Reporter

“Africa should no longer be seen as a continent asking for aid”- Mustapha Njie

Mustapha Njie is the Chairman/CEO, of Taf Holding Co. Ltd and the owner of TAF Africa Global.  Started this company solely from nothing to a multi million USD company. Recognized as Gambian businessman of the year (1993, 2004 and 2006 – 3 times). Gambian Man of the year (2006). 1998 European Counsel for Global Business – For quality and Excellence. 2004 Best SMME in construction in Africa. 2010 ECOWAS honourable businessman. With 28 years experience in running his own business in the housing and real estate industry in Africa, he is passionate in expanding his business in sub Sahara African countries, while sharing his experience with other professionals in the field. In an interview with the Forbes Njie shares his experience in the housing and real estate industry and his plans towards investing in the low income  housing.

As it is the first time that you are interviewed for Forbes Global Magazine, would you please give our readers a brief historical background of your company as well as an overview of your activities?

I started my business in 1990. We are generally involved in construction and construction related businesses. The company was initially involved only in construction, but over time we have diversified to include selling of building materials, tourism development, building hotels, executive apartments and housing development, which is the latest of our ventures. So under our holding we basically have construction, building material supplies, estate development and tourism development.

Our readers, which are mainly decision makers, are always curious to know how companies are doing. Would you please provide us with some financial figures like turn over, net profit, number of employees?

Obviously in construction, employment is not always the same as it depends on the work that one has at a given point. On average, however, under the holding company we employ about 500 people and our turnover ranges from 5 to 8 million USD.

An operation “House the Nation” has been launched some time ago in co-operation with Shelter Afrique. They were expected to finance the project. Would you please present that project to us and provide us with the latest developments regarding this agreement.

“Operation House the Nation” started early this year. We have always been interested in housing development and have been doing conventional housing since the inception of the company. People come to us to build their houses. Since housing projects in The Gambia are done by government parastatals, we are the pioneers in housing development by the private sector.

Since 1992, we have been interested and have been testing the market, but never on a large scale. This year, on the contrary, we have started on a large scale. We applied to Shelter Afrique for a co-financing loan, which was approved within a month of submitting the document, and subsequently applied for land from the government. A piece of land had been granted to us in Kanifing but unfortunately, this has resulted in some controversy which is currently being sorted out.

The project caters for all levels of society. It is divided into four categories: one for the very high-income group; the second one is for the moderately high-income group, the third for middle and the fourth for the low-income group. We are looking at low-income housing where it is planned to utilize locally available materials with appropriate technology to produce, among other things, stabilized laterite bricks for the construction of core houses.

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TAF Estate Developers recently made a vigorous attempt in setting the pace for private sector involvement in housing infrastructure. This effort has met some difficulties. How frustrated is TAF’s commitment to play in this field?

We are not frustrated at all, in fact, this energizes us. If there are problems, it just helps us better to succeed as entrepreneurs. Yes, there is a temporary stop to the project, but we are in renegotiations with the government and have almost agreed on alternative sites. We are hence going to proceed with the project in one way or another.

In order for a country to develop, it needs the collaboration between public and private sector. Taking into consideration the recent events concerning the Sinchu-Yahi project. How do you think the collaboration between those two sectors could be implemented here in the Gambia?

The public – private sector relationship should be very cordial and complementary. We all have different and important roles to play in our development, which is why our relationship must be complementary. There must be positive dialogue in order for all of us to achieve our goals towards the sustainable socio-economic development of our country. What is important is to be able to overcome problems, such as these, through dialogue.

Could you explain how aggressive your growth strategy is and what your projects for the next future are?

We are quite aggressive in strategy. We are the biggest indigenous construction company in The Gambia and have developed lots of strategies especially in the field of marketing, where we are quite aggressive. The strategic location of our billboards e.g on the only pedestal bridges in the whole of Gambia, ensures that we are noticed by everybody more so by those travelling to or from Banjul. We ensure that nobody comes into the country without noticing us. The company’s name was chosen because it is short, simple and easy to remember. Even when choosing our colour, the emphasis was that it should be eye catching. Apart from that, we do almanacs every year, which are distributed to every office and place of importance to show and remind people of our existence. We are the pioneers in this and as a company we make sure that we are quite visible, which I don’t think we have missed. We do invest quite a lot in marketing both locally and internationally.

Regarding our strategy on development, our goal is to maintain being the leader in construction nationally. But obviously given the size of the country we have our medium and long term plans for expanding both in the sub region and in the continent.

Are you currently planning on diversifying your activities as far as engineering is concerned in order to target new markets?

No, we will continue to concentrate on housing construction and tourism development, but not in road construction with heavy engineering involved. My analysis on that is if we want to go that big we have to, as a matter of necessity, go beyond our borders, because the investments are quite heavy on capital and equipment for this type of works. For the time being we want to stay within our borders. There are no immediate plans for large engineering type of works.

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To what extent do you engage your company in investing in new technologies? Could you explain what are the main investments you’ve planned to do in the near future?

We are going into low income housing, as I said, and our plan in the next five years is to build about 1000 units, which in The Gambia is a significant project. You should note that we are not only planning on constructing these houses in the Greater Banjul Area, but also in all the growth centres in the country.

This is a new technology that we are getting into. It is compressed laterite bricks and roof tiles, which are stabilized and environmentally friendly. Sand, which is widely used in all construction activities is at the moment quarried from the beach thus creating lots of problems especially with regards to coastal erosion. We therefore don’t want to use any sand and very little cement. This new material is compressed, very strong, and in fact stronger than ordinary sand and cement blocks, and yet still cheaper. The technology which is being imported from Belgium, is very labour intensive, creating thus a lot of employment.

For a company, investment in Human Resources is the key word for success. Would you explain how important it is for TAF?

My dream is actually to build a training / skills centre for young people to encourage them into the field of construction but looking at it from a private sector perspective. Already there are similar institutions run by government and people generally think that it is the government’s responsibility and the private sector simply employs, but we are thinking to invest in training to benefit our company and also as a contribution to society.

As a successful entrepreneur we just don’t have to be seen as making money and being in business but must also be seen to be pumping back some of the profits that are being made into society, creating, in this way, a positive corporate image as well.

In creating this training facility we will be very selective in the enrolment, hiring good people with the right potentials, teaching them construction and eventually employing them directly or indirectly. We have been discussing this issue with various government institutions, but it is a long term project which will need quite a lot of financing and a site for its location. It is when all these pieces have been set into place that building the centre would commence in phases and over a period of time.

