Buying a house is often one of the most significant events in one’s life. In fact, it can be such an overwhelming experience that some people tend to forget that home ownership is a responsibility in as much as it is a privilege. When it comes to home ownership, there’s more to it than meets the eye. We ask three households about their home-buying experience and dealing with the new responsibilities and challenges as homeowners.

Blank slate

After “throwing money away” on rent for five years and spending her professional life renovating other people’s homes, Leanne Moss and her husband took the plunge and bought a five-bedroom Mirador villa with a maid’s room in Arabian Ranches in November last year. She has big plans for the house, which she purchased through The Urban Nest, conceptualising a family home meets showroom meets office. We’re practically gutting the villa and doing a big-scale renovation,” she says. With plans to stay in Dubai for at least another five years, the dual goal is “to add value to the house and to our brand,” says the entrepreneur-mum, who owns the interior design firm White Moss.

The purchase process itself was fairly smooth sailing; the only challenge was that there was a tenant in situ, who only moves out next month, after which the renovations can start. Says Moss: “There are certainly lots of deals to be done at the moment in regards to financing and mortgage rates, as well as a good exchange rate, which was important for us.” Looking back, if she were to do it again, Moss says she may have taken a different route: “We spent a long time looking. We wanted a wow factor and I feel we’ve got that in this property. “We went for a really nice house in the first place and we’re still doing a full-scale renovation, so I could’ve probably gone for a cheaper property rather than paying a premium and investing the same in the renovation. It would’ve saved a lot of money.”

Quality of life

When Kate Tooby bought her five-bedroom Aldea Courtyard home in The Villa in December 2013, the property was about three-quarters completed. “It’s very difficult to get mortgages for off-plan property,” explains Tooby, who owns the event curation company, Tooby Creative. “We funded 25 per cent of the down payment with the rest financed through ADCB, who were very helpful.”
Although the house was a new build, Tooby and her husband made significant changes to the interior design, which she says leaned heavily on a Middle Eastern aesthetic with lots of dark wood. “While it had a really big kitchen, it was an enclosed room so we also knocked through to the adjacent dining room,” she remarks. The result is a fantastic open-plan entertaining space, which is the heart of the home.
In terms of investment, installing a large pool was the biggest expense. “We also had to do a lot of work on the garden as there was no pool and it wasn’t landscaped,” she says. A five-star hotel-worthy master bathroom was another significant investment.
“We’ll probably never realise a return on our investment in terms of the upgrades, but we wanted to have a really nice family home, and didn’t want to cut costs.”
Tooby advises potential buyers to be prepared for unexpected costs: “We did a feasibility study before we bought the house but there are still costs at every stage that you’re not necessarily prepared for. There was a last-minute increase in land registry fees, for example.”
She also counsels taking a long, hard look at developer credibility. “We had a real problem and ended up filing a case with the Dubai Land Department [DLD] as the developer didn’t follow through with the snagging and was demanding final payment before finishing.”
The DLD was “really supportive” she says, but as a fail-safe she recommends that new owners ensure they keep a record of any conversations or promises by the developer in writing.

Long-term view

Dr Maurizio Viel, a Dubai-based plastic surgeon and founder of London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery, invested in a Palm Jumeirah villa, bought during the 2008 global financial crisis in a move that he says “served us in good stead”. “If we needed to rent this out in the future, we believe that many European expats would like an opportunity to live here as we see the sea and beaches as added value to living in Dubai,” he remarks.
Upgrades are, therefore, an investment necessity. “We continually make investments in the house that future buyers will pay for, such as a quality Hacker kitchen and remodelling of the upstairs bathroom, which was a bit dated,” he says.
For Dr Viel, the biggest cost for any home owner is the mortgage. “However, my wife, who is a former banker, believes that all homes should be financed to be able to invest the capital elsewhere, like a second property”. He has recently sold an apartment in Dubai Marina through Tregoning Property. A buy-to-let investment, he purchased the property in 2007. “We broke even with this investment,” he says.

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