‘Flipping’, ‘skipping’ and ‘running’ are relatively new terms in the argot of Dubai’s property market. Many would know about at least one person who has done one of the three ‘disrespectful’ things, and may even be aware of several more via the city’s thriving rumour mill.

The residents who remain also have a new nomenclature for themselves — the ‘survivors’.

New players experiment with speculation

Flipping was hitherto the activity of buying and selling property instantly, and solely for instant profit. Despite the impression that this dangerous game is a thing of yore and was once the exclusive prerogative of high risk takers, it is not, and has attracted new players.

Flipping was once restricted to incomplete properties, but they are now doing it with credit notes. Also, flippers are not necessarily risk takers; some are trying to recover investments gone awry, while others are desperate for much needed cash.

Offloading multiple units

AR is a classic flipper. In December 2007, he owned three apartments — on paper — at various buildings in Dubai Marina. By September 2008, he had sold two for a cumulative profit of Dh1.23 million, despite the fact that both were not ready for occupation.

“I am lucky that I disposed them of before it was time to start paying my mortgages and before the economic downturn,” he says. “If things get bad, I will move into the one I still own, so no money lost. But, many other people who acted impulsively have done badly. I know some really sad stories and consider myself blessed.”

However, despite his narrow escape from steep losses, AR cannot shed his innate instincts. When questioned, he admits that he has purchased a credit note for 60 per cent of its face value, and is looking for a buyer who will take it off him for a profit.

Skippers caved in

Skippers are other risk takers like AR, but who didn’t have the sense, instincts, or gumption to offload their properties when the market soured. When they could not find buyers and saw alarming drops in prices, they caved.

Faced with the prospect of bounced cheques, rising debts and the threat of unemployment, some of these foolhardy investors just upped and left, or skipped.

Skippers are not available for quotes, but TQ who left the country in the first week of February is believed to have invested in no less than six properties across the country. A feat made possible by two facts: he was the creative director of an advertising agency and had a substantial salary, and he dealt with an Islamic bank that allows customers to have multiple mortgages.

Coincidentally, the day he lost his job is also the day he realised that the next set of payments towards his property portfolio totalled Dh246,000, and also, that there were no prospects of serious buyers on the anvil, for any of them.

Forfeiting down payments

His simple solution was to forfeit the nominal down payments he had made on the said properties, and to head back to his native country to sit out the storm. In his case, he paid off his credit cards, cleared his lesser debts, and told his bank that he was giving up his claim on the many apartments he owned.

Trail of debts

Runners, on the other hand, don’t bother doing any of the latter or the formalities associated with relocating from the country. One minute they are in Dubai, revelling in their enviable status as the owners of several properties, and the next minute, they are simply missing from the country, with only the trail of debts proving they lived here. They could now be anywhere.

Finally, those who have heard the horror stories and heaved heavy sighs say they too need a moniker for not falling into any of the above categories.

Ordinary residents who continue to pay rent on their homes, have strongly resisted the urge to invest in property. Those who actually live in the properties they purchased say they are just holding tight.

BJ owns a modest studio flat at The Greens and his brother MJ rents a one-bedroom apartment at Dubai Marina, and by their own admission, they worry about the appalling state of the world, just as much as they are alarmed about their own job security… or the possible lack of it.

According to MJ, their mission is to put away and save as much money as they can every month just so that they are not taken unawares by any unpleasant surprises — be it falling prices, increased rents, unexpected payments or unplanned debts.

“All those people we hear about have titles that classify them into categories. We believe that the rest of us who live in Dubai and eke out an everyday existence without running, skipping or flipping need one too. Just call us the ‘survivors’,” say the brothers.

And they are not being sardonic.

Flippers now deal in credit notes

• Despite the impression that flipping is a thing of yore and was once the exclusive prerogative of high risk takers, it has attracted new players
• Flipping was once restricted to incomplete properties, but they are now doing it with credit notes
• Also, flippers are not necessarily risk takers; some are trying to recover investments gone awry, while others are desperate for much needed cash
• Skippers are other risk takers, but who didn’t have the sense, instincts, or gumption to offload their properties when the market soured
• Runners simply go missing from the country, leaving behind a huge trail of debts