With up to three generations to accommodate, groups of two or more villas are common. The less well-off still prefer houses to apartments. The indigenous population in Saudi Arabia is well provided with housing. Young newly-married couples are given low-cost loans and in some states these turn out to be gifts if the loans aren’t repaid within a particular time limit.
Foreign workers live in compounds. The rapid development of the economy and the sudden influx of foreign workers meant that accommodation had to be constructed quickly, which meant that apartment blocks rather than individual houses were built. The term ‘compound’ refers to a group of houses or small, usually low-level, apartment blocks within a walled enclosure, rather like a private estate.
Some compounds are huge, and accommodation is usually available because of the continual movement of expatriates. Different compounds have different combinations of nationalities. Some have a cosmopolitan mix, others contain people from one nation only or perhaps from one social group or caste.
Depending on the size of the compound, the facilities may include a communal swimming pool, a restaurant and shop, tennis and squash courts and a gymnasium. Children might be catered for with a play area and there might be a form of community hall known as a majlis – the traditional Arab meeting area for visitors. Many compound houses are built in majlis style, with an area opening immediately from the front door where the men meet visitors and sit with them. The rest of the accommodation is to the sides or rear. (In Arab houses, women aren’t seen unless the visitors are close relatives.)
Saudi Arabian expatriate life is invariably in compounds, and the choice of compound is very important, as you will spend most of your leisure time within its confines.
The exterior and interior quality of buildings is high throughout the region, and improving as prospective landlords vie with each other to have the most attractive buildings. The average property is also more spacious than its equivalent in Europe or the USA. Rooms are generally large in all types of accommodation. Villas normally have generous patios and/or gardens, while apartment blocks have a swimming pool and gymnasium. Homes normally also have a better level and quality of maintenance than in western countries, due to the wide availability of low-paid labour.
A garage or covered carport for your vehicle is vital. With temperatures rising to 50oC (122oF) in the summer, a car left outside quickly becomes unbearably hot and the bodywork deteriorates if exposed to the sun for too long. Most new apartment blocks have underground car parking facilities and allocated spaces. Villas tend to have an attached or separate garage, or at least a carport.