TAF is importing its raw material from abroad: wood from Brazil, ceramic from Morocco, and cement from Indonesia even if The Gambia produces some cement: How competitive are the Gambian producers here?

I think we are pretty competitive. As I talk to you now, we are no longer importing cement. We use the local cement and now there are further negotiations being made to see how we can increase our volumes. If you look at market prices now, it is definitely cheaper than the imported cement. People, however, still want to have a choice of buying the imported product rather than the local one. But as you know, even the local product is imported.

Do you think the market could be taxed less?

Yes of course. I mean any tax reduction will boost the market. It is not only Gambia, I think it is a global fact. However, compared to our neighbours, our taxes are lower, but it is clear that we could do better with lower taxes.

Are you working on a joint venture with foreign companies or are you planning on doing so?

We are always looking for new joint ventures, because local finances are very scarce and interest rates are way too high, so we will be looking in every sector that we are in, for joint ventures. We are open to any offers. Whatever we do, we can do better with a partner, and more human, material and financial resources.

Our mid term plans are not to stay a privately owned company, but create global partnerships and joint ventures in order to be enlisted on the open market in the future.

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As a final question, what has been your main achievement since you are Chairman of TAF and what will be your challenge for the next future?

I am probably most proud of my hotel project. It is not only because we own the majority, but also because the hotel is managed entirely by us, up to now. We just hired Gambians to manage it and are very proud about the fact that it is 100% Gambian. Generally in this sector hotels always look for expertise from outside.

What do you think is going to be or has been your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge is going to be the provision of housing for Gambians. We want to make sure that Gambians are housed. We plan to provide affordable housing or shelter for every Gambian. When I say affordable, I mean very cheap but high quality housing.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I would like to talk to you about the new African entrepreneurs.

I just came back from Addis Ababa where we decided to launch the African Enterprise Network, which now has a membership of over 500 from over 31 African countries. That is quite an achievement.

We started in 1993, and are financed and sponsored by OECD, USAID and other donors. Initially we started in West Africa with a membership of 200 from 13 Regional countries.

The success of the West African Enterprise Network, where I served as an executive committee member led to the setting up of the East and South African Networks in 1998. And now in Addis Ababa we have just launched the African Enterprise Network. We are proud to say that our newest member is Noa Samora, the CEO of World Space.

When we talk about the new African Entrepreneurs we are not only speaking about age, but it is more the way we do business. The objective is to engage governments in a dialogue on policy changes for sustainable development and to encourage cross border trade and investment within the continent.

This is something I really believe in. While there is a lot of talk about globalisation, we want to focus more on regionalism and on the African Continent. Unless we can trade with ourselves, there is no use targeting other continents. We want to trade and make sure that the environment exists in order to trade. We should be able to drive from here to Nigeria and get our goods across borders without harassment. I think these are issues that must be addressed, and when they are, as a sub region, we will attract more interest in this part of the world. There are too many obstacles in doing business here. One, our markets are too small as nations, and two, there are listed constraints in doing business. Compared to other continents, if you wanted to drive from Dakar to Lagos, it will take you up to two days in Europe, but here it can take you up to three months. We want to get all these barriers out, making sure customs duties and tariffs are harmonized and so forth. Once this is achieved we will be in a better position to compete globally.

What is your final message to our readers?

The image of Africa is changing. Africa should no longer be seen as a continent asking for aid, where drought, famines and wars are part of daily life. In Africa today we have many success stories and people ready to do business. And we are too.

Forbes

China’s Belt And Road Initiative Opens Up Unprecedented Opportunities

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A tale of two world leaders, U.S. president Donald Trump and China president Xi Jinping—both of whose countries have among the world’s best economies right now. But whereas Xi is playing Santa Claus to the rest of the world, doling out loans to finance-starved countries, Trump is playing Scrooge, waging an economic war with Canada, the European Union, China and others.

Respected economist Art Laffer, whom I’ve written about before, has always supported leaders who ignite global trade rather than close off its borders. A full-blown trade war, Laffer said recently, would be a “curse” on the U.S. economy.

Post-World War II, it was the U.S. that led global trade and infrastructure build-out—the Marshall Plan in Europe, the Interstate Highway System domestically. Both projects required massive amounts of commodities and raw materials, and employed hundreds of thousands of people.

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Today, of the two leaders mentioned above, it’s Xi who has a clear foreign policy when it comes to trade and infrastructure.

U.S. Fund Flows Into Africa Are Slowing

Case in point: This week, Beijing will host the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The summit, which takes place once every three years and is attended by representatives from 52 African countries, touches on areas as diverse as technology, trade, infrastructure, diplomacy, culture and agriculture.

During the last forum, in 2015, China pledged as much as $60 billion toward Africa’s development in interest-free loans. The Asian country, in fact, has increased its investments in the continent around 520 percent over the last 15 years, according to Global Trade Magazine.

As just one example, Kenya agreed to let China finance and build a standard gauge railway (SGR) connecting two major cities at a cost of $3.8 billion. Contracted by China Road and Bridge, the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since it declared independence from the U.K. in 1963.

Meanwhile, U.S. fund flows to Africa have been receding, and they’re expected to slow even more during Trump’s administration.

 

Xi isn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart, of course. China, having been Africa’s largest trading partner for nine consecutive years now, likely expects its investments to pay diplomatic and economic dividends for many decades to come.

Even Trump’s own commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, acknowledges that the U.S. must do more in Africa. “By pouring money into Africa,” Ross wrote on CNBC in August, “China has seen an opportunity to both gain political influence and to reap future rewards in a continent whose economies are predicted to boom in the coming decades,” due mainly to a younger demographic.

The Belt and Road Initiative Will Affect 60 Percent of the World’s Population

The most well-known among China’s projects is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of the most ambitious undertakings in human history. The biblical-size trade and infrastructure endeavor—a sort of 21st century Silk Road—could cost 12 times as much as what the U.S. spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe following World War II. The BRI has the participation of 76 countries from Asia, Africa and Europe, and is poised not only to reshape globe trade but also raise the living standards for more than half of the world’s population.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the “BRI has great potential for China and participating countries. It could fill large and long-standing infrastructure gaps in partner countries, boosting their growth prospects, strengthening supply chains and trade and increasing employment.”

The BRI, which turns five years old this fall, announced in 2013, will have a strong presence in Eastern Europe, also a prime destination for China FDI, as the countries there offer a wealth of metals, minerals and agricultural products.

