net before you leave your home country, to get an initial feel for the types and prices of property available. Some popular websites are given below:

Once you arrive in the Emirates, it is best to use a registered estate agent, as they are involved in most rental and sales anyway. Finding an estate agent who speaks English should not be a problem.

For those thinking of buying, matters are complicated by the fact that expats can only purchase freehold property in restricted areas (land, meanwhile, can only ever be leasehold.) This means finding a property to buy may take some time.

 

Renting

As purchases have long been restricted and a large proportion of the population is transient, renting is pretty much the norm among expats in the UAE. In general, rented accommodation still is cheap in comparison with most Western cities. However, prices are shooting up in many places at the moment: the average rental price in Sharjah rose 33% last year. As may be expected, the highest prices can be found in Dubai.

Newer rented property tends to be of a very high standard. Older apartments often leave a lot to be desired. Many properties are unfurnished – which means no appliances such a fridge or oven, in fact no white goods at all.

In order to rent a property long-term without additional bureaucracy, you must either have a residence visa or be an existing resident. Otherwise, you will need to obtain a sponsor, in which case the sponsor’s name must be written on the tenancy agreement. Note also that it is very important to make sure you are renting from a reputable landlord who has signed up with the housing authority for the emirate in which you are resident.

Tenancy agreements are normally valid for a year, though some can be shorter, in which case you will normally have to pay the entire amount of rent up front. You will also need a statement of your income from your employer. Expect to pay 5% commission to your estate agent. Otherwise rent is normally paid monthly, using post-dated cheques (though direct debit banking is being introduced.) If you are going to be paying in this way, it is important to remember that being responsible for a cheque bouncing is illegal in the UAE.

Tenants generally get a good deal in the country, as rent capping has been in operation for the last few years. Furthermore, a landlord must have a very good reason to evict a tenant. Even if they want to sell the property, they still have to give 12 months’ notice.

 

Buying property

Dubai has the highest number of cranes per square mile anywhere in the world. As this would suggest, property construction is booming in the city again. And, as a result, so are property prices. As there are so many new buildings going up, many expats choose to buy off-plan. If you do this, it is important to use a lawyer to ensure the necessary legal procedures have been correctly followed.

The laws for buying property vary greatly between the different emirates. In some emirates, you aren’t allowed to buy so much as rent a property from the real owner. Generally there are only a few areas where you can buy property. Once you have decided on a property, it is important to check the title deeds are correct and that the price compares well with similar properties. You are then in a position to make an offer, and if that is accepted, you need to pay a security deposit; the standard amount is 5-15%.

Once this has been done, you need to pay fees then transfer the rest of the down payment to the seller. In addition to this, you can expect to pay transfer fees to the Land Department from 1% to 7%, and estate agent fees of 2%-3%, though these may be negotiable.

 

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