How to find your real estate agency in Dubai

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If you're heading to most property markets worldwide, your first step will be to find an estate agent. Dubai, though, is a bit of an outlier, since it's a market dominated by new developments. So you might head for an estate agent - but equally, you might head straight for a developer such as Emaar, Nakheel or Damac.

You've got three basic choices. You can buy a resale property from a private seller; you can buy a new-build off-plan; or you can buy a completed new-build from the developer.

Buy from a developer - off-plan

Off-plan sales account for well over half of Dubai property transactions, according to agent Haus & Haus. Some developers offer attractive incentives as well as delayed payment plans which can work in your favour. Often, prices are set below market levels, particularly in the early phases of a development, so you're getting a discount in reward for the risk you take buying off-plan. A 10% discount appears common - you might get more.

This is also the easiest route to purchase; developers will have all the legal work and processes ready to push the button and go.

However, there are downsides to buying off-plan. You could have to wait up to three years to get your hands on the property, during which time your money is tied up. If you need mortgage finance, you need to be sure you'll still qualify for the finance you want when the property is ready.

You're taking a construction risk. Developers could deliver the property late, or worse, might not finish it at all. If you buy in an early phase of a development, you can't even be sure the relevant infrastructure will be put in; you might end up with a villa but no road to get to it! However, Dubai now expects developers to put an escrow scheme in place to hold your money, and to put up 20% of the construction funds in advance. If things go wrong, you won't be out of pocket.

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You'll be taking less risk if you head for one of the major master developers, like Emaar. They have vast experience and large balance sheets. On the other hand, they have more onerous payment terms (70% before completion, against 50-60% with smaller developers). Smaller developers offer better terms, but the risk is higher.

You'll pay a 10-15% deposit on reservation, and stage payments up to and including completion. One way to mitigate risks is to buy off-plan, but in an existing development of which at least one phase has already been completed and sold. That way, you know the basic infrastructure is in place, you can see the quality of work achieved; there may already be a resale market, giving an idea of the potential resale value of any property you buy.

One big reason for buying off-plan in the heady days before the credit crunch was that you secured your property price ahead of time. By the time you completed, perhaps two years later, prices might have risen by 20%. Of course, that's no longer the case with a slightly soggy property market, so buying a completed home from a developer may suit you better.

Buy from a developer - completed home

Buying a completed home from a developer has some of the same advantages as buying off-plan; developers have all the processes ready to go and can often help with finance plans. But you don't run any construction risk. You can see exactly what you're getting.

However, this can be a more expensive way to buy. You probably won't get such a good bargain on the price (and if you do, that might be because the development hasn't sold well), you'll pay a higher deposit of 25%, and fees for resales are higher, at 6% of the purchase price.

Buy resale from an estate agent

Most of us find this the 'regular' way to buy in our own market, but it's still a minority pursuit in Dubai thanks to the fast pace of new development. However, agents can give you a better feel for the market and if you're looking for a ready-to-move-into apartment in a well developed, thriving area like the Marina, this is your best route.

You'll pay a 2% commission (plus the Dubai Land Department charges of 4%), so your charges are similar to buying a completed new-build from the developer. Your choice of agent will depend on the type of property you're looking for.

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Buy new development through estate agents

There is a fourth option - to buy a new property (off plan or completed) from the developer, but use an agent to do it.

If you go to a developer, you're only going to find out about their own developments. Good agents, on the other hand, are up-to-date on the whole market and aware of all the developments - including some you might have missed. If you describe your requirements, and perhaps mention one or two developments you've seen that ticked all the boxes for you, they may know of other areas or developments that would also suit your budget and requirements. And they won't charge you any extra commission, since they'll normally be paid by the developer.

Whichever route to market you choose, though, you'll want to do your own research first. Spend some time looking round the real estate informations to get a feel for the market and assess price levels once you have an idea of what sort of property, in which area, you want to buy. The better informed you are before you start your buying campaign, the more likely to are to secure exactly what you want, and at the right price.

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