Mr. Elias Lenaan Dongyen is a Director and Executive Team Lead, Innovative Realtors Network situated at 24/25, Helen Plaza, Lakowe, Ibeju-Lekki Local Government Area of Lagos State, a company he co-founded in 2020. He has been practicing since 2015 while still working as Information and Resources Manager in a Law Firm before he resigned in 2019 to establish his own Organization with other two partners.
He hails from Kwande District of Quaan-Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State. He had worked with the then Plateau State government transport company known as ‘Plateau Express Services Ltd’ as booking clerk for five years after his secondary education before he moved to Lagos and worked as support staff in a law firm.
Dongyen who is now a realtor actually wanted to study Law before he opted for Business Administration at Lagos State University (LASU).
In this interview with Wilson Adekumola, he gives an insight into real estate in Nigeria. Excerpts;
You studied Business Administration, what informed your foray into real estate?
I was introduced to real estate by one of my junior colleagues where I was working. I bought the vision and took it seriously with all passion. Then, I began to learn a lot about it using my idle time. It was not long while learning that I closed my first deal, which encouraged and motivated my interest a lot to be more serious in the industry.
What then is your assessment of the real estate business in Nigeria since you have been playing in it?
The real estate business in Nigeria is the fastest growing business in the whole of West Africa countries. The industry as of 2016 was worth 59trillion naira in the real estate market value put together. Four years down the line, irrespective of the COVID-19 pandemic, (a period when most estate companies closed the best of deals), the value today is unimaginable compared to the value of the local stock market.
The real estate business in Nigeria is large with different categories of real estate practitioners transacting the business in different facets. The developers are there, the realtors are also there and these sets of real estate practitioners usually work together to achieve a common goal, which at the end of the day is all aimed at adding value to the client who is the key figure that brings the money into the business.
However, the issue I am concerned about in the real estate business is that the industry is today polluted with a lot of quacks. These are the people that are causing problems in the business and making it difficult for clients to buy properties. There is also the issue of land grabbers, which the Lagos State Government has been waging war against, and some corrupt government officials that are making things difficult for the business to thrive pose another threat. But there are a lot who are doing the business with the highest level of sincerity and integrity. In summary, I can say, despite the biting economic situation in the country, the real estate business in Nigeria is thriving.
What has been your experience in the business and what is it that people need to know to operate successfully in the business?
My experience in real estate has been very delightful and exciting. As a real estate marketing and consulting firm, it has not been easy for us and my partners. Dealing with a group of consultants, training, motivating, and following them up to ensure that deals are closed is not an easy task because it comes with a lot of efforts and resources put in place just to ensure that the consultants are well equipped to make the clients not only buy their dream homes or land through us but also have peace of mind.
There are so many agents selling landed property today. And sometimes makes the industry confusing to outsiders. How will you react to this?
It is not a surprise to see so many agents selling landed properties today. This is because the industry has not been properly regulated. It’s only recently that the Lagos State Government is becoming serious about real estate regulations. Before this regulation, it was common to hear that people were defrauded as a result of real estate transactions.
But since the real estate marketing arm of the industry adopted a well-structured network marketing model, where payment of commissions is spread within consultants in the network the issue of malpractices has reduced. There is a business model in which a distributor network is needed to build the business.
Usually, such businesses are also multilevel marketing in nature in that payouts occur at more than one level. This is one of the most organized forms of real estate business wherein developers and distributor network firms partner together for the purpose of selling the property (or properties) of a developer wherein commission is paid through the distributor network to disburse to the consultants who close the deal (s).
This is the model that Innovative Realtors Network works with and so far it is perfect and that is what makes us different from other road-side agents who do not have this kind of structure and are therefore disorganized.
For somebody who desires his own home, what is the candid advice you will give?
Anyone who desires to own a home should go through the right channel. He must be able to look out for accredited real estate sales consultant to guide them towards making the right investment decision when it has to do with owning a home, and that is one of the key areas our organization qualifies in doing and will continue to do it for its clients and prospective clients alike.
The Lagos State government has tried to clamp down the activities of the land grabbers also known as Omo-Onile through the property protection law by issuing a 21-year term to any defaulter and there are houses with C of O yet they still get threats from these so-called land speculators. Do you think the owners of these houses have any cause to worry?
Speaking about land grabbers and Omo-Oniles, it is a problem that has persisted so much in Lagos State but thank God, the government has waded into the matter and there is a significant reduction in the case of land grabbing and Omo-Onile’s problems in the State, probably because of litigation of 21-year jail term to defaulters. But irrespective of that, there are cases of the Omo-Oniles, recently, putting sign post that carries community/family names supposedly owned by them, to which the state is educating the populace not to fall, a victim.
