With the financial world in turmoil once more, buying a property in the UAE may not seem like the best option at the moment.
But with interest rates coming down and some lenders re-entering the market for the first time since the global meltdown of 2008, the appetite for home loans is on the up.
Bank mortgages issued in the UAE hit Dh163.19 billion (US44.43bn) last year, up by 15 per cent on 2009, and demand for home loans has continued to rise in 2011 caused by a combination of lower house prices - down by 50 to 60 per cent from the peak - and banks making it easier for consumers to actually secure a mortgage.
"There is a lot of money in the banks at the moment because of large inflows of cash due to the turbulence in the region and the austerity measures put in place since the credit crunch," says Warren Philliskirk, a senior mortgage manager at Globaleye.
"While the banks have this liquidity they have to use it, so mortgage rates are being squeezed at the moment."
With 28 lenders now competing for business - a dramatic increase from the dark days of the crisis when the mortgage industry came to a virtual standstill - housing loans are now being offered at rates as low as 4.99 per cent, down from the 8 to 9 per cent witnessed during the crisis period.
Standard Chartered, the latest lender to jump on the property bandwagon, recently announced a fixed-rate Ramadan offer of 4.99 per cent for the first 12 months, matching United Arab Bank for the lowest rate in the market.
HSBC Middle East is offering a 5.49 per cent interest rate for 25-year mortgages, while Barclays is offering 5.99 per cent. And more banks are also offering financing for up to 85 per cent of the value of a home instead of the previous 70 to 75 per cent.
"It's a huge difference on 12 months ago when everyone had pretty much shut up shop or had created terms in their policy that were so stringent they were never going to lend without having to say they had closed," says Mr Philliskirk.
It appears the banks have also learnt to tread more carefully, only offering loans to people with solid credit histories who plan to live in the home they buy.
"We encourage end-user financing on completed properties," says Ishrat Kiyani, head of premium banking, wealth management and mortgages for HSBC. "Off-plan but near-completion projects in Abu Dhabi and Dubai can be looked into based on the overall project completion report conducted by an independent valuator."
While HSBC was one of the few lenders to stay open for business during the crisis, many others stopped offering mortgage loans, including the Dubai-based Islamic mortgage lender Tamweel. It relaunched its home loan products earlier this year following a restructure.
Tamweel has not only returned with lower rates, but also a refinancing option allowing owners of fully-paid properties to unlock up to 50 per cent of the value of their homes and finance options for overseas buyers - another sign the lenders want to make it clear the UAE property market is healthy once more.
"Stability in prices is essential for our industry and for the real estate market," says Varun Sood, acting chief executive officer of Tamweel. "We have noticed that prices have stabilised in mature and fully completed projects. Other important indicators such as liquidity and confidence have significantly improved. All these factors point towards a positive outlook. We have seen an increase in the uptake of home finance applications and, in fact, the demand we are seeing has been greater than anticipated at the beginning of the year."
But while the mortgage market is keen to distance itself from the days of buyers flipping properties to make a fast profit, they have not shut the door on the idea of the UAE property market becoming a haven for pure investors once more.
From / The National