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According to Stratfor, Chinese companies have invested as much as $300 billion in Eastern Europe over the past decade. Last May, China and Ukraine agreed to cooperate on joint projects valued at nearly $7 billion, and in November, it was announced that China Railway International and China Pacific Construction would build a $2 billion subway line in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. More recently, Chinese engineers with China Harbor Engineering completed a $40 million dredging operation in Ukraine’s Yuzhny Sea Port, allowing it to receive larger ships.

Like the Marshall Plan before it, the BRI will require tremendous amounts of commodities, metals and fuel.

In 2011, members of our investment team and I had the opportunity to see one of China’s high speed trains firsthand. The train averaged 185 miles per hour during our 923-mile trip from Shanghai to Beijing. As I wrote then, “I’ve traveled to all corners of the world and have seen many things during my travels, but viewing China’s explosive growth as it flies by you is something I will never forget.”

U.S. Investors Hiked Exposure to China

In light of all this, there’s no lack of negative news on China right now. I see headline after headline on the country’s “slowing economy” and “weakening consumption,” but like most things are in the media, these proclamations are overblown.

Look at China’s purchasing manager’s index (PMI). Fresh data out last Friday showed that manufacturing expansion in August accelerated slightly faster than in the previous month. The PMI hit 51.3, up from 51.2 in July and beating analysts’ expectations of 51.0. This was the 25th straight month of economic expansion, despite what I earlier described as the Trump-Kudlow trade war with China.

Also, as the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) wrote last week, “there is no empirical evidence that consumption in China is weakening,” contrary to what “official” retail sales data show.

The PIIE’s Nicholas Lardy cited Alibaba’s recent announcement that sales rose 60 percent in the most recent quarter compared to a year ago—“a sign that Chinese retail sales data likely do not fully capture China’s burgeoning digital retail.”

“In any case,” Lardy continued, “retail sales are an increasingly less useful measure of consumption, as China’s large and still growing middle class is spending a growing share of their rising income on education, health care, travel and other services that are not captured in official data on retail sales.”

Savvy investors, I believe, get it and can see the opportunity in the world’s number one economy, as ranked by purchasing power parity (PPP). Reuters reports that, in the week ended August 22, U.S. investors poured $572 million into funds that invest in Chinese equities. That was the most for such funds since January.

Although some expect Trump to impose tariffs on $200 billion additional Chinese imports, perhaps as early as this week, “investors are expecting Beijing to continue counteracting the effects of the [trade] dispute with increasingly relaxed monetary and fiscal policies,” Reuters says.

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All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content. The Purchasing Manager’s Index is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment. Gross domestic product (GDP) is the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year. Purchasing power parity (PPP) is a theory which states that exchange rates between currencies are in equilibrium when their purchasing power is the same in each of the two countries. Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 6/30/2018. U.S. Global Investors, Inc. is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). This does not mean that we are sponsored, recommended, or approved by the SEC, or that our abilities or qualifications in any respect have been passed upon by the SEC or any officer of the SEC. This commentary should not be considered a solicitation or offering of any investment product. Certain materials in this commentary may contain dated information. The information provided was current at the time of publication.

Infrastructure funding: FG needs to borrow N1.6trn –Agusto & Co boss

 

The Federal Government has been advised to take more loans if its decision to fund infrastructure in the country will be realised.

Speaking at the training for financial journalists held in Lagos at the weekend, a Senior Analyst at Agusto & Co, Jimi Ogbobine, said the government will need about N1.6 trillion to fund infrastructure this year.

According to him, ‘Analysis of the Macroeconomic Environment’ sponsored by Rand Merchant Bank, was meant to deepen the knowledge of journalists on the economy and financial industry developments.

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Ogbobine said the bulk of financing for infrastructure will come from borrowing with a larger share being domestic debts.

He added that funding the capital budget will require higher than planned borrowing with adverse implications for interest rates and interest costs for the economy.

“The Federal Government borrowing to fund infrastructure is likely to be between N1.2 to N1.6 trillion. The implementation is unlikely to start before the second quarter and revenue is likely to be lower than planned.

Actual funding from asset restructuring, recoveries and “other” may be substantially lower than the planned level of N2 trillion. Therefore, fully funding the capital budget will mean higher than planned borrowing with adverse implications for interest rates and interest costs,” he said.

He added that obligatory spending of the Federal Government is still more than 100 per cent of revenues, hence, there is no free cash flow for investment in infrastructure. “Every kobo of infrastructure spending is financed by debt constrains ability to fully fund budgeted amounts.

Debt as percentage of revenue is significantly higher than the median, of 200 per cent, for countries in Middle East & Africa. Federal Government plans to partly finance 2018 capital expenditure with proceeds of asset sales,” he said.

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He said a hyper-inflationary environment is one where prices double at least every three years. “This means inflation rate of about 25 per cent per annum.

In such environments, investors hold savings in low inflation currencies in dollars, Pounds Sterling and Euros and business persons price products (particularly those with a high import content) in these low inflation currencies, usually the dollar. In effect, such environments are “dual currency environments”.

“Real Gross Domestic Product per capital should grow in 2018. It should be easier for businesses to access forex to fund their operations. Most businesses should see top line and profit growths.

Unemployment rate will fall but the level will remain high,” he stated.

Continuing, the analyst said actual deficit may be lower than planned deficit largely because of a low implementation of the capital budget.

Ogbobine said based on the long-term inflation difference, the naira-dollar exchange rate should close 2018 at about N420/1 in the Investors & Exporters’ FX Window. He however predicted that should oil revenues increase, as is likely, the CBN will try to keep rates in this market as close as possible to the current levels.

He explained that despite recent contraction in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, Nigeria remains Africa’s largest economy, following rebased GDP figures in 2013. “Still a viable economy based on long-run projections.

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Significant issues with political stability, terrorism and scattered violence in certain areas. Heavily dependent on crude oil exports and facing severe economic challenges with the current global oil market shocks, terrorism threats, and attacks on key economic interests,” he said.

He stated that average oil price for 2018 is likely to be firmer driven largely by OPEC production cuts, stronger growth, high but declining inventories and political tensions in the Middle East.

“A lot is still contingent on ability to produce and evacuate oil from the Niger-Delta. Demand management of imports will continue. If Nigeria is able to produce and evacuate crude, she will build reserves but some of the reserves will be used to intervene in the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange (NAFEX) market to keep exchange rates in this market at near current levels,” he
added.

Ajiri Daniels

Time to explore opportunities in social housing

 

Great opportunities abound in the social housing sector of the economy but successive governments in the country have not been able to utilise these opportunities to the benefits of the public.

The social housing sector has all the hallmarks of a sector that will see increasing challenge over the next few years.

