The ghost town that is Dubai’s property market

The wealthy once flocked to Dubai, but now prestigious apartment blocks are either unfinished or half empty

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SIMON WHITE, DIRECTOR, LONDON’S SURVEYORS

Nothing prepares you for the visual onslaught that is Dubai. It’s not that everything is bigger, it’s that everything is new and shiny and loud.

People say that Dubai is like Hong Kong without the crowds. I wouldn’t know as I’ve never been to the Orient, but Dubai picks you up by the lapels the moment you land and demands that you will be impressed.

I took my golf clubs there last week as they needed a break and so did I.

My devotion to duty knows no bounds, so of course I spent an professional expat chums in the region. If you think we’ve had it bad here then think again.

The demise of the Dubai property market makes sports presenter Andy Gray’s fall from grace appear modest in comparison.

Dubai held on until the beginning of 2008 when apartments were still achieving circa £260 per square foot, but even the Middle East’s most glamorous location couldn’t avoid the domino effect precipitated by the global recession.

Even the Middle East’s most glamorous location couldn’t avoid the domino effect of global recession.

At the beginning of 2008 prices for flats nosedived by 30% in just three months and have since slid another 30%, with prices still falling.

During my stay I went to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

It soars to in excess of 160 storeys and it is almost five times higher than Tower 42, the old NatWest Tower, in the City of London.

Even in this most prestigious of Dubai locations average prices for flats have fallen a staggering 70% since the boom, if of course you can sell them at all – 90% of its 900 apartments are still empty.

Driving around Dubai is like visiting a movie set because most of what has been built isn’t quite finished.

The skyline, while breathtaking, also provides limitless scope for playing the age-old game of I can count more cranes than you.

Whole suburbs are nothing more than desolate ghost towns visited by the occasional bit of brush blown in on the passing breeze.

On my last day there I went to play the new Ernie Els golf course, which is the centrepiece of one such suburb called Sports City.

In Dubai they don’t do things by halves. Semi-finished apartment blocks all adorned with tennis racquets, cricket bats and golf clubs flank the entrance to the complex.

The fairways wind their way through row upon row of empty roofless villa shells, which clearly no one has worked on in ages as the windows are all blocked up with sheets of corrugated metal.

I left Dubai with a feeling of sadness because I, like many I talked to, can’t see where the regeneration is going to come from. The oil reserves have run down and Abu Dhabi, 70 miles up the road, is much wealthier. We will see.