But in all of these, apart from the fact that real estate investors/buyers should take a calculated risk, they should be able to do their due diligence thoroughly before parting with their money to buy land. One exceptional thing about Innovative Realtors Network is that we ensure that all that is done for our clients through our legal advisers. Even after doing that, we would usually advise the client to still do further checks before buying. But owners do not have any cause to worry if they did the right and thorough checks before buying their land/homes.
Apart from the C of O, what are other relevant documents a house owner must have?
Apart from Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) , a document usually issued by the land bureau of the state in which the property is situated and a justifiable consent from the government that the property is in your possession; other relevant documents a house owner must have includes, Receipt of Purchase of the house duly issued by the seller.
Another document a house owner must have is the Deed of Assignment, which is an agreement between the seller of a property and the buyer of that property showing evidence that the seller has transferred all his rights, his title, his interest, and ownership of that land to the buyer who has just bought the said property.
There is also the Registered Survey Plan, a diagram that describes the margin and precise dimension of a parcel of land. This document is usually drawn by a registered surveyor who has the duty of lodging a registered copy of the survey plan at the Surveyor General’s office of the state in which the land is situated.
The next document that a home owner should have is the Approved Building Plan. This is an endorsement to proceed with the construction or reconfiguration of a particular structure in a specific place, in accordance with the approved requirement, and to also ensure that the structure of the property corresponds with what is shown on the plan.
There are so many properties for sale without buyers, especially in some prime areas. Is this an indication that prices of properties may crash?
Yes, it is true that there are lots of properties without buyers, but that a property is not bought now does not mean there are no buyers for the property. There are so many factors to be considered before a property is bought; things like the property type, location, structure/finishing interiors, title, and even price of the property. For instance, when a property is overpriced or underpriced,
it raises questions in the minds of buyers. For some properties, the owners have certain restrictions and conditions that affect the sale of the property, but even with these factors, it does not mean that prices of properties may crash. Some owners may decide to put the properties on ‘Distress Sales’ in which case, owners decide to crash the prices of properties because they are in urgent need of money to solve personal problems.
Many landlords complain of not being paid by their tenants. In all honesty, how profitable is the house rent business?
Because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, a lot of tenants find it very difficult to pay their rent. I don’t think it is an intentional act by those tenants. A lot of them have lost their jobs and life gets more difficult to the extent that any little money that gets into their hands is used to feed the family. They are also faced with payment of school fees and other bills to settle.
Secondly, the economic situation in the country is not encouraging, because even the government is struggling to get its feet. Aside from these issues, the house rental business is a very lucrative business because as a landlord, you are sure of annual income from payment of rent; imagine a landlord who owns property in highbrow areas like Banana Island, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, and VGC in Lagos and other metropolitan areas. How much do you think they earn annually? Real estate is the boom!
What best way should landlords handle their tenants?
Landlords should handle their tenants with understanding and they should be humane enough to put their feet in their tenant’s shoes, that is the only way they could know how challenging it is to be a tenant. But in all honesty, there are landlords that give concessions to their tenants when payment is delayed. But there are equally some who do not even wait for the rent to expire before they start mounting pressure on the tenants. In summary, there should exist a mutual relationship between landlords and tenants.
What basic right does a tenant have?
The basic rights a tenant has among others include the Right to payment receipt and written agreement. The landlord under the law must give the tenant written evidence that shows he collects money for rent. Again, both landlord and tenant are supposed to state the type of relationship they want and how to terminate the relationship. However, a tenant is supposed to request and obtain a tenancy agreement and go through it carefully before appending his signature.
A tenant also has the right to peaceful enjoyment and exclusive possession. This is usually also included in the tenancy agreement. It is important because it shows the kind of possession the tenant has. The landlord is also supposed to give the tenant the right to use the premises without any third party’s interference except if the landlord wants to inspect the property.
The other right a tenant has is the right to habitable premises – this entails the habitable nature of the property which the tenant must enjoy. It, therefore, means that the property must be structurally balanced, and any defects in the structure must be fixed by the landlord without further delay. A lot of landlords imbibe the habit of removing roofing sheets of the building or blocking septic tanks to inconvenience the tenant; all these actions are illegal.
The next one is freedom from unlawful eviction from property- A tenant is protected by law and can therefore not be evicted without the required legal procedure.
To terminate any tenancy agreement, the landlord is supposed to give the tenant a valid ‘Notice to Quit’ if the tenant refuses to leave the premises, another seven days’ notice would be given and at the expiration of the seven days and the tenant still refuses to quit the premises, the landlord now has every right to take the tenant to court who exercises its power to evict the tenant.
The tenant must pay for the period of time that he refused to quit during the notice. Finally, the tenant has the right to freedom from an unreasonable increase in rent – the law also protects the tenant and does not allow the landlord to increase rent unreasonably. The increase must not be outrageous and must correspond with the rent charged within the environment. However, the law recognizes that the landlord can increase the rent but the increase must be justifiable and there must be evidence for the justification.