An Arabian Treasure; Oman's Property Market Is Developing in Stylish Fashion, and without a Tower Block in Sight, Reports Mark Da Silva

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Byline: Mark Da Silva

OMAN, once the most powerful state in Arabia, is now the ultimate luxury haven, for holiday makers and second home buyers alike.

Located along the south-east coast of the Arabian peninsula in southwest Asia, the country is rich in culture and renowned for offering a tranquil way of life.

Oman's vast range of striking visitor attractions, including ancient cities, stony deserts, rocky mountains, wadis, and more than 2,000 kilometres of immaculate beaches, is considered chic the world over. It was even crowned 'destination of the year 2008' by Vogue.

Mohamed Ayjaz, of Hamptons International Oman, says: 'Oman offers an alternative to the normal Arabian identity, whether it's unparalleled scenic beauty, architectural or cultural perspective. Self-reliance and pride in cultural origin are prevalent in all aspects of life here.' With a population of approximately 2.3 million, Oman is being modernised and liberalised culturally and financially by hereditary Sultan, Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said. He's a forward-thinking ruler, who is actively trying to diversify the country's economy and its reliance on diminishing oil reserves.

Oman has one of the strongest economies in the Gulf; the government projects that GDP will increase by six per cent this year, thanks largely to Vision 2020, which represents Sultan Qaboos's strategy for economic growth up till 2020.

The Sultan's appetite for real estate was stimulated by the 2004 property boom in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East. As a result, he introduced legislation in 2004 -- ratified in 2006 -- allowing overseas nationals to purchase freehold property and land in designated tourist areas in Oman.

These projects, most of which are located in the capital of Muscat, are referred to as Integrated Tourism Complexes (ITCs) and have inevitably fuelled greater demand for homes in the country.

'The impact of the Royal Decree pertaining to expatriates owning a home in Oman has been positive in attracting foreign direct investment in the country as well as opening up Oman as a tourist destination because of its scenic beauty and investment opportunities,' says Ayjaz.

Oman's desire to become a highend destination for holidaymakers worldwide has inevitably attracted more international property investors and holiday homeowners, and led to the evolution of an emerging and diverse property market.

'The introduction of ITCs was one of the key ingredients for planned growth in tourism levels,' says Christopher Steel, of Savills Oman. The Omani market offers a low-risk strategy for homeowners and wise property investors seeking a safe haven.' Steel, who refers to Oman as the 'Switzerland of the Middle East', reports that around 70 per cent of all people buying homes in ITCs are foreigners, mostly from the Indian subcontinent, Germany, Scandinavia and Britain.

The introduction of foreign buyers inevitably led to an increase in prices for properties between 2006 and 2008. But the market has not been unaffected by the global financial turmoil.

PRICES are reportedly up to 25 per cent lower than their 2008 peak, which has led to some construction projects being put on hold.

'Prices for properties within ITCs dipped significantly from the highs of early 2008, but have now stabilised and are showing signs of recovery,' says Matthew Wright, of Cluttons Oman.

Oman, however, managed to steer clear of the high-risk, high-return, boom-bust investments which were so damaging to other property markets, like Dubai. This should stand it in good stead for the future.

John Roberts, of Craven Property Group, a property marketing consultancy, says the property market has already experienced an upsurge in activity this year. Roberts comments: 'Sales slowed considerably during the global financial crisis as they did all over the world, but the market is recovering; sales have picked up since the turn of the year and [property] funds are now coming back into the country. …