Tag Archives: housing

Expat Exodus

Saying Goodbye to Friends

Living as an expat anywhere in the world means being away from your loved ones. Wherever we end up, our friends become the closest thing to family.

It’s inevitable, particularly living in the Arab world where we will never be the citizens of the country, for the expat journey to end.

The past year has been particularly difficult as one by one I’ve watched good friends make the hard decision to return to their native countries. The impact of falling oil prices has had a crippling effect on jobs across all industries.

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Geraldine and her family left Dubai in December 2015

Last Summer residents first began to witness the large exodus of expats across the region, mostly families, where one spouse had lost his or her job. Summer or Christmas are usually the most common times for families to pack up and leave, as it ensures their child’s education is not disrupted.

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I caught up with Lisa for the first time in Sydney earlier this year after she left Abu Dhabi in 2009

The high cost of living has also played a critical role in expats leaving the GCC. Some families have even opted to separate, with dad staying on and working in the region while mum and the children return home. The main trigger is the cost of education. Here in the UAE private school fees continue to rise, with some schools often charging more than USD 10,000 for kindy.

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When you’re an expat your friends are your extended family

The expat exodus has become the most talked about issue at mummy group gatherings – many said their good byes this past week as schools wrapped up for the winter break. My eldest daughter, Janah, a Year 7 student, said three children in her class would not return in the new school year.

This past week I learned that another friend left Dubai.  It’s the fifth family that has returned to their country over the last year.

As I look back on my 8.5 years in the UAE, I’m reminded of the mass exodus, post the global financial crisis. I had only been here for six months when it hit our shores. The impact was felt across all industries. We were among the few families who survived it and we watched as Dubai and neighbouring cities rebuilt.

When old friends leave, it opens the door to new friendships. I’m looking forward to welcoming newcomers to the city. To my old friends, we will always have DUBAI.

In Brief: 7DAYS to shut down   

On December 22, 2016, Dubai’s most loved newspaper, 7Days, will print its final newspaper.

The current trading environment and future global outlook for print advertising remains severely challenged,” explains 7Days CEO Mark Rix. “Whilst it was our stated intention to re-focus and restructure the business for 2017 and beyond, it has since proved not possible to create an acceptable cost base that could deliver a viable and sustainable business.

“It is therefore with great sadness that we announce the unique 7DAYS news brand will close and thus, cease to inform and entertain the UAE in its refreshing and inimitable way.”

The closure leaves about 50 people, some friends, without jobs.

 

 

Tenants at the mercy of Abu Dhabi landlords

Celebrating Janah's 3rd  birthday in our new Abu Dhabi apartment

Celebrating Janah’s 3rd birthday in our new Abu Dhabi apartment


I do apologise for not blogging sooner – I had a very busy weekend celebrating my birthday.

Just to recap: The real-estate agent called my husband, asking him to come and pick up our deposit – the partitioned villa apartment was no longer available because the greedy landlord had accepted more money from someone else. Although Tarek and I were annoyed, it was a blessing in disguise – the Abu Dhabi Municipality later announced a crackdown on these illegal villas.

In the same breath, the agent tried to rectify the problem by giving Tarek the contact number of a man who we were led to believe was a representative of an Emirati landlord looking to lease his three-bedroom apartment.

Al Muroor was a little further from where we had planned to settle – 20 minutes from the Abu Dhabi CBD and the Corniche. Tarek made the call and agreed to meet him in a car park outside a Yemeni restaurant situated at the corner of Al Muroor Rd and 31st Street.

When we arrived, three men approached the car. Tarek had a brief conversation in Arabic with the landlord’s representative, and while I was sitting inside our car I made a note of their car registration. We were led to an old building within walking distance of where we had parked, below was a tiny general store. The watchman, a short Asian man, took down our details, before we were ushered to the lifts. An Emirati man, who I assumed was the landlord, greeted us at the front door.

“Asalamu Alaikom,” he said.
“Wa alaikom wa salam,” we responded.

For anyone who has been house-hunting, getting a positive vibe about an apartment, location and neighbourhood is important.

The Arabian décor consisted of gold wallpaper, maroon and gold drapes hanging from a large window, and a large crystal chandelier lighting up the large family room. Once the tour ended, the girls and I walked back to the car while Tarek stayed behind with the landlord and his representatives to discuss the lease terms and conditions.

“He wants 200,000 dirhams (USD55,000),” said Tarek, as he turned on the car’s ignition. Before I could respond, Tarek painfully revealed: “He wants one cheque.”

It looked like we were just about to finance this young man’s new car, I thought. Our housing allowance covered 90 per cent of the rent and we would have to borrow the balance from the bank. To add insult to injury, Tarek was told his employer would not pay the large sum in one cheque – the company’s policy was two instalments.

Part of the reason why we had moved to the United Arab Emirates was to get ahead financially; instead we found ourselves having to finance half of our rent as well as an additional 10% agent’s fee. Tarek was asked to return later that night with a USD5000 deposit. The previous day he had picked up the deposit from the other real-estate agent but he was short a few thousand dollars.

We returned to the same car park many hours later. Tarek gripped the brown paper bag tightly as he walked towards the men. They had no qualifications, no receipt book and no proof of who they were. Many questions and scenarios rushed through my mind. Was this a scam? Had we trusted them too much? I drew comfort from knowing this was the Muslim world and if this was a scam and the men were caught, they would be facing many years in an Arabian prison.

I looked over at Tarek, and after what appeared like a brief conversation, he handed over the money. I waited anxiously for him to get a receipt and the key. Nothing. No receipt and no key. We had no record this transaction ever took place.

Tarek was asked to return in a few days to pick up the key from the landlord. Neither of us spoke on the drive home. The next 48 hours were stressful. Either way, we needed to get our finances in order and find a way to fund this astronomical rental fee.

In 2008, there were no laws protecting tenants who had made a lump sum payment on their apartment or villa. If a tenant lost his or her job and were forced to leave the country, they could not recoup the balance of their rental payment.

True to his word, the landlord called. He asked Tarek to meet with him at a nearby café to pick up the key and sign the lease. We moved into the apartment a week before I was due to give birth.

Tarek maintained a great relationship with the landlord, whose wife’s family owned the building we had just moved into. Al Muroor was a lovely traditional neighbourhood. While we didn’t have the luxuries of other expats living in compounds with access to a swimming pool and gymnasium, I was just happy that we were part of the Arabian experience.

Janah & Serene had enough space to bike ride in the hallway of our new apartment

Janah and Serene had enough space to bike ride in the hallway of our new apartment

Next: Beggars come knocking

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.