Strong demand continues to drive UAE’s housing market growth

The UAE’s property market is growing rapidly, supported by robust demand, healthy economic growth, and strong foreign interest.

“A continued growth path was witnessed in the UAE real estate market across all the major asset classes,” said JLL MENA. “In the residential sector, developers continued to launch new projects to meet the growing demand from investors. Additionally, remarkable growth was observed in transactions in both the primary and secondary markets.”

Dubai’s all-residential property price index (RPPI) rose strongly by 20.14% y-o-y (16.34% inflation-adjusted) during 2023, a sharp acceleration from annual increases of 9.53% in 2022 and 9.25% in 2021, and y-o-y declines of 7.12% in 2020, 6% in 2019 and 8.56% in 2018, based on figures from Reidin.com. It was its best showing in a decade.

Quarterly, Dubai residential property prices were up by 3.4% (2.7% inflation-adjusted) in Q4 2023.

By property type:

  • Apartment prices in Dubai surged by 19.83% (16.04% inflation-adjusted) during 2023, more than twice the prior year’s 8.98% growth. Quarter-on-quarter, apartment prices were up by 3.16% (2.45% inflation-adjusted) in Q4 2023.
  • Villa prices increased sharply by 21.76% (17.91% inflation-adjusted) last year, following a 12.78% growth in 2022. Quarterly, prices rose by 5.06% (4.35% inflation-adjusted) in Q4 2023.

The average purchase price of apartments in Dubai was AED1,500,000 (US$408,386) by end-2023. On the other hand, the average purchase price of villas stood at AED3,200,000 (US$871,222) over the same period.

United Arab Emirates house price annual change

Abu Dhabi’s house price growth is more subdued, with the all-residential property price index rising by a modest 4.96% (1.63% inflation-adjusted) in 2023 from a year earlier. During the latest quarter, prices were up slightly by 1.29% (0.6% inflation-adjusted) q-o-q.

By property type:

  • Apartment prices in Abu Dhabi increased modestly by 4.44% (1.13% inflation-adjusted) during 2023, after rising by a minuscule 0.91% in 2022. In Q4 2023, apartment prices were up by 1.55% (0.86% inflation-adjusted) q-o-q.
  • Villa prices rose by 7.47% (4.06% inflation-adjusted) in 2023 from a year earlier, after increasing by 4.07% in 2022. Quarter-on-quarter, prices were unchanged in Q4 2023 but declined slightly by 0.68% in real terms.

Demand is surging. In Dubai, registered sales transactions reached a record 133,134 deals in 2023, up by an impressive 38% from the prior year, according to real estate portal, Property Finder. Likewise, in Abu Dhabi, the number of transactions also reached a record high of 13,298 units in 2023, up by a whopping 75% from the previous year, based on figures released by the Department of Municipalities and Transport.

“Dubai remains one of the world’s most attractive investment destinations due to its stable economy, strong financial fundamentals, and ability to constantly find new opportunities for growth,” said Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council.

“Moreover, global investors, institutions, and businesses continue to have high confidence in Dubai’s economy due to its growing profile as one of the best metropolises to live and work, its exceptional infrastructure, and supportive regulations,” he added.

The UAE economy grew by around 3.1% in 2023 from a year earlier, mainly driven by robust domestic consumption, according to the central bank. This followed strong expansion of 7.9% in 2022 and 4.4% in 2021 and a pandemic-induced contraction of 5% in 2020.

Economic growth will strengthen again this year, with the expected rise in oil production. The IMF projects that the UAE economy will grow by 4% in 2024 while the UAE central bank is more optimistic, expecting a real GDP growth rate of 5.7% this year.

UAE is one of the richest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of US$185,837 in 2023, based on IMF figures.

United Arab Emirates GDP Per Capita graph

Housing market cycle

From 2002 to 2008, Dubai’s property prices almost quadrupled, as Dubai became one of the world’s fastest-growing cities. After March 2006, a deluge of foreign money boosted Dubai’s ambitions following the passage of the long-awaited foreign property ownership law.

Billions of dollars were spent on mega-projects including Jumeirah Garden City (estimated cost: US$95 billion), Dubailand (US$64 billion), The Lagoons (US$25 billion), Palm Jumeirah (US$14 billion), and The World (US$14 billion).

