According to data from the Dubai Land Department, total transaction value in 2017 reached Dh285 billion through 69,000 transactions. Top locations were Downtown Burj Khalifa, Business Bay and Dubai Marina, and UAE investors led the tally as the top nationality with investments amounting to Dh25 billion, followed by Indians with Dh16 billion and Saudis with Dh7 billion worth of investments.

Continued transaction activity amid declining price and rent performance in the emirate reflects positively on the attractiveness of real estate assets for regional and international investors. Prevailing yield compression in the residential market has still maintained levels higher than what investors are likely to earn in other real estate hotspots such as New York City, London, Hong Kong, among others.

Even as buyer interest is tilting heavily towards off-plan transactions (more than 67 per cent of overall transactions in 2017 were in this category), developers are increasingly aligning project concept, phasing and delivery with end-user demand. Among the newer formats being launched are integrated developments that combine residential, commercial, cultural and entertainment offerings. As Dubai continues to grow, this style of urban planning is crucial to maintain a 'city life' feel, while differentiating quality developments from run-of-the-mill stock commonly seen in the past.

Developers have begun focusing on the positioning of the entire development at the master planning stage, which gives them control over not only the residential units being built but also the theme and vision for the community as a whole. This includes provisioning for schools, community retail, healthcare and hospitality early in the development process rather than as an afterthought.

Some examples of such developments launched recently include La Mer, Dubai Harbour, Marasi Business Bay and Bluewaters island. La Mer by Meraas is an integrated development of residential, commercial, leisure and hospitality components. Located between Pearl Jumeirah and Jumeirah Bay, the 13.4 million sqft development is spread over three areas - La Mer South, La Mer North and The Wharf. The community has 848 units under construction, 688 of which are apartments and 160 of which are hotel rooms, expected to complete in December 2020.

Another integrated development by Meraas is Dubai Harbour launched in 2017. It is a waterfront destination spread across 20 million sqft. The mixed-use development will combine high- and low-rise buildings, waterfront villas, hotels and offices. The master plan includes Skydive Dubai, Dubai International Marine Club, Logo Island and Dubai Lighthouse, which is a 135-metre-high tower that will house a luxury hotel.

Meraas is also developing Bluewaters Island off the coast of Jumeirah Beach Residence. The project combines luxury apartments, penthouses and townhouses and is expected to be completed by 2021. Among the under-construction elements are 10 residential towers with a total of 702 one, two and three-bedroom apartments, as well as 17 townhouses, 150 retail shops and two luxury hotels. The destination is also home to Ain Dubai, the world's largest observation wheel.

Across town near the Downtown area is Marasi Business Bay by Dubai Properties Group. The development is spread across 12km of waterfront promenade along the Dubai Water Canal and Dubai Creek. The development is divided into three areas - The Yacht Club, The Park and The Pier and is expected to complete in December 2022. The first of four Marasi Towers, Riverside, is set to be handed over in 2020. With a project budget of Dh1 billion, the master plan integrates a range of amenities to cater to its residents and visitors.

These new developments point to a progressive shift towards building communities and from the developer point of view, this goes beyond simply selling residential units and exiting from the area. Through integrated retail and hospitality components, there are wider asset classes for investors to participate in the project, while end-users and visitors are expected to be drawn to the development over a longer time frame.

Additionally, in a cyclical real estate market such as Dubai, such communities are expected to fare better during periods of declining rents and occupancy pressures in the wider market, such as that seen over the last 12 to 18 months. Development phasing matched with supply-demand dynamics at the master planning stage and inclusion of facilities closely tied to end-user and tourist visitor needs are key elements in determining the success of these integrated communities.

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