The New York Minute

Interview Series: Fascinating Engel & Völkers Colleagues from Around the World

Elena Ionela

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Elena Ionela from Engel & Völkers Dubai, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)
I really enjoy feeling like I am part of making something brand new in the world…a new kind of city with people from all over the world coming together to work and live.

Born and raised in a mountainous village in Romania, Elena grew up with three sisters, all of whom share with her a love of nature and spending time in the forest. At university, she studied medicine and earned a degree with the goal to become an ICU nurse, but after one year of working in that field, her desire to travel and see the world won out and she ended up moving around pursuing educational and career goals. After studying Business Administration in London and Psychology and Human Resources in Ireland, she ended up taking a big leap to accept a job in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, managing a transportation company. From there she advanced to a management position in sales followed by a transition into a banking relationship manager at an investment firm. From there her career led her to property investments at Morgan’s International Realty in Dubai and soon thereafter to becoming an advisor in the Engel & Voelkers shop in Dubai.

Speaking only Romanian, Italian and French when she began working in the U.A.E., she soon became fluent in English by the time she moved to Dubai a few years later. Today, she loves working in the luxury sector of real estate and loves all of the beauty and advantages of living in the U.A.E., but she also still loves to travel — often at a moment’s notice — and makes a point to travel back to Romania at least once a year, particularly in the winter when she can bring back great childhood memories of the one thing Dubai does not offer in natural supply: snow!


Paul & Vince: What has been happening in the Dubai property market in the past year due to the global pandemic and how has it changed the way you do your work.

Elena: There have been some changes over the last few years, but Dubai managed to stay open with strict procedures that limited social gatherings. Mostly, during pandemic, it was eye opening for me to see to see how sales went easily into an online environment. I don’t know if that would have been possible everywhere, but here everything – from Zoom meetings to monitoring rental and sales procedures — is organized by the Dubai Land Development. That means that most transfers and purchases can all be done online. Everything is organized and easy.

Yes, at first prices dropped on rental and sales prices, however, because everyone could do transactions anywhere in the world from the comfort of their own home and with a lot of transparency, it really helped to keep the market from falling apart before it became stronger.

I don’t know if you know this, but here buyers can purchase from developers through what we call a post-handover payment plan, sometimes up to three years. It’s not a mortgage. It’s a regulated payment plan with zero interest.

There are also zero property taxes, zero income tax, and zero rent income tax.

This is a big deal for most wealthy buyers and has been part of the appeal of many second home buyers and investors from say, France, Switzerland, or North America, especially during the shutdown periods. I would say that roughly 50% of the buyers are end-users or expats, and the others are investors attracted by the realities of as much as a 10% return on rental income.

Again, with easy financing plans and no interest or taxes, there is more opportunity here for income-producing property than in many other places.


Paul & Vince: In your opinion, what makes Dubai a special place in which to work in the real estate industry?

Elena: You know, people sometimes want to criticize Dubai for being so new, but Dubai, actually all of the cities in the U.A.E., are still said to be “burgeoning markets” as compared to older markets which are mostly over100 years old.

Yes, there is a lot of new construction and new communities are coming up every day, but the government is very involved in planning and development, and it monitors supply and demand. They have plan for everything that gets built — a plan for next year, a plan for 2025, for 2035, probably even 2050 -and they try hard to avoid too much over-building or devaluation of existing areas.

They also try to have new concepts in stronger regulations to protect owners, buyers, and renters. They are known to be forward thinking and work with the best consultants in the world. So, now, the U.A.E. has gone from a population of 6 million in 2000 to almost 12 million today, these are not just single expats coming to make money and leave, we are also talking about people coming with families and so new high-tech schools are being built.

I really enjoy feeling like I am part of making something brand new in the world…a new kind of city with people from all over the world coming together to work and live.


Paul & Vince: Speaking of which, on more personal level, what are some of the things you like about living in Dubai as your home?

