In 2001, Bahrain pipped Dubai to the post when it became the first Gulf state to allow widespread foreign ownership of real estate.
No-one outside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states could buy property on the Arabian peninsular before this small kingdom made that decision.
Now there are several major projects under way, and some of Bahrain’s real estate developments, which are mainly built on man-made islands, are distinctly different from those found elsewhere in the Gulf.
The kingdom is an archipelago of more than 30 islands, and reclamation programmes are literally changing its shape. As sand is dredged and shifted around shallow Gulf waters, new land areas for real estate development are formed, and so Bahrain grows. Officials believe its land area has expanded by about 10% over the past decade.
Durrat Al Bahrain aims to be a model 21st-century city seaside resort. The 215 million-square-foot site is currently being reclaimed from the sea on Bahrain’s uninhabited south coast. The Bd1bn ($2.7bn) development will comprise 13 different islands with some 2000 villas, more than 3000 apartments, numerous luxury hotels, restaurants, promenades, shopping centres, spas, and a 450-berth marina as well as a proposed golf course.
The first two releases of property sold out in February 2005. A two-storey villa with a beach view, a swimming pool, three bedrooms and a lounge costs Bd195,000.
The developer of the kingdom’s largest luxury integrated development is keen to present attractive financing options to potential purchasers. It recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Islamic mortgage finance provider Sakana Holistic Housing Solutions to do just that.
“We have a clear strategy of pursuing agreements with innovative finance providers,” says Jassim Al Jowder, chief executive officer of Durrat Al Bahrain, who also says financing through Sakana is aimed at “customers in Bahrain, across the region and internationally”. Sakana is offering packages on amounts of up to Bd750,000 with up to 30-year repayment terms. Bahraini residents can qualify for up to 90% finance while GCC and international residents qualify for up to 80% and 70% finance respectively.
Another project to use reclaimed land is the Reef Island development, an integrated mixed-use plan located offshore the Bahraini capital of Manama. It will incorporate 39 residential buildings, 65 villas, 49 beach villas, a five-star hotel and spa, a shopping mall, a medical centre, a marina and a yacht club. Phase one, comprising eight elite residential buildings, 49 beach villas and 14 luxury villas, is due to be completed in 2008.
One of the highlights in Bahrain’s property sector this year was the formal opening in May of the Financial Centre at the flagship Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH) development. It aims to reinforce Bahrain’s position as one of the region’s key financial hubs, and has already attracted financial services firms such as BNP Paribas, which has relocated its regional headquarters to BFH, and the Reuters news agency.
Companies give several reasons why they chose this location. “BNP Paribas conducted an exhaustive search in Bahrain to find a suitable location of its regional operations, and following these investigations selected BFH due to its landmark status and state-of-the-art technologies, which meet with BNP Paribas’ corporate and development requirements,” says Jean-Christophe Durand, regional director of GCC countries for BNP Paribas.
BFH is about more than office space. It was conceived as an integrated financial city located on prime seafront property on the Manama Corniche. The Financial Centre is part of BFH phase one and is the main business district.
The development’s wider plan also includes the Harbour Towers – Bahrain’s tallest towers – and the Harbour Mall. The Harbour Towers will provide prime office and commercial space for the financial services industry while the Harbour Mall will house high quality retail outlets and cafes, other leisure facilities as well as brokerage and trading firms. Phase two of the project will provide BFH’s residential component.
In September, the Middle East’s biggest water park, known as the Lost Paradise of Dilmun, opened to the public. With 14 slides and pools, it is part of the huge Al Areen development, which aims to provide exclusive retail and residential space.
Located south of Manama, Al Areen is also home to a wildlife park and the Bahrain International Circuit, now a venue in the Formula One motor racing season.