For some time, the search for properties in the major cities in Nigeria has been quite herculean for companies and high net worth individuals. In a bid to bridge the gap between supply and demand in the real estate market, an online market place for properties known as Lamudi.com.ng was launched in 2013. Today, Lamudi.com.ng has become the number one online real estate market place as it boasts more than 40,000 listing of properties on its site. This has made the search for properties in Lagos and Abuja easier and created room for realtors to easily find customers. Obi Ejimofo, Managing Director, Lamudi.com.ng, in this interview with Pita Ochai, senior staff writer, speaks on the uniqueness of this top property finder in Nigeria, its integrity, the fascinating features of their new package known as “Dial4Home” and the dream of making Lamudi.com.ng the goggle of the real estate market. Excerpts:
How would you describe your company – Lamudi.com.ng?
We pride ourselves as the number one online market place for properties in Nigeria. It is a place where people who want to either buy or sell properties can meet estate agents and property developers. We launched our operation in October 2013. Today, we are the largest online property market in the country.
What criteria did you use to rate yourself as the largest online property market in the country, is it based on the volume of property deals?
We apply different factors. As the largest online property market, we focus on various choices available to people – the amount of land, apartments, houses, buildings and listing on our site. As at the last count, we had many listings in our data base which were as much as all of our three closest competitors combined. In terms of traffic, and responses, we have the most traffic of enquiries both within and outside the country. In terms of agents, we have over 7, 000 registered agents and property developers among whom to choose. As many people will say, it is not always about the size, it is important for us to ensure adequate choice. You need to be able to say this is what I want. When you have choice, it has an impact on pricing, if a buyer has the ability to choose between five to 10 different properties, that puts him in a stronger position to negotiate the terms of the agreement.
Many doubt the integrity of some realtors. How do you select those who are working with you to ensure they do not disappoint prospective clients?
A lot of people talk about this integrity issue, I think it is more permanent in real estate because of the high cost and prices involved. There are people who buy cars every year, but it is not so for houses. Buying a house is like a one-off thing one does in one’s life time, all things being equal. It is a substantial investment. So when things go wrong in the real estate market, it makes a lot of news. But the question is: Is the real estate particularly fraudulent compared to other sectors? No, I don’t think so. It is just that when something bad occurs in the real estate, it makes more news. For instance, when I said we have about 7,000 property listings, we ensure that we have a contract with every agent. For most of our agents, it is important for us to know the persons and their offices, so that when there are matters of arbitration, we are sure that the people involve cannot just park up and disappear. This is very important just as it is essential for us to be sure that our prospective clients want to do good business. However, the bad approach in the market has created the sense that the market is highly corrupt. So, it is important to talk about perception which is different from reality. At Lamudi, we don’t just allow anybody list on our platform, those who are allowed to list properties on our platforms for six to 12 months and beyond have to be with us on contract, we have their contact, office details, all information required to know that we have a partnership with them. We also allow certain number of people to list for a certain amount of time, typically three months after which they have to sign a contract. They must be estate agents or property developers and then sign up a contract and remain on the platform. We also have what we call the “trusted sellers”, who are our premium agents, people who we are able to guarantee to our customers. We are also looking at other ways we can help smaller players in the market achieve certain level of trust. We have talked about strategic relationship with the Association of Estate Agents in Nigeria (AEAN), a professional association of about 3000 agents based in Lagos and some other states. We have an arrangement in which we allow AEAN members to sign up contracts on our site, and in the event of any issue occurring, it is not only us that will take action, AEAN as a body can also take action. We are re-enforcing each other on zero tolerance for fraud.
Has your effort in bridging the gap between supply and demand in the property market affected price in any way?
We have been in business for about 15 months; it takes time to ramp up to a good steady state of traffic. As I said, Lamudi was launched in October 2013, the point at which we really began to look at the data was February 2014. At that time, we had about 2000 properties listed on the site. Today, we have over 40,000, that is, within 12 months our traffic has also increased at a similar rate. We started looking at our demand and supply data six months ago. Now we have a solid base of data that we can start tracking to know whether our prices are falling or rising in specific areas and how the demand is changing. We can say whether people are now looking towards Ikorodu for houses to buy or rent? A lot of people thought that our site was only for those on the Island, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, among others. But since we started we found out that the second most popular destination for people who want a 3-bedroom flat in Lagos is Akoka in Yaba, that is the level of details we have been able to look at. In the next three to six months, we hope to share the market trends for customers and suppliers who need to understand where the demand is and how supply is changing to enable them make more informed choices.
You just introduced a new package known as“Dial4Home.” What is it all about?
“Dial4Home,” is our most recently introduced simple concept of property hotline in the market. You can call the number to tell us what you want in terms of property. If you are looking for a 3-bedroom house in Gbagada or a 5-bedroom mansion in Surulere, whatever it is, you can call the number and we will search for you. We will find at least five agents who have exactly what you are looking for and we will supply you with the contacts of those agents who are under contract with us. We will also provide them with your contact details to enable them contact you immediately. You may ask why are we doing that? We started as an online platform and the online market in Nigeria is big and growing rapidly. The estimate for last year was that over 60 million internet connections were made, that is, by 2015 over 60 million Nigerians are going online. Now, over 60 percent of them are coming from mobile devices. We experience the same, a large proportion of people who come to Lamudi were by smartphones or tablets. There are only about 12 million smartphone subscribers in the country, they are four times the number of those who have the mobile phones but not actually accessing internet at all. So we look at it and say we got the largest data-base in the country, why don’t we make that available to the largest percentage of people who could possibly get in touch with us. And that is why we started the simple voice or SMS to Lamudi.
At what time are the hotlines available to customers?
If you wake up by 7am, just wait for one hour, it will be ready by 8am on Monday to Friday, that is, from 8am to 8pm. And at the weekend, it is available from 10am to 5pm. On Sundays, our hotlines are on from 12 noon to 5pm. So we try as much as possible to be available. We decided not to make it a 24-hour service because we looked at the demand data on our platform and found out that we need to be available at the exact time people are searching for properties. If we go ahead in the next few months and find out that the dynamics are different in terms of when people call, or if there are more people calling at night, we will cover that because we want to be available for the people.
You have so much passion in what you are doing. What is driving that passion?
I love this job, it is a fantastic thing. I have been all over the world. I have worked in New York, London, the Netherlands, India, etc, but there is nothing like being home. I grew up in Enugu and hustled in Lagos. To me, there is nothing like matching the experience that you have to the things you know best. If you want to be an entrepreneur you have to do something you love. You have to work with an excellent team comprising young persons who also want to become entrepreneurs.
What are the prospects for Lamudi in the next five to 10 years?
Ten years is too long, even a fresh business man in any venture should not look beyond one year. It is as simple as that. I don’t look beyond one month because the moment you start looking at five years and beyond, you lose focus of what is within your reach. I believe that five years as a target for anybody wishing to come into the online market in Nigeria whether for houses, cars, or bags is too late. The market is shaping up now. For me, my job is to ensure that Lamudi not only maintains its leading position in the market, but also becomes the goggle of the real estate market.