Interview, Property and Environment, Real Estate

‘We are driven by our vision to build 1 million homes in the next 20 years’

 

Taf Nigeria Homes, a subsidiary of Taf Africa Homes, is a ‘foreign’ real estate firm making direct investment in the Nigerian economy. The company entered the Nigerian property market with a bang, developing over one thousand luxury but affordable homes at its RIVTAF Golf Estate in Port Harcourt. In this interview with CHUKA UROKO, the Group Managing Director/CEO, Mustapha Njie, speaks on the Nigerian economy, the recession, the real estate market, the potentials, opportunities and challenges in the market. Among other things, Njie also speaks on the company’s future plans in Nigeria. Excerpts:

Taf Nigeria Homes Limited is, for purposes of definition, a foreign real estate firm making direct investment in Nigerian economy. What was the attraction to Nigeria?

When we came into Nigeria in 2013, Nigeria had an estimated population of about 150 million, a dearth of housing, and an increasing annual population growth rate. These factors made the real estate sector very attractive and the potentials still remain untapped. Our experiences have not been too palatable particularly in view of the economic situation of the country in the last 3 years, but it’s been worth the while as we take pride in delivering a luxury estate with quality homes and seeing our client express satisfaction with our products and services. We are also particularly elated to acknowledge that our project positively impacted the lives of members of the community, individually and collectively.

You have been in the Nigerian real estate market for over five years now and still counting. What story can you tell of Nigeria, its property market and the economy in general?

Prior to being hit by the recession experienced in the country, the real estate sector made certain contribution to the real GDP of Nigeria. In 2015, the real estate sector was reported to have contributed 8.26 percent to the real GDP of Nigeria (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q1 2015). Unfortunately, the contribution of the real estate sector to the real GDP has reduced over the past years due to the recession.

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The National Bureau of Statistics reported that in the third quarter of 2017, the real estate sector contributed 6.79 percent to real GDP, lower than the 7.18 percent reported in the third quarter of 2016 (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q3 2017) and lower than 7.57 percent reported in the third quarter of 2015 (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q3 2015). Although the country is said to have come out of recession, the real estate sector is yet to recover from the impact of the recession.

This is evident in the Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q1 2018 of the NBS which puts the real GDP growth in the sector in Q1 2018 at -9.40 percent and a contribution of 5.63 percent to real GDP (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q1 2018) which is lower than the 6.32 percent of Q1 2017 and the 6.48 percent of Q1 2016 (National Bureau of Statistics: Nigeria Gross Domestic Product Report, Q1 2017).

Nigeria successfully exited a crippling 15-month recession. Our focus in this report is on those real estate firms, which you are one, that are still afloat despite the impact of the recession. Tell us your story in the circumstance.

Without a doubt, the real estate sector attracted investments from individuals, corporates, foreign investors in a large scale prior to the recession that hit the Nigerian economy. It cannot be overemphasised that, just like other forms of constructions, real estate development requires significant capital. Till date, the sector has witnessed limited equity financing, hostile debt financing (particularly in view of harsh lending rates which was reported to have hit 30 percent per annum) and weaker effective demand triggered by inadequate and unfriendly mortgage facilities.

We were not insulated from the situation of the sector as we are a key player in the sector. However, we were resolute to deliver on our promise of delivering affordable luxury estate to our target clientele without compromising the quality and standards which our brand is known for across the continent. To this end, we decided to take certain strategic steps which I hope to discuss in the course of this interview.

A major problem for developers like you during the recession was credit drought and hyperinflation that eroded people’s purchasing power. How did you source funding for your projects?

The poor state of the economy, worsened by the recession, posed significant barriers on the availability of finance for the real estate sector. This is because the few lending institutions that could ordinarily provide construction financing to real estate players or mortgages to encourage demand for real estate products could no longer provide such facilities. The cost of finance (especially debt finance) during the recession was alarming so we decided to deploy other innovative and creative means of generating funds outside debt finance.

For you to have sustained your business till now means you are a resilient company and indeed you must have brought innovation and creativity into your operations. How did you do it?

