So what is it really like to move into a new freehold property in Dubai? There is only one way to find out!
Buying a villa off-plan requires a certain confidence in the developer. Will they still be in business when the property is finally handed over? Will the villa be built properly, and on time and without extra cost?
When my wife and I reserved our villa in The Meadows the Iraq War had not yet happened, and the geopolitics of the Middle East looked particularly wobbly. But after eight years, six independently and two together, in Dubai we were convinced that the UAE would continue to prosper whatever else happened in the region.
Also Emaar Properties had the longest track record of any developer, and we could actually see villas built by Emaar. Indeed, to make doubly sure we were living in a town house rented from Emaar at the time, and had occupied this villa in Emirates Lakes as a newly-built home.
We were impressed by The Lakes management team, and nothing in our home buying experience was much different. The staff was courteous and efficient, and business times were always to suit us and not them.
Obtaining a mortgage from Emaar's Amlak Finance, then the sole home loan company in the UAE, was also straightforward. As a former UK house buyer I was familiar with the paper chase involved and the approval process was swift. We also got pretty much what we asked for, an 80% loan over 15 years.
As the handover date approached we made frequent trips to see the house under construction, and there was never anyone to stop us. Thus when it came to the final inspection we knew what to highlight, not that there was much beyond a few scratches, and the lady assistant seemed to notice rather more than us.
We seem to have been very fortunate in our contractor. Arabtec delivered the villa exactly on time. In fact one month ahead of their original schedule, so we were able to move in just a few days after the handover date. Why pay rent when you can own?
Emaar's new customer care centre was unfazed by our appearance at 8.15am on the handover day, and the keys, forms and a very useful customer handbook were all ready. This preemptive strike allowed the installation of curtains and blinds and kitchen appliances before we moved in, as well as the checking of air-conditioning and connection of water and electricity.
A special thank you to Dubai Electricity and Water Authority whose two-hour connection service must be among the fastest in the world. Emaar's Sahm telecommunications service was not far behind, and within 48 hours we had high-speed Internet access and Cable TV.
Did anything go wrong? It was not perfect. One air-conditioning unit was not connected and three water heaters. A kitchen unit door needed changing to accommodate the dishwasher, a small design error. Several toilets, a hand basin and the washing machine (installed on the day of arrival by Emaar's Emrill subsidiary) developed minor water leaks.
Were there any hidden charges? None whatsoever! Where we did immediately decide to spend more was on the garden, and to build a patio with doors into the villa.
This cost extra but Arabtec introduced us to the original door supplier who quoted a modest price, and also quoted for an internal door to the washing machine alcove, which probably ought to have been a standard feature.
Otherwise, all charges were very upfront, clearly flagged and there were no nasty surprises. Incidentally Arabtec's resident manager Khalid quickly sent around workmen to make good the few defects. For the first year all such problems are covered by a contractor's warranty, after then Emrill will takeover and offer three different maintenance packages.
Overall, our moving experience was very satisfactory and less painful than expected. We managed it all in a weekend with one extra day off, and had the house in tolerable order by the start of the week. This was Dubai at its best, convenient and inexpensive.
Admittedly we had not gone as far as our neighbours opposite who have ripped out the inside of their new villa for extensive marbling and new bathrooms and kitchens. But it was a very good start to owning a home in Dubai.