A battle for survival in Abu Dhabi’s brutal housing market

Construction in Abu Dhabi to meet housing supply shortage
As I stood beside the car with my two little girls sound asleep in the back seat, I could feel my unborn child kicking furiously. In the distance, my husband Tarek stood with three men. What felt like a lifetime was just minutes as the conversation ended with my husband handing over a brown paper bag containing USD5,500 – our rental deposit for an apartment we had seen a few hours earlier. The kicks got stronger as I waited for one of the men, who we were led to believe was a representative for the Emirati landlord, to hand Tarek the key to the apartment. Nothing. No key. My heart sank as he walked towards me empty handed.
Had we just walked into a housing scam?
It was hot and very humid – mid-July is perhaps one of the warmest summer months in the UAE. As Tarek walked back to the car, I could feel a contraction coming on. I was just two weeks away from giving birth to our third child.
“Where is the key?” I asked Tarek.
“We’ll get it tomorrow,” he replied.
I wasn’t convinced.
The drive back to our hotel apartment was intensely quiet. We didn’t say a word, neither wanting to spark a fight. And I was ready to argue. We both knew that everything could go horribly wrong, and we probably wouldn’t see that money again.
Before we packed up and left Sydney for Abu Dhabi, Tarek and I had spoken extensively about moving into a beautiful apartment overlooking the stunning Abu Dhabi Corniche – this was part of the excitement and the journey. We had both grown tired of living in western Sydney and this was the closest thing to an adventure I had ever experienced. Financially we were struggling to keep up with our mortgage – we had two little girls under the age of three and there was another baby on the way. We just wanted to catch up financially. To get ahead and to stop chasing our tails.
Tarek was asked to start work immediately after signing a two-year deal with the project management company handling the construction of the multi-million dollar hotel developments on Yas Island. He was there to help the Abu Dhabi government get ready for the first ever day/night Formula One Grand Prix. It was an incredible career move he couldn’t pass up.
In March he left and we were due to follow him in May, shortly after his brother’s wedding. With our furniture now packed and in a shipping container, I was forced to live with the bare minimum: a mattress, portable cot, bar fridge, a few pots and pans, a small coffee table and a television. It was all the girls and I had for six weeks. I slept on the mattress, five months pregnant, beside me lay Janah, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and in the cot was Serene – she was just 16 months at the time. Ideally I would’ve liked to have moved to Abu Dhabi with Tarek but it wasn’t feasible with the wedding just weeks away.
Part of his expat package included what we believed at the time to be a substantial housing allowance. For the first month, however, the company would cover our hotel apartment rental until we found a permanent residence. During our daily conversations, Tarek explained the difficulty of finding an apartment – what was on offer was run down and located in a very old part of the city.
His nightly search continued after work. Tarek made endless calls to real estate agents but no one seemed to have anything suitable. In 2008, Abu Dhabi was facing a housing shortage, unable to cope with the influx of expats arriving in the emirate. The success of Dubai’s boom had filtered into the capital, driving housing prices through the roof.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of our housing nightmare.

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