Construction and real estate billionaire, Rizwan Sajan details his journey to the top and where he plans to take Danube Group next (Culled from Gulf Business)
QUESTION: Your story is often described as being ‘from rags to riches’, having started over in Dubai with nothing. Did you ever imagine you would be where you are today?
ANSWER: I moved to Dubai post the Gulf War, in an attempt to reinvent myself and regain all that I had lost in Kuwait. At that moment, investing the money I had wisely, setting up a business and making it profitable was the priority. I was quite sure I would succeed because of my business acumen, the products I was selling and the market conditions, but I definitely did not expect to reach such heights. God has been very kind to me, bringing the right opportunities at the right time that have resulted in all that I have achieved to date.
QUESTION: You have been one of the leading players in the trend of affordable housing in Dubai, are the days of luxury properties numbered?
ANSWER: At present, more developers are leaning towards affordable housing because it offers good returns and there are a large number of buyers in the market that are looking to buy affordable homes. Being the pioneers in affordable housing, we have seen overwhelming demand, which has led us to believe that the demand for affordable homes will continue to increase in the future. The luxury segment definitely does have its own market since Dubai is being inhabited by so many nationalities, but I am sure affordable housing is the future.
QUESTION: Much of Danube’s recent property marketing has focussed on Bollywood stars, has this produced the results you expected and are there plans to change the strategy?
ANSWER: In the gamut of advertising it is quite difficult to measure results, but having a familiar face such as a celebrity does help to build a connect with the audience and in turn draw eyeballs to our campaigns.
QUESTION: In May last year Danube announced plans to launch three to four housing projects annually, do you plan to stick to this goal and could you exceed it?
ANSWER: We try not to be over ambitious when we launch our projects and ensure that we sell one project before we launch another. Moreover, we don’t have a land bank, and have to constantly source new pieces of land to build on. At present, looking at the interest we have garnered through our nine projects, we will continue to stick to our current goal of launching three to four projects a year.
QUESTION: Given the recent downturn in the market, do you believe Dubai continues to be an attractive location for real estate investors?
ANSWER: Dubai has established itself as the centre of the world and connects the west with the east. The recent downturn might have affected the market sentiment but I believe this a temporary phase and every market needs to undergo a correction. In my opinion, Dubai still offers the greatest growth opportunity for many investors and will definitely offer good value in investing in real estate at the lowest price amongst other developed nations.
QUESTION: How have current market conditions affected your development plans and have you been forced to hold back any projects?
ANSWER: Since the inception of Danube Properties in 2014, we have received very good responses and have sold out eight projects and have currently sold 50 per cent of our latest project, Bayz. All our projects are under construction and are progressing ahead of schedule. By the end of this year, we plan on handing over four projects, which are Dreamz, Glitz 1, Glitz 2 and Glitz 3. Dreamz is on the verge of completion and we will commence handovers by next month [July].
QUESTION: Do you have any intention to develop properties outside of Dubai in the wider UAE and Gulf region?
ANSWER: At present, we do not have plans to develop properties outside of Dubai but we are definitely evaluating options to expand our presence.
QUESTION: What are your expectations for this year in terms of your company’s and the wider real estate market’s performance?
ANSWER: The outlook for the rest of the year is looking good and we are expecting to perform reasonably well. Since the last quarter of 2016 business has picked up, especially in the real estate sector. As part of the company’s operations in 2017, we launched two properties valued at Dhs750m ($204m), opened a new Danube Home Store in Oman and a 10,000 square foot business to business facility in Ajman. We intend on launching two more projects this year and the handover of our first four projects.