What were the financial and operational highlights of 2011 for Mazaya?
AL BAKER: I think it’s been a turning point. We started in 2008 and as you remember it was a very difficult year to operate in. More so, it was a boom time. But the crash came at the end of that year, which made 2009 the most difficult year. In 2010 we were still taking stock and waiting for the dust to subside and seeing how we would prepare the ground. This is what we did in 2010. We laid the foundation by securing a number of financial arrangements and real estate development agreements. For instance, we signed a 10-year lease with the Qatar Foundation to build the housing needs for their staff for the Qatar National Convention Center. We also signed a BOT agreement to build 1165 units for the nursing and technical staff of the SIDRA Medical and Research Center. We also signed another BOT agreement of 30 years with the Qatar Foundation to build a property they have in the Marina district. It’s designated for a mall in the marina area of Lusail. All that set us up really well for 2011 and I consider 2011 to be our take-off year. We were starting to build. We have completed and we took a bid for contracts to build the SIDRA project. We’re also getting into the detailed design for the Marina Mall. The previous years were not bad but they were not years where we were able to generate any profit as you would expect. Therefore I wanted to finish the last two years with minimum damage. We showed some profit but nothing that I would write home about, it was very much on the minimal side. I believe this year we’ll show what we are all about and hopefully we’ll be able to show very good profits.
What trends do you see driving the residential property market in Doha over the upcoming 2-3 years?
AL BAKER: I believe that demand will drive the market. A few years back, Qatar had a smaller population to contend with. However, the bounty of oil and gas has made Qatar a very major player in the region. We expect the population to grow and reflect that. There is a lot of demand from professionals such as myself and others who want to come and live and be part of what is happening in Qatar. Qatar is very exciting. I think many of us are here and happy to be able to contribute and provide our little share of that. So it’s a very exciting time to be in Qatar right now. There is a need for residential space and also commercial space. I think what is happening now is that there is a little bit of a glut because of the shortages that were sustained before. It’s only natural; people start to build and we all build together at the same time. I always explain it that it is like a pendulum, when it swings it doesn't stop at equilibrium, it continues. So we will see the cycles of oversupply, shortages, oversupply, shortages, until that narrows down and we’ll be able to have equilibrium moving forward. For a young economy like Qatar’s, it will take a while to do that. But that’s the beauty of it and if you plan for the next 10-20 years, there is a great demand and that demand will continue to be the case and I think that’s what drives real estate.
How is the issue of affordable housing being addressed?
AL BAKER: The issue of affordable housing is necessary. I think that Qatar is blessed with quite a lot of space so it’s not a critical issue at this time. The local population is growing and if I compare Qatar with the rest of the GCC, we share some of the same statistics; one of them is the highest level of population growth in the world. If you look at neighboring countries, you see the younger generation who will be graduating and who are working and are in need. The times have also changed. I remember when we were much younger, we all lived in the same family home and it was natural for all of us, no matter how much we grow in the family, we end up sharing rooms in the same home. It was not the trend to move out of the family house. There would be three or four generations in the same house. Of course that all changed in the 1950s and 1960s. The birds have to fly away from the nest and make their own homes, which means, moving forward, there will be a great demand on single family dwellings. That brings up the issue of affordable housing because that is a very important issue. I think the authorities have to address that and prepare for that. We have plenty of time and years to plan for it so let’s not be surprised by it. I recommend to a lot of my young Qatari colleagues that if you have any extra money, buy properties, single family dwellings, and keep them. The demand will drive that sooner or later.
How have banks’ attitudes to real estate lending changed since the onset of the global financial crisis?
AL BAKER:The degree of damage that the global financial crisis caused is much less here than we've seen in other markets, such as the US where it started. Here the government was very prompt in injecting money into the banking system. It also arranged for a portfolio to buy almost $18bn of real estate. That relieved the banks from the pressure, although, admittedly, the problem was much smaller. The Qatari economy is just taking off. So the problem was much smaller to deal with and thankfully the government came in and moved swiftly. There wasn't that much damage. But the regulation aspect has become fiercer. There are limits on what the banks can and cannot lend to, especially in real estate. So there was more regulation introduced and I think that did affect the market because banks reacting to the lending spree that was there before have cut down their appetite. But this has been the story of 2009 and 2010. Now, there is room to lend to real estate. However, like in everything else, banks are becoming more discerning and choosier. The challenge is to separate the boys from the men and the banks, it’s their right to make sure what kind of credit they are lending to. I believe there is room and we've seen that happening. On the contrary, because banks are being more selective, there is more money available to lend. Before, every Tom, Dick, and Harry, the banks wanted to lend to and they were lending up to 100% of some of the property value. I think today, banks have more money to lend but they are being more selective where or to whom they want to lend it to.
Now, there is room to lend to real estate. However, like in everything else, banks are becoming more discerning and choosier...I think today, banks have more money to lend but they are being more selective where or to whom they want to lend it to.