An AMEinfo exclusive
Dubai-headquartered DAMAC Properties is a name that has become synonymous with high-end real estate across the Middle East and beyond.
The lucrative property arm of DAMAC Group, an organization that was founded in 1992 by Emirati business magnate Hussain Sajwani, boasts iconic projects across the UAE as well as in several other international markets, including Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.
Even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, DAMAC Properties’ audited results for 2020 showed total revenue of 4.7 billion dirhams ($1.28 bn) and assets amounting to 21.244 bn dirhams ($5.79 bn) as of Q3 2021, according to Bloomberg.
Hussain Sajwani’s track record is impressive, to say the least, and one certainly wouldn’t blame any of his children for feeling a little intimidated when faced with the prospect of following in their father’s footsteps.
Surprisingly, however, nerves appear to be the farthest thing from the mind of the DAMAC chief’s second-eldest son, who has his sights firmly set on one of the most exclusive property markets on the planet.
Abbas Hussain Sajwani launched AHS Properties at Cityscape Global 2021, setting out his personal vision for Dubai’s ultra-luxury real estate sector. Far from feeling daunted by his father’s success, Sajwani explained that he has been his greatest mentor.
“I learned everything from my father,” Sajwani told AMEinfo. “I learned far more than anything you can pick up from school or university. He took us to his office, drilled business into our youthful minds, and taught us about finance and property development. Everything I learned in business was from him.”
So, what sort of business advice did Sajwani receive from his father?
“Take risks and don’t be scared. That’s what my dad used to say,” Sajwani replied. “When you see an opportunity, take it. React fast and don’t be afraid when you see the market picking up. Don’t start feeling bad for not investing earlier. Look at the future, not the past.
“I know everything can change overnight so I have to manage [my affairs] well and be ready for a crisis, should it happen,” Sajwani continued. “I hope for the best but plan for the worst.”
Sajwani certainly appears to have taken full advantage of the unparalleled access he and his siblings have had to their father’s vast experience. Nevertheless, the 22-year-old entrepreneur also seems to have perfectly good instincts of his own.
“I see Dubai as being one of the top luxury destinations in the world, the same as London or Los Angeles,” said Sajwani. “We have great weather, unparalleled safety and security, superior quality of life, luxury lifestyles, and prime hospitality venues.
“I notice a lot of wealthy people from Russia, Europe, and the US, all looking to move their bases to Dubai for a minimum of six months a year.”
Eyes on the prize
That there are opportunities within Dubai’s ultra-luxury property segment is hardly surprising. The emirate’s luxurious lifestyle and business-friendly regulations have been attracting wealthy buyers and investors for decades. So, what added value can Sajwani bring to the market? What does he see that others don’t?
“These factors have helped Dubai’s ultra-luxury real estate sector historically, but we’ve started to see [an additional] boom over the last couple of months,” he explained. “A villa in Emirates Hills was rented out for $2 million per year, for example, and that’s something we haven’t seen before. The luxury sector is picking up and I only see it going one way… Up.”
Even so, the November launch of AHS Properties would suggest that Sajwani had confidence in this market long before its recent uptick.
“Dubai’s luxury sector has always been there but it is only now scaling up to these volumes,” he continued. “Two to three years back, you wouldn’t expect homes to be rented or sold at these prices. A single house in the Palms recently sold for 120 mn dirhams ($32.7 mn), and a couple of other transactions exceeded 100 mn dirhams ($27.25 mn) each.
“The market is new to these transactions and, though pure-play luxury is still needed, there aren’t many players out there that are able to fulfill this sort of demand.”
The best of the best
Spotting an opportunity to meet rising demand for ultra-luxury properties is one thing, but how does this work in practice? It seems that a focus on quality over quantity is key.
AHS Properties has launched with a total asset value of almost 400 million dirhams ($100 mn approx.), yet its portfolio is made up of just four villas: one in Emirates Hills (valued at more than 150 mn dirhams) and three on Palm Jumeirah’s exclusive beachfront (each valued at about 80 mn dirhams).
“The UAE luxury buyer we’re seeing today wants to walk in and buy something that’s fully ready and renovated to the highest standards,” explained Sajwani, adding that AHS Properties is deliberately focusing on a small number of projects to ensure superior quality. By using the most sought-after builders and designers in the world, he believes he can ensure that his customers are extremely happy with their purchases.
“The buyers coming into this market are different, and what they expect is different,” Sajwani continues. “They expect the best of the best. For this reason, we don’t want to mass-produce 20 projects in a year. All we want to do is give 100%.”
This philosophy obviously extends to the way in which AHS Properties is approaching work at ground level. Sajwani’s strategy appears to be to invest in ultra-high-end real estate – the type of property that most people could only dream of owning – and to make it even more luxurious.
“We are taking on renovation projects,” he explained. “[These are] older villas which we renovate from the ground up. We strip them back to their shell and core, then redo their interiors, their landscapes, their façades, their MEP – we make new villas out of them. Obviously, renovation work is much faster than new-build projects. A villa can be finished in the space of a year if we take this approach.
“However, we wouldn’t be against starting from zero – especially if it means we can get a better price for the land. We’ll see.”
Exclusive by design
Whichever way you look at it, AHS Properties is a purely luxury development company that is focusing solely on prime locations. In fact, Sajwani revealed that his experience of international travel often informs his approach.
“We only go for A-plus locations,” he stressed. “We’re not catering to the masses, rather only to the high-end luxury sector.
“I have traveled to many places around the globe and I always bring back fresh ideas from the resorts and luxury destinations I visit. I work closely with architects so I would never say, ‘Here’s a job, do it.’ I want to be involved so that I can help build the perfect project.”
Despite the diverse range of global influences that Sajwani is bringing to his projects, there are some commonalities that look likely to take priority: especially his love of the sea.
“The beach and the sea are beautiful, relaxing things to have at your disposal,” he said. “It’s not just [my preference]. The most expensive homes in the world tend to be beachfront properties, particularly those that command high rates of square footage. Look at Miami or Malibu. I love blue-water living and I intend to cater to it.”
Sajwani has an uncluttered vision for AHS Properties in the short-to-medium term, but what about the future? Does he have any plans for other segments?
“We only started work around March 2021, so we haven’t thought about diversifying from our core projects,” he said. “So, no golf courses or hotel projects, for now anyway. We saw a luxury boom in Dubai and we went for it. We’re now riding that wave, literally to its crest.”
Owing to his background, which is steeped in real estate, Sajwani also appears acutely aware of trends and opportunities in other geographies. However, when I asked whether he had considered Riyadh as a prospective location for development, he seemed perfectly content to focus on Dubai for the time being. Indeed, he does not see these markets as being in direct competition.
“Both cities are developing, attracting businesses, and each has its own vision and strategy,” Sajwani explained. “With a population of approximately 35 million people, Saudi Arabia’s leadership is clearly working hard to advance their country and economy. However, I don’t see this as a competition. Both Dubai and Riyadh have different attractions and will therefore attract different people. So, right now, I haven’t looked at developing properties [in the kingdom] but, in the future, why not?”
While Sajwani may be considering AHS Properties’ long-term strategy, for now, he seems completely focused on his company’s core market. Even when I pressed him on whether he had considered the legacy he would like to leave, he remained modest.
“Look,” he said, “I’m only 22 years old so I haven’t thought of that yet. Let’s see where things take us.”
This single-minded focus on the task at hand will no doubt be a valuable asset for AHS Properties. When it comes to the Sajwani family, it seems real estate is in their blood.