Calls to help boost expat property sales in Oman

Business Wednesday 13/April/2016 21:29 PM
By: Times News Service
Calls to help boost expat property sales in Oman

Muscat: Real estate giants in the Sultanate have called for government policy to improve expat property buying in order to boost the sector, attract more tourists and investors and help the country battle the oil price slump.
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Expatriates are allowed to buy properties for residential or investment purposes at the Integrated Tourism Complexes (ITCs) licenced by the government agencies, which is subject to the approval of the Ministry of Housing.
“Most of the foreign buyers face difficulties in getting the necessary paper work done especially when they apply for the visas of residency. Many things are not clear at various government authorities,” Hatim Ali, CEO of The Wave Homes told Times of Oman.
“Some foreigners are reluctant. They don’t see the legal framework to be complete. Although Oman is safe but investors with big money want to see a clear framework of buying, responsibilities and obligations which has not yet done.”
The real estate experts say the attempts to open up Oman’s reasonably priced real estate homes to expatriates would also mean attracting buyers who are no longer able to afford in other expensive GCC countries.
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“But there are other difficulties too,” explained the top official of Wave Homes - a property management company.
“In other GCC countries, on an expat’s Identity Card, they put the title as ‘investor’ once an expat buys a property. Oman doesn’t give that title. The government uses the word ‘Owner’, which gives the expats great trouble when they travel to other GCC countries,” Ali said, adding, “When they go to Dubai, Qatar or Abu Dhabi, they are not seen or categorised as investors. So they [expats] always have problems in getting visas when they want to travel to these countries, although some of expats are making investment in millions. Otherwise, the process of buying properties in Oman is very simple.”
However, Saleh S. Al Siyabi, The Wave’s senior manager for sales and leasing, says that there is no collective agreement in GCC countries for allowing “property owners” to move freely in the GCC region.
“The one which Oman gives is a residency visa. It’s not a work visa. This should be clear,” he told TOO.
He added: “The agreement between the GCC countries allows the managers - who actually work in the GCC nations - to enter these countries. And vice versa, people who invest in buying a property as “Owners”, there is no collective agreement in the GCC countries. But these are two different laws. Residency visa has nothing do with the work visa,” he explained.
Officials of the Ministry of Housing say the process of granting “residence visa” to expats goes according to the procedures.
“We have our procedures over whether you will get a property right or not. Once you get our approval, you can go to Royal Oman Police (ROP) that issues visas for two years. There is visa for your spouse and children as well. Also one can inherit these properties,” Ali Mussa, Head of the Expat Registration Department at the ministry told TOO.
One of the transformations expats want to see is the establishment of Home Owners Associations to protect their investments.
While the government officials and some of the builders say the expats have formed associations, Hatim Ali argued that there must be a regulation from the housing ministry.
“There is an association but it’s not legal. It doesn’t have powers. The expats are only managing the current property through the association. It doesn’t have legal sanction,” he said.
Freehold properties
The freehold properties at the ITCs are hoped to bring in foreign wealth and add to the tourism revenue beyond the oil generated income the Sultanate has been relying on for decades.
“The business environment is supportive. Market is not over saturated. Plus, Oman is a tax haven. There are no taxes involved in purchasing properties. There is no value added tax or no capital gain tax,” Al Siyabi said.
“The ITCs is part of Oman’s vision of replacing oil and gas revenue with tourism economy. The market is very small but it’s growing,” he said.
The experts say the advantage to the country is very significant from the freehold properties.
“Look at the example of The Wave where the government put the land on partnership. This land was unused and unexploited - just sitting on the beach. Now the government is making huge money from this land. Because it’s a 50 per cent shareholder of all the profit generated,” said Ali.
“The housing ministry is making huge money from people buying and selling properties in this area. The municipality is making a huge money from the tenants or renting in this area. So this market, if properly exploited, will have a significant contribution to the Oman’s GDP,” he added.