After nine happy years in Abu Dhabi, Amy and Nick Gibson recently moved back home to the UK with their three children.
While most of their furniture was shipped home, the family had amassed three premium possessions that required selling – a penthouse flat in Al Bandar, a luxury 26-foot sailing boat and a Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle.
But in the months leading up to their departure, disappointment set in as the couple realised how weak the market for second-hand luxury goods in Abu Dhabi had become.
“We’ve had not one single inquiry about the boat,” says Ms Gibson, who has had the year-old boat on the market since February with an agent, and on Dubizzle.com. “By the time we had paid all the import charges, it cost us Dh220,000 and we’re trying to sell for Dh185,000. The agent sold one in January for that price, so I wanted to hold out for a reasonable price.”
The family has now left the boat with the agent, hoping it can be sold in the winter, when the market may pick up again.
The start of the summer is always a period of upheaval in the UAE, when second-hand forums experience a flurry of activity from expats spring-cleaning or preparing to relocate home at the end of the school year. But this summer, there appears to have been more movement than usual.
“International moving is up by 100 per cent from last year,” says Bana Shomali, the founder and chief executive of home-service portal MoveSouq.com. “Every year around this time, we see a normal increase in the number of international moves from the UAE. But there has been a big increase in recent months. If we compare the number of international moving requests on our site in the last month, they are 70 per cent higher than in January.”
The top two countries MoveSouq’s customers are moving to are the United States and the United Kingdom, according to Ms Shomali.
While some expats are leaving because it is simply time to go, others have little choice after losing jobs as a result of the low oil price.
James Spence, the assistant vice president in Abu Dhabi of wealth-management company Globaleye, has also picked up on this trend.
“We all know the UAE is a very transient place but this time it seems to be different,” he says. “My clients in Abu Dhabi are seeing a lot more job losses than my clients in Dubai and we seem to have a lot of long-term expats leaving – friends and clients who have been here 10, 15 or even 20 years, at the very top of their game, now packing their bags. It’s easy to point this at the oil price. However, some seasoned expats I’ve spoken to have decided to leave just because all their long-term established communities of friends are slowly fizzling out.”
But shifting unwanted possessions when many are leaving at the same time can prove to be tricky.
The Gibsons, who asked for their surname to be changed, posted their relatively inexpensive household items on Facebook groups, which were quickly snapped up. “I had no shortage of people wanting to buy the stuff I was selling cheaply – like old white kitchen goods, Ikea bookshelves and worn armchairs,” Ms Gibson says.
But their two-bedroom flat in Al Bandar, which had been an “excellent investment” as they had always managed to rent it out, has not been so easy to say goodbye to.
As the couple are returning to the UK, they will have to pay tax “on the rental income and capital gains tax when we sell it”, Ms Gibson says. “That is a really big hit, so we’re better off selling it now.”
Last summer, similar flats in Al Bandar were selling for Dh2.4 million. The couple put theirs on the market for Dh2.2m and have just accepted an offer of Dh2.1m.
The second-hand selling hub Abu Dhabi Market Place, which has 18,670 members, is “manic at the moment”, according to its moderator, Donna Smith. “We’re run off our feet with checking and adding new members and moderating the posts,” she says. “There are all sorts for sale, and lots of posts stating ‘only six months old’ or ‘bought a year ago’.”
All the sellers, anxious to offload before they leave, are giving rise to plenty of opportunist buyers. “I know people that are staying and taking this chance to stock up on some bargains that they really don’t need,” Ms Smith says. “At this moment, I’d say the market is wide open.”
The flurry of second-hand items offers ample buying opportunities for those who are new to the country, those looking to update to a newer model car, or improve their home, says Mr Spence.
“It’s also a good time to be buying good-quality furniture at a discounted price, if you plan to be here for a while,” he says. “Thanks to all the expats who have left over the years, I now have far better quality belongings here in Abu Dhabi than I do back home in the UK.”
Wade Muncil, from the US, and his Japanese wife, Hiromi Tanaka, are selling things after nine years in Abu Dhabi. Although they have had plenty of bargain-hunters drop by, Mr Muncil says it has been a positive selling experience.
“We have had people I sensed were in need of a deal, so we were happy to accommodate them,” he says. “One couple openly told us they buy and sell items from the internet. Some people inquire about big items, then come over and choose the free stuff. I’ve enjoyed finding new homes for items and bartering with different cultures. No one walks away empty-handed.”
But selling can be disheartening for those whose time in the Emirates has come to a more abrupt end.
