The new year kicks off with a very interesting episode of the “Industry Spotlight with BWP” series, as this month we focus on the Real Estate development industry.
We were very excited to have the opportunity to discuss major real estate development projects in the Middle East with Mr. Rami Hreiki – Chief Development Officer at Roshn KSA, who shared insights to his experience and also gave views on the opportunities and challenges for the market ahead.
Florence: So, how does the Middle East real estate industry compare to the international real estate industry?
Rami: Based on my experience in the real estate industry, I think they are fundamentally the same. In some countries, the ownership laws may not be as mature as those of more established international markets, which limits foreign investors’ appetite. The regulators in UAE have already taken major steps to address this issue and we are seeing the same trend in KSA with the establishment of special economic and investment zones.
Florence: What are the unique challenges that you face in the region?
Rami: For GCC markets, there is a strong connection between the real estate market and the oil and gas industry, being the main economic driver, despite the clear push to diversify the economy.. Ultimately, those markets will find their balance by allowing companies to plan their future business better.
Florence: What are the areas of growth opportunities you see for the sector?
Rami: Sustainability for sure and everything peripheral to it. According to available research, consumer demand is shifting towards more efficient properties, especially since the lockdown experience has revealed the downsides of energy-intensive buildings. So, I see major opportunities in high-quality properties that offer a safe, efficient and healthy living and working environment.
Florence: How have you been affected by the recent pandemic and economic slowdown?
Rami: we have been able to maintain good business continuity with well established ‘work from home’ protocols initially and proper social distancing measures when we reopened our offices We are starting to adapt to this new norm and to draw the proper and longer-term lessons from this pandemic, be it in terms of workspace or the products we are developing. We need to ensure that we are future-proofing the business for both our employees and our customers.
Florence: What will you do differently as a business as a result?
Rami: In my opinion, we should start rethinking both our business model and our products. We are in the business of developing sustainable communities, with the word ‘sustainable’ having now acquired a whole new dimension considering the realities of working from home, confinement and difficulty accessing core essential needs. The same way cholera forced a change in city planning back in the 19th century, sparking the introduction of modern sanitation systems, our experience with COVID is doing the same. It is forcing us to reassess density in our urban fabric, to adopt a more egalitarian approach in terms of access to essential services, as well as focus on affordability and open public spaces. These are certainly not new principles, but they have come back to the forefront as we embark on making our cities more resilient to future crises and shape a greener, more resilient sector fit for the future.
Florence: What advice or recommendation would you give to someone looking to enter the real estate market?
Rami: It’s a great business to be in but do your research and do it well. It’s a very capital-intensive business, so make sure you understand all the risks you’re engaging in. I would also say, there is no harm in following your heart, as long as your brains are guiding you both. Certainly, do not let your emotions or ego drive you.
Always, invest in quality, even if you’re developing the most affordable product. Always focus primarily on your customers. Do not neglect Planning. It is the most important part of the process as the end depends upon the beginning. Make sure you have a solid and logical business plan though not a complicated one, as you will need to execute it. Ensure you have a good consultant who is able to translate that business plan into a well-documented set of execution drawings.
Remember, no matter how good your contractor is, garbage in, garbage out.
Florence: What are the best and the worst thing about ex-pat life?
Rami: Being an ex-pat has many benefits as it gives a broader outlook both at the personal and professional levels. It allows you to expand your cultural experience, particularly in a place like the UAE, where ex-pats make up the majority of the population. The worst effect it had was on the children considering that they only got to visit their parents’ home country as tourists. Typically, at 18, when they leave for university; comes the inevitable trauma of being physically separated from their other ex-pat friends.
Florence: What is your biggest passion or hobbies outside of work?
Rami: I love the outdoors and indulging in activities like kayaking, trekking, caving, paragliding, skiing and a score of other nature-related activities. These are the best moments for me to reflect and meditate, even if I’m engaged in an intensive physical effort. The outdoors always remind me how small we are, and to a certain extent, how insignificant.
Florence: Which is your favourite holiday destination?
Rami: Europe in general and France in particular. We have a small pied-à-terre in the south of France that we go to every summer or any occasion we can get. What I love about France is the mix of history, geography, culture, language, the French people’s joie de vivre and obviously, the food.
Florence: Who is your biggest inspiration?
Rami: I have to say it’s my father though this was rather a discovery of late. As I started reflecting on my own life after he passed away 6 years ago, I realized how good of a person he was though he was also a very strict and principled one. To me, he exemplified the difference between a human being and being human.
He gave so much to his community, not only as a doctor but also as a healer.
Florence: Great! Thank you.
This brings us to the end of the conversation. Thank you, Rami, for talking with BWP. It is our pleasure to have you.