In a bid to navigate the storms in the sector and continue to provide quality products and services to our growing clientele while we remain profitable, we had to deploy creative strategies. These include introduction of certain value added services to our existing superb customer service experience; redesigning our products to smaller units in order to make them more affordable; introducing new products like serviced plots; evaluating ongoing construction works on defaulting clients’ property and renegotiating sales agreement with a view to handing over such properties “as is”; strategic engagements of marketing agents especially by providing incentives to existing clients who make referrals to us; and ultimately introducing a contractor/vendor/supplier-financing (C/V/S-F) system.

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We are particularly fascinated about the C/V/S-F system which you adopted in the RIVTAF Golf Estate. What is this system all about and how did it work for you in the marketing and sales of that estate?

The C/V/S-F system is a system wherein certain aspects of the development and infrastructure within the RIVTAF Golf Estate were financed by the contractors/vendors/suppliers themselves. So, rather than paying the contractors/vendors/suppliers for the services provided to us, we issue them with some properties for the contract sum and at negotiated prices. The contractors/vendors/suppliers in turn sell off these properties or collateralise the properties to finance the contract. This strategy was not limited to new contracts, it was extended to existing contracts that had been partly paid for as well as to contract that had been fully performed but with outstanding debts to the contractors/vendors/suppliers.

As a result of the C/V/S-F system adopted in the RIVTAF Golf Estate, the estate is nearing completion. Work has progressed significantly on our shopping mall and completion is now in view, liabilities have been reduced thereby freeing up funds for other operations and commitments of the company. The C/V/S-F system allowed our company to continue to create value and deliver on the promises made to our esteemed clients while our contractors/vendors/suppliers remained in business and continued to make profit. It is apposite to also note that this system guaranteed sales of our products. This is in view of the fact that properties given to contractors/vendors/suppliers in place of payment for services rendered are deemed as sales on our accounts as they are deemed to have been paid for by the receiving contractors/vendors/suppliers.

The challenge of the C/V/S-F system was a potential parallel market but this was well managed as the structure of the C/V/S-F system already anticipated this challenge and had ready preventive solutions for such potential challenge. Rather, a viable secondary market was created where contractors/vendors/suppliers became strategic players in the secondary market for our products.

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RIVTAF Golf Estate is a project with which you stamped your signature in the Nigerian real estate market. Any plan to replicate that in any other part of Nigeria? Where and when should we expect that to happen?

Yes, we intend to replicate and do even greater projects in Nigeria. TAF Nigeria Homes Limited and its sister companies across the African continent are driven by our vision to build 1million homes in the next 20 years. Nigeria remains one of the biggest economies for such projects. With an estimated population of over 184 million as at December 2017 (World Bank: The World Bank in Nigeria), a conservative estimate of 17 million units of housing deficit as at 2015, an annual population growth rate of 2.8 percent (National Population Commission and National Bureau of Statistics Estimates), the potentials of the real estate sector remains unimaginable. We are optimistic that the sector would recover from the negative results being reported and start experiencing positive growth. The Nigerian real estate sector can!

We want to believe that it has not been a bed of roses for you operating in Nigeria. What have been your major challenges in this country? Do you have any regrets being where you are?

Every business faces certain challenges and indeed a significant chunk of such challenges emanate from governments and regulators in each sector. We have had our share of this and can only ask that government makes increased efforts at improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Another significant challenge is the dearth of infrastructure in the country. The absence of infrastructure such as roads and efficient transport system impacts location and viability of a project. Infrastructure must be given its deserved attention by the government.

What are your projects in terms of growth and expansion in the next four to five years?

We have a couple of projects to deliver in Nigeria but I would not want to put the cart before the horse. We are in advanced level discussions with the governments of some key states in the South-Western and South-South regions of the country and have reached certain Agreements in Principle and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. In due course, these projects would come on stream. It may also interest you to know that we have built a formidable and highly competent team in Nigeria to manage the company’s operations in more than one location as we expand into other states..

CHUKA UROKO

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