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Losing Money in the Dubai Property Market

As of 2023, Dubai has been one of the hottest property markets in the world, attracting investors from all over the globe. However, not all investors have been successful in making money in this market. Many have lost a considerable amount of money, and this article will examine some of the reasons behind these losses.

The 2008 Property Crash

One of the most significant factors that led to investor losses in Dubai's property market was the 2008 property crash. Dubai's property market had been booming until this point, and property values had skyrocketed. However, as the global financial crisis hit, investors began to pull out their money from Dubai's property market, leading to a severe downturn.

The property crash resulted in a significant decline in property values, with some properties losing up to 50% of their value in a matter of months. This crash led to a domino effect, with many investors finding themselves unable to pay their mortgages, leading to foreclosures and bankruptcies. Many investors who had purchased properties with the intention of flipping them for a quick profit found themselves unable to sell, leading to significant financial losses.

Dubai's property market is volatile.

Oversupply of Properties

Another factor that contributed to investor losses in Dubai's property market was the oversupply of properties. As more and more investors flocked to Dubai, developers began constructing new properties at a rapid pace to meet the growing demand. However, this led to an oversupply of properties, which ultimately led to a continued decline in property values for several years after the height of the 2008 financial crisis.

Many investors who had purchased properties during this time found themselves unable to sell their properties, leading to significant financial losses. The oversupply of properties also led to a decline in rental yields, with many landlords finding it difficult to rent out their properties at a profitable rate.

Complex Legal System

Dubai has a unique legal system, which can be challenging to navigate, especially for foreign investors. Property disputes can take years to resolve, leaving investors with little recourse and a significant financial burden. The legal system in Dubai is based on Sharia law, which can be different from the legal systems in other parts of the world.

Investors need to be aware of the legal system and the risks involved in investing in Dubai's property market. Investors should seek professional advice and ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the legal system before investing in any property in Dubai.

Caution is important, especially when it comes to your estate plan. If you are a foreigner owning UAE or Dubai real estate, you need to set up a special will to make sure your estate is not divided up based on Sharia law. Additional caution is important to make sure any UAE will(s) are recognized in the country of your citizenship. We are experts in international estate planning. Check out our services here.

Fraudulent Activity

Dubai's property market has been plagued by fraudulent developers who promise high returns and fail to deliver. Many investors have lost millions of dollars due to these schemes, which can be challenging to track down and hold accountable. The schemes can take various forms, from selling off-plan properties that are never built to developers disappearing with investors' money.

Thankfully, after the 2008 financial crisis, Dubai's government introduced strict escrow bank account requirements for developers. Specifically, this means that property buyers may only pay the developer through an escrow account over which Dubai's government has regulatory control. Money from these escrow bank accounts is only paid after developers meet certain construction thresholds.

While measures like escrow accounts have greatly reduced the number of non-performing property developments, you can never be 100% certain that a property development will be completed.

Investors need to be cautious when investing in Dubai's property market and ensure that they are dealing with reputable developers. They should research the developer's track record and seek professional advice before investing any money.

We offer in-depth advice on the track record of the 20+ largest developers as part of our "Property Strategies" coaching.

In some cases, especially when smaller developers are involved, the developer's money may run out before they are able to finish a project. Those situations may not be the intention of the developer, but investors still lose out.

A prominent case involving an unfinished project is Marina 101, a supertall residential skyscraper in Dubai Marina. Developed by Sheffield Holdings Limited, the first apartments in the tower were sold to investors as early as 2007. The Building reached a completion status according to the Dubai Land Department of close to 100% before its developer ran out of money. Investors in its apartments are waiting to this day for the finishing touches to be completed and thus cannot move in or rent out their properties.

The Marina 101 Tower is the tallest building in Dubai Marina, and despite looking finished, has still not been handed over due to the bankruptcy of its developer Sheffield Holdings Limited

We published a detailed article on what happens when a property handover is delayed here.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has further impacted Dubai's property market, leading to an initial decline in property values and a slowdown in construction. Many investors who had invested in properties prior to the pandemic have seen their properties decline in value, further exacerbating their losses.

The pandemic has also led to a decline in demand for properties in 2020, with many investors holding off on investing until the situation improves. This decline in demand has led to a further decline in property values, making it challenging for investors to recoup their losses.

The negative development of the property market started to turn around in 2021. Dubai's exceptional management of the pandemic, involving just a single month-long lockdown in April 2020, and relatively low cases throughout the pandemic, led to strong renewed interest in the local property market.

The 2022 Ukraine war and the subsequent sanctions by Western countries on Russian citizens further strengthened the positive momentum of the Dubai property market. Russians unable to get visas for the UK, France, Italy or the United States re-allocated their vacations and property investments to Dubai.

Lessons Learned

Investing in Dubai's property market can be a lucrative opportunity, but it's not without risks. Investors need to be aware of the challenges they may face, including property crashes, oversupply, complex legal systems, fraudulent activity, and market downturns. Investing in Dubai's property market requires careful consideration, research, and a thorough understanding of the market's risks and opportunities.

The Dubai property market has been highly cyclical over the last two decades, with big upturns and downturns. In addition to the overall market cycles, there are independent cycles for individual neighborhoods, market segments, and property types. Sub-cycles for market segments do not always move together. Understanding these cycles is key to making a good investment. We cover all these cycles and how they function in our "Property Strategies" coaching.

Investors should also seek professional advice from legal and financial experts to help navigate the complex legal system and make informed investment decisions. It's also essential to do thorough due diligence on the developer, the property, and the market before investing any money.

Additionally, diversifying one's investment portfolio can help mitigate the risks of investing in a single market. Investors should not put all their money in one property or one market and should consider investing in different types of assets and markets. We offer independent, tax-optimized stock investment strategy advice for UAE residents here.


In conclusion, Dubai's property market has been a lucrative opportunity for many investors, but it's not without risks. Investors who have lost money in the market have learned the hard way that investing in property requires careful consideration, research, and professional advice. As with any investment, there are no guarantees of success, and investors must be prepared to weather the ups and downs of the market.

Investing in Dubai's property market can be a high-risk, high-reward opportunity, but investors must be aware of the potential pitfalls and do their due diligence to make informed investment decisions. While some investors have lost money in Dubai's property market, others have made significant profits, and the market continues to attract investors from all over the world.

Ultimately, investors must be prepared to take on the risks involved in investing in any market, including Dubai's property market. With careful consideration, research, and professional advice, investors can make informed decisions and increase their chances of success in the market.


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