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  1. Property
April 18, 2024

Branded ‘hypertowers’: the next frontier in Dubai prime property

Editor-in-chief Edwin Smith meets the man in charge of one of the Middle East’s most ambitious property developers, Binghatti

By Edwin Smith

The dynamic Montenegrin twenty-something and her smart trouser suit have the confidence and poise to sell coals to Newcastle, tea to China, and perhaps even shares in NatWest to the British public.

But Ivona Malovic has a far easier task. She is a real estate agent in Dubai, a market where prices leapt by 49 per cent in the 12 months to June 2023 – up a staggering 225 per cent since the third quarter of 2020, according to Knight Frank.

[See also: The UAE is attracting HNWs – and wealth managers are following]

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The tower that Malovic is selling today may not have actually been built, but that’s just a detail. As we stand next to the hoardings that surround the site, she reels off figures that she has committed to memory, answers queries with precision and explains that this is not just any residential tower – but a ‘hypertower’ that will be created by one of the leading property developers in Dubai, Binghatti. It will be 341m high and include a phalanx of solar panels on one side. Its 65 floors will house 150 residences (two-bedroom units start from 8.8 million dirhams or £1.87 million), including five penthouses. On top of all this, the tower will be home to the first Mercedes-branded residences anywhere in the world, with an exterior flecked with the car manufacturer’s logo and interior design touches inspired by its heritage.

The rise of branded residences

A computer-generated image of one of the futuristic apartments in the planned Bugatti branded residence / Image: Binghatti

Branded residences arguably started life in the 1920s, when New York’s Sherry-Netherland hotel put 165 private apartments up for sale, offering residents room service from the Cipriani restaurant. But the concept has been supercharged in recent years. There were 690 completed schemes as of mid-2023, with more than 600 further schemes expected to be completed by 2030, according to Savills.

Hotel brands have historically dominated the field – Four Seasons gained early-mover advantage in the Eighties – but increasingly others are moving into the space: Versace, Armani and Bulgari are all in on the act. Miami alone has branded residences from Aston Martin, Bentley and Porsche. The latter boasts an air-conditioned elevator so you can take your car up to your flat.

[See also: What are branded residences? Luxury openings attract UHNWs seeking five-star hotel service at home]

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Simply put, the cachet and assurance of brand association add value, says Giles Hannah, Binghatti’s chief commercial officer. In a briefing in the Arts Club Dubai, he points out that, despite recent increases, property prices in Dubai are still half what they are in other super-prime hubs.

But branded residences offer something extra and, as a rule of thumb, can add 15 per cent to the cost of an apartment. High-quality interior design and finishing – not a given in Dubai’s relatively immature, lightly regulated market – can add the same again. Combined with the cheap cost of labour, the opportunities for developers are significant. For investors, who pay no IHT, no capital gains tax and only 4 per cent in sales tax, it can be an attractive package.

Brand Binghatti

Exterior of the planned Bugatti residence in Dubai
Exterior of the planned Bugatti residence in Dubai / Image: Binghatti

Binghatti’s Mercedes development, officially named Mercedes-Benz Places Dubai, is said to be selling well. On my visit in January I’m told that half the properties have already been spoken for – even before the formal launch. But this is not the only branded residence in the company’s portfolio. It has recently unveiled two others in Dubai, one in partnership with French supercar marque Bugatti and another with Jacob & Co, the glitzy watch brand created by Uzbekistani entrepreneur Jacob Arabo. With the help of a glittering crown at its summit, the Burj Binghatti Jacob & Co will be the tallest residential tower in the world at 557m.

[See also: The best property agents 2024]

The embrace of this trend is an interesting next step for Binghatti, a family business now under the leadership of Muhammad BinGhatti. The company was founded in 2008 by Muhammad’s father, Dr Hussain BinGhatti Aljbori, who began his career in construction and grew a business empire that now also includes interests in aluminium and of course property development. Binghatti has 75 architects and 40 interior designers on its staff of 6,000.

Despite his relative inexperience – he is still only 29 when we meet – Muhammad BinGhatti is credited with giving the family firm new impetus. ‘The company had been doing staff accommodation projects out of town,’ says one Dubai businessman who knows him. ‘But Muhammad has come in and taken it to a different level — hats off to him.’

When we speak at Muhammad’s palatial home in the Meydan district, he explains that ‘a lot of cold-calling’ was necessary to strike deals with these luxury brands. But this is what he has wanted to do for some time. ‘I was always obsessed with the idea of a brand, since childhood,’ he says. ‘I thought to myself, “Well, if this philosophy has existed for a century in the automotive industry, in horology and so on, why isn’t it so prevalent in real estate?”’

[See also: The Lotus Eletre is the best electric SUV you can buy right now]

With his training as an architect, he has set about imbuing the exteriors of his own buildings with a distinctive Binghatti aesthetic, incorporating curves and rounded, almost natural-looking shapes. With motifs and interior design cues from the luxury brand partners, the strategy appears to be to make the developments more than the sum of their parts.

But property industry experts are not universally bullish on branded residences. Questions remain: how long are the brands tied in to these projects? What happens if, having taken their licensing fee for a few years, they decide to sever the relationship? Will the building lose its lustre? Will the service and management decline? This is a topic that Muhammad won’t be drawn on when I raise it. He chooses only to say that the intention is for the building ‘to always be a Mercedes-Benz Places’. In the context, perhaps that’s the only answer one could give.

[See also: Driven by design: how car galleries have become the new motoring status symbol]

Later that evening, the formal launch of Mercedes-Benz Places Dubai continues with a black tie gala at Meydan Racecourse. Literally thousands of people have applied for tickets to watch proceedings from the stands. The compère, the boundlessly enthusiastic American actor Terry Crews, welcomes Muhammad BinGhatti and Mercedes marketing director Britta Seeger to the stage as they emerge from the gull-wing door of a metallic orange concept car. There is an announcement, a video presentation and an impressive drone display. And then, in the VIP circle, the sales agents get to work.

As I head for the exit, I see Ivona Malovic again – surrounded by a crowd of potential buyers. She is standing in front of a model of the building this time, reeling off figures, answering queries and, by the looks of things, selling quite a few flats.

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