Recent industry debate has focused on the need for, and means to deliver, accelerated levels of consolidation through various activities. The need for social housing stock has never been greater, but there will inevitably be winners and losers as the sector works through its issues.

Social housing is an umbrella term used to refer to rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, by non-profit organisations, or by a combination of the two, usually with the aim of making it affordable.

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Social housing may also be referred to as a public housing which may be a form of housing tenure in which the property is owned by a government authority, be it federal, state or local government authority.

When you talk about social housing for the masses, the words that come to mind are cheap, affordable, non-profit driven, mass produced houses that could be occupied by low income earners, who may wish to save towards eventually buying such houses over time.

Generally, social housing deals with housing solutions that are priced and financed in a way that would ensure low-income occupants could satisfy their other basic needs.

Even though the scarcity of affordable housing affects all segments of the society, it is notably low-income earners who are most affected. The way and manner government build estates does not show that the poor masses are borne in mind.

The property market ought to service the low income earners in the society. The Nigerian urban housing market primarily targets high income earners and thus leaves large parts of the Nigerian population excluded from formal housing provision.

In general, low-income households face a number of barriers such as weak individual purchasing power; lack of access to housing finance; unavailable complementary goods, such as land and infrastructure; and insufficient housing supply required to meet the actual demand of the urban poor.

Executive teams, boards and their lenders need to be proactive in assessing the impact of recent policy changes and their options and response to them.

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With the range of stakeholders and the clear public policy interest, it is likely to take significant time and effort to deliver credible solutions for those providers with the most challenged business models.

Social Housing, in its various forms, has been an increasingly important part of the UK provision since the boom in house building following the end of the Second World War.

There are a variety of private, public and charitable enterprises that build, manage and maintain housing stock, with standards and rent levels subject to a high degree of regulation.

As of September 2015, there were 1,783 Registered Providers (RPs) of social housing who were registered with the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), the sector regulator. The sector supplied some 2.7m homes in England, representing an increase of 1.5 per cent on the previous year.

Much of the growth in the sector was attributed to the increase in Affordable Rent Stock to a new high of 123,000 units (Source: BBC, April 2015).

The creation and provision of social housing is towards ensuring housing affordability. Affordable housing is therefore defined as housing which costs no more than 30 percent of the income of the occupant household. This is the generally accepted definition of housing affordability.

Frankly speaking, Nigeria’s housing problem is derived from a historical lack of focus on housing development.

Over the years, the country has not been able to develop a viable and sustained housing finance system either because of lack of expertise, up to date and knowledgeable industry leaders especially in the policy making arms, lack of funding for relevant institutional agencies/department, political and selfish gains. Housing plays a special role in the social, political but more importantly economic dialogue in most societies.

Housing has been known to be a major component of creating stable and healthy communities and it is often the largest single category of household expense. For housing to be successful, a country like Nigeria needs to have a stable macroeconomic environment. Moderate to high inflation rates and nominal interest rates as witnessed in Nigeria are typical features of volatile economies.

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These features have strong effects of reducing the affordability of mortgages. A volatile economy also affects the supply of funds and the types of mortgages offered by lenders. In such an environment, lenders are concerned about liquidity risk and are reluctant to offer long term loans.

The solution to this, then, becomes government’s strong institutional intervention in terms of favourable policy drafting and implementation.

The coming on board of the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC), is a commendable step towards scratching the surface of this challenge. This is despite the fact that the NMRC is dragging the feet in most of the roles it should take.

Another distinguishing characteristic of housing finance is the ability to mortgage the property to secure the loan. This means that the land laws and processes (title registration, foreclosure laws, etc.) have to be put in place to allow enforceability.

An accurate and comprehensive land registration system is a necessary condition for effective property rights. This is largely absent in Nigeria. However, it is important to mention that a few states have begun to address this problem through the setting up of several land registries at the state level.

It is pertinent that the states are encouraged to get these initiatives to a cruising altitude. At the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), tireless efforts are being made to also contribute to solving this problem through the bank’s centralised repository land and assets registry system.

At the Federal level, creating or sponsoring a Mortgage Electronic Registration System as is done in the United States and other emerging markets will also help to increase the ability to mortgage properties.

Social housing delivery is therefore housing delivery that not only provide good quality and affordable housing, but allocates its benefit equitably between the rich and the poor. It also regenerates the environment rather than destroying it.

Also, it empowers the poor to have access to decent homes at affordable cost rather than mitigating or excluding them. In sum, it can be described as housing delivery system which gives priority to the disadvantaged groups, enlarging their housing choice and opportunities and giving
them a say in decisions that affect their housing needs and lives (Agbola and Alabi, 2000).

Maduka Nweke

World Bank Endorses Plan For India To Become Higher Middle-Income Country

“With a fast-growing economy, global stature, and its unique experience of lifting the highest number of poor out of poverty in the past decades, India is well-positioned to become a high middle-income country by 2030,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank South Asia vice president.

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India will become a $5 trillion economy by 2022, the World Bank board today endorsed an ambitious five-year Country Partnership Framework (CPF) for India, which aligns with New Delhi’s objectives of high, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Aimed at supporting India’s transition to a higher middle-income country by addressing some of its key development priorities — resource efficient and inclusive growth, job creation and building its human capital — the framework is expected to bring between $25-30 billion in financial support from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

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“With a fast-growing economy, global stature, and its unique experience of lifting the highest number of poor out of poverty in the past decades, India is well-positioned to become a high middle-income country by 2030,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank South Asia vice president.

“It’s a five-year framework that commits the World Bank’s engagement in India, both in areas where what we’ll do, how we will work in these areas and the level of financial commitment. This is the first country partnership framework written with India,” Junaid Ahmad, Country Director, World Bank, India, told news agency PTI in an exclusive interview.

“The CPF was preceded by a systematic country diagnostic or SCD that offered a narrative about India. What are the challenges going forward in terms of the growth of India? And what are the challenges that India faces in achieving the twin goals that the World Bank has put for itself, which is reduction in extreme poverty and the increase in shared prosperity,” Mr Ahmad said.

Soon after the World Bank endorsed the CPF for India, Ahmad said, the Board recognises the incredible growth and development of India over the last several decades.

“It recognizes that India has gone from a low-income country status to a low-middle income. And now India is entering the economic transformation from low-middle income to high-middle income (country). This CPS is about how can the Bank support this transition,” he said.

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Noting that the systematic country diagnostic is a highly consultative document, Mr Ahmad said, the CPF is a joint document with the Indian government.

“I complement the World Bank Group for aligning the CPF with India’s development and investment objectives of high, sustainable and inclusive growth,” said Subhash Chandra Garg, Economic Affairs Secretary, in a statement.

