Dubai's Urban on how its mobile app will overcome rental woes

Published: 23 February 2020 - 9 a.m.

People in Dubai looking to rent a residential unit have often been left frustrated due to false property listings, inaccurate or misleading representations of properties, inconvenient viewing times, exhaustive negotiations, and inflexible payment options.

The Dubai-born chief executive officer of the region’s first-ever fuel on-demand mobile application Cafu, Rashid Al Ghurair, decided to address these concerns and frustrations, and in doing so, launched a first-of-its-kind mobile and web application called Urban.

Speaking exclusively to Construction Week, Al Ghurair said: “Tenants face a number of issues in the rental market today, from false photography and inconvenient viewing times to exhausting negotiations and inflexible payment options. By shifting to a tenant-centric experience and bringing the entire rental journey online, we want to make finding a new home joyful rather than painful.”

The application aims to improve the credibility of property listings, and will also make a way for tenants to make monthly payments online – without the need for cheques.

In conversation with Construction Week, the general manager of Urban, Tala Nsouli, said: “We took a hard look at the real estate industry and we saw the opportunity to improve a process that hasn’t changed in about a 100 years.

“The thought process behind it was to bring the real estate industry into the 21st century and make it a positive experience – rather than a frustrating one – for people to rent out homes.”

“We provide 3D walkthroughs”

Most potential tenants in Dubai who are looking to rent a home begin the process by conducting a search online for places that meet their criteria based on the size and type of the home, amenities provided, design of the house, and its cost.

Nsouli says: “This part of the experience has been addressed the most by technology platforms, but is still broken. Existing property platforms have false listings; sometimes you see the same listing multiple times; the photography on the property listings is poor quality or misleading.

“There are even listings for properties that are no longer available for rent – and when you call the broker, they take you to another house instead of the one you had your eye on.”

The team behind the Urban app addresses these concerns by examining every single listing. Every residential unit on the platform is permitted to have only one listing.

In addition, when every residential unit is added to the app, all the documentation pertaining to the unit, including the title deed and clearance reports, are verified to ensure that the residential unit is eligible for rent. This due diligence adds credibility and trust to the units showcased on the platform.

Nsouli adds: “We have professional photographers capturing the look of the residential unit exactly the way it is at the moment. We also provide 3D walkthroughs that show you the unit as it is today. The feel of the walkthrough is as if you are really in the apartment, and provides views from different angles. It also provides a realistic sight of the view from every apartment.”

“Moreover, we capture the same detail accurately about every single unit. We’ll tell you exactly how many rooms each unit has, the area of the unit, the number of amenities provided, the amount of parking space, the view from the home, and so on. The floor plan and the layout of the unit will be available in the 3D walkthrough, which also offers a dollhouse view of the unit.”

The Urban app also inspects the amenities, electricity, water, air conditioning, and the overall state of the home, with full transparency of current conditions offered on the application.

“View the home at any time”

The second step for potential tenants is to visit an apartment in order to get a touch and feel of the place, and to experience the view and the amenities first-hand.

Urban has made this experience convenient by placing digital locks on the doors of every residential unit.

Nsouli says: “We allow people to book appointments for the viewing of the unit on their own time. This provides the person viewing the unit, the flexibility to view it at any time without having to depend on the convenience of the broker.”

She adds: “The digital locks are also a non-intrusive solution, and do not damage the door in any way. They are easily removable and can be replaced with the traditional key-and-barrel locks. The digital locks provide the owners with transparency as to who would like to view their residential unit, and when that viewing is to take place.”

“Payments can be made online”

After potential tenants view a residential unit, they can either pay the asking price or make an offer online.

The mobile and web application also completely does away with the need for any paperwork, in line with the Dubai Paperless Strategy, which calls for the emirate’s entities to go completely paperless by 2021.

“The Urban mobile application facilitates a process wherein everything can be done completely digitally. The contract can be signed online; all payments, including deposits and rent, can be made online; the Ejari – or government contract for the unit – can be acquired online, which then automatically triggers the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) procedures online,” Nsouli says.

From a landlord’s perspective, Urban’s technology allows owners to put their property on autopilot, ensuring that they find and keep the right tenants, and ultimately maximise their returns.

Through a digital payment gateway, Urban offers the possibility of using credit cards, debit cards, or direct debit through a local bank account to pay the annual rent in one, two, or four installments.

In addition, the mobile and web application has also partnered with a bank to offer a loan option, permitting for tenants to pay their annual rent in 12 monthly installments.

Commenting on the conducive environment and regulations that permit for proptech solutions in the market, Al Ghurair concludes: “The UAE is a playground for innovation where we are constantly encouraged by our wise leadership to push boundaries and deliver groundbreaking solutions.

“It is an incubator for technology start-ups, so we couldn’t be prouder that Urban was developed right here in Dubai.”

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