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Develop vs build

Haytham Al Tajir, chairman, Al Tajir Real Estate, discusses the differences between developing and building.

Al Tajir Real Estate, INTERVIEWS, Business

Haytham Al Tajir, chairman, Al Tajir Real Estate, discusses the differences between developing and building.

Despite being one of the most eligible bachelors in town, Al Tajir is also chairman of a relatively new development firm, Al Tajir Real Estate, which he set up on his own three years ago.

When he was on the right side of 30, Al Tajir decided that he wanted to establish a development company that could differentiate between 'developing' and 'building'.

According to him, as Dubai began to develop and everybody got into the property rush his business, which was initially a brokerage company, began to pick up business by default.

Being a developer gives me a lot of satisfaction. I can't say I'm trained for it but I was trained the hard way. There is no better school than the school of hard knocks and bad experience.

"People we know started asking us to look around for property for them so we started to buy into development as partners," said Al Tajir.

"But most of the time we were silent partners but then after a while we realised that we could do a better job so we went full time into development.

"There are quite a few corners being cut here at the moment with too much emphasis on the profit side of things and less on brand building and long term business.

We had vast experience from watching the market and we thought that we need to pay attention to quality rather than profits. And this is where we stand out.

Al Tajir was educated most of his life in the UK so due to his familiarity with sophisticated European building standards and techniques, it was no surprise that he felt a bit disappointed with the overall construction in the region.

"When it comes to construction I'd say a lot does not meet my expectations," he said.

"A lot of it; but, there are some exceptional jobs too. I just saw a finished building on Sheikh Zayed Road the other day and the quality is second to none. And I think that's because the developer, the consultant and the contractor came together from day one to collaborate and build.

Al Tajir also feels that most developers look at the cheapest tender and that is the only motivation, which has to change.

"I think developers need to sit down with the contractor they plan to hire and see what his views are and scope out whether he's there to do the job quickly and then get out or does he care about his reputation and to build a name for himself.

There is the hit and run theory and then there is a long term brand building one.

"There are some exceptional buildings here that are comparable to the rest of the world. But I'd have to say on the whole I'm slightly disappointed, possibly also because, personally, I'm a little too critical.

He also feels that developments need to be thought out in a better manner.

"One needs to utilise space properly. If it's a place that people are going to live in, it has to be habitable.

"There can't be any corners or corridors that lead to nowhere and there is far too much of that going on at the moment.

He also said that one of the most worrying things he'd come across when he was selling property was the number of unhappy apartment buyers.

"What's happening in this country is absolutely remarkable and despite all the predictions it continues to sustain itself and even grow. And developers, contractors and all who are gaining out of this property boom have a responsibility to protect it because at the end of the day if we don't we'll only be ruining it for ourselves.

        Haytham Al Tajir fact file

  •  33 years old and unmarried
  •  Educated at the University of Stirling, UK
  •  Son of Mahdi Al Tajir, the former UAE ambassador to the UK and fourth richest Emirati on the Arabian Business rich list.
  • Entrepreneur and chairman of Al Tajir Real Estate Company
  • Lives on Sheikh Zayed Road
  • You can catch him fishing off the Dubai coast on weekends

So after spending most of one's life in England, why would someone decide to start from scratch in Dubai?

"This is my home and I always felt that I belonged here. I didn't have a plan when I came back here; in fact that was the last thing on my mind," he said.

"Four years ago I stopped working for my family, I wanted to see if I could do something on my own so I started from scratch.

There are a lot of developers in trouble but they're in the market to make a quick buck and get out. And if that is the case, then a clean up is good. It'll get rid of all the riff-raff.

"I just got swept up with what was happening in Dubai and I eventually found that becoming a developer and all that it involves was what I wanted to do. I think there should be a difference between developing something and building something.

"There is a lot that goes into being a developer. It's not just coming up with developments and pocketing the money.

But even though the Emirati entrepreneur has no formal education in construction he's confident that he's learnt more on the ground than he would have ever done sitting in a four-walled class room.

"Being a developer gives me a lot of satisfaction; I like my job. I can't say I'm trained for it but I was trained the hard way. There are a lot of things that you learn on the street which you don't learn in school. There is no better school than the school of hard knocks and bad experience."

But with the current state of the market that has sent some developers packing, will Al Tajir Real Estate manage to carve a niche for itself and is the proverbial bubble-burst imminent?

"I came back to the UAE 10 years ago and at that time things were changing here. I remember coming back here from school for my holidays and seeing how Dubai was expanding. "I mean if I had to leave Jumeirah I felt dizzy.

Since then Dubai has grown; the whole world is here in some form or the other. And that was 10 years ago. Not only can I not see the bubble bursting, I don't see the bubble at all. What bubble?

Al Tajir uses Hong Kong's property crash in the 80s as an example.

"It's only when a development company has 300 subsidiary companies and those companies are buying plots from the parent one that a bubble is created. It's fake demand. And that is certainly not happening here.

"Everybody is losing money around the world but not here.

"The whole of Europe is buying here.

"This morning I got a call from someone trying to get me to buy some property in England and I said not only do I not want to move out of Dubai but when the whole of England is coming here why would I want to go there?

"Demand here is backed up by investors from abroad and from here. The demand here is real.

He agreed that what's happening in Dubai is a little surreal and that no one ever imagined that it would have the world's tallest building but said that it's all true and is all real.

"There are a lot of developers in trouble but that's bound to happen once you regularise things. The escrow law is quite profound and a lot of these people are not developers.

"They're in the market to make a quick buck and get out. And if that is the case, then it's a good thing that is happening. A clean up is good. It gets rid of all the riff-raff. Any mature market has to get a clean-up.

        Al Tajir Real Estate

  • Current developments under construction include a commercial project, Credential Towers and the recently-launched residential development Fortunato.
  • Planning six more projects by the end of 2008 including a residential one in Jumeirah Village.


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