Then the global credit crunch hit at the end of 2008.

Transaction volumes plummeted. Almost half of construction projects in the UAE, worth around AED1.1 trillion (US$300 billion), were either put on hold or canceled.

As the economy returned to growth, halted construction projects were resumed. From January 2012 to end-2014 Dubai experienced skyrocketing house prices, averaging 21.5% annually. However, house price growth in Dubai slowed by the end of 2014.

The housing market has been depressed since.

  • In 2015, Dubai’s all-residential property price index (RPPI) fell by 11% (-14.1% inflation-adjusted), according to DubaiLand.com.
  • In 2016, house prices fell by 0.4% (-2.9% inflation-adjusted) in Dubai.
  • In 2017, house prices fell by 3.9% (-5.2% inflation-adjusted) in Dubai.
  • In 2018, Dubai house prices dropped by 8.6% (-8.2% inflation-adjusted).
  • In 2019, Dubai house prices fell by 6% (-4.1% inflation-adjusted).
  • In 2020, Dubai house prices fell by 7.1% (-2.9% inflation-adjusted).

The enormous excess supply of apartments was pulling the market down. Other factors that contributed to the decline of the housing market during the said years included:

  • the Federal Mortgage Cap, introduced in 2013, slowed residential price rises in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
  • the implementation of a 5% value-added tax (VAT) in January 2018, which applies to home sales after three years of the project’s completion. Sales within three years of completion have a 0% VAT rate.
  • the Dubai Land Department doubled property registration fees from 2% to 4% to dampen property demand.
  • the adverse impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on both the demand and supply side of the housing market.

The housing market started to recover in 2021, as activity slowly returned to its pre-pandemic levels. Dubai house prices rose by 9.25% while Abu Dhabi prices increased by 1.56%. The trend continued in 2022, with Dubai house prices rising by another 9.53% while they increased by just 1.46% in Abu Dhabi.

The housing market continued to gather pace last year, buoyed by robust demand. Dubai prices soared by 20.14% while Abu Dhabi prices increased by 4.96%.

United Arab Emirates Residential Property Prices Annual Change graph

Dubai’s property transactions continue to rise strongly

Demand continues to increase strongly in Dubai. Registered sales transactions reached a record 133,134 deals in 2023, up by an impressive 38% from 96,459 deals in the prior year, according to real estate portal, Property Finder.

Last year, the total value of transactions in Dubai reached AED 571.3 billion (US$155.54 billion), encompassing deals for apartments, villas, commercial properties, and plots, including both cash and mortgage deals. This represents a substantial y-o-y growth of 45.8% from AED 391.8 billion (US$106.67 billion) registered in 2022.

During 2023:

  • Apartment sales transactions: AED 218 billion (US$59.35 billion), up by a huge 48.2% from a year ago.
  • Villa sales transactions: AED 65.7 billion (US$17.89 billion), up by 8.2% from the previous year.

According to Afimmo Properties LLC, the highest transaction volume last year was recorded in Dubai Marina, at AED 36.7 billion (US$10 billion) in total purchases. It was followed by Palm Jumeirah, with AED 28.51 billion (US$7.76 billion) deals; Jebel Ali Industrial First, with AED 27.93 billion (US$7.61 billion); and Wadi Al Safa 3, with AED 25.33 billion (US$6.89 billion).

“The UAE housing market is quickly evolving and gaining maturity,” said Mortgage Finder in an earlier report. “Dubai, in particular, is growing exponentially and continues to appeal to new residents through its unparalleled lifestyle, business-friendly environment, global connectivity, and most recently, the new reforms in visa and residency laws.”

United Arab Emirates Residential Sales Transactions in Dubai graph

Demand is also soaring in Abu Dhabi

During 2023, the number of transactions in Abu Dhabi reached a record high of 13,298 units, up by a huge 75% from 7,957 units in 2022, according to the Department of Municipalities and Transport. Likewise, total transaction value also surged by 120% y-o-y to AED 44 billion (US$11.98 billion) last year, from AED 19.9 billion (US$5.42 billion) in the prior year.

