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Is the global housing bubble set to burst?


HAVING made a tidy packet from property in the UK, Daniel Lee is broadening his horizons. The 30-year-old entrepreneur from Wilmslow, Cheshire, is buying a 180,000 flat in The Torch, a new tower block being built in Dubai.
"I just fancied Dubai," said Lee. "You get a lot for your money compared with the UK, the weather's guaranteed, there's potential for capital growth, and it's a great position."
His holiday flat, 3,500 miles away, will overlook a marina and the azure waters of the Gulf. Like many others rushing to buy, Lee hopes to enjoy sun, sand, golf, water sports - and a healthy financial return.
How big will his property be? "Um, two bedrooms," he said. "Or is it three? I can't remember, we've changed the spec so much."
That may sound cavalier, but in the great global stampede for property he at least knows where his money is going: he visited Dubai last October with friends who have also bought there.
Others just leap in eyes wide shut. One would-be buyer recently rang a broker eager to invest. "I want to buy in Dubai," he said. "Where is it?"
The emirate, one of seven that make up the United Arab Emirates, is the most extraordinary hot spot in an unprecedented global boom: a patch of desert on the Gulf, it is being transformed into a futuristic playground of glitz, glamour and Blade Runner fantasy.
Vast towers are rising from the sands, including the Burj Al Arab, the world's tallest hotel. Whole islands are being created in the shape of three giant palms - visible from space - to accommodate luxury villas. The developers have also built 300 islands, 4km offshore, in the shape of a map of the world. You can purchase an entire country as your personal home. The era of global house-hunting has truly arrived.
Britons are certainly flocking to buy up corners of the world in increasing numbers. More than 230,000 people now have second homes outside the UK, according to figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics.
At least 62,000 have bought in Spain and 47,000 in France, possibly many more since cash buyers may not be included in the figures. Some 50,000 Irish have also bought homes in Spain in the past decade.
Newer home hounds are sniffing out opportunities far beyond Europe. From Alaska to Zanzibar, rich westerners are snapping up what they hope will be bargains in bricks and mortar as local markets have taken off.
In three years house prices have rocketed in South Africa by 95%, in Chinaby 68%, in Australia by 56% and in America and Thailand by 29%. In Britain they rose 50%. The world has never seen a boom of such breadth and scale.
"Eighteen months ago you could have bought a studio in the Jumeirah Beachresidence for 40,000," said Paul Taylor of Dubai Select, a property marketing company. "Now you could sell it for 150,000."
According to estimates by The Economist this week, residential property in developed economies has leapt in value by more than 16,500 billion to more than 38,000 billion, in just five years. That sum is the equivalent to the entire GDP of all the countries in question. Only in Germany and Japan have prices failed to jump over the last decade.
To doubters - who are predicting prices will fall by 20% or more in many countries - it is the gigantic bubble that swallowed the world, bigger than the stock market boom of the 1990s and almost twice the size of the Wall Street bubble of the roaring 1920s.