A Dubai court issued a precedent-setting ruling last month that may be a game changer for the emirate’s real estate market. When the housing bubble burst and Dubai’s properties lost an average of 52 percent of their value, many homeowners fled the country to escape mortgages that had become worth more than the value of their homes.
But British bank Barclays, in the court judgment on January 11, won the right to repossess these properties and auction them off in traditional foreclosure proceedings.
The ruling is the first application of Dubai’s 2008 foreclosure law, which had yet to be put to use. Until 2008, the United Arab Emirates’ legal system made foreclosure and repossession difficult if not impossible, leaving banks with the options of settling loan defaults out of court or simply waiting for the economic climate to improve so that they could begin collecting from their debtors again.
“The court’s decision in Barclays’ favor strengthens our belief that the UAE property market is evolving in line with other mature markets,” said Zeeshan Saleem, Barclays consumer banking director, in a statement. “Customers’ financial wellbeing is our key priority. We understand that the global financial situation may have impacted some of our customers and that they may face challenges in meeting their financial commitments.”
In September, the ratings agency Moody’s predicted that 12 percent of Dubai’s 27,000 mortgages would default within 12 to 18 months. According to UAE central bank statistics, bad or non-performing loans rose by 10 percent from October to November, totaling $8.7 billion.
Under the new law, lenders must give 30 days notice before beginning foreclosure proceedings before a judge. If the claim is found to be legitimate, the property is turned over to the Dubai Land Department, which will sell foreclosed properties at auction. If the result of the sale is less than the amount owed by the debtor, the bank may collect the rest from the borrower, in accordance with the mortgage contract.
If, to the contrary, the auction price exceeds the value of the mortgage, the balance is returned to the borrower; with Dubai’s housing market still in the dumps, however, this scenario is unlikely.
According to legal experts, the whole process will take between two and four months.
Though Barclays will be foreclosing on an unnamed number of properties along with the region’s largest mortgage lender, Tamweel, which has several foreclosure proceedings in progress, industry sentiment is that this ruling will not lead to an avalanche of foreclosures before the courts.
“[I’m] not sure if [banks] will be rushing to repossess properties and then have to sell the properties into a still depressed market,” said Robert Thursfield, director of financial institutions at Fitch Ratings.
Christopher Neil, chief executive officer of real estate investment consultancy Landmark Advisory said: “Banks will go to the courts and make use of this law if there is no other way of trying to resolve the default situation, [but] they will try other means before doing so.”
“If, however, the borrower has left the country, then the bank has little choice but to go to court.”
The main worry is that flooding the market with foreclosed properties at auction will bring down prices in an already suffering market.
“The local banks in particular will not want to push prices down further and exacerbate the negative equity in their lending portfolios,” said Neil, adding that this was a common notion across the banking sector.
“Banks will adopt a number of strategies to avoid foreclosure such as extending payment terms, agreeing to accept interest payments only, deferring interest so that installments become more manageable, or persuading borrowers to downgrade thereby releasing equity for repayment.”
“Eventually when prices rise again, they will then be able to repossess the properties and sell them to cover outstanding debts.”