Dr Harrison Agboifoh is the CEO of Landmark Corporate Realty Limited an Estate and Properties developing Company which is in the business of buying acres of land and turning it into Estates.
In this chat with our Correspondent, the Accountant turn Estate Developer took us into the world of Housing in Nigeria and how government is paying lip service to Housing needs of Nigerians, read on.
Q: Sir How is the business of housing development in Nigeria?
Ans:We are in the business of buying acres of lands and turning them to Estates and at affordable cost for all.
This is our 5th year in the real estate market, so far so good we have about twelve Estates and we are proud to say we don’t have any debt by means of loan from any bank
We started small with what we have and here we are today to God be the Glory.
Q: It’s a known fact that most Entrepreneurs goes for loan to start up business, how come you said you didn’t get any loan to start yours?
Ans: Really we would have love to tap into that, but for a small business that is trying to get it’s edge, it’s important to start with what you have and when it start growing you can think of the loan factor and considering where am coming from, I was in the banking sector for nine years and I know what it is like when it comes to interest rate on loan, how do you want to run real estate when you are talking of over 20 percent infrastructure loan, how do you want to cope with interest, if not you will see that the business will be nowhere.
Landmark Corporate Realty Limited, we started small with Mowe/Ofada estate, from there we moved to Shimawa, from there to Isheri north GRA and then move to Lekki.
We also have in Abuja, so far so good we can tell you that we have about 12 Estates.
Q: What’s the capacity of each of your estate ?
Ans: The least we have is Queens Garden Isheri North GRA with about five minutes drive from Lagos State Secretariat, we have 150 estate plot there fully developed. We have done the perimeter fencing, the drainage, it’s just for you to buy and start building. People have started building already, we have some service plots, we have done the electrification and a plot there goes for like N15million.
Q: It seems Nigerians are now appreciating the fact of owning properties,.you said you have spend five years in this business how can you access the housing needs of Nigerians?
Ans :The reason why we came to business is to actually salvage the issue of
“Omo onile’ which has been a serious issue, one because you find out that when you buy land from them with the intention of not building it immediately and you visit the land after sometime you find out that someone else will have started building on it, they will have sold the land out to someone else and this has been a serious concern, whereby you heard people saying I don’t want to buy land I rather remain a tenant, because of ‘Omo onile ‘ problem a lot of people have got their fingers burnt . We find out that this is a kind of gap that needs to be filled and choose to stand in the gap between the ‘Omo oniles ‘ and the buyers.
We are facing the ‘Omo oniles,’ we source for the land, we do the buying, acquire it, we turn it to our company name,while they come to buy from us, they come to buy from us without having any issue with the ‘Omo oniles’. We find out that since we have actually come in as the bridge, a lot of people now prefer buying land from trusted companies than buying from ‘Omo oniles. With this, we have people from the Diaspora who want to acquire properties back home comes to us to sort them out because we find out that a lot of them have gotten their fingers burnt in the past by trusting their money into the hands family, relatives or friends to help them in acquiring properties back home, but got duped by showing them pictures of houses that are not in existence only for them to come back home and find that nothing has been done.
so they only wasted their resources for nothing.
Right now at Landmark Corporate Realty Ltd
we have people from the Diaspora who are dealing directly with us, we help them to buy the land, help them in building it and send them their documents, they can actually come into the country at anytime and move into their houses very safe without involving family or friends.
Q: Is your company also involve in building?
Ans: Yes we are, right now we have buildings we are working on in Isheri north GRA , we have 5 -bedroom fully detached and we have semi detached likewise, the 5-bedroom detached is going for N65 million, while the semi detached goes for N57 million and we allow installmental payments putting into consideration what is going on in the country today as regards low inflow of cash, so with the initial deposit of N2.5 million you can be monitoring as the house is progressing till it get to the final stage where you collect your keys and move in. Meanwhile, the installmental payments can be spread within 24months which is two years.
Q: How do you get your clients when its obvious Landmark is not into advertisements?
Ans: We have always believed that our works will speak for us. Sure advertisement is good, but doing what is right is the ultimate. A lot of companies does advertisement where you see images and what have you, but when you get to the site what you see will be totally different from what you are told. All they use is 3D drawing pictures, but in our case we have our ways of doing things, we have our marketers who goes out to market our products, our works speaks for us, we also makes use of referral which goes a long way, do good job for one person and he inturn tells it to 10 people, as bad things travelled fast so also good things does.
