We can all agree that Saudi Arabia has been witnessing changes of unprecedented momentum in the last few years. Such changes included social and economic shifts that were originally triggered by the oil prices drop that occurred in 2014. The impact of these changes have been resonating – till today – across all the kingdom’s economic sectors, and the real estate market of Saudi Arabia was no exception.

 

Almost a year ago, we published a report on the outlook of the Saudi Arabian property market performance in 2018; now, we are reviewing what actually occurred in the real estate market of Saudi Arabia within the last year. This will include the most important factors affecting the market, the status of its supply and demand, and overall performance.

Factors affecting the real estate market of Saudi Arabia:

 

Nitaqat Scheme:Nitaqat Scheme
More commonly known as the Saudization movement, Nitaqat aims at limiting the unemployment rate of the Saudi nationals through nationalizing the job market which was mostly occupied by expats through the kingdom’s recent history.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia implemented the scheme primarily through setting a minimum percentage of Saudi employees that each company is obligated to have on one hand, and levying the Expat Dependent fee; this obliges the expats working in Saudi Arabia to pay additional fees for every dependent they have in Saudi Arabia.

So how does Nitaqat scheme affect the Saudi property market?
Considering that expats are the core component of the rental market in Saudi Arabia, the Saudization’s most notable impact was on the rental rates which took a fall in 2018 due to implementing Nitaqat; however, the Saudization policies affected the property sales as well.
For more on this, read our article on the effect of the Saudizaiton movement on the real estate market of Saudi Arabia.

Under-construction projects:Under-construction projects
In the current time, there are around 5,200 under-construction real estate projects in the Saudi Arabia with variant scales. Some of these projects are near completion already, while the others are due for completion within the next two or three years.

Undoubtedly, the most prominent of these ventures are the three mega projects which Vision 2030 comprises: the $500bn trans-national Neom City, Qiddiya City, and  Amaala City.

Needless to say, that massive number of under-construction projects will represent both an opportunity and a challenge to the Saudi-based construction companies; this will help nourish the construction industry and the real estate market of Saudi Arabia.

Entertainment sector:Entertainment sector

Due to many shifts its socioeconomic landscape underwent last year, the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia rose to prominence recently. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been known for being a very conservative society; however, as a step towards achieving its 2030 vision, Saudi Arabia has been opening up more recently.


This was manifested in many new launched and announced projects such as Jeddah Opera House and the VOX Cinemas; as a matter of fact, Saudi Arabia aims to open 350 cinemas all over its cities by the year 2030. Not to forget the launch of Qiddiya City project, which aims to be one of the world’s key entertainment destinations.
Not to forget that Saudi Arabia started 2019 off by unveiling Riyadh’s first entertainment complex.The 10-hectare destination will be situated at the intersection of both Eastern Ring Road and King Abdullah Road.

How would that affect the real estate market of Saudi Arabia?
Nurturing the entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia will have a positive impact on its property market and economy in general. For example, Qiddiya City alone is expected to generate around 22,000 new job opportunities. It will also revitalize the tourism and hospitality industries especially in Jeddah, the main entertainment hub in Saudi Arabia.
By the year 2023, Saudi Arabia is expected to receive around 23 million visitors from all over the world.

VAT:VAT
On January 1 2018, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has levied effectively a 5% Value-added Tax (VAT) on goods and services.


What was the impact of VAT on the Saudi property market? There have been some speculations regarding the new indirect tax and how it might affect the real estate industry; as the customer spending was negatively affected by the tax, retail sector was impacted the most.

However, it is worth mentioning that the Value-added tax is levied in Saudi Arabia at a rate significantly lower than the average rate levied in many other countries (15%).


Additionally, residential rentals are exempted from the tax, and while the tax might cause the property prices to surge, it is also expected to reduce the average rentals across the kingdom’s cities.
Check our following articles for more information on VAT implementation and its effect on the real estate market of Saudi Arabia.

REITs:REITs
Saudi Arabia was one of the first GCC countries to adopt the Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). The Kingdom has utilized REITs to help revitalize its real estate market in the aftermath of the oil prices downfall in 2014 by stimulating and encouraging the real estate investments.

How did REITs affect the Saudi property market? The impact which REITs have made on the real estate market of Saudi Arabia in 2018 is hard to identify. On one hand, in 2018, the REIT-listed properties have increased by almost 33% and market capitalization surged to exceed the $3bn mark, recording a 50% increase. On the other hand, the REIT index have dropped by almost 20% by the end of the year.

