Oseni Oludotun is the Managing Director/ CEO of Meritabode Nigeria Limited. His outfit is into properties and the developers of Emerald Garden City in different locations across Lagos and Ogun states. He speaks with GBENGA ADERANTI on why most estates located in these states are not being occupied, the future of real estate, among others. Excerpts:
If you look at most estates in Mowe, Lekki and other suburbs of both Lagos and Ogun states, you will see different estates that are currently unoccupied; what could have been the reason for this?
Actually, most of the people that bought land, bought it for investment purpose. That is one. Secondly, the promoters of such estates could be the reason why those estates are not growing. In our own estate, we encourage people to buy and build because the more they develop the estate, the more the estate appreciates and as a company, the more money we make. There is no reason keeping the estate undeveloped because if the estate is not developed, the company will be affected and we will not be able to review our price. But when we sell land to people and they are building, we will be happy. That is why I always tell people, when you build that is when we are happy. When you build, it will make the estate to appreciate in value. That is why I said both the buyers and the promoters of these estates are responsible for this challenge. Number three, some of these buyers think the estates are far, but they are not far. Mowe is not far. Thank God for this government, it has opened up the town with roads. This makes it to be close to Lagos. From Mowe to Lagos Island, it is less than 40-minute drive. From Alausa to one of our estates in Asese, it is less than 20-minute drive.
What then is your organisation doing to make people build in the estates?
We have a lot of things on ground to encourage them. We have what we call instant allocation. At times when you delay allocation, a buyer may lose courage to build. At Meritabode Nigeria Limited, if you buy today, if you pay outright today, we give you your land, maximum of seven days. And number two, we encourage you, we ask our engineering department to encourage you to build as well, we provide you with architectural design, we make your documentation easy for you to get. Also, we make sure you have access to building materials easily within our estate ?your cement, your sand, your granite roofing and aluminum- with ease. And number four, our laws are not that too difficult. They are friendly, and number five, we are accessible. In case you have hitches, you can walk to us at any time. Also, there is no issue with land grabbers (omo onile) on our property. Not that you will pack in today, someone will come and chase you away from the land tomorrow or be asking for foundation money. On our land, there is nothing like omo onile. With all these things, it makes easy for our clients to build.
What is the impact of government?s policies on the industry?
Government is trying. Most of the policies are there to shape the industry. If you understand a policy, you play along. You can?t beat the government, especially the present government. It is easier for you to look at the policy and comply. It is when you don?t meet up that you have an issue. Government has human face. If you tell the government what you want, it will tell you the conditions attached to it. If you can meet up with the condition, you are free to go ahead.
Agreed that you are encouraging people to own their own houses, but to some, these things are still expensive. How possible is it for a low-income earner to have a house?
To be sincere, Nigerians are rich. If you want to confirm, go to parties and see the way Nigerians spend money. At times, it is lack of discipline that does not make most Nigerians own the houses of their own. If you are working, there is the tendency for you to have a piece of land. It is when you are not working at all that is you cannot buy a land. At Meritabode Nigeria Limited, to make people of different classes buy their own lands, we have different products for different classes of people. We have for the low class, middle class and high class. We are purely retailers. 80 per cent of the Nigerian markets are retails. Because of that, you have to play within that market. It is not about the price you give them in the market. We restructure the payment such that it is easy for you to pay. There was a time we were running a promo of paying 5,000 naira every week which means if you could afford to pay 5,000 naira a week, you could own a land. Imagine the amount of money some people are spending on recharge card? Can you imagine the amount of money some people spend on drinks? Sir, to get land is easy and we make it easy, very simple with different plans.
Both state and federal governments now build estates and sell or lease to people; how does this affect your business?
It is good because if you look at it, the market is wide. Government cannot meet up. Those of us in the industry cannot meet up, but if we come together as a team, we are going to achieve what nobody can imagine. I want them to come in. Let them give us a level-playing ground, so that we can meet up with the demand in the market. It is good.
