Biodun Odeleye, the Principal Consultant of Biodun Odeleye & Co, an estate surveying, valuation and developing firm, believes the Nigerian government should put in more efforts if it is desirous of bridging the gap in the housing sector. In this interview with Pita Ochai, Senior Staff Writer, the first class graduate of Estate Management from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, bares his mind on contending issues in the real estate sector. Excerpts:
The Nigerian real estate sector seems to be growing based on the number of developments we see around. But do you think it’s really growing as expected of the sector?
To be frank with you, so much could be said about a growing economy but in real terms one could observe from a professional point of view, that what we call growth is not actually reflected in real terms especially with regard to physical development that ordinarily one would like to observe as a person involved in the building industry. This is because when you look at the various aspects of the society generally – has the growth translated to effective money in the pockets of the average Nigerian? I will rather say no! This is because one observes situations where people are finding it difficult to meet obligations. Rents could not be paid by tenants, while those who are working in some states are not able to collect salaries for upwards of three to five months. You will notice that this will have direct impact on the economic and social lives of the people.
People would rather sell properties now. In fact, there are more properties now available for sale than are available for letting/leasing. The market is kind of inundated with so many properties. And when a trend like this continues, it cannot be interpreted as growth in real terms. That is why I maintain that the growth that is being advertised, is rarely visible on the ground by way of translation into naira and kobo that we all can feel and be proud of.
In professional offices, bills are increasing, overhead costs are jumping, staff salaries and allowances have to be met and you also have to motivate the staff members so that you can enhance capacity or increase productivity. Therefore, if the income is not matching the overhead cost on monthly basis, at the end of the year, what will that translate to? You are incurring deficits and most of the firms are going through this as a routine trend.
Incidentally as a professional, you cannot do what the quacks are doing. You cannot cut corners like them because of the ethical standards involved in professionalism. You belong to a professional institution where you are duty bound to maintain integrity and observe the ethics that your professional body stipulates from time to time.
How can people differentiate between the quacks and the professionals?
Incidentally, it is not written on somebody’s forehead that this one is a quack and that other person is the real professional! But by their fruits we shall know them just like ‘a tree is known by its fruits.’ When you get to the office of the professional, you see a quality setting. For the professional estate surveyor and valuer, you will see the crest of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers boldly inscribed. When the professionals put banners/bill boards out there, the crest of the professional institution is also inscribed. The complimentary cards of the professional also carry the institutional crest to show that, that firm is affiliated to a particular professional institution, in this wise – The Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers. But for the quacks, definitely, all these will be missing, except they want to be fraudulent. Look at the crest which I mentioned just now, it carries a motto: “Honesty and Devotion”, and these are things that form the basis of the ethical provisions for estate surveyors and valuers, a guide to our operational activities as professionals. It speaks volumes about the quality of services rendered by the professionals, as distinct from the sharp practices which the quacks engage in. As much as possible the professional estate surveyor, (associate or fellow) knows that he is obliged statutorily to observe specific ethics and quality assurances which the professional bodies stipulate, enforce and monitor from time to time to ensure quality control, best practice standards, professional diligence, discipline and integrity.
There is also the regulatory body – The Estate and Valuers Registration Board of Nigeria. The professional is licensed by that regulatory agency with registration numbers allocated accordingly. The quack does not have any number allocated, and because it is a free-for-all market, we have quacks in the field especially in Estate Agency. However, if you want the best, you go to the professionals and if you want the rough-and-ready type of arrangement, you may patronise the quacks, in which case, you become the architect of your own misfortune.
Sometime last year, the World Bank came up with a report that Nigeria is in dire need of more than 17 million units of houses. With government policies on ground do you see the country gearing up to the challenges of bridging this huge housing gap?
When we relate the statistics to the local environment, at an average of about N3.5 to N4 million per unit, this runs to some trillions of naira. Some of us as professionals are even curious about the veracity of that claim. This is because more and more graduates are being turned out every year from Nigerian universities, and all these people will require shelter, they ought to be catered for in the projection. So, the figure of 17 million may be highly conservative. It could be a little more than that. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that we need 17 million housing units, that is not a projection that could possibly be met within a year, it is a gradual process, and incidentally, as events are unfolding and provisions are being made, more properties appear to be coming into the market. Suffice it to observe that with the current disposition of the Ministry of Housing and Urban development, one could say unequivocally, that there is the political will to meet the housing needs of the populace. These is a serious shortfall no doubt, but one could just advise that government should increase the tempo and the rate of development, by encouraging private developers and other stakeholders who are to be seriously and actively involved in this process in a constructive manner.
The professional bodies should be encouraged to collaborate with government in the housing programmes. The Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, the Nigerian Institutes of Architects, Builders, Quantity Surveyors, etc should be encouraged to support government. The Housing Corporations, the Federal Housing Authority, the banks, private developers, micro finance houses, private mortgage institutions and other stakeholders should rise to the occasion by pooling resources and devote such to housing, by way of a deliberate policy thrust.
Along the line, the housing sector would thus become an elevator in the country, in terms of economic growth, because it would offer employment opportunities to many graduates coming out of the universities and the trade centres towards providing high level, middle and low level skills that are required in the housing delivery process. However, access to fund or housing finance should be given priority attention by the government with appropriate institutional framework and policy direction geared towards facilitating the financing of housing programmes.
We are also praying that the economy will continue to improve so that when properties come into the market, there would be affordability. If the demand is not effective, many properties would be lying fallow and unoccupied.
Essentially, the various tiers of government should be actively involved in the implementation of a sound housing policy. As a matter of fact, there is nothing wrong in declaring a state of emergency in the housing sector for resources and efforts to be focused appropriately and deliberately, with all hands on deck, while also taking care of the legal framework pertaining to access to land, as well as the perfection of title to such land, as the Land Use Act is reviewed and operationalised for desired positive impacts.
Have members of your profession benefitted from the mortgage refinancing scheme with a start up loan of $300 million launched by the Federal Government last year?
Yes, a few members who are involved with Real Estate Development Association (REDAN) have benefited from the scheme, but we want more and more people to be actively involved in the scheme, so that it will be easy for us to also say that we are part of the national housing delivery programme.
As a matter of fact, the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers is already on the drawing board, trying to work out a scheme that would give the necessary impetus in this regard. The faculty of housing, that I am privileged to chair, is already working on the feasibility of acquiring land, building houses, raising finance from internal and external sources, so that we can be in a position to encourage other professionals to join in this crusade that calls for concerted efforts from all stakeholders in the building industry.
What drives your passion for this profession?
It has been largely a matter of sincere and natural love for the noble estate surveying profession, the utmost flair for excellence in professional practice, the continuing drive and burning urge to encourage incoming generations of Estate Surveyors, while standing out as a role model to give motivation as a professional.
What are those qualities that make your company unique?
Without attempting a self-glorification and you know that as professionals, we are not allowed to blow our trumpet by saying we are the best. Even when you are successful, you would rather pray to be able to absorb success and be driven by humility. Our modest observance of the ethics of the profession, as we strive to uphold the core values of integrity, accountability, respectability, excellence and efficiency have been the driving force which we cherish so much. We have tried to maintain the highest sense of “honesty and devotion” in compliance with the motto of the profession. Beyond this, we have enjoyed a lot of grace from God and we continue to strive for continual grace which helps to sustain the goodwill that is required for continuity in professional practice and business.