Dubai-Based Luxury Expert Says City’s Downtown is Poised for Growth
Knight Frank’s Maria Morris on where to live—and where to invest—in the U.A.E. city, and elsewhere around the world
British-born, Dubai-based Maria Morris is a partner at Knight Frank, leading the company’s Middle East, North Africa project marketing and prime residential teams.
Ms. Morris, 38, is currently heading the sales and marketing team for Dubai’s first super prime branded property, The Royal Atlantis Residences. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and developed by Kerzner International, the 43-story building will offer 231 residences when it opens in 2019.
We caught up with Ms. Morris to discuss the next luxury hubs in Dubai, why personal preferences matter more than market conditions, and more.
Maria Morris: I’ve been spoiled by climate somewhat since living in Dubai. I enjoy living within a city but still having a lifestyle element—something beachside, by the water. Something I can come home to after a long day at the office that’s relaxing. It’s about connectivity to the city with that relaxing element. Beachfront—whether in Dubai, Los Angeles or the South of France—is hard to beat.
MG: Do you have a real estate property that got away?
MM: I should practice what I preach. I’d be a very, very rich lady if I had taken my own advice. When I first moved over here, a friend was telling me about a good offer for a villa on the Palm. She said it was a steal. It would have been a great investment.
MG: What does luxury mean to you?
MM: It’s overused tenfold. It’s a sense of space, and not necessarily size. It has to be well designed— attention to detail is clearly important—but also a sophisticated offering. It’s about taking into account what that end user is going to require. The landscape has changed, especially in Dubai, and it’s not just about building something that looks amazing on the outside, but creating a holistic offering.
A building has to be great on the outside, on the inside, and have fantastic amenities too.
Our high-end clients expect all those things. Luxury is a given. It’s about how you raise the bar, and that’s with the amenities and experiences you don’t get in older developments.
MG: What area do you think is the next hub for luxury properties?
MM: For Dubai, the Palm. That, for me, is always going to be up there, because it’s a fantastic address. But going forward we’ll see more of the luxury lifestyle you get in the Palm Jumeirah, in more city areas—perhaps around the financial center. We don’t have a Central Business District as it were, but in the Dubai International Financial Centre and downtown Dubai, you’ll see more urban luxury.
MG: What’s the biggest surprise in the luxury real estate market now?
MM: For me, it’s not a surprise, per se, but what is a surprise perhaps to our clients is how much connectivity on a global scale is coming into buyers’ purchasing decisions. They’re diversifying their assets more than even five years ago. They have condos in New York, homes for children in London for education, lifestyle properties in Dubai or South of France. It’s not a surprise for us, since we track those trends, but the world is quite a small place.
MG: Where are the best luxury homes in the world and why?
MM: Dubai is still somewhat in its infancy, still steps behind London and New York. But the evolution of the city will put it on par with those cities. But recently we went to a property in Malibu with Douglas Elliman and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
MG: What’s your favorite part of your home?
MM: My balcony. I love to get home and relax on my balcony with a gin and tonic. But, joking aside, in Dubai, indoor-outdoor living is important since we have year-round sunshine. You can sit out there and watch the world go by. I can see the water, the Palm, and the Burj Khalifa.
MG: What best describes the theme to your home and why?
MM: My home here is quite contemporary, but that’s because the building I live in is relatively new. When we talk about something being old, in Dubai it’s only 20 years old.
The look and feel is quite contemporary. It’s quite masculine, and monochromatic. I prefer crisp, clean lines. But there are some quirky elements, some splashes of color and weird and wonderful bits of artwork on the wall.
You know how you have world clocks at an airport lounge? I have those in the kitchen, which are very helpful when I’m trying to remember what time zone I’m in.
MG: What’s the most valuable amenity to have in a home right now?
MM: Outdoor space—whether communal or private. The scarcity factor is still there for outdoor space around the world.
MG: What’s your best piece of real estate advice?
MM: Not to overanalyze when you’re making a purchase. Clearly we advise our clients on market conditions, but it has to be what’s right for you and your family at the moment.
Some of our clients can get very focused on when is the right time to enter a market. It really has to come down to when is the right time for you.
MG: What’s going on in the news that will have the biggest impact on the luxury real estate market?
MM: The government here is looking to extend residency visas to 10 years. That will help people make an investment here, because they’re looking in the long-term. That will increase the level of international investment in the city.
MG: What is the best area now for investing in luxury properties?
MM: My one to watch globally is Berlin. There’s huge opportunity there, even if it’s your first investment. It’s a place with a high percentage of renters versus sellers.
MG: If you had a choice of living in a new development or a prime resale property, which would you choose and why?
MM: I’m a little biased, I suppose, since I’ve spent most of my career in new developments. I worked for a developer before Knight Frank. Developers always are trying to innovate and move forward. I sway toward new build because I’ve lived and breathed it for the last 16 years.
MG: What area currently has the best resale value?
MM: In Dubai, we’ve seen some softening in prices over the last 18 months to two years, where we’re seeing that plateau, there are some great opportunities for investment—potentially downtown.
So for investments, I’d say downtown Dubai, and for the end-user, the Palm.