Observing that the systematic country diagnostic basically said India’s big story is steady growth from very low several decades back to a steady growth of seven per cent plus, Ahmad said, this document also showed that the growth is quite diversified. “Some of it is based on export. A lot of it is based on an internal consumption and investment, unlike say China, which is highly export led growth. So India’s is more broad based, diversified growth path,” he said.

“Over time, this growth has become more stable and is resilient. Recently there were shocks on the economy, which included demonetisation and the GST implementation and there was this fall in the growth. But it is now rebounded, and not only has it gone back to seven per cent, this quarter it is at eight per cent,” Mr Ahmad said.

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Based on the systematic country diagnostic goal of taking the Indian growth rate to eight per cent plus, the World Bank argued that there were several areas of engagement that were very important: natural resource management, jobs and competitiveness, and human development, he said, adding that the framework addresses these issues.

“The first point we make is India needs to unleash the power of markets and private sector. It needs to leverage private sector and in particular private capital. The challenge for the Bank is how do you take the little amount of money ultimately you’re putting into the country and you go from being a lending bank to being a leveraging bank,” Mr Ahmad said.

He said complementing transformational national programs, the Bank will also develop strategic state partnerships to address state-specific development priorities and support implementation capabilities at the state and the local level.

“The future of India lies in the states of India. The country’s transition to high middle-income status will be determined in large part by the effectiveness of India’s federal compact. In this context, an important focus of the CPF will be to deepen engagement with India’s states and invest in the institutions and capabilities of the states and local governments to address their development priorities,” Mr Ahmad said.

He said the Bank was going for a “Lighthouse India” approach. “Lighthouse India basically means learning from the innovation of the states and sharing with other states. We also recognise that the learning is what India also has to offer the rest of the world. As it goes from low-income to middle-income to high-middle-income, its learning over its development path is going to be very valuable for other nations,” he said.

“The Indian economy has evolved to a level where the private sector can be counted on to close large developmental gaps. Through this the CPF, the WBG will help India leverage additional resources from the private sector to help India realize its full potential,” said Jun Zhang, Country Head, IFC, India.

NDTV

Nigeria’s fear for its economy deepens as Q2 GDP weakens

 

Weak second quarter 2018 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) a few weeks ago has heightened concerns over the nation’s economy. TONY CHUKWUNYEM writes

About a week before the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released second quarter 2018 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data, the Statistician General of the bureau, Dr. Yemi Kale, had hinted that the numbers would fall short of expectations.

He reportedly stated that apart from the political and economic uncertainty over the general elections in 2019, what is contributing mainly to slowdown in the economy is impact of the herders/ farmers’ clashes on the agriculture sector, which is the biggest contributor to the GDP. The NBS boss was quoted as saying: “I am not going to give the final figure because the work is not even completed but from the numbers I am seeing, it is looking quite flat.

Surprisingly, but I expected the numbers should be much better, but it is looking very similar to the first quarter. I think the economy is still struggling out of recession and that is what the numbers are showing.”

In fact, the data released by the Statistics Office on August 27 showed that Q2 GDP growth declined to 1.50 per cent from 1.95 per cent reported for the first quarter of this year. The drop in Q2 GDP growth rate clearly came as a surprise to financial analysts, as they scrambled to offer reasons as well as assess the implications of the slower than expected growth.

Analysts’ reactions
For instance, commenting on the GDP data, analysts at FSDH Research stated: “The real GDP growth rate of 1.50per cent recorded in Q2 2018 was below the expectations of most analysts. The GDP numbers reflect the impact of the rising uncertainties in the country. The low growth and contraction across many sectors of the Nigerian economy also underscore the need for an urgent set of policies and engagements to rescue the economy.”

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According to the experts : “Although the fragile growth was driven by the non-oil sector, the fact that dominant sectors of the economy either recorded low growth or contracted in Q2 2018 indicates that urgent actions are required. Agriculture, which is the largest sector of the Nigerian economy at 22.86per cent, recorded a marginal growth of only 1.19per cent. “FSDH Research notes that the slow growth in the agriculture sector, if not checked, may lead to food shortage in the country and consequently escalating food prices and rising inflation rate,” the firm added.

Besides, it said that trade-the second largest sector of the Nigerian economy- contracted by 2.14per cent in Q2 2018, pointing out : “The weak purchasing power in the country (occasioned by nonpayment of salaries, high unemployment rate and high consumer prices) is responsible for the contraction in the Trade sector. “The current low GDP growth rate is not strong enough to stimulate credit creation. It has also increased the risk of doing business in Nigeria.

Therefore, urgent measures are required so that low GDP growth rate does not become a new norm in Nigeria.” Corroborating FSDH Research’s comments, Renaissance Capital’s (RenCap) Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) Economist, Yvonne Mhango, stated: “The slowdown in Nigeria’s YoY growth to 1.5per cent in 2Q18, from 2.0per cent in 1Q18, was partly due to a 4.0per cent contraction in the oil sector, which masked stronger non-oil sector growth.

“It is notable that the biggest non-oil sectors – crop production, wholesale and retail trade and manufacturing – underperformed. We believe this is in part due to a weak consumer. Due to trade’s protracted slump, the sharper-than-expected slowdown in crop production, the peaking of oil production, and the weak consumer’s cap on manufacturing, we lower our 2018 growth forecast to 2.0per cent, from 2.9per cent previously. We also lower our 2019 forecast to 2.5per cent, vs 3.0per cent.”

The RenCap Economist also pointed out that wholesale and retail trade, the second-biggest sector, saw its contraction deepen to 2.1per cent YoY in 2Q18, vs -1.6per cent YoY a year. She adding : “We believe this reflects a consumer that is still weak.” Furthermore, the financial expert noted that while improved foreign exchange liquidity helped bring manufacturing out of recession in Q2 2018, “the weak consumer has capped its growth. This is affirmed by manufacturers’ taking out FX loans for working capital needs rather than capex.”

She predicted: “Other than a lift from an expansionary budget, we see limited upside to 2H18 growth.” Indeed, also commenting on the Q2 GDP numbers, experts at CardinalStone Research forecast a further drop in economic output in H2’18 due to poor growth in the agriculture sector.

They noted that a major reason for the decline in Q2 2018 GDP was the sharp slowdown in agriculture sector growth, predicting that they expect this factor to also negatively impact GDP growth in the second half of 2018.