In an earlier report released by Asteco, there were a total of 4,160 transactions in Q3 2023 alone, up by a huge 32% from the previous quarter and by a whopping 102% from the same period last year.

  • Off-plan residential sales transactions: 3,060 units in Q3 2023, up by 44% from the previous quarter.
  • Ready residential sales transactions: 1,035 units, reflecting a moderate growth of 5% from the previous quarter.

“Demand for off-plan developments, particularly high-quality ones, remained high, with significant interest from foreign investors, particularly from Russian and Chinese nationals,” said Asteco.

“Notably, Gardenia Bay, launched in September 2023, recorded a remarkable ~15% increase in asking prices between the initial and most recent phases, underscoring the strength of demand for premium off-plan residential units. This trend signals a strong appetite for high-quality real estate offerings in the region, particularly from reputable master developers,” Asteco added.

Better terms for expats have been introduced

In 2019, a new system for long-term residence visas (Golden Visa) for foreign investors and professionals was put in place. It allows expats to live, work, and study in the country without needing a national sponsor. They can also enjoy 100% ownership of their business. These visas will be issued for 5 or 10 years and will be renewed automatically.

Eligibility for a 10-year visa:

  • Investors with public investments of at least AED 10 million (US$2.72 million)
  • Persons with specialized talents, such as doctors, scientists, specialists, inventors, as well as creative individuals in the field of culture and art
  • Outstanding students

Eligibility for a 5-year visa:

  • Investors in a property in the UAE with a gross value of not less than AED 5 million (US$1.36 million). The amount invested in real estate must not be on a loan basis and the property must be retained for at least 3 years.
  • Entrepreneurs with an existing project with a minimum capital of AED 500,000 (US$136,000)

In June 2021, a new 24x7 residency visa service was launched, allowing customers to connect with a service team and follow up on the status of their transactions at any time.

Then in 2022, the UAE government approved new conditions for getting a Golden Visa by investment, with reduced investment amount, no restrictions on the duration of stay in other countries, and an opportunity to buy off-plan properties. Said new rules came into force in October 2023.

  • Purchase real estate in the UAE for AED 2 million (US$545,000) to get a 10-year Golden Visa. Another option is buying real estate for AED 750,000 (US$204,000) to obtain a 2-year residence visa.
  • Purchase real estate for AED 2 million (US$545,000) to get a 5-year residence visa. Investors may also purchase a property for AED 750,000 (US$204,000) to get a 3-year residence permit.

Foreign homeownership rules are now very liberal

Foreign ownership laws are now very liberal in the UAE, particularly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

  • Foreign nationals are now allowed to buy freehold properties in designated areas in Dubai.
  • Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals are allowed freehold ownership anywhere in the Emirates.
  • Abu Dhabi allows foreigners to own property in designated investment zones on a freehold basis. This followed other market-boosting measures. In 2012, the government compelled public sector employees living outside Abu Dhabi to relocate within the emirate’s borders. Then in November 2013, the government canceled a 5% cap on annual rent increases.

Most residential property buyers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are UAE nationals, followed by Indians, Saudis, British, and Pakistanis.

Housing supply continues to rise

In Dubai, there were about 39,000 new residential completions in 2023, following the completion of 41,000 units in 2022, 44,000 units in 2021, and 40,000 units in 2020, according to figures released by JLL MENA in its 2023 UAE Real Estate Market Report. This brought the total housing stock in Dubai to 719,000 units by end-2023.

Completions in the past recent years have been among the highest ever recorded, mainly due to Expo 2020.

In Abu Dhabi, around 5,000 units were added to the market last year, bringing the total housing stock to 284,000 units.

About 34,000 units are scheduled to enter the Dubai market in 2024 while around 8,000 units are expected to be completed in Abu Dhabi, according to projections from JLL MENA.

United Arab Emirates Residential Supply graph

Rental yields in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are moderate to good

In Dubai, gross rental yields are good, averaging 7.13% in December 2023, from 7.2% a year earlier and 6.19% two years ago, according to Reidin.com. By property type:

  • Apartments: rental yields were 7.51% in December 2023, almost unchanged from a year earlier.
  • Villas: rental yields stood at 5.64%, slightly down from 5.92% in the previous year.

