‘2016 will offer increasing opportunities in mixed developments’
Having spotted the opportunity that an international Real Estate network provides, MRS. UDO MARYANNE OKONJO successfully negotiated and acquired the Fine & Country West Africa license in 2007 along with other partners, launching successfully in Nigeria in 2008. Okonjo, a lawyer by profession is very passionate about real estate as a means of wealth creation and nation building. In this interview with CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM, she throws more light on her firm’s strategic real estate marketing intelligence and branding for premium residential, commercial and mixed-use projects as well as the forth-coming real estate leadership conference – Refined Investor Series.
NIGERIA real estate may have witnessed its worst times in 2015, what are the prospects of the industry in 2016?
2016 is looking bright for the real estate sector. We now have a stable political environment, which has given investors some level of comfort. However, double digit interest rates along with restrictive foreign exchange regulations are likely to continue to impact the volume of residential and commercial transactions with only projects, which offer unique value propositions, attracting active interest from increasingly selective and discerning investors. 2016 however will offer increasing opportunities in good quality, well-positioned mixed developments with significant levels of activities expected in the retail and commercial sectors. In addition, with the improvement in the caliber of property as well as the quality of professionals operating in this sector, the industry is set to be steady
What should be done to build the future of the real estate market and ensure its competitiveness?
To increase competitiveness, we need improved access to finance with longer-term repayment terms. For the mid market level, the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC) will aid in this process by offering better long term and reduced financing options which will trigger more growth in the sector. For the higher end of the market, what’s required are innovative building technologies, along with creative designs that are market driven and that contribute to enhanced lifestyle whether in commercial or residential spaces.
Do you believe that solutions to the dearth of luxury office space lie in the adoption of high-rise structures? Can projects like the Eko Atlantic City boasts the nation’s residential and office space?
There’s definitely a case to be made for tall buildings that not only define city landscapes but also help to provide a pool of options for investors. Eko Atlantic can definitely pay and indeed appears set to redefine residential and commercial real estate trajectory of not only Lagos but countrywide. Interestingly there are many investment entry points into the Eko Atlantic ranging from great value well thought through projects such as ‘The1Eko,’ a very well priced urban residential solution offering young investors and professionals an opportunity to gain access into the exciting new lifestyle that Eko Atlantic is set to provide.
Fine and Country along with the Institute of Real Estate Excellence (IREE) are planning its Refined Investor Series.
How does this platform provide insights that will positively influence and impact the future of prime residential & commercial real estate in Nigeria?
The Refined Investor Series is a real estate thought leadership event targeted at upcoming and astute investors and stakeholders, economic influencers, industry leaders, real estate developers, and real estate/property enthusiasts to discuss the unique opportunities and changing skylines of Nigeria with special focus of Lagos and Abuja. The main objective is to provide accurate and current real estate insight to investors at the emerging urban class to high end of the market. Essentially, it’s a roadmap for real estate investors or intending investors.
This event is particularly important at this time with increasing foreign investor enquiries and a focus on Nigeria, a new leadership at the helm of economic affairs, including housing and also the increasing demand for real estate that meets international standards. We want key stakeholders, especially the top-level investors who shape the industry to be able to connect, discuss and provide strategies and projections for the future of the Nigerian prime real estate. It will also provide a platform for very select premium and good quality emerging urban developers to feature their upcoming developments to a captive audience of discerning investors, with real time invaluable customer feedback to help shape the project before they come to the market.
The Building the Future wall exhibition, which features a nouveau concept, will follow the event. How many pre-qualified prime projects will be displayed for high net worth individuals to view? How did you select the property?
Only carefully selected, premium developments will be featured at the “Building the Future Wall” exhibition. These developments are selected based on the feedback of major stakeholders in the industry on certain criteria like the type of developer and contractors used, the quality of materials used, the vision behind the developments, facilities being offered, technical considerations, environmental consciousness and so on.
Within a short space of time, the Nigerian office in Lagos has leaped to the top in the provision of excellent real estate services to clients. As the Chief Executive Officer of Fine and Country, West Africa, how did you achieve this feat?
Our progress has largely been due to the caliber of clients we serve, who are truly astute and have very high expectations of their investments and consequently of us as their trusted advisors. This factor is combined with the top quality of professionals who take pride in delivering excellent results to Fine and Country’s clients. Finally, I would definitely need to give credit to the Fine and Country international network that we are a part of, which gives us a real opportunity to offer both an international perspective mixed with local expertise on all our mandates.
What have been the best moments for Fine and Country and challenges operating in Nigeria?
Our best moments have definitely been signing and executing exclusive mandates on the very best prime commercial, residential and mixed-use developments in the country ranging from Civic Centre Towers, Centre Heights, and Nestoil Tower. The vote of confidence by incredibly discerning investors and our being able to confirm that confidence by delivering undeniable results is by far the best aspect of doing business.
Our biggest challenge has also been our biggest opportunity, trying to convince developers of the need to appoint an exclusive or lead real estate firm such as Fine and Country as a way of preserving the premium voice of the project and thereby capture a pricing premium due to effective positioning.