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According to the experts: “The slowest agriculture sector growth in 14 years (1.50% YoY), weak crude petroleum and natural gas production dampened GDP growth in Q2’18. Although we expect a bounce back in the oil sector and healthy growth in services to spur growth in the final two quarters, we see poor agricultural growth weighing down GDP growth in H2’18. We forecast a further slowdown in growth to 1.4% YoY in Q3’18 and 1.75% YoY FY’18.”

Similarly, in an analysis of the GDP data posted on its website, Nairametrics stated: “The decrease in the GDP growth rate in the second quarter of 2018 (which is a second consecutive decline) is a negative development for the Nigerian economy, considering the fact that it recently exited recession in the same period last year.”

“The slump in the GDP growth rate in the second quarter of 2018 may not be totally unexpected, as the following may be adjudged as possible reasons for the fall in GDP growth rate: delay in the passage of the budget for a period of six months, during which the economy was almost at standstill and some companies halted their business decisions awaiting budget passage; decline in the importation of capital into the country by 12.53per cent in the period under review to $5.51 billion from $6.30 billion in the previous quarter of Q1 2018 and increased political tensions in Q2 2018 caused some investors to pull out their investment out of the economy.”

Impact
Significantly, the fall in Q2 GDP now appears to have made analysts confident that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will leave interest rates unchanged when its Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meets next Monday and Tuesday.

Specifically, RenCap said: “The Nigerian economy under-delivered; growth came in weaker than we expected and the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) chatter has swung from rate cuts to hikes. We no longer expect a rate cut in 2018, owing to emerging inflationary pressures, in part due to an expansionary FY18 budget. We now expect the policy rate to be held at 14.0% until YE19.”

In the same vein, even though he predicts that the MPC will leave rates unchanged, the Chief Executive Officer, Financial Derivatives Company Limited (FDC), Mr. Bismarck Rewane, noted that the decline in Q2 GDP: “Supports the argument for a rate cut.”

In fact, the FDC CEO has been one of the most vocal advocates for a cut in interest rates, consistently making the case that unless the benchmark interest rate, the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), which had been held at 14 per cent since July 2016, is reduced, the economy will continue to struggle.

According to him, interest rates have to be reduced so that operators in key sectors of the economy such as agriculture and manufacturing, which employ a high number of people, will be able to borrow at interest rates that they can afford. In a report released by his firm last June, he stated: “With the MPR stagnant at 14per cent, commercial bank official lending rates range from 20-25per cent per annum while microfinance banks offer as much as 40per cent to 50per cent. Thus, it is no surprise that while the economy is growing at 1.95per cent (Q1’18), interest-rate sensitive sectors such as trade, real estate and construction continue to contract.”

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Interestingly, assessing the Q2 2018 GDP data on a recent television programme, respected Economist and the CEO of Biodun Adedipe and Associates, Dr Biodun Adedipe, also called for more attention to be paid to the development of key sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture.

He said: “If you look at the GDP for the Q2 of 2018, the real growth was driven by the services sector and services are meant to build upon the foundation of agriculture to start with, then you build manufacturing on agriculture and services come on top of those two. Until we give good attention to agric and manufacturing, we may not get inclusive growth that we desire.”

Last line
Indeed, despite the concerns they expressed over the decline in Q2 2018 GDP, analysts at FSDH Research still took away some positives from the data.

They stated: “FSDH Research observes strong growth in the Information & Communication and the Construction sectors of the economy. The growth in Internet data consumption and increase in road and rail construction works across the country are the major drivers of the growth in the Information & Communication and the Construction respectively. We believe the two sectors can achieve higher growth rates given the enormous potential inherent in these sectors.

“Improvement in the business environment that can lead to job creation and payment of salary of workers, particularly among the state civil servants, will stimulate purchasing power.”

TONY CHUKWUNYEM

COCMEGG commends FMBN on its positive efforts towards affordable housing

 

The Coalition of Civil Societies and Media Executives for Good Governance in Nigeria (COCMEGG) has lauded the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) for making homeownership affordable, available and less cumbersome to Nigerian workers.

The affordable home ownership according to the group will drive growth of the economy. A statement issued in Abuja and signed by the president, Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele and publicity secretary, Comrade Inuwa Sule, respectively said the FMBN under the leadership of Ahmed Musa Dangiwa is raising the hope of Nigerians desiring to have houses of their own.

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This is following the organisation’s appraisal of the bank’s efforts in carrying out its regulatory roles and functions as enshrined in the Act establishing it.


“COCMEGG passes a vote of confidence on the hierarchy of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), under Arc. Ahmed Musa Dangiwa, for its forthrightness, vision and strategies in seeing to it that the average workers, middle income earners and the common man on the streets have a home to lay their heads and therefore, called on all relevant stakeholders in the industry to support and partner with the institutional development, transformational philosophy and revolution presently taking place at the FMBN and key in for the overall prosperity of the Nigerian workers,” it stated.

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The statement lauded introduction of the zero equity on loans to Nigerian workers by the bank for the implementation of a new approved condition for accessing loans from the National Housing Fund (NHF). The group added that the initiative will lead to the reduction of hardship presently experienced by Nigerians in having access to building their own houses. “It is indeed a strategic initiative that will not only drive the mortgage industry but the economy as a whole as it will also boost and encourage people at the grassroots by enriching their wellbeing and making life easy for Nigerians by engaging more people in the construction sector.”

The World Bank had estimated that Nigeria has a housing deficit of about 17 million units and the FMBN has therefore, designed the NHF to mobilise funds to provide the citizens with affordable residential houses through accredited PMBs with the lowest rate possible. “Since the present leadership took over the helms of affairs, it has been plethora of initiatives, as the apex mortgage body has experienced a lot of milestones ranging from good governance practice, accountability and transparency in its core operations including institutional capacity building and infrastructure development of the bank.”

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It is on record that Nigerians have never been so sensitized in the last three decades, unlike what we are seeing today towards homeownership, as the management’s strategic awareness, enlightenment and sensitisation campaign have created the needed impetus for the boost of the industry as witnessed by all today.

Tarkaa David

Real estate has attracted over US$4bn institutional capital –Ogundiran

With Nigeria ranking 145 out 190 countries in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index and acknowledged as one of the top 10 most improved economies in the world, real estate has contributed over US$4 billion of institutional capital according to 2018 statistics.

The country has also moved up by 24 points from 169th position of 2017 to 145th position in the World Bank’2018 report, 171 out 190 from the 182nd position 2017 for countries paying taxes. It also rose to 179th from 182nd for countries registering property.

