With over twenty-five years in the real estate industry in Nigeria, Akin Olawore member of Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) has become established as an icon in the industry.
Mr Akin Olawore
NREH: When did you set up your firm? What was your dream and vision at the time you set up the firm? What led to you starting it up?
This firm was set up in 1990, that’s about 23 years ago, but I’ve been practicing since 1982 (before graduation). I graduated in 1983, and for us, we used to have attachments, so I used my attachment as a practice period. We actually started in 1981, but I started it seriously in 1982, looking at how the career would be like for me. So we started here in 1990. The vision is also the kind I took into practice when I was going out there, and that is the fact that we wanted to add value and make our own impact. Of course, when you are first starting out in the 80s, the first thought is “What will the terrain be like?”. It is the way the terrain is that would determine the kind of impact we would have.
By the time I was going to start out I had left as a partner in Diya Fatimilehin and Co, so I had seen all that I needed to see at that time. What I just told my self was that well, because I am going out, I am going to be like a general practitioner; some people already know the kind of value I can add, so all I needed to do was to re-enforce that and add value as appropriate. And we thank God, to God be the glory that is what we have been able to do thus far.
I had never pretended that I wanted a very large practice, because my experience in Diya Fatimilehin and Co have taught me to rather prefer to have a smaller firm that I can control with ease, and then have other people grow within it organically, who can then now create the necessary environment for their own growth.
As for me, I would give them the necessary encouragement, support and training that they require, and also mentorship to bring them up to the speed that they need to be. And so, that was what we set out to do, and God has helped us far to do that. We’ve been able to carve out our own niche in the market, we’ve actually shown the kind of things we have flair for and the kind of things we like to do, and the market has responded very well to us, and we give God the glory.
NREH: Sir, you have been in this industry for a long time. We would like to know, what make it interesting for you to come to the office and talk Real Estate all the time? What drives you?
One thing that I’ve learned in my life, as I continue to develop and grow, is that there is nothing that you have that was not given to you by God. Now, He didn’t give it to you to hide it, He gave it to you for a purpose. So, the question I always ask myself is “What do you God want me to do today?”; He won’t ask me to do what He hasn’t prepared me for. Obviously, if He wants me to go out there and do what I can do in the Real Estate sector, I go.
So, for every challenge that we face, I know that there will be a solution, and God always gives us a way to come up with solutions. That is what drives me everyday. When I wake up, I ask, “what do you want me to do?” I don’t look at the amount of money I want to make today. I believe it is God that provides, so, that is what drives me.
NREH: So does that form some kind of guiding principle, a benchmark?
Yes, it is! It is, more especially because I believe that this profession is the first profession on earth. Yes. And when you look at every thing surrounding all what we do, there is nothing that you do in Real Estate that does not involve you blessing somebody. If it is an agency, and you find a house for somebody, you bless the person. It didn’t occur to me until 1985 or 1987, when a friend of mine that I just met was looking for accommodation.
I was able to get him one, and he sent me a personal invitation to his wedding, and after the wedding he introduced me to his wife as the person who made it possible for their wedding to take place. I asked what that meant, and he said that his in-laws gave him an ultimatum that until he got his own house, he couldn’t go ahead with the wedding. I was just there to make it happen. That’s why I said that for every challenge, we look for solutions. There’s no endeavour that you pursue that doesn’t involve Real Estate.
If someone goes and carves his relevance, it means that God has positioned him there to make people’s dreams come true. So you must keep finding solutions. You must continue to think around issues, to try to get around challenges, and figure out how everybody involved will be happy, then you bless people.
So, what is the state of the real estate sector in Nigeria, at the moment?
Well, what I will say is that it is maturing (not yet fully matured), because the country itself is still growing. What happens in real estate is that when it starts maturing, we are going to have the capital market intervention. We are still very far from the capital market intervention.
We still have 16 to 20 million housing deficits, we have very few Grade A offices, then there is distortion in the value trend. In the reading of the market, there is distortion. So, by the time you get towards maturity, there will be a near-saturation situation where it will be easy to predict what will happen next in the market. The market is one-sided now, but which market? Because when we talk about market, we are now talking about market segments.
We have market segment by income, we have market segment by location, we also have market segment by use and other ones. But let’s look at income, location and use, and then we pick residential first. By location, the high end (which is also by income), in residential, they are still tottering?
The prices of a number of them are outside the range of the locals. They realize that, but they also felt at that time that investment was coming into the country. Investors needed to come into the country; the Naira had lost some value. Some people where able to afford it then, which they did. But as soon as the global crises came, money dried up out there. So, coming into Nigeria to come and dwell became an issue. Now people had already invested, it was already on the ground.
The prices were rising, but people were still buying because they could afford it. The ‘Bigger Fool Theory’ came into play, until it got stuck in somebody’s hands at an expensive price and there was no way to get rid of it. At the high-end, there are some of the properties that some people will snap-up because it is really at the top for the few top people.
There are also some of them that will be relatively newer that people will also buy at the same price as the previous category. But at the lower end and the middle end, those who have been displaced from the upper end now come there to displace the people at the lower and middle ends because they have more money, and then the displaced people move further down.
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