Riyadh Metro:Riyadh MetroThis is probably the grandest infrastructure project that is currently being developed in Saudi Arabia; as a matter of fact, it is set to be the largest public transportation system in the world.

Currently, a population of 6 million people live in the Saudi capital; this number is expected to increase to circa 8 million people by 2030. Thus, it became crucial to develop a transit system that can accommodate this growth.

Spanning a total length of 175 kilometers, Riyadh Metro is $22.5bn transit network that will comprise 85 stations distributed over 6 lines that will cover the entire Saudi capital. In addition to that, the underground train network will be supported by 24 new bus routes.

The metro is set for a light opening in 2019 and will start operating fully in 2021. The project will comprise 190 trainsets, 45 of which are four-cars trainsets while the remaining are two-car trainsets.

How will Riyadh Metro affect the real estate market of Saudi Arabia?How will Riyadh Metro affect the real estate market of Saudi Arabia?

Riyadh has mostly been a city of high population density, with its less-accessible outskirts being less preferable to live in. However, with the completion of the Riyadh Metro, the access to these areas will be substantially facilitated. This will help revitalize the property markets of the suburbs of Riyadh and the city itself as a whole.

Jeddah Tower and Jeddah Economic City:Jeddah Tower and Jeddah Economic City


With a height that exceeds the 1 kilometer mark, Jeddah tower is set to be the world’s tallest tower with its planned topping-out being in 2019. The tower will be the central piece of Jeddah Economic City, the $20bn business and trade futuristic attraction that will span 2 square miles of space.


How will it help the Saudi real estate market?How will it help the Saudi real estate market?

The city and the tower aim mainly at boosting Jeddah to be the top of the world’s commercial hubs. However, it is worth mentioning that Dubai is currently building Dubai Creek Tower, which is set to break a new height record upon its completion in 2020, which will happen in sync with the opening of the much-anticipated Expo 2020 event.

Sakani Housing Program:Sakani Housing Program
Launched by the Ministry of Housing in 2017, Sakani aims at providing the less-privileged Saudi citizens with affordable housing options.

In its first year, Sakani has allocated 280,000 housing and financing solutions; this included 120,000 residential units, varying between ready and off-plan ones, 75,000 land plots ready for development, and 85,000 financing solutions.

In 2018, the program successfully expanded its target reach as it provided more than 300,000 housing and financing products.

How does Sakani affect the real estate market in Saudi Arabia?By achieving its main goal, Sakani will help erase the gap between the demand and supply for more affordable residential units.

Market Expectations:Market Expectations

Although this would be difficult to measure in numbers, people expectations for the property market future plays a major role in its current state. Despite the launched Saudi government initiatives to stimulate home ownership, people still defer purchasing properties till an indefinite future time as they expect the residential properties prices to continue to drop.

 

 

Supply and Demand:


a) Supply:
Supply

While 2018 did not witness any major project completions, the real estate market of Saudi Arabia received multiple additions of units and spaces.


According to a report issued by JLL, in Riyadh, the residential market received additional 29,000 units in 2018; this brought the Saudi Capital’s total residential supply up to 1.29 million units. On the other hand, the office market of Riyadh expanded by 188,000 square meters to reach the 4.26 million square meters mark, while the retail spaces grew by 98,000 square meters to slightly exceed the 2.1 million square meters mark.


The supply of the residential market of Jeddah increased by around 4,250 units; this brought the total residential market supply in Jeddah to 817,000 units. Meanwhile, the coastal city’s office market grew by around 41,000 square meters of space for the entire office spaces supply to be 1.05 million square meters, and its retail sector gained new 32,000 square meters to reach the 1.42 million square meters of supply mark.

Supply

b) Demand:Demand

Unfortunately, the sales value of the Saudi property market in 2018 hit its lowest point since the peak of 2014. According to a report published by Al-Iqtisadi newspaper on the issue, the real estate market of Saudi Arabia witnessed in 2018 new deals with the total value of SAR137bn ($36.5bn) across all the market sectors.

This has indicated a 39% drop from the sales revenue generated in 2017 which had the value of SAR224bn ($60bn). In comparison to the peak year of 2014, where the sales revenues reached up to SAR440bn ($117.2bn), the real estate sales in Saudi Arabia in 2018 dropped by almost 70%.

The residential sector had the biggest share of the sales with 186,000 residential units sold for SAR97bn ($25.8bn); this signaled a drop by 26,000 units from the units that had been sold in 2017 for SAR147bn ($39.2bn).

