Source: Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai’s first piece of real estate bearing the “Trump” name opened its doors on Saturday (February 18). The 18-hole golf course spans 7,205 yards and located within the DAMAC Hills (formerly Akoya) master-development being built by DAMAC Properties within Dubailand.

Teeing off at The International Golf Club were US President Donald Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, who currently run the Trump brand. The White House said on January 20 that President Trump had removed himself from his business operations, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying at the time that “Don and Eric are fully in charge of the company”.

The two sons were accompanied by Hussain Sajwani, Chairman of DAMAC, who was instrumental in sealing the deal first announced four years ago. More than 1,500 invitees were on hand at a glitz-heavy evening to see the expanse of green designed by Gil Hanse (who incidentally also did the course for the 2016 Olympics in Rio).

This is also the first Trump-associated property to open anywhere since the November 8 election. Just prior to that, there was the opening of a hotel in Washington (in a building formerly used by the US Post Office and near the White House).

Donald Trump visited Dubai in 2014, before he announced his candidature for the 2016 election, for a first-hand inspection of the golf course project. The launch today sets the stage for two further Trump-branded properties — a cluster of high-end villas and a second golf course — to come online by end-2018.

Separate from politics

“At the moment, we only have these two agreements with The Trump Organization,” said Sajwani, in an interview with Gulf News on Saturday. At his first press conference after winning the election, Trump said he said no to another potential deal worth about $2 billion with DAMAC for further projects.

As golfers line up at the new course, the developer is hoping for some clear weather ahead, literally and figuratively. When then-candidate Trump pledged to “extreme vetting” of Muslim visitors if elected, there were many who believed that Sajwani might find it difficult to pursue the alliance. The DAMAC Chairman did not budge, and at the time said political decisions made elsewhere cannot be mixed with business.

“My decision was based on the simple fact that there was a legal agreement with another organisation,” said Sajwani. “I had to respect that, stay true to that commitment. That was not negotiable. Over the years, we have remained committed to stakeholders, our customers and business partners.”

On whether there wasn’t pressure on him to distance himself, Sajwani said: “There’s always going to be the negative … part of business, part of life.”

Industry conditions normalising

Away from the golf course, Sajwani was in a combative mood when it came to how he sees the local real estate market faring.

“Whatever happened in 2013-14 were unusual years in terms of sales for the property market,” he said. “In 2015 and ’16, you had those conditions normalising … ’17 will be the same.

“I will blame the real estate analysts and media for painting a darker picture of the situation. How can analysts come out with estimates of 41,000 new homes being delivered, when the actual delivery was less than 10,000 a year.

“Even suggestions of 24,000 units are totally wrong … it would be more like 12,000-15,000. Now, that’s a healthy number.

“If Dubai’s economy is growing at 4 per cent, then you need 20,000 units a year, plus or minus.”

DAMAC recently announced net profits of Dh3.69 billion, down from its 2015 total, with the developer saying that it was a true reflection of the state of the market. But the fourth quarter of 2016 did provide a sort of boost, with gains from an increased pace of handovers as well as plot and property sales.

“If markets want smaller units and more competitive prices, you have to react,” said Sajwani. “That’s exactly what we did.”

DAMAC makes a case for more projects in London

It already has an ongoing project in London … but DAMAC Properties is not satisfied with just the one.

“Because the pound has lost value, and land prices have adjusted somewhat because of the currency, I believe there are opportunities to do more,” said Hussain Sajwani, Chairman and CEO of DAMAC.

“We are not planning Triple A properties, because we think that category is slowing down. Our aim is for Double A homes, with prices more in the £2,000 a square foot and not £6,000.

“London will be one of four markets where we will continually look for new land purchases, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar being the others. In Saudi Arabia, the true potential has not been tapped fully.”

But does it make commercial sense to keep adding to an already substantial land bank in Dubai? “As a developer, land is our oxygen. Buying it is a matter of timing, pricing and assessing the need.”