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The World From The Ground Up: Jordan’s Real Estate Boom and Aqaba Port Expansion

By Aaron Windle
July 10, 2008

Throughout the past five years, real estate markets in several Middle Eastern countries have enjoyed a loosening of domestic financing conditions, expansionary philosophies from their respective governments, and record oil revenues. In Jordan, the resulting rise in real estate prices due to new demand has now yielded an abundance of planned and completed projects in the hearts of commercial and tourism centers. One of the more recent projects is the $1 billion mixed-use endeavor on Jordan’s small southwestern shoreline, called Saraya Aqaba, which illustrates this increase in demand for luxury properties.

Real Estate Boom in Jordan

On balance, Jordan has long been viewed as an economic and political buffer zone between nations in the region witnessing instability as it has received millions of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees over last several decades. As a consequence, since 2002, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Jordan, as measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, has ballooned from JD52.8 million to a staggering JD2.2 billion (the Jordanian Dollar is valued at, JD1.00=$1.40). During this same period, the government has lowered the lending rate from 10.2% to 8.7% in 2007, GDP and exports have nearly doubled, and the country has taken healthy strides toward improving its economic image by repaying fully $2 billion worth of international Paris Club debt. In addition, a variety of political reasons have allowed Jordan to remain a relatively safe and stable country amidst the regional turmoil of the war in Iraq, unrest in Lebanon, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There are, however, some compelling reasons to be cautious when assessing the present state of the Jordanian real estate market. For example, while increases in GDP, exports, and debt payback are all reasons to expect a sound market in Jordan, decreased property affordability for the average Jordanian, rising oil and food prices, and a lack of supported infrastructure could limit further real estate growth as well as put pressure on costs. Some developers, however, have yet to experience the pinch. One source interviewed at Al Awael Design and Advertising in Amman recounted the tale of an over 300% increase in his residential property equity over the course of a one-and-a-half year building timeframe before the first buyer had even moved in which is reminiscent of Southern California circa 2002, but this level of price growth could put the hope of property ownership beyond the reach of the average Jordanian: According to US State Department data, the average Jordanian’s GDP as a function of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is roughly $4,900 per annum which may make a home purchase of over JD50-60,000 problematic as the lower-end housing in projects like Saraya Aqaba starts at JD160,000.

And though some degree of price-softening might be helpful, a Western-style market correction in the Jordanian real estate market may be on the horizon according to Mr. Wael Jabari, Chief Executive Officer of Abdoun Real Estate. Mr. Jabari has decades of experience buying and selling real estate in Amman and currently sees a run-up in prices since 2003 that he has never witnessed before. “Back in 1990, you could purchase a property in Abdoun [the equivalent of a Jordanian Beverly Hills] for about JD30,000-JD40,000. Today you will spend between JD800,000 to JD1.2 million on that same property--a near 20-fold increase,” Mr. Jabari is quoted as saying during a May interview with Jordan Business Magazine. “If the increase were more rational, then I would say that the market is steady. However, with prices increasing by so much, we have to expect a small correction to occur. I am expecting a 20-30% drop in prices.”

In addition to rising real estate prices, taxes and inflation, soaring oil prices may also have a marked effect on Jordan. Surprisingly to some Westerners, Jordan has no domestic supply of natural resources, and so it must import the greater part of its oil from its neighbors. Jordan therefore must rely heavily on the outcome of new talks with Iraq to receive renewed crude oil concessions which, if successful, could provide price protection to Jordan’s domestic refined oil products.

In contrast to our largely developed North American infrastructure, a general lack of infrastructure in Jordan, potentially causing a slowdown in investor exuberance in the short-term, may be the very reason why foreign investors and developers have chosen to cultivate insulated, high-end communities like Saraya Aqaba, and its neighbors Tala Bay, and Ayla Oasis. In these projects, a foreign developer can literally build his or her own infrastructure for select high-end buyers and avoid costly overall infrastructure renovation for public housing projects. A relatively short trip toward the outskirts of Amman to the poorer city of Marka clearly demonstrates that there is certainly a pressing need for extensive renovation of outmoded public roads, plumbing capacity, and educational facilities in the residential areas of the poorer majority as the middle class, in some projections, shrinks and the lower class doubles by 2030. Ultimately, the upper class are among the few who can realistically afford to invest in property like Saraya; the prospect of increasing demand for these higher-end communities to meet supply appears to grow dimmer by the day.

Aqaba, Jordan

Featured prominently in the classic film Lawrence of Arabia as a strategic military goal for T. E. Lawrence and his Hejaz warriors, Aqaba, Jordan, has an ancient and rich history of being a vital Red Sea trade and supply link for the dominant power of the time, be it the Nabataeans of Petra lore, the Crusaders, the Ottoman empire in 1917, or indigenous Jordanians. The only sea port in Jordan, Aqaba handles nearly all of Jordan’s exports abroad and has recently undertaken a massive renovation project under the watchful eye of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Activity (ASEZA). Created in 2001, ASEZA’s founding purpose according to its charter under Article 3 is “…to enhance economic capability in the Kingdom by attracting different economic activities and investment thereto.” Its stated long-term mission is to create “… a duty-free, low tax multisectored development zone encompassing the total Jordanian coastline (27 km), the sea-ports of Jordan, an international airport operating under an Open Skies policy, and the historical city of Aqaba with a current population of 86,000 people. It encompasses an area of 375 Km2 and offers global investment opportunities in a world-class business environment ranging from tourism to recreational services, from professional services to multi-modal logistics, from value-added industries to light manufacturing.” 