Hayat Pime, 35, moved to Abu Dhabi from France in January with her husband and two children, a six-year-old and a one-year-old, and is now heading off again. “We bought almost everything new and our company doesn’t cover furniture moving,” she says. “Even though my items are almost new, and sometimes still in their packaging, people only want to buy for a much, much lower price than I request, which is not fair for our wallets.”
Isy Dada, 43, from the UK, spent a month trying to sell her three year-old Mercedes GL500 for Dh170,000, after her husband lost his job recently in the oil industry. She eventually sold the car this week for Dh120,000. “I feel very disappointed to have made so little from the sale,” she says. “People want to buy it for so much less than what it’s worth. They are taking advantage of the fact you are leaving.”
The Gibsons first took their three-year-old black Volvo to the showroom for a valuation and were shocked to be told there was no market for second-hand cars in the UAE. It would have to be exported to be sold abroad. “We bought it for Dh165,000 and it had only been driven 58,000 kilometres. They offered me Dh26,000, which is a ridiculous price.”
Ms Gibson turned instead to Dubizzle and seeing one almost identical for Dh75,000, posted her car for Dh68,000. “But a week later, one like ours came on for Dh50,000,” she says. “I think people who’ve been made redundant with just four weeks’ notice have to practically give their things away. We were up against desperate people.”
Ms Gibson calculated that replacing the vehicle with the same model in the UK would cost Dh95,000 and since the only offers they had were ”laughable” ones, the family decided to ship it home.
Many others unable to sell their vehicles decide to turn instead to a trusted friend when they leave.
“You can sign a power of attorney handing your vehicle to a friend to sell on your behalf,” says Mr Spence, who adds that there are risks involved. “What if they were to lose their job as well? They might not then have time to sell their own belongings plus your car.”
So, will the market for luxury goods remain tipped to the buyer’s advantage? Perhaps not for long, if you take Brexit into account, Mr Spence says.
“I have clients who have decided to postpone their return to the UK while they see how Brexit plays out. They were leaving the UAE because they felt that times here were uncertain. Now with Brexit, they feel the UK is more uncertain than the UAE.”
For many of those leaving, a last-chance saloon for unsold possessions is Freecycle, a global Facebook network where people can give unwanted items away for free, usually to the first to respond. The Freecycle Abu Dhabi group, which now has more than 21,000 members, was started by Gina Dillon, the American.
“Lately we’ve seen an increase in items posted,” Ms Dillon says. “I usually approve one or two posts each day and for the last three months, I’ve been doing 20 or so a day.”
Whereas Freecycle’s posts are usually items that children have grown out of – such as car seats, high chairs and toys – Ms Dillon says lately there has been more kitchenware, such as “dish ware, tables, and lots of sofas too”.
Ms Dillon, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for four years, has also seen an increase in sales posts on the two other Facebook groups she runs, Khalifa City A and Abu Dhabi Kids.
“I have to stay on top of the posts because it could make a difference between somebody receiving something for free and it going to the landfill,” she says. “It’s kept me very busy lately.”
Selling your stuff on Facebook
Gina Dillon, the founder of four Facebook community groups, including Freecycle and Khalifa City Community, shares tips with Jessica Hill on selling second-hand items on the online platform
A picture is worth a thousand words
Make sure your photos represent your products in the best light. I recently saw a clothes rack of used dresses that looked straight out of a boutique.
Timing is everything
Post your products at peak times for the most traffic. The best times are from Sunday to Thursday, 5.30am to 8am, 3.30pm to 5.30pm, or 8.30pm to 11pm. Never post on Fridays because it is a family day and nobody is interested.
Cross marketing is key
You should cross market on several Facebook groups and Dubizzle.com to attract the most attention but be prepared for a crazy amount of interest from several people, hopefully all bargaining for the best price.
Assess when to sell
Do you have time to sit around waiting for the best price, or do you need your things gone yesterday? Your best prices will be offered early to mid June, with prices decreasing nearer to the summer holidays, when those leaving are feeling the crunch.
Bump up your posts If you don’t receive interest when you first post your item, bump it up by commenting on it yourself or adding another photo. That way everyone who commented with interest will be notified. Your post will then rise to the top of the feed once again.
If it’s time to fly and your items haven’t sold, offer them for free on Freecycle Abu Dhabi on Facebook and members of the public will pick it up. Alternatively, call Take My Junk (takemyjunkuae.com) and a lorry will arrive to collect it all. Or leave it on the curb with a “free” sign.
• Post-Brexit, should expats go or stay? Find out at thenational.ae/blogs/your-money