Gulf News, 23 March, 2019
Dubai: Launch a tower? Build a high-profile waterside project? Offer post-handover payment plans of three years or so on both of them? Check, check and check.
But wait a moment — this is not a developer in Dubai we are talking about, but in Abu Dhabi. And Walid Al Hindi, CEO of Imkan, isn’t why about why he opted to sweeten his off-plan sales pitch with post-handover payments. “Feasibility studies show that this is one way to make our projects attractive — and it’s a fact that we are the first developer in Abu Dhabi to have such payment plans. We don’t want to be losing money making the projects we do.”
Unlike in Dubai, off-plan launches in Abu Dhabi have decidedly been on the lower side for more than 18 months now. There has been Aldar Properties, which hits the market frequently with new launches, and then there is Imkan.
“It’s an interesting time for real estate and it needs a weeding out approach,” Al Hindi said. “I think so many organisations got into real estate over the last 10 years looking at this as a lucrative business. Many thought they know how to run real estate — and not just in the UAE, but across the region.
“Unfortunately, that has affected the market. But now is the time for people who really know their business to continue to push new projects. They can withstand the market situation — but the small ones that wanted to play this game despite not having the expertise will be weeded out.”
Al Hindi pauses for just a nano-second before adding, “That would be a good thing for the industry.”
In terms of lifespans, Imkan itself hasn’t been around the block for long — this is only the third year of operations. But this is where lineage helps.
Imkan is the real estate arm of the investment firm ADCG (Abu Dhabi Capital Group). It owns an impressive land bank cutting across geographies and has ongoing projects in Cairo, Rabat (Morocco), Sri Lanka, and, of course, multiple ones in Abu Dhabi. The combined value of all these is Dh100 billion and counting.
But Al Hindi isn’t overawed by that number. “We are still a small company; in the first year, we tried understanding what we are going to do differently. In the second, it was about how to create those concepts.
Estimated combined value of Imkan’s projects
“The third year is the construction phase and our focus will be geared towards delivering, which includes a 100-unit luxury villa project on Saadiyat Island and a mixed-used community just 20 minutes outside of Heliopolis in Egypt. There will also be our first hotel in Rabat.”
But Imkan is not just focused on projects with short completion schedules. There are two multi-year developments in the portfolio, Makers District on Al Reem Island right in the heart of Abu Dhabi, and the Aljurf, a sea-hugging mixed-use community on the outskirts of the city.
The Aljurf takes its inspiration from Riviera-themed lifestyles that has made living on Monaco or Cote d’Azur such a magnet for the wealthy.
But at Aljurf, Imkan has been offering slightly more accessible prices for a plot or a villa. Just the plot alone would start from sub Dh1.5 million, while one with a residence starts from Dh2.9 million.
“We have released 100 of the 300 units and plan to have a second set in the market at Cityscape Abu Dhabi next month,” the CEO said. “Aljurf is going to be built over a 10-15 year period … we are talking about 4 million square metres of land.
“The first phase alone, which has the villas, is about 1 million square metres and there will be the waterway extensions in the second phase.
Starting price of plots at Imkan’s Aljurf development
“For the initial releases, we were the first developer in Abu Dhabi to do so on a “by-invitation only” process.”
Al Hindi added that there will be some markups for future releases — “If we don’t do that, we should be looking at a different business.”
The first of the handovers are due in 2020-21, and Imkan is targeting buyers who would consider picking up these homes as a weekend getaway.
But despite the longer term projects on its books, it is on the lookout for more. There are plans for a “horizontal-style project” that could be announced by the third quarter.
Where needed, the developer is open to alliances, the CEO said, be it a joint venture or a less formalised partnership arrangement.
“The cost of money to develop will always be a big consideration,” he said. “If I am building on 5 million to 10 million square feet, there’s a specific pace you cannot surpass. But if you want to speed up and create a destination, you actually need the help of others to do this. We could build this in seven years instead of 15. That can be a good thing.”