In Abu Dhabi, gross rental yields were slightly lower than that of Dubai, but remain relatively good at an average of 6.31% in December 2023 – not significantly different from 6.37% a year earlier and 6.54% two years ago.

  • Apartments: gross rental yields stood at an average of 6.66% in December 2023, almost unchanged from the same period in the prior year
  • Villas: rental yields were 5.2% in December 2023, slightly down from 5.46% a year ago

A recent study conducted by the Global Property Guide showed that gross rental yields in the UAE averaged 5.16% in Q1 2024, up from 4.93% in Q3 2023. Gross rental yields in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are higher than the national average, at 6.3% and 5.68%, respectively.

Yields in Dubai are good, but the days when Dubai generated stratospheric yields are gone. Also, this can be a volatile market. Home prices swing up and down frequently.

Yields are lower in other emirates and cities. Raz al Khaimah yields averaged 4.69% in Q1 2024; Ajman at 5.23%; and Sharjah at 3.92%.

Rents surging in Dubai, rising modestly in Abu Dhabi

Rental rates of residential properties are surging in Dubai, and increasing modestly in Abu Dhabi, according to Reidin.com.

  • In Dubai, rental rates for all residential units were up by a whopping 18.93% in December 2023 from a year earlier. Rental rates for apartments surged by 19.31% y-o-y, while rents for villas increased by 21.76% y-o-y over the same period.
  • In Abu Dhabi, the average rental rate for all residential units increased modestly by 3.9% y-o-y in December 2023. Over the same period, rental rates for apartments rose by 4.21%, while it increased by 7.47% for villas.

The increasing rents in the UAE can be attributed to strong demand. For instance, in Dubai, in Q4 2023, “there has been a notable 1% increase in the overall number of rental transactions compared to the previous quarter. Renewed contracts have shown a significant 9% increase, indicating a positive trend in the growth and vibrancy of the rental market,” noted Reidin.com in its report. “In comparison to the same period last year, the total number of rental contracts has increased by 7%, with renewed contracts experiencing a substantial 19% rise and new contracts declining by 11%.”

United Arab Emirates Dubai Residential Rental Price Index graph

This is in line with Asteco’s Q3 2023 Dubai Real Estate report, which showed that average apartment and villa rents in Dubai rose strongly by 18% and 19% y-o-y, respectively, in Q3 2023.

“The reduced availability of units for annual leases and the lag in new deliveries stemming from Covid-related development delays, has amplified the supply-demand dynamics, and ultimately heightened rental pressure,” noted the Asteco report. “Affordability has definitely been a focal point this year with many long-term tenants finding themselves priced out of their familiar buildings/communities.”

Rents in specific high-end developments in Dubai in Q3 2023:

  • At the DIFC, a special economic zone in Dubai, rents ranged from AED 120,000 (US$32,671) per annum for one-bedroom apartments to AED 240,000 (US$65,343) for three-bedroom apartments.
  • In Downtown Dubai, home to the towering Burj Khalifa skyscraper, rents for one-bedroom apartments averaged AED 117,500 (US$31,991) per annum, while rents for three-bedroom apartments stood at AED 280,000 (US$76,233).
  • In Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest man-made island, rents ranged from AED165,000 (US$44,923) per annum for one-bedroom apartments to AED295,000 (US$80,317) for three-bedroom apartments.
  • In Sheikh Zayed Road, home to most of Dubai’s skyscrapers including the Emirates Towers, rents ranged from AED 100,000 (US$27,226) to AED 150,000 (US$40,839) per annum.

United Arab Emirates Dubai Average Apartment Rents graph

In Abu Dhabi, the apartment rental market has also been growing, with average rents increasing nearly 10% y-o-y in Q3 2023, according to Asteco’s Q3 2023 Abu Dhabi Real Estate report.