Making the revelation recently at the Town Hall meeting of the 7th Edition of the Real Estate Unite, 2018 in Lagos, the Founder/CEO Eximia Realty Co Ltd, Mr. Hakeem Ogunniran, said that a lot of policies inhibit the growth of real estate in Nigeria.


According to him, the real estate sector in Nigeria is bedeviled by lack of key drivers, acute inadequacy of primary and secondary infrastructure, issues of power sector reforms, PHCN problems. This includes public utilities like roads, water and recreational facilities. This he said, is because every developer is a mini – local government.

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In his presentation, Mr. Luqman Edu, CEO Filmo-Realty noted that real estate is acutely affected by limitations of the sector as an asset class and this he said is compounded by the fact that data that is important in the sector is not available.

He noted that the use of technology can help in the growth of real estate.

 

Several other discussants at the town hall agreed that, although the sector had not done much as expected, recent policies or reforms in the sector if taken and implemented to the letter will help in improving on the sector’s growth.

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Some of the recent policies or reforms included but not limited to, Lagos State Property Protection Law of 2016, law on prohibition of land grabbing and new guidelines for pioneer status.

Others include, review of consent fees or charges, review of the Land Use Act and the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) amendment of Investment Securities Act rules.

While giving analysis on growth of the sector in the Sub-Saharan region, Ogunniran said, “The Sub-
Saharan Africa region has seen limited progress over the last two years, with improvements led by the regional hubs – Nigeria and Kenya.

Market data availability continues to be pushed forward, while both valuation standards and transaction processes are advancing, with more international service providers entering markets across the region.

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Government data initiatives have been important in raising transparency levels, with Kenya and Rwanda digitising their land registries, while Nigeria and Ghana have started to publish more information on regulatory requirements online.

Kenya sees continued progress due to improved transaction process and greater data availability Nigeria top regional improver as 3rd party providers enhance market coverage and valuation quality”.

Maduka Nweke

How to market to different types of potential property buyers

 

For a quick property sale it is important to understand the different types of buyers and which of these your home will appeal to.

In the competitive real estate market, agents need to have an advantage when selling property. Getting in the mind of the perfect buyer and figuring out who they are and why they would want to buy a specific home is key.

“When marketing a home, one needs to try and determine the profile of the buyer for the specific property. In order to attract the right buyer the marketing needs to be focused and directed to that targeted audience which will result in a quicker sale, not leaving the property over exposed. We at Engel & Völkers make use of various analytics & tools in order to determine this buyer pool so that our sellers receive optimal exposure for their properties” says Craig Hutchison, CEO Engel & Völkers Southern Africa.

Sellers and agents need to establish and understand the persona of the buyer they are dealing with which will assist in determining the needs of the buyer and how they should be approached. We take a look at some buyer personas and what they entail.

1. Move-Down Buyers
• High net worth professionals who are looking to downsize from their larger homes after they have retired or their children have moved out.
• They are generally selling their luxury homes and buying smaller, pared-down homes that are easier to maintain, they’ll appreciate plenty of amenities and easy access.
• These buyers will enjoy being in a quiet location that offers easy access to parks, trails, coffee shops and restaurants.

2. First-Time Buyers
• Middle-class families who are looking for a foot in the door to home ownership based on affordability.
• These buyers are looking for a comfortable, liveable home and are likely to be drawn to homes with large gardens that provide plenty of room for gardening and space for children to play.
• Generally want at least two bedrooms and two full bathrooms to accommodate expanding families and room for visitors to stay.

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3. Move-Up Buyers
• Professionals who want to trade their existing homes for larger, more luxurious houses due to a change in income, new baby or marriage.
• They are looking for a home that allows them to live the lifestyle of their dreams.
• Their must-have features include modern kitchens, luxury bathrooms and a pool and will appreciate modern, high-tech design.

4. Luxury Buyers
• High net worth individuals or international professionals who may have several homes.
• They are happy to spend the money needed to secure a home that offers luxurious amenities such as heated floors, open floor plans, chandeliers and large bathrooms.
• Often look at many homes before committing to a specific location and may have a long list of requirements for their new home.

5. Investor Buyers
• High net worth real estate investors who specialize in buying and selling homes. These buyers often have many homes in the area and want to purchase another home to flip or rent to middle-class families or professionals.
• When it comes to purchasing a home, these buyers are receptive, sharp and attentive, although they are generally also thrifty and savvy.
• For an investor buyer, one of the most important traits a house can have is a good location at a decent price.

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6. Retail Buyers
• This is the average home buyer who is in the market to purchase a primary residence.
• They are buyers who have access to finance or enough money saved up to purchase a property for cash.
• An important aspect for this type of buyer will be the home’s price and their level of affordability as well as the proximity to their work and amenities such as schools, medical facilities and shopping centres.

7. Buy-to-let Investors
• A property that can generate revenue while it appreciates in value over the long-term is the main concern for this buyer.
• They are looking for a secure permanent investment that will be relatively low maintenance for instance sectional title units that require little or no renovation and can be rented out immediately to start earning income.
• In some cases they are also looking for larger homes that can be rented to upmarket tenants or students in a commune set-up.

8. Rent to Own
• Is normally a buyer who wants to buy but is not ready to do so yet.
• This buyer typically has credit issues and will need time to fix it up in order to qualify for a loan.
• This is also called a lease option buyer.

9. Fix-and-flip Investors
• Full-time property investors looking for property that is selling substantially below the market norm in a specific area.
• This type of investor will be looking for a property in need of renovation that they can restore and sell in a reasonably short period of time for a return on investment.
• They are looking for the lowest prices because their rehab costs are higher than most other buyers.

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10. Relocation Home Buyer
• This buyer is rock solid and qualified to buy.
• They know they only have a limited amount of time to find a property so they want to see as many houses as they can.
• They want a professional to help find them homes, and show them as many as possible.

11. Young Millennial Buyer
• These buyers do not necessarily rely on seasons and school schedules to purchase homes. For this group of buyers, the market is on at all times.
• They are very active buyers, and most importantly millennial want suburbs that feel like a city, they are fully connected, visual and will view listings at any time of the day.
• Most of these buyers prefer seeing homes that appeal to them on their own time.

In summary, it is of vital importance that expertise and time is spent on the pre-marketing of a property, to ensure the best results. Which type of buyer would you be?

Press

As Real Estate Tech Investments Rise, Here Are The Tools To Watch

 

Investment in real estate technology is at an all-time high. In 2017 alone, venture capital firms invested nearly $13 billion in the space. And with a number of new VCs now specializing in the arena (Camber Creek, MetaProp and Fifth Wall, to name a few), that number’s only going to rise in the coming years.

