The Jordanian real estate market saw increased sales activity in 2013 as well as price rises in many parts of the capital, which accounts for the great majority of transactions. A number of major mixed-use real estate developments are under way, including the Abdali development in Amman – a major component of which was launched in July 2014 – and several large real estate and tourism developments in Aqaba. These projects demonstrate Jordan’s ability to attract foreign investment even in times of instability.
The number of housing units in Jordan stood at 1.13m in 2010, of which 69% were apartments, according to the latest data from the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDC). The corporation put the median price of residential units sold in the country in 2013 at JD46,850 ($66,180), down from JD50,000 ($70,630) in 2012. However, other data indicate that the residential property market in the capital has been performing well. According to Dubai-based property consultancy Asteco, all six areas in the capital for which it monitors prices saw substantial year-on-year (y-o-y) rises in sales prices in the first quarter of 2014. In the upmarket Abdoun district prices were up 15% y-o-y, to JD1325 ($1872) per sq metre, making it the most expensive of the six areas. The lowest rise was in the Fourth Circle, where purchase prices increased 9% to JD1250 ($1766) per sq metre, while the highest was in Al Rabiah, where they were up 22% y-o-y to JD1100 ($1554) per sq metre. According to Asteco, the main factor behind such growth was an increase in the cost of land, while Wael Al Jabaari, CEO of Abdoun Real Estate, told OBG that rising construction costs were another factor. According to Al Jabaari, the most popular residential units are two-bedroom apartments.
Recent performance in the rental segment was more mixed; three of the neighbourhoods for which Asteco quoted prices saw y-o-y rises in the first quarter of 2014, while two were flat and one – the Um-Othainah neighbourhood – saw a fall in prices, with rents down 2% on an annual basis. Rental rates in Abdoun stood at between JD5250 ($7416) a year for a one-bedroom apartment and JD16,500 ($23,308) for a unit with three bedrooms, with prices up 3% y-o-y.
Industry figures say that there is currently a great deal of demand in the mid-scale residential market but less for more expensive units or for high-rise apartment projects in particular. “The apartment sales market is fairly active,” Al Jabaari told OBG. “However, what we are not seeing a lot of is high-end sales.” Some players argue that large, high-end residential towers are not a good fit with the lifestyles of Jordanians, though others believe there are signs this is changing.
Commercial rental rates currently vary between JD80 ($113) and JD140 ($197) per sq metre across Amman as a whole. According to Asteco, office rental rates in the first quarter of 2014 were either flat or down y-o-y in key neighbourhoods of the capital. Prices were unchanged in the Mecca Street and Madina Al Munawarah street areas, at JD100 ($141) and JD80 ($113) per sq metre a year, but down 3%, for example, in the Shmeisani district to JD93 ($132) per sq metre and as much as 8% in Sweifieh to JD83 ($117).
The market for office space has slowed down as a result of the Arab Spring and Amman is now characterised by oversupply. For this reason the Abdali development has decided to give over most of its second phase to residential projects (see below). The project itself is a contributor to such excess availability. “There is a greater degree of oversupply in the commercial market than the residential segment because of projects such as Abdali coming on-stream, the first phase of which is mostly commercial,” said Al Jabaari. “As Abdali continues to come on-line, prices are likely to go down as supply increases further.”
However, the sales market for office space has been performing better than the rental segment, with prices up y-o-y in four of the five areas of the city for which Asteco provided data in the first quarter of 2014. Wadi Saqrah saw the highest rise, at 13% y-o-y at JD1075 ($1519) per sq metre, followed by Shmeisani on 11% to JD1000 ($1413) and Um-Othainah at 10% to JD1100 ($1554), making it the most expensive of the areas cited. Other types of commercial space can be more expensive than office space, with purchase prices in the range of JD1000 to JD1500 ($1413-2119) and retail space reaching JD2000 ($2825) in desirable areas.
The major real estate project currently taking place in the capital is the redevelopment of the Abdali area in the city’s downtown. The area was formerly military-owned land located on what was then the edge of town. Lebanese construction company Horizon has formed a joint venture with the government known as Al Mawarid that is now the main shareholder in Abdali Investment and Development, the company behind the project. The concept has subsequently been amended from simply a central business district to a mixed-use development including retail facilities and residential units. The investment cost of the entire project – including both infrastructure and buildings – is in the region of $5bn, with nearly $3bn for phase one and $2bn for the second phase. Project developers are roughly evenly divided between Jordanian firms and companies from other parts of the Middle East, with little investment from beyond the region. Major investors include Kuwaiti firm KIPCO, which, in addition to a 2% stake of Abdali Investment and Development, has a 40% ownership share in The Boulevard project and a 60% stake in Abdali Mall. “Upon the completion of the boulevard projects, we are expecting to see several commercial offshoots arise to the benefit of the Jordanian economy at large,” Taher Al Jaghbir, the CEO of Abdali Boulevard Company, told OBG.
Indeed, major elements of the development are now beginning to come on-stream. A section of the project’s first phase known as the Boulevard, a 400-metre pedestrianised spine including 12 buildings made up of retail and office space and serviced apartments, was inaugurated in July 2014. Another section of phase one will include the Abdali Mall, which will be the largest shopping centre in the country with a total built-up area of 227,000 sq metres, is scheduled to open in summer 2015, and a third section, including the project’s W Hotel, is due to be inaugurated in summer 2016, by which time 80% of phase one should be completed. The main residential element of the development’s first phase is a residential project by Damac that will consist of three parts –The Tower, The Lofts and the Courtyard – and which is due to be completed in late 2014. In total, the first phase of Abdali will comprise 1.03m sq metres of built-up space, of which 32% will be residential, 28% office space, 26% retail space and 14% hotels.
