Why an empty sand plot in Dubai sold for a record $34M
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There are many things you could buy for $34 million. In various parts of the world, it’ll buy you towering castles, sprawling beachside mega mansions or majestic estates that go on for miles. It could buy you fleets of powerful Lamborghini sports cars or stately Rolls-Royce Phantoms. It could even buy you your own private jet.
In Dubai, it gets you a pile of sand.
OK, not just any pile of sand. The sand in question is an empty plot on luxury Jumeirah Bay Island, which recently sold for more than $34 million – an eye-watering price even in a part of the world where real estate prices can reach as high as the skyscraping architecture.
The undeveloped 24,500-square-foot property was sold by Umar Kamani, a British entrepreneur and co-founder of fashion retailer PrettyLittleThing. The sale – for 125 million dirhams (AED) – marks a whopping 242% gain over his original purchase price of 36.5 million AED, or just under $10 million, in 2021.
The identity of the buyer is unknown.
The plot is one of 128 that were originally made available on the artificial island, which is connected to the mainland via a 1,000-foot bridge. Its skyrocketing price is a reflection not only of the resilience of some of Dubai’s real estate to downward trends in global economies, but also, say realtors, of what the mega rich want to spend their dollars on.
“Jumeirah Bay is the most exclusive of the exclusive,” says Andrew Cummings of Knight Frank Dubai, the real estate agency which handled the sale. “It’s for the ultra-high net worth individuals asking themselves, ‘“What’s the best I can get?’ It represents the best in class for location and property in Dubai.”
The 6.3 million-square-foot island is shaped like a seahorse and features a five-star hotel developed in collaboration with Italian luxury brand Bulgari, which opened in 2017 and was promptly crowned best new luxury hotel in the world. Jumeirah Bay Island is also home to plenty of sandy beaches and a marina for dozens of yachts, high-end restaurants, a gym and a spa center. A limited number of luxury apartments is also available in the Bulgari hotel complex.
In 2022, two similar plots on the island were sold together for 180 million AED, or just over $49 million, signaling that land value is on the rise. “The land has appreciated hugely, not least because of the location, very close to not just Bulgari but also the Four Seasons as well as downtown Dubai and the business district,” says Cummings. “But it’s also because of the privacy and exclusivity that comes from an island that only has 100 or so plots, as opposed to somewhere like the Palm Jumeirah which has thousands of properties.”
In fact, the Palm Jumeirah is perhaps the best known of Dubai’s artificial islands. Famously shaped like a palm tree, it’s also the biggest artificial island in the world, at around 2.2 square miles.
Jumeirah Bay Island, on the other hand, is much smaller at just 0.22 square miles, and is considered more exclusive. “It’s really for the 1% of the 1%, building their forever homes or their long-term vacation homes,” explains Cummings. “And the type of property that’s being built there now is not like anything you’ve seen in Dubai. Jumeirah Bay is going to look far more like Beverly Hills or LA.”
The real estate market in Dubai has been on a roll recently, with 93 sales of properties worth $10 million or over in 2021, which was more than the previous seven years combined, according to Cummings. In 2022, that number rocketed to 221 sales. This year has already seen 88 within the first quarter.
The pandemic played a significant role in this upturn. “Over the past two years, people have wanted to move to more spacious places, they’ve wanted to live on the beach,” says Cummings. “If you look at New York, people moved out to the countryside, the same thing in London and other major cities. In Dubai, we saw that but also a huge influx of international investors who were drawn by the country’s incredible handling of Covid, its high vaccination rate, the safety and security – but also really the lifestyle.”
The original 128 plots on the island have been reduced to just over 100, due to some buyers purchasing more than one to build larger villas. Most are still empty, and Cummings estimates that just about one in 10 is currently inhabited. However, he predicts that this sale will increase the value of the plots further – as well as that of the of the mansions that may eventually come to the market once they’re built. “We have one under construction that we’re expected to bring to market towards the end of the year, which is going to be asking probably over $100 million,” he says.
Current listings show an empty plot for sale on Jumeirah Bay Island for 90 million AED, or about $24.5 million. A three-bedroom, four-bathroom apartment in the Bulgari complex on the island is being offered for 60 million AED, or about $16.3 million.
As for Kamani, he likely isn’t regretting the loss of his plot of land – because he owns an identical one right next to it. Who knows if he will sell that too – at an even higher price.
“He’s set the benchmark,” says Cummings, “so now he might as well set another record.”