With many British families settling permanently in Dubai (10,000 people make the move every year), finding a school has become part of the property buying process. Dubai College, where half of the pupils are British passport holders, says that 28% of its leavers go on to attend the top 1% of universities. Michael Lambert, its headmaster, is confident that the college will expand in the coming years: “We don’t yet have the numbers for Brexit but we see fewer people leaving for the States thanks to Trump.”
High-end detached villas in the Dubai neighbourhoods of Arabian Ranches and Emirates Hills remain the preferred choice for wealthy expats with families, according to local estate agency Core Savills; Arabian Ranches now has its own English-speaking school, known as JESS. A sprawling, five-bedroom house with 8,000 sq ft of living space on a plot overlooking the golf course at Arabian Ranches will cost around £2.5 million. In the Meadows, a popular but more affordable residential area near Emirates Hills, a four-bedroom detached house can still be found for around £800,000.
Even actress, Lindsay Lohan, revealed last week that she is in talks to design one of the isles in The World Islands, the much-delayed man-made archipelago off the coast of Dubai, designed to look like a flattened globe. The American actress has said that she moved to the Middle Eastern city for its “silence and focus”, but it’s not just wayward celebrities who are making the Emirates their home.
“Dubai has become a destination” says Jason Hayes, managing director of Luxury Property, an estate agency that specialises in the area. “Most buyers are looking to stay long-term and the flippers have gone.”
Hayes is talking in particular about Volante Tower, a residential project that has just been finished by the boutique developer Xtreme Vision. In 2007, Xtreme built Le Reve, a development that overlooks Dubai Marina and the Palm Jumeirah; it was designed by Atkins, the consultancy behind the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, the most-photographed hotel in the world, and its owners are reported to include Roger Federer, the tennis star, and Fernando Alonso, the Formula One champion.
A decade on and Xtreme’s latest project is in the centre of a newly fashionable area known as Business Bay. Volante Tower has sold well, mostly to owner-occupiers. Only seven apartments and a penthouse remain in the 35-storey tower, which has fabulous views across the new Dubai Water Canal towards the Opera House and the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower.
Despite its name, Business Bay is becoming a thriving residential area thanks to the growing popularity of downtown living. Miles of paths and cycleways have been created in the area, which allow residents to ditch the car and stroll or cycle through the shops, bars and restaurants during the cooler months from November to April. “At Volante you have waterfront living without having to drive for ages,” says Andrew Lemon, development director of Xtreme Vision. “Moreover we have purchased two adjacent sites, which will ensure that the waterside views are not obscured.”
New legal frameworks to protect buyers are another step in the right direction. Freehold titles for foreign owners throughout the Emirates have been available since 2014 in designated free trade zones, which offer exemptions on income, import, export and corporate taxes. In Dubai, these areas include Burj Khalifa, Business Bay, Palm Jumeirah, Emirates Hills and Dubai Marina.
It is true that property prices in Dubai are well off their 2008 heights – down by 45% in some cases – but the chances of another recession of this scale seem remote. Unlike its oil-dependent neighbours, the UAE continues to create wealth; the Emirati super-rich spend their estimated $1.4 trillion wealth in Dubai and according to a report by Cluttons, the property consultancy, it remains the most popular property investment spot in the Gulf area.
The Emirates is said to be researching proposals to create an artificial mountain that could increase clouds and therefore rainfall in the arid area. A spokesman for the National Centre for Atmosphere Research in the US confirmed that it was “evaluating the effects on weather through the type of mountain, how high it should be and how the slopes should be.” Some locals believe they have spotted diggers moving earth for the project. An urban myth? In Dubai it is hard to say, but with a population predicted to rise to five million by 2030, life here is changing as dramatically as the landscape.