JOY AYONOTE: How CRSL is Reducing Nigeria’s 22 Million Housing Deficit

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JOY AYONOTE

 

Nigeria’s current housing deficit is put at 22 million units and N200 trillion may be required to bridge that gap. In the meantime, Joy Ayonote, the Managing Director of Construction Recruitment Solutions Limited (CRSL), has stepped in by providing affordable housing units. In this interview with Bayo Akinloye, Ayonote talks about a new approach to addressing housing deficits in Nigeria and the future of home-ownership

Tell us about CRSL

I

run CRSL (Construction Recruitment Solutions Limited) that specializes in property Development under CRSL Homes. Although at its infancy, it’s already providing truly affordable and well-received housing units in Mowe-Ofada, Ogun State. It is also my ambition to assist the industry to streamline the standards for recruitment, appraising skills of artisans and providing technical training. I am excited at the prospects of what we do, especially as I ventured into the industry past middle age.

As a developer, what is your target market?

First and second-time buyers within the 25-35-year-old bracket are my primary target. Prices of units start from just N3m. The idea is to start with more affordable units and then trade up with our one, two, and three-bedroom homes. I note, however, that prospects tend to be older, already own houses, and do not require assistance with funding.

What are the immediate challenges you have faced since your entry into the property development?

The biggest challenges sadly originate from the government. It sometimes can take over a year to provide a survey plan. It would be helpful to have service level agreements, specifying time frames, and being accountable to the public especially as it is a paid-for service.

The over-zealous foreman, who prides himself – rarely ever herself I am proud to tease – as an architect, builder, structural, and quantity surveyor is best described as an affliction.

When I built a unit for the first time, I was fortunate to work with chirpy, rugged, can-do spirited types, who got more and more frustrated with the lack of roads and other infrastructure. We had a 2-week break and came back to find the Estate owner had started building units on the only road. It cost me almost three months in time. I choose to develop residential property within estates to avoid the Omo-Onile scourge but clearly a lack of legal framework encourages that sort of high-handedness. No notice was given. I got a call at the end of the three months’ wait for the developer, asking if I had travelled.

Construction-related financial products for micro-businesses are rare, if at all available. It winds me up each time I am asked by a building material vendor if the house is mine or for rent. It has become almost acceptable to suggest the use of sub-standard materials to build homes for rent and for sale to others. I could write a book about the challenges which make me admire those who are thick-skinned and forge ahead regardless.  I have picked up so much in such little time too and remain inspired to build more affordable units, thankfully.

What is the difference in Nigeria’s property development and the UK where you lived for a long time?

The UK is light years ahead of Nigeria with regard to building standards. Town planning as the word implies is painstakingly carried out for years, ensuring adequate infrastructure is provided before property development takes place. It is impossible to have six churches on one road, 20 schools in one estate because permission will not be granted. The communities are involved and provided a right to reply to planning application notices, to allow members to raise any concerns and objections where necessary. Conservation is a big deal in the UK and so is health and safety. I saw not one but three squirrels at Orile-Imo, Ogun State and exclaimed with delight.

Government built estates have no ramps and wheelchair access yet claim to provide inclusive housing services. Fortunately, CRSL Homes build and modify built units for wheelchair accessibility and for infirmed people too.

Property developers carry out extensive research into materials, giving the consumer some flexibility and input sometimes over kitchens, colours, textures in the UK.

Development funding is easily accessible in the UK and there are a number of financing options such as buyer funding developments, construction project funding and private funding initiatives to name a few. There are grants and loans. It is rare for a private developer like myself to self-fund.

I wouldn’t necessarily have to go to the government in the UK, they literally come to you with information and assistance via fairs, when registering a business, applying for planning permission. There is definitely more engagement with communities, more accountability, clearly defined roles with service level agreements.

Communication is readily available and enquiries promptly handled so I am partial to the level of professionalism from the UK Property Developers as with those working in government departments in charge of making processes run smoothly. Funding is available in Nigeria. There’s HOMS and the National Housing Fund. Getting accessed and approved promptly is not the norm. The challenges are mostly attitudinal. There’s a lack of vision, information and sometimes lack of care can be problematic.

How supportive has the insurance sector been to real estate development and how can it be improved?

I am unaware of any recent support from the insurance sector to real estate developments say within Mowe or Abule Egba for example.

I would love to see more professionals within construction covered by professional liability insurance. Artisans, as they are popularly called, provide a whole new level of risks thus remain an untapped market for insurers. I have not heard any radio adverts directed at the tiler, painter, bricklayer, roofer who clearly could benefit from products like injury, loss of limbs, life, disability, long-term illness and loss of wages.

The lack of consumer protection especially from the buyer’s perspective is uninspiring. How many homebuyers have an idea if there is a housing ombudsman and the function they would play? Insurance companies could educate customers through advice. I would have thought it makes sense for insurance companies to gift their clients with fire and smoke alarms. It would be helpful if home-owners undertake adequate building insurance to cover a rebuild cost. Truly priceless advice. Most don’t bother to.

What is studio apartment development?

A studio flat, also known as a self-contained apartment, or commonly as a mini-flat, is a fairly sized room that serves the function of a number of other rooms such as a living room, bedroom and kitchen but is combined into one room. CRSL offered studio flats as a step onto the property market. After the studio, comes two, two and three-bedroom homes. The opportunity to trade up is available. It’s not suited for families with children.

Has the market been receptive to your entry?

I was overwhelmed by the response I received from my test marketing sessions. I did not have to go public as most units appear taken. Viewings have been delayed for weeks sadly, due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Why did you choose to focus on studio apartments?

I don’t strictly focus on studios. I also build one, two and three-bedroom homes. I am moving towards special housing and now build homes for the wheelchair user. The studio is the most affordable unit we have. From the number of inquiries, I receive, it is clear that people seek this price and product. Half of the enquiries notably came from diasporans. Prices, although subject to change are currently N3m.

Which areas are you concentrating on?

Ogun state is where our buildings are for now. We have plans to commence building in Abule Egba, Ipaja mostly on the Mainland.

Have government policies toward affordable housing been far-reaching to realizing the set objective?

No, despite the obvious effort, the price of the affordable unit is still untouchable to the average minimum income wage earner. Most two and three-bedroom units cost between N7m and N10m. With monthly earnings of N30,000, how is the buyer supposed to pay off a N3m housing fund? It could work if the mortgage not a fund over a minimum period is spread over 25 years. The option to settle the debt earlier with little or no fines might help.

How has COVID-19 impacted the property market and how do you see this long term?

Education, banking, court sessions went online but there’s nothing like online housing. COVID-19 has seen a lot of loss of income cases. With cash-strapped people, come landlord-tenant cases. People are bound to weigh the cost of constantly paying rent versus buying land, houses whether off-plan or otherwise. I predicted that post-lockdown, more people will inquire about investing in landed properties and plots of land.

Property developers are bound to review their building costs as I am. CRSL Homes will use for the next phase, laterite soil blocks as they are heat resistant amongst other qualities. When rendered or skimmed, there is no telling what is beneath. Long-term, I predict an increase in demand for affordable units like mine that are in the region of N3m. Trends that will see leases on affordable units shrink to 25 years from 99 years.

How affordable are the studio apartments compared to the purchasing power of the average Nigerian?

N3 million for a studio flat unit is as fair as it gets. With the right initiatives from the government, combined with the current housing funding, I would say that the average Nigerian can afford it. Studio and one-bedroom flats are rare. The more experienced developers advise against them for reasons that Nigerians are sentimental about their property and find it hard to trade up.