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Mass exodus, the sequal: With rents in Abu Dhabi falling, are Dubai residents going to rethink their address?

Mass exodus, the sequal: With rents in Abu Dhabi falling, are Dubai residents going to rethink their address?

With the steady supply of new residences driving down rents in Abu Dhabi, analysts say it's a good thing for tenants, buyers, developers and landlords alike. Precious de Leon reports.

July 17, 2011 2:27 by

In the second half of 2011, up to 14,000 residential units –primarily high end – is expected to be handed over in Abu Dubai. This move should improve options for high income residents, a historically underserviced sector, according to the ‘Abu Dhabi Real Estate Market Overview – Q2 2011’.

The study, conducted by real estate investment and advisory firm Jones Lang LaSalle, also stated that lower grade properties will face increasing vacancies and steeper rent declines. Lower, more affordable average rents will stimulate demand by enticing Dubai commuters to relocate and potentially encouraging job growth through lowering employment costs for companies. In spite of supply growth, opportunities still exist in the affordable housing segment, which is marked by strong demand and limited supply.

Looking across the property market, growing supply, combined with a cutback in government spending on economic diversification and infrastructure upgrade, will put more pressure on developers and landlords to lower rents and prices in Abu Dhabi.

Market conditions in Dubai continue to negatively impact Abu Dhabi, however, due to relative market conditions and the proximity of the two Emirates. Dubai experienced a sharper price/rent decline than Abu Dhabi and is, therefore, currently more competitive for occupiers. However, declining rents in the capital will start to draw commuters back and increase office occupier requirements.

Few new projects were started in Q2 and many existing projects are now under review, delayed and scaled back. Liquidity remains tight with many developers continuing to experience cash-flow issues.


Declining rents and increased vacancy is hoped to have a positive impact on demand as Abu Dhabi becomes more cost competitive and higher quality real estate comes on stream.

“The threat of increasing supply and liquidity constraints persist in Abu Dhabi’s real estate market. A number of residential, office, hotels and retail projects come online this year pushing rates down from unsustainable highs, but there are also positive economic ramifications. Reducing the cost of living and doing business in the capital improves the value proposition and attractiveness for residents and companies, thereby facilitating growth. We think demand can receive an additional boost from the various recently announced government initiatives, but the actual impact on growth will depend on the successful implementation of these measures,” said David Dudley, Head of the Abu Dhabi office, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) MENA, a real estate investment and advisory firm.

These initiatives include the 3-year residency visa for property owners; a new tenancy registration system, ‘Tawtheeq’; a new law limiting overcrowding in residential properties and the government consolidating various major projects to reduce the supply over-hang.


  • In Q2, the residential market saw no significant additions to supply as buildings on Reem Island and Al Raha Beach await formal completion. Average rents for prime two bedroom apartments remained unchanged, while those older and low quality units decreased by 10% to 15% compared to Q1. Abu Dhabi rents maintain a premium over Dubai, resulting in the ongoing prevalence of daily commuting.
  • Since the market peaked in 2008, average sales prices declined by more than 45 percent, falling from AED 21,500 per sqm to AED 11,800 per sq m. Price declines have been even more pronounced for some projects that achieved sale prices over AED 32,200 per sq m in the market peak.
  • Since Q4 2010, average prices remained relatively stable around AED 11,800 per sq m for recently completed and almost completed projects like Reem Island and Al Raha Beach. However, even at these rates, transactions have been minimal.
  • Despite a number of new initiatives – including the announcement of three year visa for real estate owners – price recovery is not expected in 2011-2012. Over the longer term, price recovery is dependent upon initiatives that retain and grow jobs, especially for the expatriate population in Abu Dhabi, together with further visa reform.
  • The introduction of rent-to-own schemes may boost demand. This is only currently available for one project in Abu Dhabi: Sorouh’s Sun Tower on Reem Island, however further developers are expected to follow suit during Q3.

Looking more specifically the other sectors, the report highlighted the following:

OFFICE: The report states that Abu Dhabi office rents will continue to decline as vacancies rise. This should enhance demand because tenants will be able to upgrade the quality or location of premises while managing costs. With 2.3 million sq m of current office stock and 1.2 million sq m of upcoming supply in 2013, the total oversupply of office space in Abu Dhabi is expanding, but it is important to note that only 11% of the current stock qualifies as international grade A quality. The capital’s office rents also face downward pressure through competition from alternative markets like Dubai, which offers an abundant supply of good quality office space, relative rent discounts, and more developed urban infrastructure.

In Q2, two major towers entered the office market: Tower One Sowwah Square and Guardian Tower at Danet Abu Dhabi. Large amounts of new supply are still due for delivery in 2011, which will push down average rents, particularly for secondary quality assets.

RETAIL: Abu Dhabi’s retail rents are expected to soften as new supply enters the market during 2011-2012.  Over the next two years, the completion of new super-regional malls will start to weaken the prevalence of shoppers commuting from the capital to Dubai. Furthermore, there remains a shortage of good quality community and neighbourhood retail.  The future performance of individual malls will depend on several factors like quality of tenant mix, parking provision, location, and management quality and mall design.

In the retail market, no major handovers were reported in Q2 because the opening of several centres were delayed until H2 2011. Supported by high occupancies, rents in major malls on Abu Dhabi Island remained constant, but rents in both existing and upcoming malls outside the Abu Dhabi Island decreased as the market moves in favor of tenants.

HOSPITALITY: Occupancy levels have recovered in the first half of 2011, but, going forward, anticipated supply increases – particularly with a number of key project due to open in H2 2011 – will put downward pressure on average rates and RevPAR levels. In terms of future demand drivers, the most significant growth potential is in leisure sector.

Although no new supply entered the hotel market in Q2, a number of major hotels are anticipated for delivery in H2 2011 (including the first completions on Saadiyat Island), which will put additional downward pressure on ADRs and hotel occupancy rates. In YTD April 2011, average room rates fell 20% compared to the same period in 2010.

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1 Comment

  1. Vik on July 18, 2011 5:27 am

    This may happen, an exodus to Abu Dhabi, however, last week, there was an announcement of Emiratization and replacing of expat workers in the capital, So if this happens, who is planning to rent these 14,000 units? Locals?


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