Middle East paves the way for a diverse real estate market

Ahmad Kasem of United Real Estate Company says Middle Eastern governments have pushed to remove all barriers to overseas real estate investors

March 15, 2016

Real estate, although it comes with its challenges, is a sizzling market practically worldwide and the Middle East is no exception. United Real Estate Company CEO Ahmad Kasem discusses the Middle East’s diversification in the wake of declining oil prices, government strategies to make the region highly attractive to developers from overseas, and his company’s latest luxury golf course development in Morocco.

World Finance: Real estate, although it comes with its challenges, it’s a sizzling market practically worldwide and the Middle East is no exception. With me to discuss is Ahmad Kasem from United Real Estate Company.

Ahmed, how developed is the Middle Eastern real estate market, where’s the highest amount, talk me through the sector?

Ahmad Kasem: The Middle East real estate market is the fastest growing market in the world today. It has grown from being a pure developers’ and real estate entity to become multi-national, and today we have countless real estate developers. If we take, for example, the United Arab Emirates, it has paved the way of diversification of its portfolio.

Whereas a lot of real estate developers were attracted to build and do business in their country, the United Arab Emirates have really focused on providing the state of the art infrastructure system to include bridges, roadways, ports, airports, etc. And that has helped and assisted all the real estate developers to focus and to come into the country, be attracted to the business opportunities, and together as a tax free country it has been a tax haven to those investors as well.

World Finance: This must represent huge opportunities but I also imagine challenges, what were you looking at exactly?

Ahmad Kasem: The biggest challenge that the Middle East has is the price of oil. The decline of the price of oil has prompted the governments together with all businesses to start taking a different look and become more efficient, more strategic and to diversify.

If we talk about the opportunities in the Middle East for the real estate sector, there’s the availability of land and the infrastructure. You have about 365 days a year of sunshine, which provides a good culture for clean energy, if you will, and the use of solar energy.

The government regulations have been in support of bringing investors into the real estate market. That provided a good climate for the real estate investors to come in and develop and succeed. And everybody has been really looking at the Middle East for that opportunity.

World Finance: How difficult is it to invest in this market for foreigners, what are the hurdles?

Ahmad Kasem: The Middle East governments for the past two decades have been really pushing to eliminate all barriers for all investors to come in and be able to invest in the real estate sector. And if we look at Oman, together with the United Arab Emirates, they have paved the way for such an opportunity by providing the ability to any foreign, non-national to be able to come in and purchase a freehold property and own a title to it. That has provided the environment for all investors and people who want to come and live in the Middle East the ability to do so.

World Finance: And what role did developers play in developing the market?

Ahmad Kasem: The developers play a major role in the real estate development market. As in the private sector they bring new projects, they have the responsibility of bringing new projects into it. They normally have to abide and comply with all the government and the local authority’s regulations and requirements.

By doing so all the new projects, whether it’s a design, whether it’s a zoning requirement, they have actually worked together and influenced those governments to adapt and make modifications and revisions to their requirement and regulations, to be in line with the international requirement for real estate developers.

World Finance: So with this in mind, talk me through your latest project in Morocco?

Ahmad Kasem: It’s an 18-hole golf course resort designed by the golf player Niall Cameron to be a desert like golf course, integrated into the natural landscape and that overlooks the Atlas Mountains. We are right now in a process of finishing the master plan to provide a resort which shall include themed villas, together with five star hospitality hotel, resort and a wellness centre, some small retail component, and some staff accommodation. All of this together is going to provide a development that is one of a kind and unique in its type and it will be a destination to a lot of people.

World Finance: Finally, corporate governance is developing rapidly alongside most sectors, so how do you approach this?

Ahmad Kasem: We established two entities, two departments. One is a compliance department and the other is risk management. Both of those look for any compliance issues and to ascertain that every deal, whether with our shareholders, with our management, with our customers, has to comply accordingly. We work very closely with the CMA, which is the Capital Market Authority in Kuwait and we make sure that we are compliant with their requirement and we actually work together and co-ordinate to benchmark. Corporate governance is very important and we ascertain, we ensure, we are compliant 100 percent in our daily work.