The Great Dubai Househunt
Over the last year or so, I’ve been routinely throwing away all my spare time on a dead-end project – my office commute. That’s somewhere over 100 hours per month on one of the most misery-inducing activity on the planet.
I thought of moving closer to office, but the rents were so high that I spent most of my 100 hours debating the pros and cons of such a move. I would save some time, sure, but I’d bleed money to some random schmuck of a landlord. But wait a minute – why couldn’t I be that random schmuck? For a brief period, I toyed with the idea of tightening my belt and borrowing heavily to afford a loan for buying an apartment instead of renting. I’d still hemorrhage money, but I’d be sitting on an asset that potentially grows in value till I become a smug, condescending, wealthy jerk twirling my mustache at the less fortunate – My lifelong dream.
Then I did the math. It turns out I’m far less successful than I imagined. Tightening my belt would not have helped – To apply for a home loan, I would have had to sell my belt, my shoes and probably everything else to even come close to what I needed. With my mustache twirling rich-jerk goal abruptly crushed, I reverted to the more modest proposal of renting an apartment near work. It turned out I could barely afford that.
House-hunting – even if just for rent – is a crazy stunt, especially when your 100 hour work commute leaves you with just the weekends to physically go inspect the actual apartments. And it’s even MORE difficult when you’re a lazy procrastinating jackass who makes excuses to yourself to sleep in during those precious, precious weekends.
But eventually, I did it. I found a place, and I’m moving. In light of this tremendously monumental – or, if you want to be a stickler for correct English, ‘fairly routine’ – achievement, I thought I’d write about it. I would like to share with you, my reader(s), a definitive, time-tested, authoritative, expert viewpoint on what to do, what not to do, when you’re looking for renting an apartment in Dubai. I really would LIKE to do that, but I don’t have any credibility or self-awareness – I mean – remember, I actually considered buying property when I could barely afford to even rent it.
So instead, let me just outline a few things I encountered along the rugged, tiring way. Things you may find interesting or useful at some point. Things I was not expecting. Things like –
There are lots of apartments out there
When I started looking out, some well-wishers warned me that it won’t be easy. Most viable apartments are snatched up in a matter of days. I had this mental image of crazed house-hunters running madly to realtors, screaming against each other like it’s a perennial Black Friday shopping spree. That’s what happens when apartments are either incomplete, or still occupied for the most part.
But that’s not the case – Online portals (such as Dubizzle, the popular favourite of the region) advertise new apartments for rent every day. We just needed to sift through them and find good ones. For me, economy was a priority, so I thought that would limit my choices to a scant few, but it turns out –
Even cheap apartments are available
Dubai is in the top 20 of the most expensive housing options in the entire world. Prices for a one-bedroom apartment in the non-luxury areas come around USD 17,000-25,000 a year. Plus, you have to commit to an entire year’s payment in advance in most cases. That’s not great news for the non-super-rich residents here.
But… if you’re lucky, and if you search long enough, you CAN get a lot of ‘cheap’ options.
… but they’re cheap – not inexpensive.
When I say cheap, I’m still talking about USD 15,000+ a year, because we’re still talking about Dubai, where the super rich folks consider Rolls Royces and Bentleys as impulse purchases. The benchmark for ‘cheap’ is rather quite steep.
But if you go to the bottom of the barrel in search of these cheap places, it turns out you get cheap in the ‘worthless’ spectrum of the word. One of the apartments I saw was so small I’d have had to straddle my bed between the living room and bedroom… sideways. Another place I saw was so isolated that residents have to go on weekly adventure treks just to buy groceries… and if they forget the milk, they have to put on their hiking boots and repeat the trek. Yet another place stank so bad of raw sewage that I think shit literally hit the fan there at some point.
I wanted to pound the real estate agent with some friendly advice – Either clean the shit up or offer it to the municipality as a sewage plant. But that wasn’t going to make any difference, because…
The agents don’t care
I don’t want to put a blanket statement there (although I did… just now, so my bad), and there are some agents who did care a wee bit, but… for the most part, the agents didn’t really want to get involved. I made appointments with 15 different agents and timed my weekend meticulously to accommodate their availability. From that grand pool, only two showed up. The rest seemed uninterested – some just told us the apartment number by phone and asked us to go check it ourselves; others just didn’t reply to calls/ texts for several days.
Essentially, they’re just available when it comes to pocketing their fees.
All of this contributes to the nightmare of house hunting. But at least you get to relax once you settle on the house you want, right? Well, about that…
Finding your house is only the beginning.
Moving is always troublesome, but it’s especially awful in a country where you don’t understand the laws well enough. I had to read up on a lot of things to be careful of – The way the tenancy contract is drawn, the clauses to watch out for, the importance of checking the title deeds, the cheque formalities, the maintenance clauses, parking allotment, and around a dozen other things I’ve already forgotten. I had some expert guidance from a friend and a few calls to the Land Authority, and am still praying I got everything right.
And these do not include the exit formalities from my old apartment – another ton of rules and processes to follow by itself. It’s enough to make you want to tear out your hair, and it’s not like my scalp can afford that.
The good news is that the Dubai Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) is there to help out residents, and are – going by the internet reviews – quite effective. But they can’t help unless you do your part right, and you can’t do your part right unless you know the nitty gritties. Which is why you need to read a definitive, time-tested, authoritative, expert viewpoint on what to do, what not to do, when you’re looking for renting an apartment in Dubai.
Unfortunately, this article is not it.