Q: For some years now developers have taken over the building market instead of the government, I want to know how are you working hand in hand with government in providing housing for citizens?
Ans: In all honesty the government has actually failed in providing housing for the citizens, that is why we take it upon ourselves to bridge the. gap and despite this we are not enjoying anything from the government in form of incentives instead, we get to pay higher rates of processing CofO not considering the fact that we are in a way helping the masses. If you go to most developing countries, you will find out that housing is a perority to their government, they ensure providing housing for their citizens, but unfortunately it is not so with us here, with us at Landmark Corporate Realty Limited irrespective of your income you will actually get land or house in any of our estates .We have for the low income earners, we have for the medium and also for the high class.
Q: Apart from Lagos which other state do you have or planning to have Estates?
Ans: Apart from Lagos we also have in Abuja, we have two Estates there,Queens Garden at the back of the proposed Centenary project and Queens park kuje not too far from Abuja arteries and so far so good we are planning to go to other states as time goes on, we are looking at port Harcourt, Oyo state, Edo and Delta.
Q: Sir, while trying to start up business how come you made a choice of settling for real estate when there are other business like oil and the likes judging by the fact that you are coming from the banking sector?
Ans. I never dabbled into real estate by mistake, it has been something I have passion for, I have passion for architectural works right from childhood, back then in my primary school days I use to leave school to watch architects working, they will come and pick me from home. I never study anything that has to do with anything construction or architectural despite the passion I have for it,but rather I studied accounting in my first degree and MBA and later had a short program in architectural from Harvard Business school . It’s actually something I planned before going into only that I started by learning how to manage people first, because the most difficult thing to manage is humans.
Q: What are the challenges you have so far encountered in the last 5 years?
Ans: A lot of challenges so far, doing negotiation of acquiring lands with all this Omo oniles is not an easy task. It is risk taking even though one must be prepared to take risk in other to do business in Nigeria, there are some lands that you will buy that will have disputes on it, which you will have to resolve after facing the Omo oniles issues, u still have to go to the government to ensure all documentations comes out successfully and it’s not the same process you go through in acquiring one Estate that you go through in the other. You encounter different challenges everytime you are working on a new project and in this part of the world you don’t have proper planning or a kind of template that will be followed as to know the stages in which will be followed in acquiring land. Other challenges faced is the issue of capital, yes I don’t want to make use of bank loan because if the bank loans are favourable, why won’t I go for it and you know this business is capital intensive, you may have one master plan or the other, but because of capital what supposed to take you 18months to execute might actually take you 36months.
Q: What’s your staff strength
Ans: We have over 120 staff both Lagos and in Abuja. In Lagos we have three branches, the head office, Lekki branch and Mowe branch while we have one branch in Abuja.
Q: This type of business you are handling in a way of helping people to acquire a place to lay their heads, is there any form of help been. received from the government and in what way would you solicit for government support ?
Ans: As I speak right now, I don’t know if there is any plan for the developers by the government. Right now we are not getting any help from the government, it will be very good if government can help developers like us in getting documentation easily , there should be a king of reduce cost and if possible, if government can bring out a kind of single digit infrastructure loan for developmental projects that we can be able to access and it can be regulated by monitoring us to ensure we are using it for what we got it for. We can actually help in solving the housing problems drastically. Looking at government,it is not what they can actually do alone, each time. a new government takes over power they keep telling us in their manifesto that they will provide housing for all and how many housing have they provided so far? This is something we should really look at.
Q: We know that by right it’s the government that should provide housing for the citizens at affordable rates and since they are not fortcoming as expected don’t you Developers think you should form a kind of pressure group by way of getting the government to give you incentives so that you can in turn give back to the masses at a lower rate?
Ans: Actually there is a Real Estate Developer Group, we tried as much as possible to pressurize the government into coming in, but up till now. all keep getting are promises that have never been fulfilled. Maybe they. will fulfill it. tomorrow and the only thing we normally hear is that government has so many things at hand that they are doing, but we know for sure that housing should be a top priority, go to other countries and you will bear me witness I think the government should wake up.
Q: Finally Sir, will you also say that government should hand over housing to private investors or support them?
Ans: That is what we have. been asking them to do, they should handover housing to private developers and government should create an enabling environment where we will be able to operate very well not making it difficult because we are trying to bridge the gap for them, if they are saying housing for all in 2020 they should be able to meet with developers to see how we can come in to make it achievable .If you look at the population of the country compare to what the government have done so far in terms of housing, you will see that we still have a long way to go.