Bahrain, the smallest territory and population in the MENA region and the smallest economy in the GCC, is currently continuing its real estate development as it is trying to diversify its economy away from oil and gas, which still represent around 77% of revenues. Faced by the same challenges as other countries in the region, ranging from the cost of construction to the liquidity crunch, it seems that Bahrain is better equipped to handle the global financial crisis since its demand is mainly local and its market is comparatively small.
Since Bahrain is the first to be expected to run out of oil, it started to diversify its economy long before its neighbors, focusing on tourism, real estate and finance. In 1999, legislation was passed allowing land ownership by GCC nationals. In 2001, a new decree was issued, which came into force in 2003, stating that non-Bahrainis, GCC nationals and others, may own land in Bahrain for both personal and business use. Around the capital, the areas that are open for freehold ownership are Ahmed Al-Fateh, Hoora, Bu Ghazal, Seef and Northern Manama, including the diplomatic area.
Over the past three years, property prices have been growing by 10-15% per annum with a 20% increase for some projects from the third quarter in 2007 to the second quarter in 2008. Nonetheless, price increases in some high- end districts were even more substantial. In Durrat Al Bahrain, the price of a 500 square meter villa doubled to around $800,000. Increases for new rents in residential areas, however, slowed to 30% from 40% in 2007. Amin Al Arrayed, general manager of the real estate company First Bahrain, explained that the country’s real estate market is driven by regional demand and not global demand like in Dubai, and thus is less inflationary. He added that, “marked increase in prices of all factors of development and a shortage in key building materials… created significant problems for developers who were faced with ever increasing cost.” The cost of materials rose 30% in 2007 and a further 50% in the first half of 2008.
As is the case throughout the region, real estate demand in Bahrain outweighs supply. Oxford Business Group (OBG) reported that 40,000 social housing units are currently needed, with demand growing in leaps and bounds. According to Zawya, at least 60,000 residential units will be delivered in the next eight years and a balance between supply and demand should come in 2012. Additionally, the Bahraini real estate advisory DTZ said that more than 1 million square meters of office space should be available across the kingdom by 2012, representing a 100% increase in the space currently available.
According to Global Property Guide, currently real estate projects worth $9 billion are under development. The most important developments that will be completed in the next couple of years are Durrat Al Bahrain, Bahrain Bay, Diyar Al Muharraw, Reef Island and Bahrain Investment Wharf. New towers are also being constructed, like the Abraj Al Lulu, Infinity Tower and Era Tower. Al Arrayed explained that, “a key trend has been the rise of mixed- use developments that provide integrated and holistic lifestyle solutions, [as well as] the move towards sustainable development and smart eco-friendly solutions.”
Moreover, Bahrain announced plans for major expansion of its international airport that will have a price tag of nearly $1 billion. The plan is to concentrate on expanding terminal capacity to meet the country’s air transportation requirements for the next two decades.
World financial crisis
When the global financial crisis hit the market, there was a slowdown in demand for real estate, as many of Bahrain’s residents are waiting to see what will happen next. “The financial crisis has impacted the real estate sector directly as a result of a reduction in the liquidity that is required to fund most of the development projects,” said Al Arrayed. He also explained that, as in other countries, speculators were most affected. “In particular, the high-end freehold sector that has seen the highest level of appreciation in recent years has been the hardest hit, as over leveraged speculative investors are unable to secure financing required to pay their developers… the current crisis will test those business models that have focused on investment driven developments characterized by short-term returns.” He expects many of these speculative developments “will have difficulty obtaining the necessary funds to proceed.”
R. Lakshmanan, CEO of Sakana Holistic Housing Solutions, told Gulf Daily News that the sales in property might have slowed down, but the rental market is still very strong. Additionally, prices are not falling and people should start buying again in the next few months. He added that Bahrain is better placed to weather the correction than other countries in the region.