The commercial sector, on the other hand, contributed with SAR39.6bn ($10.5bn) for 26,300 sold commercial units, indicating a decrease by almost 10,000 units from the number of 2017 (35,900 units) which were sold for SAR77.3bn ($20.6bn).

As per the Global House Price Index report released by Knight Frank for the third quarter of 2018, the real estate market of Saudi Arabia was ranked the 57th out of 57 global markets the report studies, which makes it the worst performing property market in the globe during the aforementioned period. This comes after the Saudi market was ranked the 55th in the price index released for Q2 of 2018.


The Performance:

 

Overall Indicators:

As predicted, the property prices’ downfall in Saudi Arabia continued throughout 2018. During the first half of the year, the overall generated property sales all over the kingdom have decreased by almost 33% from SAR122bn in the first half of 2017 to SAR81bn. The negative impact has resonated throughout the second half as well. ِ

However, the year 2018 has witnessed a notable shift in the developers’ interest towards the more affordable housing and commercial options; such shift was needed to meet the growing demand for these units in the real estate market of Saudi Arabia.

We will discuss in details how the two major markets of Saudi Arabia performed according to JLL’s latest reports:

 

Riyadh:

Riyadh


As the capital of the kingdom, Riyadh is the most important local property market in Saudi Arabia. Most of the real estate sectors (except for the retail sector) of the capital have been shifting from the downfall phase to the bottom-out phase during 2018.


Through comparing the performance on quarterly basis, we would see that Riyadh’s residential market has achieved stability within 2018; on the other hand, even though the prices and rental rates of both villas and apartments continued to drop in 2018 from the numbers of 2017, the rates at which they dropped have been getting lower throughout the year.
Let’s take a look at how this took place in the main sectors of Riyadh’s real estate market:

a) Residential units:
During the first quarter of the year 2018, the prices and rentals of the residential sector continued to drop. In comparison to Q4 and Q1 of 2017, the prices decreased by 1.5% and 3.2% respectively.


The market however reached gradual stability on quarterly basis over the year; during the second quarter, the prices dropped by a mere 1% from Q1, and 3% from Q2 of 2017; it did not witness any quarterly changes in Q3 while it dropped annually by 3%.
The case was not so different for the apartment rental rates which dropped in the first quarter by 0.9% and 5.1% from Q4 and Q1 of 2017 respectively.


Throughout the rest of the year, the rentals witnessed no quarterly changes while it annually dropped by 4% in Q2 and 1% in Q3.
On the other hand, being less affordable, the villas have underwent more sharp decreases in their prices and rentals even though they eventually reached stability. The prices dropped in Q1 of 2018 by 2.2% from Q4 of 2017, then the quarterly change rates stabilized through the rest of the year; meanwhile, the villa prices dropped annually by 4% and 3% in the second and third quarters of 2018 respectively.


The villa rentals followed suit, as they dropped by 1.7% in Q1 from Q4 of 2017 and 5.1% from Q1 of 2017; the quarterly rates remained stable throughout the rest of 2018. Annually, the rentals decreased by 4% in Q2 and 3% in Q3.

b) Office Spaces:
The rental rates for office spaces in Riyadh remained mostly stable in 2018. The vacancy rate (percentage of office spaces that remained unoccupied from the whole office spaces supply) has dropped over the year; starting from around 15% at the end of 2017, it dropped to 9% in Q1 of 2018.
It then took another fall to 8% in Q2, recording an annual 8% drop, and remained unchanged over the rest of the year.
On the other hand, the rental rates have preserved their consistency throughout the first two quarters; however, they endured a 4% drop in Q3.

c) Retail sector:
In the first quarter of 2018, the vacancy rate of the retail units in Riyadh increased to 10% from 9% in Q4 of 2017; the vacancy rate tended to continue increasing for the rest of 2018 to 12% in Q2 and 15% in Q3.


Over the year 2018, the retail rental rates for super regional malls declined by 4% from 2017 while the regional mall rentals remained the same in Q1, dropped by 1% in Q2 and 3% in Q3.
However, it was the community malls in Riyadh that took the hardest hit in 2018. The community retail rentals witnessed a 6% decline in Q1 and 2% in each of Q2 and Q3.

Jeddah:Jeddah

Being the second largest city in Saudi Arabia, Jeddah is considered the kingdom’s commercial and entertainment hub; furthermore, Jeddah’s entertainment sector is expected to bloom over the near future, with major project announcements like Jeddah Opera House.

a) Residential:

Much like Riyadh, the prices and rental rates of Jeddah’s residential sector continued to drop in Q1 of 2018 where the apartment prices declined by a slight 0.3%  from the fourth quarter of 2017 and 5.6% from Q1 of 2017. However, in Q2, the prices took a 4.3% drop from Q1, recording 8.9% downfall from Q2 of 2017.