Work on the infrastructure for phase two of the project, which will be 792,000 sq metres in size, is due to begin in the fourth quarter of 2014, with marketing for it commencing in 2015. In contrast to the more mixed first phase, the great bulk of the second phase (71%) will be devoted to residential space, with most of the remaining space (17%) given over to retail, leaving 8% for hotels and 4% for offices.
Outside of Amman, the city of Aqaba on Jordan’s Red Sea coast, between the country’s borders with Israel and Saudi Arabia, is seeing some of the largest real estate and tourism development in the country. Major projects include Ayla Oasis, backed by Saudi Arabian conglomerate ASTRA, which is based around four man-made lagoons that add 17 km to the kingdom’s 25-km Red Sea coastline. Construction of the lagoons and major infrastructure such as roads was completed in 2012 and work on a 300-room Hyatt Regency hotel and a marina area began in April 2013 and is scheduled for completion in 2015.
The Saraya Aqaba project also includes a man-made lagoon, adding 1.5 km to the coast, and involves the development of around 643,000 sq metres of land. Work on the project stalled in 2008 amidst the global financial crisis; however, in April 2013 the project’s owner, Saraya Aqaba Real Estate Development Company, raised its capital by JD450m ($635.7m) to JD785m ($1.1bn) to finance the work and in June it signed a $689m contract with a consortium led by Arabtec for the construction of phase one, due to be completed in late 2015, with operations to begin the following year. The development includes residential units, four hotels, a market area, a beach club and a conference centre.
Another major real estate project in Aqaba is Marsa Zayed, which is being developed by the UAE’s Al Maabar. The project site is 3.2m sq metres in size and the development will include residential units, hotels, retail space, offices, a marina and a cruise ship terminal, as well as the addition of 2 km of newly developed waterfront along the country’s short coastline. Construction work on the first phase of the project began in July 2013 and is slated for completion in December 2015. The first phase includes infrastructure works along 200,000 sq metres of land, as well as the construction of the Al Raha Village with more than 500 homes and the 3980-sq-metre Sheikh Zayed Masjid (mosque).
In March 2014 Al Maabar signed a memorandum of understanding with MIS Solutions to build the Middle East’s first minimally invasive surgical (MIS) centre as part of Marsa Zayed’s second phase of development. “The construction of the MIS centre will elevate Jordan’s status as a medical tourism destination. Strategically located in Aqaba, the centre will provide patients from around the globe with a convenient and idyllic destination for receiving medical care,” Emad Kilani, CEO of Al Maabar Jordan, told OBG.
In addition to development of the Red Sea coast at Aqaba, the Jordan Development Zones Company (known as JDZ) is working on a master plan for the development a 40-km stretch of the Jordanian coast along the Dead Sea, located around 50 km south of Amman. The project is due to be completed in six phases through 2035. The plan is based around the establishment of a series of mixed-use nodes along the coast, for which JDZ is providing infrastructure. Land is being divided into parcels which are being offered to investors with the choice to lease for 30 years (extendable for another 30), lease with the option to buy, or purchase land outright under the project.
Residential projects under the programme will include the Sweimeh Urban District, which is primarily intended to house employees of businesses such as hotels in the development. Other elements of the project will include a convention centre district, a corniche district and a hotel district. Phase zero and phase one of the project are scheduled to run between 2011 and 2015, and respectively involve JD21m ($29.7m) and JD7.1m ($10m) of infrastructure investment. Together these cover an area of 40 sq km, which will be extended to 73 sq km in phase two (due to run between 2016 and 2022). “With the increasing development of the Dead Sea touristic zone, we expect to see growth spread through other sectors in the area,” Taha Al Zboun, CEO of the Jordan Development Zones Company, told OBG.
A number of private real estate and tourism-focused development projects are also under way along the shores of the sea. Emaar of the UAE is developing a 1. 6msq-metre resort and real estate project called Samarah on the Dead Sea on behalf of a consortium that involves several local investors, including the King Abdullah II Fund for Investment. The project, when completed, will comprise 1300 residential units, three hotels, and various leisure and retail facilities including the Samarah Mall, with 3700 sq metres of gross leasable area. The shopping centre became officially operational in March 2014 and is part of the first phase of the project, known as Rift Living, which has been under way for some time. Future phases include a golf resort, a residential phase and another known as “Beach Living”. Egypt’s Amer Group is also planning an 800,000-sqmetre project known as Porto Dead Sea, which will include the construction of four five-star hotels, three shopping centres and 11,000 serviced apartments.
Developers have cited a number of regulatory challenges in the sector, including a lack of clear rules in some areas. “Current laws do not address issues such as the regulation of homeowners associations and how to deal with non-paying tenants,” Kilani told OBG. Nonetheless, he said that the government was responsive to industry concerns on these issues and that developers were currently working with the authorities on draft legislation.
Another concern from developers is the implementation of property registration fees. “The rules require you to pay 9% of the value of a property in order to register it; however, the fee is based on an evaluation of the property by the land department at the time of executing the sale rather than the sale price, and there is no right of appeal,” Kilani told OBG.
High levels of bureaucracy and the inconsistent application of rules also contribute to challenges. Nevertheless, Kilani said that such problems were surmountable. “Obtaining exemptions is not an easy process, but once granted by the government you need to employ experts in the field to ensure you go about it properly after agreeing with relative government agencies such as Customs departments and sales and income tax departments on required procedures.”
As it comes on-line, Abdali should transform the character of the capital’s central area, though it may also put downwards pressure on prices in the commercial segment in the coming years. Aqaba also appears set for further development given its large potential as a tourism and second-home destination. Over the longer term, demand for residential property and units in the kingdom is expected to rise substantially.
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