During the early days of the pandemic, Dubai’s property market was in turmoil, with an abundance of unsold homes and scant prospects for a recovery in the oil-rich region. But for Akshay Naheta, that proved the perfect time to buy.
The former SoftBank Group Corp. executive said he started scooping up land — gaining a partial interest in 20% of the plots on the city’s secluded, seahorse-shaped Jumeirah Bay Island. Now, after several years of construction, that bet looks set to pay off as he and Lebanese developer Wissam Damaa launch a collection of 10 megamansions on the isle and neighboring coast of La Mer.
Under the umbrella of their Dubai-based developer, Palace Luxury Living, the pair said in an interview they expect to sell the villas for more than 2 billion dirhams ($545 million) in total.
The isle, known locally as Billionaires Island, has gained traction in recent years as a preferred place for the superrich — and some wealthy exiles — who’ve relocated to the United Arab Emirates. Brokers say the number of billionaires per square kilometer exceeds any spot in the UAE, including Palm Jumeirah, Emirates Hills and Dubai Hills.
The gated community — which boasts a yacht club, beach resort and fine-dining restaurants — is already home to Saudi billionaire Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel as well as Israeli gambling tycoon Teddy Sagi, said people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity because the matter is private. Angolan magnate Isabel dos Santos and the wife of Russian billionaire Andrei Skoch also have houses in the neighborhood, while football star Cristiano Ronaldo purchased a mansion that’s set for handover in 2024, the people said.
Highfliers without homes in the neighborhood also use Jumeirah Bay Island as a base when they visit Dubai — including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who stayed at the Bulgari resort this year, people familiar with the matter said.
Representatives for Jameel, Sagi, Ronaldo, dos Santos, Skoch and Lavrov didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Dubai’s property market recently broke a decadelong record for home sales as the local government relaxed visa laws and introduced permits for job seekers and freelancers. The surge has been driven by an influx of high-net-worth individuals, from rich Indians seeking second homes to crypto millionaires and Russian buyers.
Still, Dubai has over the years often had sharp booms and busts in its real estate market. S&P Global Ratings has cautioned that the emirate’s record property prices may start to fall by the end of next year after the recent hot stretch.
Large patches of the Jumeirah Bay Island were undeveloped until recently. It opened only in 2017, and then construction slowed as COVID-19 started to spread.
That’s changing with a series of projects from Palace Luxury Living and others.
One of Palace Luxury Living’s 30,000-square-foot mansions on the island features six bedrooms, private beach access and a seven-car showroom along with a spa, staff quarters and a rooftop pool with a full view of the downtown Dubai skyline.
Along the shore of La Mer is the developer’s 37,000-square-foot Geode mansion, which has a lush courtyard at its heart as well as six-bedroom suites and an indoor lap pool.
The villas sit along a stretch of the sun-splashed city that the pair dubs “the Golden Mile of Dubai” because of its five-star hotels, including the Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons and Bulgari Resort, plus Saint-Tropez style beach clubs.
The mansions in the collection are 20,000 to 45,000 square feet, each valued upward of 100 million dirhams ($27 million), said Damaa, the developer.
Naheta, who bought his own Jumeirah Bay Island mansion in late 2020, compared the present buzz in Dubai’s luxury market to the rebound he saw in Hong Kong real estate during the mid-2000s. The isle’s relaxing vibe but close proximity to the financial center and international airport appealed to him, he said.
Faisal Durrani, head of Middle East research for Knight Frank, said Jumeirah Bay Island ranks among the most preferred locales in Dubai for superrich clients.
Even if Dubai’s real estate market slows, some brokers say the impact could be less visible in the luxury market.
“The wave of a HNWIs is a separate segment and less prone to general economic turmoils like higher interest rates,” said Asiya Khasnutdinova, a senior property consultant at Dubai Sotheby’s International Realty. “A lot of them are end users, and at the moment the Dubai lifestyle continues to be more and more attractive.”