The prices fall continued over the rest of the year, yet at a less drastic pace. In Q3 of 2018, the prices dropped from Q2 by a mere 0.2%; this marked a 6.8% decrease from Q3 of 2017.
The rental rates went through a similar pattern to the prices meanwhile; in the first quarter, they diminished by 2.9% from the preceding quarter and 4.7% from Q1 of 2017. Similarly, Q2 witnessed a 2.5% and 8.3% drops from Q1 of 2018 and Q2 of 2017 respectively. However, unlike the prices, rentals endured a faster reduction rate in Q3 of 3.6% and 11.2% from Q2 of 2018 and Q3 of 2017 respectively.

As for the villas, the drop rates were slower yet they followed a similar pattern. The villa prices decreased by 0.9% and 4% from the first and last quarters of 2017 respectively; this was followed by a bigger quarterly decline of 2.9% in Q2 of 2018, marking an annual 5.6% drop, and a much slighter 0.1% and 6.9% quarterly and annually decreases.
On the other hand, the villa rentals in Q1 fell by 2.9% and 4.7% from the last and first quarters of 2017 respectively. Similar to the apartment rates, villa rentals continued to fall over the rest of 2018; in the second quarter, they dropped by 3.2% from the preceding Q1, indicating a 5.6% annual drop from Q2 of 2017, and took a greater 3.4% fall in Q3, marking a 8.6% decrease from Q3 of 2017.

b) Office Spaces:
The office market in Jeddah endured harder drops in 2018; and even though the supply stands at a higher level than demand, there is still a gap to be filled in the smaller office spaces market segment.
On quarterly basis, the vacancy rates of the office spaces decreased by 2% to be 18%; however, this marked a 2% increase from Q1 of 2017.
The vacancy rate continued to increase in Q2 to be 21%, signaling a 3% quarterly increase and a 5% annual increase, before diminishing slightly by 1% in Q3 to be 20%, with the rate being 3% higher than that of Q3 of 2017.
Office rents reflected a similar trend, recording 6% and 12% of quarterly and annual drops in Q1 of 2018; the downfall continued throughout the year, as the second quarter witnessed a slower 3.6% decline from Q1 of 2018 and 12.6% decline from Q2 of 2017 while the third quarter rentals were less than the second quarter’s by 2% and the previous year by 12%.

c) Retail Sector:
At the beginning of 2018, the vacancy rates of Jeddah’s regional and super-regional malls witnessed an improvement from the previous year, though the rate for this improvement slowed down over the rest of 2018.
The retail vacancies in the first quarter remained unchanged at 7% from Q4 of 2017 and stayed the same in the second quarter;  this indicated a 4% drop from both first and second quarters of 2017 where the rate was 11%.
However, the third quarter witnessed a surge in the vacancy rate where it increased to 10%, though they remained slightly lower than Q3 of 2017 where the vacancy rate remained at 11%.
The regional malls rentals took a slight fall in the beginning and remained stable throughout the rest of 2018; in the first quarter, they fell 3.3% and 4.1% from the last and first quarters of 2017 respectively. However, they then stayed unchanged throughout the remaining quarters.
On the other hand, the super-regional malls did not record any positive or negative changes on quarterly basis in 2018; however, the rentals in the first quarter dropped by 3.1% from those of Q1 of 2017.


The Future:

It is true that the real estate market of Saudi Arabia has hit its lowest point since 2014 in 2018. However, many experts are speculating that the Saudi property market is currently in the bottom-out phase.

Although the Saudi government continues to work on resolving it, unaffordability prevails as the Saudi property market’s main issue. On one hand, the real estate market of Saudi Arabia seems to be saturated with luxurious residential options; on the other hand, the demand for these units is yet to meet the higher supply level because of the still-recovering purchasing power of the Saudi Arabian citizens.

The same can be safely said regarding the commercial sector; as there is an unmet demand for the smaller units while there is a high unmet supply for the larger commercial units.

This is crucial to the implementation of Saudi Vision 2030, as it depends mainly on developing the kingdom’s non-petroleum sectors; to achieve that, more startups are expected to be launched to capitalize on that momentum. This comes along with the ongoing attempts to reform Saudization policies to fit better into the Saudi economy.

While it is hard to make a definite speculation of the real estate market of Saudi Arabia, it is safe to expect that the upcoming years will be pivotal for it and the Saudi economy as a whole.