Elena: Well, on a personal level, I do feel that it is easy to become spoiled here. Everything is at your fingertips, and it’s all modern, organized, advanced, safe, clean…I want to say “it’s all sparkly” [laughs].

There is a lot of energy. Anything can be ordered and since everything is new and clean, every person gets a bit of that luxury because it is available as the norm everywhere you look: in the parks and the malls and the waterfronts and the public transit system…

Many people I know have started with zero here and then become great successes because there are so many opportunities to improve yourself and improve your life. I love that about Dubai.

I also appreciate that it’s part of the vision of the Royal Family to make the U.A.E. the best country in the world and that draws people here. It opens a lot of doors, then surrounds them with creativity and beauty to give them even more encouragement.


Paul & Vince: What is an example of the kinds of real estate you are handling in Dubai that you think is extraordinary?

Elena: I have a new listing, a mansion, in Dubai Hills which is called Villa Blanca. It’s asking $35.3 million. It’s gorgeous and a perfect example of how no expense has been spared, no detail overlooked, to create a beautiful ultra-luxury home that the market in Dubai has come to promise.

It’s a 5 bedroom, 4 bath villa of 33,368 square feet (4,000 m²) that comes fully furnished, with a garden, a pool, a rooftop lounge and a terrace. Inside, the finishes are exquisite, including imported Italian marbles, red and cream onyx, white travertine, limestone. There are Murano crystals, oak hardwood floors, floor to ceiling windows and granite countertops, too.

The Master Suite alone is 3,000 square feet (278 m²), and the villa has everything you could want: a cinema, a Technogym, a wine bar, a games room, a cigar area and a relaxation room with a sauna and Turkish bath…Parking for 9 cars…staff rooms for 12… there’s a Schindler elevator…Oh, did I mention, the pool has an underwater sound system?

This is really an extraordinary place in a beautiful setting.

…and one more, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince: Ok, Elena, now it’s time for your Just For Fun question. Ready? It’s in two parts: What are some things you do that you’ve always thought you are not as good as other people at doing? Then, what is something you are really good at — even if it’s an impractical skill — that you secretly know you are better at than most people?

Elena: Oh, my God. You want me to say what I’m bad at? [laughs]… Ok, well I am one of those people who always gets my left and right side mixed up. I mean, I will literally give directions to someone and realize that I am saying “turn left” but I am showing them with my right hand!

Paul & Vince: That is funny! I am EXACTLY the same way! We need to form a support group!

Elena: As long as we don’t need to give directions to the group.

Ok, what else? Oh, also, I am the kind of person who gets so involved with a phone call when — let’s say I’m driving to meet a client and I’m super involved in our conversation — I will park my car in the garage, not really paying attention and then, too late, when I come back after the meeting I cannot remember where I put the car. I mean, it’s terrible! I do this way too many times. I should not even have told you about that one! [laughs].

Paul & Vince: No, that’s great. No judgements! But now, what about the other part of the question: what is something you are secretly really good at doing?

Elena: Ah, well, this annoys my sisters, but, OK, total honesty, I do not like going to the gym. BUT, I do eat lots of chocolate — I mean, like every day I eat chocolate — and I never gain any weight. I can’t explain it. I can also eat ice cream, even pizza at 1am before going to bed and I never, ever gain extra weight!

Oh, also, I am THE BEST at packing things in suitcases.

Paul & Vince: Um…what does that mean, exactly?

Elena: So, I travel a lot at the last minute and my friends, they know this. So, when they are about to go on a trip, they call me and say they need help. I go over and they give me SOOO many clothes and ask for help to make everything fit…I just focus and go into this like “zone”, and then somehow, like magic, everything fits — and in case you’re wondering, they fit in a logical way that makes them easy to get out and then put back later. My friends are amazed. They hug me and thank me, and they don’t know how I do it…but [laughs again] to be honest, I don’t know either! It’s just one of those things I am good at for some reason.

Paul & Vince: Say no more. Now, we know who to call before a trip. By the way, how are you at organizing kitchen drawers?

Elena: No [laughs]. Not the same thing.

Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing

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