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BUSINESS BEAT: At home in Ain Sokhna
Published in Daily News Egypt on 10 - 09 - 2008

CAIRO: When Marwa Sabah and David Blanks began apartment hunting in preparation for their marriage, they were determined to find a spacious, affordable three-bedroom in Heliopolis.
While their needs seemed simple, everything was either too expensive, too small, or, too often, both. Then a friend told them about a new project in Ain Sokhna.
Palm Hills, the mega-developer with projects in Kattameya Heights, the North Coast, and Sixth of October City, identified Ain Sokna as a place where professionals working in New Cairo could live full-time and manage the easy 45-minute commute to the outskirts of the city.
Designed as a self-sufficient community complete with educational, entertainment and professional facilities, Palm Hills Sokhna is billing itself as an appealing alternative to Cairo's real estate crunch.
The Palm Hills project plans to lure frazzled Cairenes to be "at home by the sea, an appealing prospect as central Cairo becomes increasingly congested and polluted.
Located between the Wahet El Hegaz and La Siesta developments on the Hurghada highway, the community will be built into the coastal mountains. Residents will have access to the beach via a bridge over the highway.
Potential buyers can choose from four floor plans, designed to suit the needs of a variety of age and income categories.
Studio apartments (55 square meters), two-family villas (100 square meters), chalets (150 square meters), and separate villas (340 square meters) are available at prices ranging from LE 325,000 to LE 3.15 million, according to Amr Helmy, sales supervisor at the Palm Hills Group.
The community, which will stretch 5 km down the Red Sea coast over 5,000,000 square meters, will include two seven-star hotels, along with a variety of other facilities still in the planning stages.
These facilities will be extensive and suitable for full-time living: according to the Palm Hills website, residents and visitors of this mega community will want nothing more.
Horizontal expansionCairo's real estate market is booming thanks to the rapid expansion taking place beyond city limits.
"Everyone wants to move to New Cairo, that's where the market is going, said Omar El Zomor, a property consultant with Sixth of October Development and Investment Company (SODIC).
With prices in neighborhoods like Zamalek and Maadi skyrocketing, it makes sense for buyers to look to the new developments in the desert promising cleaner air, less congestions and the planned community atmosphere that appeals to so many these days.
"People are fed up with life in Cairo, and developments in New Cairo offer the chance to get away from that while enjoying better schools, brand new facilities, and peace and quiet, said El Zomor.
Homes in New Cairo offer more space for the money compared to established neighborhoods in the city. According to El Zomor, this is because New Cairo still lacks many of the facilities that older neighborhoods enjoy. He predicts that this will change in the coming years as New Cairo becomes more developed.
Unless, that is, "New Cairo continues to expand. Judging from Palm Hills' intention to turn their Ain Sokhna project into a community for those who work in Cairo, the city has already expanded more than anyone could have predicted.
Community real estate projects in places like Ain Sokhna, traditionally seen as too removed from Cairo for full-time living, are part of the greater trend of expansion outside the city limits.
While community-based development may be pushing the limits of Cairo's urban sprawl, it is nonetheless an attractive option for those seeking peace and quiet and a quick commute.
"At first the idea of living in Ain Sokhna seemed strange, but after visiting and testing out the commute we realized that it's even more convenient than living in Cairo, not to mention much more relaxing, commented Sabah.
The new hotspot?With phase one of the project set to be completed in 2013, Palm Hills Sokhna is still in the early stages of development.
This timeline has not stopped the units from selling at a rapid pace, according to Helmy. "Sales have proceeded at a brisk pace since we began advertising the project. Ain Sokhna seems to have a lot of potential as a suburb of Cairo and the Palm Hills project is tapping into that market very successfully so far.
Besides the interest being generated by residential communities like Palm Hills, El Zomor of SODIC expects Ain Sokhna to increase in popularity over the next few years due to the timing of Ramadan.
"With Ramadan coming in the summer it will be harder for people to travel to the North Coast like usual, so I think we will see expansion in the demand for Ain Sokhna vacation real estate over the next few years.
The planners of Palm Hills, however, aren't particularly interested in buyers looking for a vacation home. Instead, they want their buyers to view the project as residential; a place to live and form a strong community.
"People who just want a vacation home are often not interested in staying long term. We want our buyers at Palm Hills to be committed to a long-term investment that will guarantee the quality of the community, said Helmy.
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