House Hunter: Middle East 'I want a Middle Eastern second home'

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The problem

QUENTIN DENNIS OF WILTSHIRE WRITES: The Middle East is a region that fascinates me because of its culture, history and climate. I am told some countries are liberalising property laws to allow foreigners to buy second homes. Could you please tell me which countries, what properties exist, what are their prices and how should I begin the process of looking?

The problem

QUENTIN DENNIS OF WILTSHIRE WRITES: The Middle East is a region that fascinates me because of its culture, history and climate. I am told some countries are liberalising property laws to allow foreigners to buy second homes. Could you please tell me which countries, what properties exist, what are their prices and how should I begin the process of looking?

It may seem naïve, but are there particular problems linked to this part of the world beyond normal ones associated with buying property?

Of course I am aware of the political issues. Some people may consider the region risky because of its volatile politics and isolated terrorism. But I have visited several countries there over the past 20 years and have found people welcoming, open-minded and particularly friendly to Europeans even at times of international tension.

The advice

GRAHAM NORWOOD WRITES: The Middle East is opening up, but only slowly, and there are issues that are disconcerting to those used to a well-regulated British system of buying homes.

Some nations, like Dubai, designate areas for second-home buyers from overseas - Oman is following suit. Foreigners are entitled to buy, but every home is formally leasehold because local laws forbid the private sale of land. There is no freehold ownership for foreigners yet.

As a result some developers have set up their own finance firms to help foreigners - in Dubai, the developer Emaar has set up Amlak Finance, for example.

Other countries that do not designate "foreign" zones are marketing selected properties internationally for the first time. Egyptian and Israeli estate agents now advertise homes on www.primelocation.com.

The website's Ian Springett says the number of searches for homes in the region has doubled since last year. "Year-round sunshine, convenient flight schedules and the availability of high quality developments at relatively low prices is making the region attractive," he says.

Egypt is creating a state land registry to settle disputes over title deeds; international mortgages may also be available from next year. The country is also considering issuing residents' visas with some second homes, as happens for some in Dubai. The Zionist Federation organises regular Israel property fairs in London.

Some of the region's hitherto most volatile nations permit occasional international sales. Foreigners can now buy property in Iraq. An off-plan mock-Georgian villa in central Baghdad is going for a cool $535,000. The new Iraq government has set up a "property reconciliation facility", but it is swamped with contending ownership claims. Homes in Libya now appear on www.viviun.com. The going rate for a five bedroom villa in the capital, Tripoli, is about £90,000.

Experts like Conti Financial Services (01273 772811), which handles mortgages for homes in 29 different countries, and international property solicitors John Howell & Co (020 7420 0400) advise those wanting to buy in the Middle East to always get independent surveys, valuations and financial advice - even if a developer or estate agent offers to bring in local advisors.

The solution

Property one: Sharm El Sheikh resort, Egypt.

Price: One bedroom flats are available from £160,000

Agent's details: Overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Aquaba on the Red Sea coast, the Four Seasons Resort includes apartments, chalets and villas with private pools, patio and gardens.

Agent: Premier Resorts (020 8940 9406)

Property two: One bedroom new apartments, Dubai .

Price: £200,000.

Agent's details: Palm Jumeirah is a man-made development to be completed in 2007. Owners have access to a private beach, gym and concierge service.

Agent: Savills (020 7016 3743).

Property three: Private house in Ramat Poleg Netanya, Israel.

Price: £228,300.

Agent's details: Recently refurbished with five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a new kitchen, a basement and attic. Just three minutes from the beach.

Agent: RE/MAX Netanya (00972 50 8277 388).

Fact file

Property markets throughout the Middle East are in various stages of maturity and anyone wanting to buy for investment purposes should be very cautious.

Savills, a UK estate agent selling in Dubai, admits price data from the area is "finger in the air stuff". Another UK agent, Knight Frank, does not sell there at all because of the dominance of property speculators. Middle East business media reported last winter that 85 per cent of Dubai's off-plan flats and 50 per cent of its villas were bought by speculators, who go on to sell them again before completion. Some analysts say this frantic trading threatens the stability of Dubai's large international homes market.

Other countries have so little experience of selling homes to foreigners that there are no baseline prices by which to judge capital appreciation or rental yield for any buyer wanting to invest.

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