What does that equate to for buyers, sellers and those who work in the industry?

For one, it means more options — more solutions, products and tools that can make everything from buying, selling and investing to fixing, flipping and renting easier and more lucrative.

It also equals more competition for those in the tech space. And so far, that competition has certainly bred excellence.

As Jake Fingert, partner at Camber Creek, put it, “The real estate technology industry is expanding right now with incredible velocity. We are seeing enormous investment opportunities as innovative companies are leveraging new technologies, creating positive disruptive for buyers and sellers in the real estate market. There are, of course, large companies like WeWork, Redfin, and Zillow that have achieved mass market scale, but there is also an exciting new wave of companies that are looking to simplify various aspects of buying, selling and owning property.”

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Here are a few of those innovative companies to put on your radar:

For agents:

LiveBy, for localized content

According to Clelia Peters, one of the cofounders of VC MetaProp, LiveBy “is an exciting new company that is creating detailed neighborhood content for real estate agents to use with their clients to help them better understand where they are buying.” LiveBy offers hyperlocal, neighborhood-specific content that integrates with an agent’s existing site, as well as their listings or MLS data. It’s basically targeted marketing meets informational resource, giving agents clout with existing clients while bringing in new leads at the same time.

Kelle, an AI personal assistant

Created by KW Labs — Keller Williams’ own innovation hub — Kelle is an AI-based personal assistant designed just for real estate agents. Using simple voice or text commands, agents can get hyperlocal data reports, neighborhood information and more within seconds. It also helps agents manage their schedules, grow their network, monitor business goals and access training and educational resources as well. The app is available on Apple and Android and recently won Inman’s Best Real Estate Technology of the year award.

Agent Neo, an Amazon Echo app

Technically a consumer-facing app, Agent Neo helps buyers and sellers book appointments or showings with local real estate agents in their area. The reason it’s on the agents’ part of this list is two-fold: 1) because it feeds agents leads and helps fill their sales pipelines, and 2) because it can improve on-site tours and showings. If a Neo-enabled Amazon Echo device is located on an agent’s property, agents can pre-load it with tons of property-specific information to inform and guide potential buyers. Those buyers can then ask questions, inquire about things like utility bills and seller’s disclosures, and even get local neighborhood data as they tour the home.

First.io, for getting more clients

This one’s a great tool for agents looking to up their portfolio of listings. The tool connects with the agent’s network, contacts and social accounts and then uses data science to track and analyze more than 700 factors that might indicate someone is ready to buy a home. It then identifies the people in that network most likely to sell within the next six to 12 months and, as Peters puts it, “uses rigorous testing to determine the most effective forms of follow-up” with those connections.

For home buyers and sellers:

AskDOSS, for real estate-related questions

AskDOSS is a Siri-like personal assistant designed just for real estate. Buyers can use it to get deep-dive insights on virtually any property in the country, including things like property valuations, utility bill and tax information, school data and more. It works via voice or text command on both smartphones and smart speakers, and it even includes not-listed and non-MLS properties, too. AskDOSS technically isn’t available at the moment (it just closed out a successful beta run and will re-launch in 2019), but founder Bobby Bryant says his engineers are working closely with IBM Watson engineers to “cover every real estate function and query imaginable for every property in the country.”

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Edgewise, for building new construction

If you’re looking to buy a new home or build one from the ground up, you’ll want this tool in your sights. A unique platform that connects homebuilders directly with buyers, it allows shoppers to select open projects, make offers, customize their future home and even track its progress all online and digitally. The biggest benefit? Because it cuts out the real estate agent middleman, founder Bobby Juncosa says it’s a win-win for both buyer and builder. “The commission savings can be distributed back to the buyer and builder, making homes more affordable for buyers, and more profitable for builders,” he said.

Morty, a streamlined rate shopping service

Shopping around for mortgage rates is important — especially in today’s rising rate environment. But jumping from lender to lender, filling out dozens of applications and fielding calls from one loan officer after another can be time-consuming (not to mention tedious.) Morty aims to streamline the rate-shopping process. Buyers can upload a financial profile, learn about their loan options and then get rate offers from vetted lenders in one single dashboard. Once they choose their preferred lender, Morty helps move the loan through underwriting and closing all online. As Clelia Peters describes it, “Morty aggregates mortgage offers to improve both the rate and the consumer experience when shopping for a mortgage.”

Homelight, for finding the right agent

For buyers (or sellers) looking to work with an agent, Homelight can help. Users answer questions about their goals and preferences, and then Homelight analyzes millions of real estate transactions and databases to find the right fit. They’ll get a short list of potential agent matches and can use Homelight’s real estate experts for recommendations or to schedule in-person interviews. Peters calls it “agent performance analysis” that helps buyers select just the right broker for their needs.

TaskEasy, for keeping that yard in check

Having trouble keeping that lawn neat and tidy for showings? Sellers strapped for time can take solace in TaskEasy — a tool that Fingert dubs “the Lyft for lawn care.” TaskEasy offers on-demand lawn services with the click of a button. Schedule weekly or bi-weekly service, or book one as-needed when a showing is scheduled. No haggling or hassle required.

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For mortgage companies:

Jane.ai, an artificial intelligence support system

USA Mortgage just implemented this AI-based team member, which operates as a sort of support system for the company’s hundreds of loan officers and support staff employees. They can use it to access company data on the fly, whether it’s in email form, located on a network or database or even embedded in a document. As USA’s Ron Mueller told CMSWire, “The mortgage industry is an extremely competitive business and we need our team members engaging with customers, not spending their time sifting through reams of emails and documents. Having Jane on board means that our employees can now find exactly what they need in a matter of seconds instead of minutes or even hours.” The Jane.ai bot operates within Slack, a mobile-based communications app.

Spruce, an online title provider

Spruce is a fully digital title company that can integrate with lenders’ existing platforms and processes. It offers an easy e-closing solution, mobile notaries and e-scheduling, making the entire closing process easier and more efficient — both for buyer and lender. And because its technology cuts out added fees and expenses, Spruce can even cut down on costs, saving about $360 per loan, on average.

Matic Insurance, to ease the insurance process

This is another integrable tool that can save costs and money — and in this case, more importantly, prevent delays in closings. Many buyers aren’t aware (or become aware too late) that they’ll need homeowners’ insurance before proceeding with closing. Because Matic integrates with lenders’ existing platforms, it makes choosing insurance a natural part of the application process. Buyers can get quotes, sign up for policies and send proof of that policy to their loan officer within seconds. The tool integrates with popular platforms like LendingQB, Roostify and MortgageHippo.

Aly J. Yale

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