If you look at most of the estates, they have been there since year 2000. One would have expected those estates to be occupied by owners. Yet they are deserted and some of them are getting old. Don?t you think these investments are a waste?
I don?t think these investments are a waste. People have bought those places you are referring to. The buyers are not ready to build and the promoters and the owners of the estates have their fault. People buy land for different purposes. Some for speculation purpose. The major people that bought into where you are talking about are speculators. That is why the place is still like that. Some people think that the place is too far. That is why people are not going there. We are imploring the government to give us good transport system so that wherever you are, you can access any part of Lagos from Ogun State. Thank God for railway system Ogun State is trying to do now. If they can achieve that, I can be staying in Abeokuta and be working on the Island. If we have good transport system, I can be staying in Ibadan and be working on the Island. At times it is connectivity that is discouraging people to develop those places.
What are the challenges you face in this industry?
We have different challenges, but I believe if you are running after your dream, you won?t see anything as a challenge. There are different challenges, including instability, market forces and Inflation. These are really affecting us. The cost of building material has increased. As at three years ago, we know how much we were buying cement, but now, we buy it double of the price and yet salaries have not increased. Number two, the political instability, people are afraid to invest. You see Nigerians putting their money in the banks because they are not sure of what will happen in the next election. If we have political stability, other ethnic groups can invest in real estate in Lagos without blinking an eye lid. As I?m talking to you, a particular ethnic group is afraid to build in Lagos right now because they are afraid because, the ethnic group is not sure of what would happen in the next 10 years. Last year was that bad. To convince people from this ethnic group to buy land was difficult because of agitations here and there. Another problem is that most of our youths these days don?t want to work, yet they want to spend money. You will see a graduate that left school yesterday and wants to start earning 200k today. Also government policies, we expect government to be flexible in some of its policies, if the government is flexible. The market is there for us.
If you were to be the Housing Minister, what would you do to make accommodation available to Nigerians?
Now I?m going to have different sets of estates. I will not be building estates of N50 million which I know both the state and federal civil servants won?t be able to afford. I will have different classes of estates for different classes of people-low, middle and high income earners. I will also put in place maintenance culture. Most of the estates built by our past governors, especially Jakande, are eyesore. The estates are there. The maintenance is zero. Maintenance is what is killing our estates. I will make sure that I have access to low income building materials so that it will be affordable to people with flexible payment plan. I?m talking as a minister not as a private person, so that within 20 years, they will be able to pay and have access to 23 bedrooms. If we can do this, we will be able to reduce the number of people that are homeless.
Those who are in real estate have this habit of concealing hiding charges from their clients. Not until you buy into such an estate that you will discover that you will have to pay more. What could have been responsible for this?
What you call hidden charges are not hidden charges. It is all about communication. If you want to buy land at Meritabode Nigeria Limited, we tell you that some payments are for lands, while some payments are for amenities in the estate. The roads need to be done, the drainages need to be done , electrification needs to be done, security, all these are capital intensive. It is all about how you communicate to your client. You are to pay for maintenance charge, so that we can fix the roads when it is damaged. You will also have some set of people that will be cleaning the estate for you, all these things need to be paid for. Those are the things government estates are lacking. Everybody is free to do the way they like; they are not paying for anything; nobody is responsible for anything. But this is a private estate that has to be maintained. The so-called ?hidden charges? are for both parties to enjoy the estate. Communicate with your clients very well before they sign contracts with you.
Where do you see real estate industry in the next 10 years?
Real estate market is wide. It is still expanding. Our population keeps increasing. Because of that, real estate market is the largest, the biggest, and in terms of money, there is no industry as big as real estate. In the next 10 years, the market will be wider than this because God knows, may be the population of Nigeria will be one billion and you can imagine, how many people will be needing accommodation. We can?t meet up. That is why I implore government to be flexible with its policies. We will be able to do more than what we are doing now.