According to a report from data and analytics provider GlobalData, the construction sector comprising the Middle East and North Africa “is healthier than most other regions.” With the building business booming, Sheikh Yousef Al Shelash, the chairman of Dar Al Arkan, says that there are a lot of trends based on the region’s economic classes. The company’s portfolio includes projects in the Saudi region of Al-Qassim; Saudi cities Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Sarajevo, Bosnia; and Muscat, Oman.
“In the middle economic classes, we’ve seen a shift from stand-alone houses to apartments,” says Yousef Al Shelash. The rising price of real estate is driving that trend. “So you have to, in a way, move from a villa into an apartment,” Al Shelash explains. “At the same time, utilities are becoming more expensive, and the utility bills of a villa are totally different from an apartment.” Just over a decade ago, that would have been unheard of in the region, according to the business leader. He says, “Fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t see any Saudi national living in an apartment. However, now the movement into living in apartments has become an acceptable way of living, and this is a big trend.”
“The main cities of Saudi Arabia are really looking more alive,” states Al Shelash. The successful businessman explains specific reasons for that exciting change in the region. “Definitely, the opening up of the markets in terms of becoming more open to the external world,” he says.
Men and women are mixing more than ever before. “Also, the opening up of so many of the past restrictions allowed more and more people to live in apartments and reduced the number of fences around the houses, which is really adding a different flair to the city,” says Yousef Al Shelash. “Now the city [appears to be] more alive because it is demolishing all of those walls and adding more landscapes, and we see more apartment blocks. This is one trend in the middle sector of the economy.”
Another rising construction trend across Saudi Arabia intends to attract more tourists. “Historically, the only tourism that Saudi Arabia has was religious tourism — the people who want to come on pilgrimage to Saudi since a Muslim has to come to Mecca at least once in his or her life,” says Yousef Al Shelash.
The Dar Al Arkan chairman says that the artifact areas in the middle of the deserts are currently being built up. “A lot of resorts are being built along the Red Sea,” explains Al Shelash. Building resorts for tourists around ruins that date back up to 5,000 years is “something totally new in Saudi,” he said. “And it shows how much the country has changed.”
According to Yousef Al Shelash, “Today, many nationalities can get a visit visa upon arrival. Previously, it used to take someone three months to get a visa to Saudi.”
In the United Arab Emirates, Dar Al Arkan strives to provide unique products to those who are investing in and want to live in Dubai. “Because so far, the company has only taken plots that are in key locations, either on the water or in the center of the Downtown,” says Al Shelash. “So far, Dar Al Arkan has only presented in Dubai co-branded products. For example, we presented the limited edition of the real estate market in Dubai.”
Every unit in Dar Al Arkan’s W Residences Dubai — Downtown is currently sold. “Between eclectic cultures and vibrant energy, immerse yourself in one of the most prominent and affluent neighborhoods in the world, downtown Dubai. W Residences Dubai — Downtown is a distinct residential tower strategically located by Business Bay, where Dubai’s major landmarks are your natural view,” states the company. “The sophisticated architecture of the tower recalls the beat of a vibrant city — the perfect repetition of geometric beauty pulsating in the heart of downtown Dubai.”
Co-branding is one of the significant trends in luxury living. That’s why the property development company that Al Shelash leads embraces it in a major way. “Recently, co-branding is reaching cars, yachts, planes, and real estate,” he says. “Co-branding with luxury brands and hospitality brands is a big trend in real estate.”
It’s human nature to desire nice things. Al Shelash tapped into that and states, “The reason it is a big trend is that we have more and more people looking to buy a limited number of units.” What does he mean by that? “When the company does a project in a certain city with a certain brand, it only presents a limited number of units,” Al Shelash explains. “These are also limited for a very long time. So there is a big trend around the globe today of people who would like to buy units with limited numbers, just like they’re buying watches, they’re buying jewelry, they’re buying everything which is a limited edition. So the co-branded real estate is the limited edition of real estate.”
Another major trend in real estate is the utilization of real estate as a preserver of future wealth. It’s a much more tangible option than something like the stock market. Moreover, because a person can see the physical embodiment of their investment, it can be more reassuring for the average investor.
In addition to being the chairman of Dar Al Arkan, Sheikh Yousef Al Shelash is also the chairman of Saudi Home Loans, and Alkhair Capital. He helped usher in the Saudi home loan market. Between the three companies under his chairmanship, Al Shelash has close to $15 billion of assets under management.
“There wasn’t a proper regulatory framework in Saudi for home mortgages. When I started, regulation was just starting up. So people did not understand that they could actually take a loan for 15 years, 20 years, or 25 years,” he recalls. “And, at the same time, the full mortgage loan was still not established; if you don’t pay the loan, the house is foreclosed, and you end up losing your investment. This was not there. So the main challenge was evolving with the evolution of the regulation.”
Before mortgages became popular, the culture in Saudi was to save enough money to fund the house’s total price. Or wannabe homeowners had to save up to buy land, and then they had to save to build a house on that land. “Saudi Home Loans came in with a completely different concept. Suddenly people didn’t need to wait until they had saved the full price. This helped so many people to have their first home,” says Al Shelash. It was an unprecedented concept at the time. Still, Yousef Al Shelash’s visions for the future of real estate funds successfully laid the foundation for the current mortgage market in Saudi Arabia. “Now, after 15 years, you have a fully developed mortgage market in Saudi,” he says.