Currently there are approximately 20 projects underway in Aqaba including schools, hospitals, residential communities, shopping galas, resort hotels, and factories. In addition to the many planned facilities in Aqaba, it is worth mentioning that Aqaba is just a short drive from the heavily visited UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra, Wadi Rum, and the biblical site of Moses’ death at Mount Nebo. As a result, Aqaba caters to western tastes in food, hotels, and entertainment far more than the capital city of Amman. Moreover, these tourist sites are a 4-hour drive from the capital city of Amman which makes Aqaba the favored region from which to launch a day of tourism travel.

The $5 billion long-term plans for this area, seen left, have drawn criticism from many fronts including one source at a prominent real estate magazine who feels the ambitious nature of these plans belies the realworld capacity to implement them and will eventually resort in much waste of taxpayer dinars whereas an investment in infrastructure could solidify support from and supply the needs of the working class and pave the way for a brighter future for everyone in Jordan.

Saraya Aqaba

Saraya Aqaba is one of the most ambitious projects ever to have been undertaken in the country of Jordan. Located in the heart of Aqaba, it boasts some 617,000 square meters of land adding 1.5 km of beach front to Aqaba’s coast in the form of a man-made lagoon. It will feature 12 Grand Villas, 51 Villas, 94 Grand Townhouses, 90 Terrace and Garden Townhouses, 376 Apartments, 82 lofts, and 50 Beach Duplexes. The luxury community will center on a commercial area that includes four five-star hotels (one of which is by Westin), two boutique hotels, a retail area which will be available on a lease-only basis, a conference center, a Wild Wadi Water Park, beach club, restaurants and, of course, a water taxi service that will ferry residents and visitors across the lagoon to their destination of choice. For a fascinating rundown of each residence, hotel, or complex including architectural design photos, floor plans, construction status and interior design visit the following website:

http://www.sarayaaqaba.com/main.html#/masterplan/Al-Hijil-Villas/
. As you likely can see from the interactive map on the website, the magnitude of a project of this size is truly remarkable.

It appears that Ali Kolaghassi, Vice Chairman and CEO of Saraya Holdings, has chosen some of the best design and project management personalities in the Middle East to realize the ultimate completion of Saraya Aqaba. Responsible for the design and building contract is the prominent Saudi Oger Ltd. Bought out in 1973 by the late billionaire and former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 when explosives were detonated as his motorcade drove through Beirut, Saudi Oger Ltd. has an expansive portfolio of successfully completed projects including military, medical, and entertainment facilities throughout Saudi Arabia. It has also recently agreed to a $130 million project inside the up-and-coming King Abdullah Economic City. Founder of the International interior design firm KCA, Khuan Chew will lend her interior design expertise. She has previously worked on Burj Al Arab, the oft-described “only 7-star hotel in the world” near Dubai, UAE; the Abdul Aziz (the largest private yacht in the world), and several other 5-star hotel groups including the Four Seasons, Starwood Group and the InterContinental Hotel Group.

Only time will tell whether enclosed luxury developments like Saraya Aqaba may be considered economically sustainable or even socially justifiable. Several key economic signs point to a stalwart financial future for many among the elite in Arab countries receiving direct or indirect benefits of perpetually rising oil prices or investment safety abroad. However, the general populace in many of these countries remains outside-looking-in, in terms of property and land affordability, and will consistently find themselves in that position unless forward-thinking leadership takes action to stimulate the creation of a sustainable middle-class—a middle-class who can look to their governments as a source of pride and nationalism as they afford the opportunity of a raised standard of living to their constituency.

For further information, explore the following links:

http://www.sarayaaqaba.com/

http://www.jordanbusiness.net/magazine/index.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Club

http://www.globalmarketbriefings.com/?id=2013

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/95/219866214_73469a0cde.jpg

http://www.jordan-business.net/magazine/index.php

http://www.talabay.jo/

http://www.adc.jo/pages.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marka,_Jordan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_of_Arabia_(film)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabataeans

http://www.aqabazone.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petra, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadi_Rum

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Nebo_%28Jordan%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Wadi_Water_Park

http://www.sarayaaqaba.com/main.html#/masterplan/Al-Hijil-Villas/

http://www.ameinfo.com/104669.html

http://www.saudioger.com/index.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafik_Hariri

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJP8ZvOgC0I

http://www.kca-int.com/home2.html

http://www.ginamos.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/burj-al-arab.jpg

http://www.funtimextreme.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/yacht1.jpg

© Whitney M. Skala, 2008

Article in PDF Format:

  Jordan’s Real Estate Boom and Aqaba Port Expansion (September 2008).

 

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