Analysis Real Estate In cultural capital Sharjah, selling homes is an art form By Chris Hamill-Stewart February 8, 2023 Matthieu Rondel / Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect The 10th Sharjah Light Festival, held in February 2020. The emirate's government is expanding its cultural offerings Arts and education are cornerstones of the emirate’s expansion plan Its museums, galleries and festivals attract tourists – and home buyersThe ‘Sharjah lifestyle’ has become a USP for property developers Sharjah is investing big in culture, building up its education and arts offerings to tempt Emiratis and others to buy into a lifestyle said to be “unmatched” elsewhere in the UAE. The emirate “is referred to as the cultural capital of the Middle East”, said Professor Peter Barlow, executive director of the Sharjah Performing Arts Academy, “and its many festivals, museums, art galleries and events make it worthy of the title”. Shurooq, the government’s Investment and Development Authority, was founded in 2009 with the aim of overseeing “the social, cultural, environmental and economic development of Sharjah in line with its Islamic identity”. Education is a cornerstone of this expansion. Ras Al Khaimah: the UAE’s sustainable tourism destinationAjman and Umm Al Quwain: UAE’s small wonders may surprise youHeavy metal and fragile porcelain boost Ras Al Khaimah economyFujairah’s ship is coming in – and bringing tourists as well as trade “The government of Sharjah has invested heavily in education with a focus on promoting arts and culture,” Barlow told AGBI. Its Education Council has established specialised schools for arts and music and introduced art and music classes as part of the curriculum for all students. These initiatives have been accompanied by funding for the wider cultural sector. “There has been significant investment in the building of cultural centres and museums, such as the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation and the Sharjah Art Museum, to promote the arts and culture among the community,” Barlow said. Children visit the Sharjah Art Museum (left); ceiling detail at the Museum of Islamic Civilisation (right). Pictures: sharjahmuseums.ae Sharjah occupies less than 4 percent of the UAE’s total area, but is home to nearly a quarter of its museums – plus a number of international art and literature festivals. “This tells us that Sharjah’s cultural and creative industries have an excellent chance of developing commercially and creatively over the next 10 years,” Barlow added. Many of Sharjah’s cultural institutions have also benefited from international partnerships. The Sharjah Art Museum has held exhibitions in collaboration with world-leading galleries including Tate Britain, while the Sharjah Performing Arts Academy has received grants funded by the UK Foreign Office and British Council. Choosing the Sharjah lifestyle Residential property is another pillar of Sharjah’s development strategy. At megaprojects such as the $2.1 billion Masaar, cultural facilities such as amphitheatres sit alongside family homes, surrounded by woodland. Masaar is being built by Arada, Sharjah’s largest property developer, which says the project offers an opportunity to buy into a “lifestyle”. When Masaar opened last September, Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, Arada’s vice chairman and a member of the Saudi royal family, said: “When we launched Masaar, we made a promise to our buyers that we would deliver a lifestyle that is unmatched anywhere else, not just in Sharjah but the wider UAE.” Family homes set in woodland at the Masaar development. Picture: arada.com The fusion of cultural and residential property – the so-called Sharjah lifestyle – accompanied by reforms to ownership rules is paying off, according to Khaled Ahmed, sales director for the northern emirates at Dubai-based estate agency Metropolitan Premium Properties. “Real estate prices in Sharjah have gone up by 15 to 20 percent since the announcement by the Sharjah Executive Council to allow citizens of any country to own real estate of all kinds and uses in the emirate,” Ahmed said. “The property market in Sharjah is more stable and less prone to price volatility. The changes to the real estate law by the government of Sharjah have had a positive impact on buyer interest as the emirate has witnessed a 30 percent increase in demand for off-plan and ready units.” This spike in demand is propelling property prices to historic levels, even on a national basis, he explained. “There is a lack of inventory in the market with prices of some villas even higher than in Dubai. Prices are expected to continue this upward trend with many new high-end communities and developments coming online, including Masaar and Hayyan.” According to the Sharjah Real Estate Registration Department, AED24 billion ($6.5 billion) of transactions were completed last year. The number of deals rose by 8.6 percent, from 84,238 in 2021 to 91,507 in 2022. “We have seen the majority interest from Indians, who make up nearly 70 percent of the buyers, followed by Pakistani and Arab buyers,” said Ahmed. “There is also significant interest from Emiratis from Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah looking to buy second or holiday homes.” He added: “The most in-demand properties range from AED2 million to AED4 million, with nearly 70 percent being end users.” A Bronze Age tomb at the Mleiha site (left); restored and preserved buildings at Heart of Sharjah. Pictures: Creative Commons/Angela Manthorpe/Alexander McNabb At a glance: Sharjah cultural attractions Heart of Sharjah The Heart of Sharjah is a historic district in the Old Town, with architecture preserved and restored as a window into 1950s Sharjah and the UAE. Among the vintage buildings are restaurants, cafes, hotels, and art galleries. Flag IslandOff the Emirati coast is Flag Island, named for the 123m high pole that flies a UAE flag visible for miles around. The island has cultural attractions including an amphitheatre, a design space for exhibitions and events, and cafes. KalbaThe most popular site in the UAE for ecotourism, rocky Kalba offers adventurous activities including scuba diving, trekking and kayaking. It also has historical sites including the Bait Sheikh Saeed bin Hamed Al Qassimi museum, a restored traditional Emirati fort and a centre for getting up close with birds of prey. Al Noor IslandAl Noor Island, off the Sharjah coast, combines nature with the arts. The small wooded island, easily traversable on foot, has art installations, a literature pavilion and a cafe alongside a butterfly house, rocky beaches and a maze garden. House of WisdomThe House of Wisdom is a cultural hub aimed at promoting education in the arts and languages. It offers Arabian and Japanese lessons and houses a library that provides digital and physical books. It was built in celebration of Sharjah winning the Unesco World Book Capital 2019 title. Mleiha Archaeological CentreThe Mleiha Archaeological Centre provides an insight into the UAE’s Bedouin past. Through artefacts and research, it educates visitors on Sharjah and the UAE from the palaeolithic era to the modern day. It is an active archaeological site and discoveries continue to be made in the area.