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Published on 7/13/2017 11:57:21 AM
Is it the right time to invest in real estate investment trusts?
Real estate investment trusts (Reits) are slowly gaining a foothold in the UAE property market. These investment vehicles allow individual investors access to real estate portfolios without owning underlying assets. This reduces the risk associated with owning a property and also helps investors to diversify their portfolios and benefit from long-term capital appreciation.

reitReits issue securities in the form of shares that invest in income-generating real estate. There are currently only two listed real estate investment trusts in the UAE - Emirates Reit and ENBD Reit. Institutions have been setting up unlisted Reits as well.

The company behind Emirates Reit, Equitativa, launched the first Shariah-compliant residential Reit in the UAE with a seed portfolio of Dh418 million in February 2017. The founding shareholders are Al Hamra Real Estate Development and National Bonds. It is expected to float on one of the UAE markets later. The Reit includes 371 residential units in Ras Al Khaimah's Al Hamra Village and 112 units in Dubai's Motor City.

Sylvain Vieujot, chairman of Equitativa, said: "Residential yields are attractive in the current environment and are expected to provide medium-term upside. There continues to be significant interest in Reits across the region from both institutional and private investors."

Five Holdings, the company previously known as Skai Holdings, recently launched a Dh2.1 billion hospitality-focused Reit. It will initially be an unlisted Reit,

"Owning units in a Reit instead of holding the title to a physical asset means investors will be able to buy and sell at a lower cost and with more flexibility. Investors will be able to monetise faster in a public offer by owning units within a Reit as opposed to a physical asset," said Kabir Mulchandani, chairman and CEO, Five Holdings.

"Reits offer a compelling investment vehicle where risk is spread across a number of real estate propositions under one portfolio. This is the beginning of a wave and I envision the UAE Reit industry to be [worth] hundreds of billions of dirhams over the next 10 years," he added.

The Abu Dhabi Financial Group has launched Etihad Reit, a Shariah-compliant Reit. It has holdings in a variety of sub-sectors, including residential, retail, warehousing and staff accommodation.

Reits could be an attractive prospect for retail investors seeking to enter the UAE property sector. It lowers the cost of entry into real estate and gives exposure to different asset classes.

"Reits can offer access into market sectors that an investor may wish to look at but does not want significant exposure. Reits also allow for the real estate investor to increase or decrease their exposure in much the same way as equities, creating a more liquid [than direct investing] real estate investment platform," says Ian Albert, regional director at Colliers International Mena.

The UAE property market has been under-supplied in terms of investment-grade products. This has kept away the big international institutional investors. The Standard Chartered building in Downtown Dubai, Ubora Towers in Business Bay and the under-construction HSBC building are examples of institutional grade, blue-chip quality assets.

"In the UAE, there is a lack of sophisticated investment vehicles for property. Regional retail investors are attracted to the UAE since it is an emerging market with high returns. Institutional investors are apprehensive of the UAE market and consider it volatile. By the time they complete their due diligence, the asset is likely to have been traded multiple times among regional funds," observes Faisal Durrani, head of research, Cluttons.

However, professionally managed Reits with properly vetted, income-producing assets are a good conduit to bring international funds into the UAE market. Opting for listed versus unlisted Reits depends on the investor's risk appetite.

"International investors are more risk-averse and would look at listed Reits since they offer the guarantee of financial regulation and transparency. If regional retail investors are new to the UAE market, they will choose listed Reits as it will give them more confidence in investing. If they already have exposure to the UAE property market, they may choose unlisted Reits if it offers better returns," explains Durrani.

Reits also spread the risk for institutional investors. "As opposed to direct investment, it does not need significant internal staffing and management that, in turn, would reduce the institution's returns," adds Colliers' Albert.

Office and residential buildings in Dubai's non-freehold areas offer yields of six to 10 per cent. Full buildings in freehold areas such as Downtown Dubai provide yields of six to seven per cent. Workers' accommodation (hospitality/retail) provides double digit returns in the range of 15 to 20 per cent, according to Cluttons.

"We expect to see more Reits as demand and regulation are in place and the success of the existing Reits brings confidence," reckons Albert.



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