Building capacity in real estate requires foreign partnerships – Onwumere

In this interview with NIKE POPOOLA, the Chairman, Property World Africa Network, Dr Augustine Onwumere, speaks on the potential of the real estate sector in the country

Real estate sector is facing challenges such as dwindling consumer disposable income and inadequate mortgage facilities. How have all of these affected home ownership in Nigeria?

It has affected home ownership in Nigeria rather positively. In my nine years of being the chairman of the PWAN Group, we have recruited over 110, 000 human beings in our system.

We have continuously helped them to understand how they can own properties of their own.  As I say to the unemployed youths, I can say to investors who believe that there is no money out there, that it is a lie.  You can create it.

If there is no money, why are people still building homes? If there is no mortgage, why are people still buying lands and building houses? 

In fact, I tell people that I have not even made any money yet. I see some hotels that are 10 stories high. I have not built one before and I said to myself, is it not someone that built the house?  Did he steal the money? No!  All people that become wealthy did not steal the money. I am very wealthy. I am a multibillionaire. But everybody has the same level playing field like me by joining an institution like PWAN Group.

Before you can make money, you must sell something that has value.  And if you don’t have anything to sell, you look for people who have something to sell in surplus like PWAN; learn how to sell them, sell them, make income and then start your own life. Your passion can be fueled by the ideas you have and the income you make from our system.

The pandemic has stunted the performance of private developers, making the sector one of the worst hit in the current crisis.  What strategy could be employed to reposition real estate?

Again, the pandemic affected the real estate sector rather positively. We made four times what we used to make when the pandemic was on. I can’t say why. But there was a lot of money in circulation that time because a lot of people bought lands. A lot of people saw the pandemic as a limitation. But while at home during the lockdown, I was able to create websites and I was able to do meetings with zoom platform effectively, better and more reaching to a lot of people that work with me and we created a synergy that was able to help us achieve more during that period.

Till now, we are still applying the things we learnt during that period. It is a new way of life the pandemic has created. Yes, it might limit our way of interactions with people; but it created a new way of doing business.

Do you think that government should regulate real estate and why?

If there is no law there will be chaos. Government involvement is very necessary for creating rules and regulations that govern the real estate business. But we use this medium also to plead with government to always allow us, especially in Lagos, to have our title documents processed faster and easier. It’s still not easy as they claim it is. Other states give out easily but Lagos does not.

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Most huge building constructions are still being done by foreign firms. Is there capacity challenge among local estate developers?

We are not into that. But what you said is true because the capacity to handle such projects is not easily found within the local contractors. The equipment, the licences, the trainings and knowhow is not available to our people here.

What our people can do is normal simple houses. When it comes to construction of high rise projects, deep sea construction and piling, you have to employ well experienced people because we are talking about multiple billion projects. And you don’t want to make mistakes.

I still support the use of foreign counterparts for such jobs. When we get there, when we get to building high rise or huge projects, we will still use foreign contractors. PWAN group was majorly into land sales. We have moved into erecting buildings and have finished some of them in several locations in Ibeju-Lekki and other states in Nigeria. We use local contractors for the construction works because we believe they can handle that level of construction.

To undertake major projects and build capacity, do you therefore support a merger between local practitioners and foreign counterparts in the case of huge construction projects?

Yes. It’s essential because iron sharpens iron, they say. Foreign counterparts who have what it takes and the young SMEs in the local construction industry have to come into a pact with the foreign counterparts to be able to scale up and have a level playing field.

How is the absence of a credit system affecting mortgage in Nigeria?

It’s terrible, very terrible. Abroad, someone can have a credit card. But because of our economic down turn, it is difficult for money to be available easily at good interest rate of between one per cent and nine per cent. Rather, what obtains here is 23 per cent, 27 per cent, 29 per cent; and we are not able to sustain such.

Before the financial houses even give credit facilities to any one, they will ask for this and that.

What should people watch out for when building houses to avoid having issues?

Life is a risk. Every investment is a risk. But you have to do your search, do due diligence very well before you buy or build. When you are buying landed property from a real estate registered company, it is also advisable that you fence up your property immediately because the fence connotes ownership.

You have to be ready to do that, not when you buy land you wait for two years, anything can happen. As you are making your deposit payment, you start your construction to secure your property.

What advice do you have for people who want to embark on construction projects to achieve quality standard?

Employ professionals, COREN certified engineers and then ask questions from people who have built before you go into your construction.

What informed your interest in the real estate sector?

I have always loved business. I grew up as a trader who went to school through trading, through my father’s supermarket/chemist business, located in Ebutemeta, Old Yaba Road, Lagos. I was eight years old when my parents dropped me in the shop and said to me ‘be doing what other people are doing in the shop’. And I started selling from my primary school through secondary and university education.

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l left and started my own business. I was 27 years in the business of trading before I started doing my own things. I started real estate business because all my other businesses (between 2009 and 20011) had failed. I was homeless and broke. I stumbled on real estate when I found a flier that was marketing land in Ibeju-Lekki. My wife and I went to speak to the owners of the property, to allow us sale for them. From selling for them, a business came out of it. Selling for them, God gave us speed in 2012 and within the ups and downs, we were able to sell 125 plots for that company in five months. From our commission of about N12m, we started our own real estate. We kept buying new estates.

Today, we empower people who have worked with us for some years, to own a part of the company thereby spreading the wings of the company around Nigeria, in over 21 states of the country.

What would you say is the motivation that has kept you going on?

People empowerment, I would say. I have passed through the stages of being a self-employed person to becoming a businessman and now an investor.

I love seeing people succeed. I love seeing people overcome limitation, overcome economic hardship, I love hearing testimonies of financial freedom and I love hearing testimonies of good life. So I create platforms to make sure that people have something they are doing to earn legitimate income – either salary, allowance, or commission. If you go to my website, mr empowerment.ng, you will see for yourself that I have a vision to empower one million Nigerians within the next 10 years.

Lots of graduates are unemployed in this clime. What opportunities abound for young entrepreneurs in your set up?

Will they want to start an affiliate programme? That should be the question. Affiliate programme is what we offer in PWAN real estate, where you are trained for free.

You are supposed to exert your energy and time if you don’t have money to go out, just like I did when I was marketing for that company when I was broke. I was once unemployed, then employed and now have become an employer of labour.

Are our unemployed graduates willing to stand in the sun and share fliers and canvass people? Unemployment is self-inflicted in this country and all over the world. It is self-inflicted because people just want to wait for a company to say I want to employ you or I am ready to employ you. Can our unemployed graduates of today go out, just like I did when I was broke and homeless and stand in the sun and share fliers for hours; and have hope that the effort one is putting in the business will yield  profit?

At the end of the day mine yielded profit. My word for them is: there is no unemployment in the world. We are the one that created unemployment; we will be the ones to reverse it.

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