Middle East: Full of eastern promise

Year-round sunshine and quality developments are not just confined to Dubai, says James Howells
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The Independent Online

Turkey and Cyprus, regarded by some as Middle Eastern territories, already have long-established overseas ownership markets but other locations in the region are now making their first moves. While Dubai still has the most extensive infrastructure to appeal to Western buyers, many rival areas are watching with interest.

For example Oman - "the world's last undiscovered destination" says Hamptons, a British estate agent with an office there - is just 35 miles from Iran across the Strait of Hormuz. Because it has lower oil reserves than its neighbours and needs foreign investment, it recently sold its first international scheme mainly to Britons.

Earlier this year some 104 apartments and villas were sold at the Muscat Golf and Country Club - built in a zone designated for international ownership - and more are on the cards. "There's likely to be a phase two coming soon," says Hamptons.

Not all countries need to designate foreign zones; they have simply opened up their markets and have encouraged estate agents and individual sellers to advertise homes internationally.

For example Egyptian estate agents now place portfolios on www.primelocation.com, a British website. "Year-round sunshine, convenient flight schedules and high quality developments at relatively low prices make the region attractive," says the site's managing director Ian Springett.

Sharm El-Sheikh is the main attraction, with properties ranging from £20,000 to £400,000. The British-Egyptian Business Association, based in Cairo, says it has a target of 100,000 British second home owners across the country.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, international developers Yoo - with a burgeoning reputation for constructing exotic apartment blocks in the US, Thailand and Europe - has teamed up with local building firm Habas Group (00 97 2368 76060) to create new apartments in Tel Aviv aimed at foreign buyers.

There are already frequent Israeli property fairs in London each year, and British buyers are amongst the largest contingent of Yoo Tel Aviv purchasers.

Individual homes in other developments in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Dubai's UAE neighbour overlooking the Arabian Gulf, Sharjah, have been purchased by Britons. These remain tiny markets currently but reflect the growing interest in foreign purchasers by governments across the Middle East region, as they recognise the benefits of residential tourism and an influx of foreign currency.

Now even owners and estate agents in Iraq and Libya are looking for international buyers, although no international estate agents are even investigating these volatile markets yet. Property website www.viviun.com is advertising homes in Baghdad, ranging from a three bedroom duplex built in 1985 for £200,000, to a 10-bedroom 1978 villa on sale for £600,000. The same website is also selling homes in Tripoli with prices ranging from £80,000 to £225,000.

No one yet considers Iraq and Libya as major second home locations, but they show how the concept of overseas ownership is slowly penetrating the entire Middle East region, riding on the wave of Dubai's burgeoning property market.