What does it take for a female real estate entrepreneur to build a business from scratch and run it successfully for a decade and a half, especially in choppy waters? Determination and resilience, says Naghmeh Sheikholeslami, CEO of Dubai-based real estate agency Seven Century Real Estate Brokers.
Facing a global financial crisis a year after the company was founded must have been a daunting reality. As investors faced challenges and companies went out of business, Seven Century’s raison d’être back then was to support its customers and hold on.
“We have started [the company] in 2007 and even after the global crisis of 2008, we did not close shop, and our telephone lines were not cut for a day. We were always available to help our clients consolidate and negotiate their payment plans,” says Sheikholeslami.
“While we never retired our services, we reduced our expenses and focused on improving our offerings for our customers. It was difficult at the time, but the efforts have paid off, as these investors continue to support us until today.
“Initially offering brokerage services, we later expanded our operations into property management services, which range from snagging and conveyancing to lease management,” she adds.
Leading a team of around 60 employees, Sheikholeslami, who first arrived in Dubai as a student in 2004, now oversees three divisions of the business, covering brokerage, property management and holiday homes.
“Our all-in-one solution sets us apart from other market players. Within brokerage, we focus on primary and secondary residential and commercial sales. Within property management, we manage property assets and provide 24/7 maintenance services; and as far as holiday homes are concerned, we manage short-term rentals and provide interior design and furnishing services,” notes Sheikholeslami.
“As part of our sales team, we have experts specializing in different types of properties as we have clients from all walks of life – those wishing to buy studio apartments to those wishing to buy villas, penthouses, residential land, commercial offices and retail stores,” she adds.
Solid economic context
Besides its horizon, a lot has changed in Dubai’s real estate spectrum over the past two decades, be it the number of players, technological advancements, new entrants, legislation or client priorities. “There has been a sea change since I started, in all facets of the industry, be it [property] transfer, digitization, escrow accounts for projects or virtual tours, among others,” adds Sheikholeslami.
The company, a four-time recipient of the ‘Gold Rated Agency Award‘ of the Dubai Land Department, has grown alongside the emirate, which has reshaped its real estate – and broader economic – landscape through its vision, courage and technological superiority.
Today, Dubai, as a real estate hub, offers fertile ground for opportunity and growth. The numbers act like a perfect lawyer: In 2021, Dubai recorded the highest value of real estate sales transactions in 12 years, with properties worth Dhs 151.07 billion sold throughout the year , according Property finder’the data.
The momentum appears to have continued this year as well, with the emirate recording a total of 25,972 property transactions in the first quarter of 2022, making it the highest number of property transactions recorded in a single quarter since 2010. Among those- here, 20,539 were sales. transactions worth 55.51 billion Dhs, according to Mo’asher, Dubai Sales and Rentals Performance Index by Dubai Land Department. The six-month-long exhibition, which attracted the world and recorded over 24.1 million visits, also left a positive mark on Dubai’s property market.
Dubai’s population has also grown from 40,000 in 1960 to 3.3 million at the end of 2020, while its urban and built-up area has increased 170 times from 3.2 square kilometers over the same period. . Furthermore, as the city seeks to chart its future course, Dubai’s Urban Master Plan 2040 was also launched last year – the seventh of its kind developed for the emirate since 1960 – offering a range of investment opportunities. and lifestyle for citizens, residents and visitors. over the next two decades.
The number of Dubai residents is also expected to reach 5.8 million by 2040. The opportunities, however, are not limited to domestic adoption only. The initiatives and inducements of the emirate and the country have, in large part, made their case to the global public. As a result, foreign investment in the UAE real estate sector is promising.
More so, in the first half of 2022, Dubai has won bids to host 99 major events in the coming years, advancing the wider economy and attracting the world. The legislation also urges the world to stand up and take heed. A new decree incentivizing real estate investment funds in Dubai has recently been issued to strengthen the emirate’s position as a real estate investment destination.
The decree, under its purview, covers all real estate in Dubai, including properties located in private development zones and free zones, excluding the Dubai International Financial Centre. Visa reforms, including the introduction of the Golden Visa and others, have also helped catalyze growth.
“The Dubai market is moving [ahead] in a positive direction, with increasing population, long-term ‘Golden Visa’s, growth in infrastructure and visas for new entrepreneurs leading to increased demand for housing,” Sheikholeslami believes. People invest in countries other than their home country for two main reasons: safe investments and a good rate of return, she adds.
“[In Dubai], legal protection and well-defined rules help investors gain confidence. Additionally, managing ready properties through registered property management companies makes it easier [for investors] to manage their portfolios.
Several macro factors have recalibrated economies and consumer priorities in recent years. Along with significant health implications, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented itself as a huge economic hurdle for industries, regionally and globally. With social restrictions, remote operations, accelerated technological adoption and vaccination efforts, several countries have managed to overcome the pandemic in a pragmatic way.
The UAE’s response to the crisis, however, was immediate, effective and widespread – in addition to offering economic support, north of 24.92 million doses of vaccine were administered to people across the country.
“Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the whole world has recognized how effectively the government of the United Arab Emirates has handled the crisis. People from different parts of the world are now planning to establish a second home/base here and many [are considering the UAE] for their retirement plans,” notes Sheikholeslami.
As well as ushering in digital innovation and adoption earlier than expected, the global health crisis has also helped reshape customer priorities in terms of home choices, with buyers actively considering things like spaces spaciousness, durability and value-added features.
“After the pandemic, customer preferences changed as the concept of community living emerged. Renters now prefer to live in townhouses or villas, even far from the city center, as they are fond of personal spaces for remote work/e-learning etc. “says Sheikholeslami.
“Villa communities are [also] is becoming popular due to low service fees and well-designed communities by well-known developers,” she adds.
The shift in buying behavior that resulted from the pandemic also continued during the year, with customers opting for completed units, over off-plan ones. According to official data, in the first quarter of the year, transactions on the secondary market accounted for 58.05% of the total transaction volume of real estate sales.
However, other factors come into play. Sheikholeslami adds that residents who have managed to secure convenient mortgage plans and post-completion plans from developers prefer ready properties, while international investors opt for off-plan assets due extended payment plans.
With the future in sight, however, Sheikholeslami believes that revolutionary trends that will help reshape the local property market include the concept of community living, new visa reforms and favorable mortgage schemes.
Although not without challenges, it all came together for Sheikholeslami, for whom Dubai has now been home for nearly two decades. And it does not stop there. The CEO nurtures growth plans that include diversifying the company’s offerings.
“In addition to expansion plans to increase the sales and rental force, we aim to host a 24/7 call center. [to complement] our property management services. An even bigger plan is to set up a training academy which will be led by experienced real estate trainers to produce qualified personnel who can contribute and add value to the [real estate] industry.”
However, obstacles exist, in various forms. Sheikholeslami’s biggest obstacle is to recruit professional resources because there are not enough of them. Another dilemma – albeit on a holistic level for the CEO – was finding the “perfect balance”.
“The biggest challenge for me was balancing work/life as a woman. [entrepreneur]. That said, Dubai offers an overall ideal ecosystem for women. Professionally, I have never encountered any obstacles in my interactions with various departments, developers and clients. The culture of the emirate supports female entrepreneurs in all aspects, providing equal footing, safety and security.
With a long-haul strategy in place, courage to meet the challenges and Dubai’s booming landscape providing the perfect backdrop, Sheikholeslami seems to have ticked all the right boxes.