Alhaji Umar Abdullahi is the Managing Director of Brains and Hammers Limited, an Abuja-based company that won the Nigeria Customer Service Award for customer service excellence in real estate during the customer service week, earlier this month. In this interview with Senator Iroegbu, he speaks on plans for more affordable housing for Nigerians…
Your company recently won an award for excellence in customer service. What earned you the award?
Brains and Hammers is actually the first company that started a dedicated customer service department in real estate in Abuja and it is based on that the Nigeria Customer Service Award found us worthy of the award. We were nominated alongside other real estate companies and we emerged winner. I think it is a well deserved award considering the fact that we have dedicated enormous resources to develop the customer service department. Every of our customers has an account officer attached to them and is responsible for managing the project, from the foundation stage to completion of the project, after which the facility manager takes over.
I think they came and did their assessment and what they saw based on how we treat our customers and management of the whole relationship bagged us the award. Quality is our watchword here and in terms of selecting our staff, we make sure we hire skilled professionals and foremen. We don’t compromise on standard of materials and skills we use in our projects. We also train our staff locally and internationally, to be the best, both technical and supporting staff. Every year, we send our engineering and project management staff abroad for training, just to make sure that they get the highest skill available.
As the saying goes, ‘reward for hard work is more hard work’, what new projects are you working on?
We started operation in January 2011 and so far, we have executed three projects, Apo 1, Apo 2 and Life Camp. By next year, we should be rounding off all these projects. So far, we’ve built over 600 houses and our plan now is to build 750 houses. We’ve already acquired two hectares of land in the heart of Gwarinpa estate for about 87 units of building. We are also about to acquire another site for our Apo 3 project for about 137 housing units and then, we are in the process of signing an MoU with the African University of Science and Technology (AUST) for 15.5 hectares of land and we plan to build about 500 units. In total, we are talking about 750 houses, that’s our target and we’ve achieved over 600 in five years.
Unlike, some private entities, corporate social responsibility appears to be an integral part of your company’s business. What informed this?
We believe in adding value wherever we go, we impact any community where we find ourselves positively. Take this Apo site for instance, when we moved in here in 2010, it was all bush but since we moved in, we’ve constructed asphalt access road of 1.7 kilometres, drainages, culverts and street lights and these have impacted on the community by adding value to properties that were already existing and cost of other lands around here as well. Though it is the responsibility of government to fix the road for instance, we decided that we should do it to make them happy.
Affordable housing is a major challenge in the country. What provision do you have for low and middle income earners, considering that they are the worst hit by the gaping housing deficit in the country?
We have plans for affordable housing. We are presently about to seal a deal for acquisition of a 25 hectare land in Abuja where we will have bungalows and one-storey houses that will be in the range of N10 to N15 million.
How affordable would you say your projects are generally?
Pricing depends on location. The price of a property in Apo for instance would be different from the price of one inside Gwarinpa or Life Camp. The price of all property we sold four years ago for instance, have appreciated by about 80 to 100 per cent, so, it is also an avenue for those looking to invest in property because the return on investment is very encouraging. We always ensure that our properties are reasonably priced, to encourage people to buy. Already, some cooperative organisations and corporate bodies are approaching us for construction of their staff housing estates and we are in the process of completing one of such projects in Life Camp.
Importation of construction materials is still very prevalent in the country. Is your company considering local production in the long term?
Our primary business now is construction; but what we are planning to do is to make some of our existing departments full-fledged subsidiaries.
In what way will your new projects be an improvement on previous models?
Every new project we do is usually an improvement on the last one, particularly in areas such as size of buildings, space between building, and improvement on the design. We improve based on feedback we get from our customers. In our latest project, we want to ensure that there is total improvement from the design, construction, facilities etc, to satisfy our customers. All our estates meet the standard of a mini city in a city, where we have facilities such as recreation parks, markets, water, security, hospitals, club house, sports arena, etc, for the comfort of residents.