UAE real estate adjusting to ‘new normal’

RetailME Bureau

In 2017 the UAE’s real estate sector continued to adjust to lower growth being the ‘new normal’, states JLL’s 2017 Year in Review report, with all sectors of the market remaining in the downturn stage of their cycle.

One of the major drivers of the more subdued market has been the slowdown in economic growth, which declined from its historic average of 4.1% to just 1.7% in 2017. This represents the low point of the current cycle, with growth forecast to increase again in 2018 (by 3.3%) and averaging 3.4% per annum between 2018 and 2020. This should result in a gradual improvement in the performance of the real estate market, but overall conditions are expected to remain subdued in 2018.

The start of 2018 could see a reduction in activity and performance in the real estate market due to uncertainties around the impact of the Value Added Tax (VAT).

“The UAE real estate industry is entering into a transitional phase, with VAT now in effect and key stakeholders seeking to decipher its immediate and longer term impact. Although VAT does not apply to residential rents and sales of new residential property, other real estate sectors could be negatively impacted by increased costs and cash flow challenges,” observes Craig Plumb, head of research, JLL MENA.

The JLL report notes that the Dubai economy is expected to increase quicker than the UAE average in 2018. This is partially a reflection of the 20% increase in government spending announced in the 2018 budget, with a major portion of the increased spending on infrastructure and projects related to the hosting of Expo 2020.

Here is a brief on the UAE retail markets.

Abu Dhabi retail market summary

There were no major retail completions during 2017, with the supply remaining constant at approximately 28 million sqft of retail GLA. Looking ahead, the supply of retail malls in Abu Dhabi is expected to pick up. There are smaller community and neighbourhood projects in the pipeline, collectively adding 807,295 sqft of retail GLA by the end of 2018. A notable project expected to complete in 2019 is Al Maryah Central – Gulf Related Mall, a super-regional mall on Al Maryah Island, adding approximately 1.6 million sqft of retail GLA.

Dining and entertainment are gaining prominence in Abu Dhabi. The 1.3 million sqft waterfront promenade expansion of Marina Mall is projected to include 209,895 sqft of GLA dedicated to F&B. According the National Investment Corporation (NIC), the promenade aims to heighten the experience of customers through the provision of a mix between shopping, dining and entertainment. Similar projects in the pipeline include Aldar’s Water Edge on Yas Island. The 13 apartment buildings community will be complemented by waterfront dining and retail options.

Rents remained stable at AED3,000 per sqm, primarily off the back of the limited existing stock of good quality malls. However, even within prime malls, the number of units where these levels of rents can be achieved has declined, suggesting there is a difference between face and effective rates. Spending activity might be further challenged in 2018 with the introduction of the VAT. Depending on the price elasticity of goods, sales might see a decline, especially as different market players adjust to the new norm.

Dubai retail market summary

Dubai added 441,320 sqft of GLA during 2017. Notable completions during Q4 included the first phases of Marsa Al Seef and La Mer, both developed by Meraas. Looking ahead, the future supply will feature Dubai South Mall, the Dubai Mall Boulevard Expansion and the Night Souk on Deira Islands, potentially increasing supply by 30% over the next two years to reach 48 million sqft of retail GLA by 2020.

The new supply entering Dubai’s market as well as other regional neighbours faces increased online competition. Fashion is being digitised and thus, the appeal of physical stores will need to compete even more aggressively as their competition has been extended to the limitless options available on the internet. On the other hand, Black Friday sale took place in Dubai between November 23 and 25, with participation from more than 400 brands. Although satisfactory for end customers, such events tend to limit the incomes and reduce the margins of retailers and landlords.

Similar to the global retail landscape, there is generally more supply than demand of retail space. Landlords in Dubai are starting to recognise that, and are offering attractive terms for tenants. This includes price flexibility and how the retail space is utilised. This is particularly crucial as the rise of e- commerce, the over-supply of malls and the increasing appeal for F&B concepts are collectively changing the face of shopping. As such, 2017 saw face retail rents declining an average of -8% and -9% year-on-year for primary and secondary malls. This understates declines in the level of performance due to the increasing range of deals to support artificially high face rents (rent free periods).

Sharjah retail market summary

Sharjah is relatively under provided with modern retail facilities at present. While there is an estimated 13 million sqft of retail space across the emirate, only around 30% of this is in organised retail malls. The majority of retail space is currently in the unorganised sector including souks and street front units, often on the ground floor of mixed-use buildings. There is no super-regional mall in Sharjah at present, with the largest mall being the Sahara Centre (with a NLA of around 807,295 sqft). Other prominent regional centres – including Safeer Mall, Sharjah Mega Mall and City Centre Sharjah – offer international retail brands complimented by entertainment and recreational facilities.

There is relatively little additional retail mall space due to complete in the short term, with most of the additional space planned for 2018 delivery being the expansion of existing malls. The completion of a number of major new malls in 2019 and 2020 – for example Al Zahia City Centre, Avenues Mall, Tilal City Mall – will lead to the emergence of a two-tier market, with less competitive and poorer performing retail centres struggling to retain tenants and sustain footfall.

While the overall market will become more competitive, opportunities remain to develop further modern souks to strengthen Sharjah’s cultural image, outdoor promenades with F&B outlets, small neighbourhood and convenience malls to service growing residential communities and good quality street retail. Although the introduction of future supply will increase the range and quality of available retail options, it will also exert downward pressure on performance, resulting in lower rentals and higher vacancies in 2018.

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