As the chairman of one of the largest real estate companies in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Yousef Al Shelash is leading the way with innovative construction projects in the most desirable locations of the Kingdom. “We are one of the biggest real estate development companies in Saudi,” he says. For example, in the Qassim Province, Dar Al Arkan Real Estate Development, which won the Best Real Estate Developer 2021 Award at the Restatex Riyadh Real Estate Exhibition 2022, is creating Buraidah Hills, a residential community containing residential units, luxury villas, and designer plots, where residents can own and develop their own property.
“Dar Al Arkan is honored to be one of the catalyst companies in the real estate industry in the Kingdom,” Yousef Al Shelash has said. “Winning the Best Real Estate Developer 2021 Award comes as recognition of Dar Al Arkan’s ambition to elevate the real estate market in Saudi Arabia and transform the way people live: one place, one community with exceptional quality, durability, and craftsmanship in our developments.”
In addition to Dar Al Arkan, Al Shelash is the chairman of two other major companies: Saudi Home Loans and Alkhair Capital. Between the three companies under his chairmanship, Al Shelash has close to $15 billion of assets under management, and he has been an influential figure in the changing face of homeownership in Saudi Arabia.
How the Personal Mortgage Market Changed Saudi Real Estate
In 1994, Al Shelash entered the real estate industry. He also initiated the real estate mortgage industry in Saudi Arabia. When the region started to allow real estate funds, the businessman saw an opportunity in the market.
“The real estate funds was a big business that was bubbling up,” says Al Shelash.
He attributes his business and real estate success to his education and law experience. He earned a Master of Science in law and legal proceedings from the Institute of Public Administration in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and a Bachelor of Science in Shariah from Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, he has worked as a member of the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution and acted as a legal adviser to multiple legal consultancy firms in Saudi Arabia.
While commonplace in the United States, mortgages were unheard of in the Kingdom just 20 years ago. “The culture here was that you had to save enough to have the full price of the house. Or you had to save up to buy land, and then you had to save to build a house on that land,” said Al Shelash.
Saudi Home Loans introduced a completely different concept. “People didn’t need to wait until they had saved the full price. This helped so many people to have their first home,” said Yousef Al Shelash. It also helped with urbanization because many people couldn’t even think about buying a house in the city, so they lived in the suburbs. Al Shelash says that Saudis flocked to the city because of the new flexibility to secure home loans and mortgages.
It was an unheard-of concept at the time, but Al Shelash’s intuition for the future of real estate funds helped establish the foundation for today’s mortgage market in Saudi Arabia. “Now, after 15 years, you have a fully developed mortgage market in Saudi,” the Dar Al Arkan Real Estate Development CEO said.
He explained, “It is similar to the United States, which has all these mortgage lenders: banks, nonbanks, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. But in addition, there are refinancing companies that belong to the government and are also buying mortgages to continue providing liquidity to the market, but that was not there when I started. So all of that needed to evolve with regulation, and I needed to convince so many banking institutions to provide funding for these mortgages.”
Yousef Al Shelash Talks Dar Al Arkan Real Estate Development and Saudi Arabia Projects
Dar Al Arkan “started with small, small projects,” explained Al Shelash. “The market growth definitely helped a lot, and eventually, we took the real estate development company public in 2007.”
In the past 15 years, he has witnessed the region shift from preferring unincorporated houses to apartments. Yousef Al Shelash said that back then, “You wouldn’t see any Saudi national living in an apartment, but now there is a big trend of movement into living in apartments, which has become an acceptable way of living.”
And Dar Al Arkan is giving families precisely what they want. “I am there to champion families and help elevate [communities],” he says. The Shams Ar Riyadh is one such mixed-use community that spans 5 million square meters of commercial and residential spaces.
The property development company that Al Shelah oversees set out to create a tranquil escape in the middle of the busy city. The company states that it is “the perfect location to get the perfect balance between affluence and relaxation.”
The Shams Ar Riyadh “is fully equipped with vibrant retail centers, multicuisine restaurants, walkways surrounded with lush green landscapes, children’s play areas, and added facilities such as schools, clinics, government offices, and mosques, making Shams Ar Riyadh an exceptional community that grants you a hassle-free and convenient modern life,” states Dar Al Arkan.
Additionally, the Shams Ar Riyadh features 12 luxury Upside Living Villas with Versace interiors. They are located on King Khalid Road. The first floor of each villa features a hosting area, while the family area is on the ground floor. A stunning waterfall connects the floors. “The villas have smart home automation, and every floor-to-ceiling window uncovers panoramic views of Wadi Hanifa. This is the Upside Living concept, an exclusive lifestyle only for the elite,” states Dar Al Arkan.
In downtown Riyadh, Al Shelash and the real estate development company are creating another mixed-use project, Parisiana. The Parisiana includes 254 villas and 2,797 apartments in conjunction with approximately 25,000 square meters of office space along the development’s main streets. There are also 63,000 square meters of retail space planned along Parisiana Boulevard. It also includes administrative buildings, a public park, mosques, and government offices.
According to the company, “The park has two segments: the Family Park, occupying about 60% of the area, and the Youth Park, occupying 30% of Al Suwaidi Park. The Family Park is located at a higher level and includes amenities such as restaurants, a pool area, a beautiful fountain that breaks into water tables, walkways, a [mosque], and parking lots for about 150 cars.”
The real estate development company has expanded to eight countries. “We also have recently announced the launch of three co-branded towers in the [United Arab Emirates], a luxury residential project in Qatar, and another one in Oman, making the past year one of the most significant in the company’s history,” stated Yousef Al Shelash.