Rents for high-end properties in Abu Dhabi over the same period:

  • In Central Abu Dhabi, annual rents for one-bedroom apartments averaged AED 60,000 (US$16,336); two-bedroom apartments for AED 97,500 (US$26,545); and three-bedroom apartments for AED 127,500 (US$34,713).
  • In Corniche, annual rents ranged from AED 67,500 (US$18,378) for one-bedroom apartments to AED 137,500 (US$37,436) for three-bedroom apartments.
  • In Al Khalidiya/Al Bateen, annual rents ranged from AED 77,500 (US$21,100) for one-bedroom apartments to AED 157,500 (US$42,881) for three-bedroom apartments.
  • In Al Raha Beach, annual rents were from AED 75,000 (US$20,420) for one-bedroom apartments to AED 170,000 (US$46,284) for three-bedroom apartments.
  • At Marina Square, one-bedroom apartments were rented for AED 62,500 (US$17,016) per year, and three-bedroom apartments for AED 135,000 (US$36,755).

United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi Average Apartment Rents graph

Rental laws

The Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) is the regulatory branch of the Dubai Land Department (DLD) that is in charge of implementing tenancy rules and regulating the relationship between the landlord and tenant. The four main tenancy laws in Dubai include:

  • Law No. 26 of 2007: regulates the relationship between landlords and tenants in Dubai
  • Law No. 33 of 2008: amended certain provisions of Law No. 26
  • Decree No. 26 of 2013: established the Rent Disputes Settlement Centre (RDSC), which supervises all types of rental disputes in Dubai
  • Decree No. 43 of 2013: governs rent increases in Dubai

Since December 2013 rent caps have been imposed by Dubai Decree No. 43/2013 (the "New Decree"). The rent cap also applies to special development areas and free zones, including the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

In 2024, rent increases are as follows:

CURRENT RENTAL LAW
Rental rates Allowable rent increase
If the existing rent is:  
Equal to or 10% below the average market rental rate Nil
11% to 20% below the average market rental rate 5%
21% to 30% below the average market rental rate 10%
31% to 40% below the average market rental rate 15%
More than 40% below the average market rental rate 20%

However, landlords can increase rents only at the time of renewal of the lease. The DLD requires landlords to provide tenants with at least 90-day notice before the rent increase.

Recently, a new draft law was proposed that will freeze rents in Dubai for three years, but it has never come to fruition.

In Abu Dhabi, the 5% annual rent cap remains in force, which was reinstated in December 2016 after it had been abolished in 2013. Further in October 2018, the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department issued new rules that will make it easier for landlords to evict tenants. The new rules allow landlords with lease contracts registered with Abu Dhabi Municipality to approach the Enforcement Department directly to claim outstanding rent and repossess their property. Previously, landlords had to go through a legal process to evict a tenant, which typically takes up to 6 months.

Abu Dhabi has also strengthened the protection of off-plan buyers. Its recent real estate law (No. 3 of 2015) appoints Abu Dhabi’s Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) as the real estate regulator, performing the same functions as Dubai’s RERA. The reforms, as outlined by The National, include:

  • A central government database/register for all property projects in Abu Dhabi, including off-plan sales;
  • Developers are only allowed to charge DMA-approved administrative fees, and are barred from collecting registration fees from investors;
  • Rules are laid down for the creation of owners’ associations;
  • Developers are only allowed to sell off-plan units if they own real estate right over the project land. A “disclosure statement” is also required, providing information on the development to home buyers.
  • Developers marketing off-plan units are required to open an escrow account.
  • In case of “substantial prejudice”, off-plan buyers can terminate their purchase.
  • Developers will be fined by the DMA if their projects are delayed by more than six months. If there is a significant delay, the new law allows for the cancellation of projects or the appointment of a new developer.
  • A 10-year liability period for developers regarding structural building defects

The key interest rate kept at 5.40%

In January 2024, the Central Bank of the UAE kept its key overnight deposit facility unchanged at 5.40%, following the US Fed’s decision to keep the interest on reserve balances unchanged. The move followed six consecutive rate hikes in the past fifteen months.

The UAE’s base rate for overnight deposits is linked to the US Fed’s interest on excess reserves (IOER).

Mortgage interest rates in Dubai have, in the past, followed key US Fed rates, because the dirham (AED) is pegged to the US dollar at AED3.67 = US$1. Some banks offer mortgage loans to both nationals and expatriates.

However, due to the continuous increase in key interest rates to tame inflation, mortgage owners with variable rates in the emirates have seen their mortgage interest rates surge from 2% to 3% annually to 6% to 9%. Some homeowners are even paying more than 10% mortgage rates.