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    Estate Surveyors have bright prospect, says Abonta
    Written by Chinedum Uwaegbulam & Co
    Posted on 26-03-2019

    Lagos, the host for Eko Akete 2019, is the place to be this week for Nigeria's estate surveying and valuation community and their patrons. Here, Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and valuers (NIESV) President, ROWLAND ABONTA, speaks with CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM AND NKECHI ONYEDIKA-UGOEZE on the conference and other issues concerning the profession.

    The theme for this year's conference concerns the surveyor’s perspective of smart cities. The smart cities appear to be growing phenomenon, at least in the country. What is a smart city?
    By simple definition, a smart city can be viewed from the background of a city that is driven by technology and performs efficiently.It can also be seen as that city that has all the technology, in terms of infrastructure and social services.

    Part of the recommendations in your conference last year was for government to come up with roadmap in estate development and also improve infrastructure, in terms of quality and quantity. How can this impact infrastructure gap we have presently in the country?
    Real estate sector constitutes close to 80 per cent of every urban area or city. Of course, the impact would be better investment yield for investors in the cities or real estate sector. It would have a direct impact if the entire infrastructure are in place and all the technologies are available to make the city work. In that case, better value appreciation would be achieved in the property market and demand will also increase when the city is performing efficiently.I must say that this government has really invested substantially in infrastructure provision, but what I see lacking is coordinated development in infrastructure. Just like the case of housing, what we keep having is ad hoc approach to provision of infrastructure without a comprehensive plan of making the infrastructure available.

    Some of them derive from the issue of political patronage, in terms of where to site the infrastructure and who will actually be given the job. Also, for all intent and purpose, whenever political considerations come into the decision of development, you may not achieve your objective. Once we remove political sentiments, our investments in infrastructure will be better for it. What is your level of involvement in infrastructure development in the country?
    We are involved in infrastructure development. I must also use this opportunity to appreciate the minister of Power, Works and Housing, because not too long ago and on continuous basis, members of this profession have been engaged as Right of Way (RoW) acquisition and consultancy, as well as in payment compensation for the rail lines coming up across the country.We still have more opportunity for better delivery in the area of getting other professionals involved in project management. We could be part of project management on infrastructure development.

    What is the prospect of your profession in this perspective?
    We have a very bright prospect. We believe that the awareness is catching up. Before now, we had some areas of our professional practice encroached by unqualified people or quacks. Today, we have a better perception of the profession through strategic advocacies that have been going on. Today, we have taken over all the core competence areas of the profession. So, the prospect is very bright for estate surveyors and valuers. We will continue to advocate and plead with government to work with us on developmental issues for a better result.

    What are your expected short and long-term impact of your conference?
    On the short-term, we are sure that our members would go into the conference to acquire up-to-date skills and knowledge concerning urban and city administration.
    Also, professionals who have shown interest in the conference would be better equipped to deliver better service for residents of Nigerian cities. In the long run, we believe that the knowledge acquired from this conference would be brought to bear on future developmental issues. The development control agencies in our cities would have been given better ideas and approaches to the issue of being preventive. Hopefully, that would stop the issue of collapse of buildings in all parts of the country. Above all, those who would be at home to watch the conference or read in the newspaper would definitely be able to identify what should be their minimum expectations from city administrators or managers and know their responsibilities as residents.I think it is a win-win situation for all.

    How do you see the future of your profession in the context of global trend?
    Because of the new networking strategy in Nigeria, we are totally affiliated to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) of London, which is the foremost surveying professional body in the world, and we would be having representatives of RICS in our ongoing conference. We are also networking with other Africa surveying professional bodies in Ghana, Kenya and even America. We are doing a lot of networking to share knowledge and experiences. It is a common saying that the world is a global village and we have seen a lot of inflow of foreign investment in real estate in Nigeria. We have also seen foreign professional surveyors coming into the country. They don't come on their own; they come in partnership with our members, and we are insisting that government must implement the local content. For instance, a United Kingdom (UK) or United States (US) firm coming into Nigeria must form an alliance with a Nigerian firm, which would help us to benchmark them and meet up with minimum professional standards.

    What are the challenges facing your profession and how can they be addressed?
    The greatest challenge is the influx of quacks into the profession. Today in Nigeria, if anyone does property transaction with the wrong person, he goes home with the impression that all estate surveyors are the same. But when you come closer and investigate what happened, you would find out that somebody somewhere who acted as an estate agent misrepresented the profession. We are not taking it kindly and we are doing everything within our power to ensure that those who spoil our name in the real estate market place are brought to book. It is a difficult task, but we are not giving up on it. All we need is to solicit governments' and agencies’ support, particularly the law enforcement agencies. We also need to work together to flush out bad eggs in the profession and are doing a lot of enlightenment. With support from government and the awareness we are creating, we are going to checkmate those that have no business in our profession.

    How would you describe the real estate market in Nigeria, considering the existing poor economic situation?
    The real estate market in Nigeria is not doing very well, because the economic misfortunes that have befallen our nation in recent years have had direct impact in the sector.First and foremost, investment in real estate is not a small time investment; it is a cost-intensive venture. And of course, we run an economy where people have limited access to mortgages and loan facilities for real estate investments.

    Besides, the real estate investment requires a long-term of existence before you can recoup whatever you invested into it, because the banks have little attraction in the funding of their real estate investments. The mortgage institution that ought to play that role effectively, as it found in other parts of the world, is still undeveloped in Nigeria. Even those who invest for personal use find limited access to credits. Again, on the other side, about 80 per cent of real estate in Nigeria is privately sponsored. They are developed by personal funds, unlike other parts of the world, where we could have over 90 per cent of such real estate investment financed by credit facilities.

    So, once there is a little shift in the original plan for repayment of the credits, the economy begins to shake its foundation. In real time, the loss of income due to non-payment of rents and a few available off takers of finished product in the real estate market have also helped to downplay the potentials of the Nigerian real estate market.

    What is the relationship between your profession and Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) and other government agencies, especially as it concerns valuation practice?
    It is a working relationship. From the year AMCON was established, the leadership then reached out to the leadership of our professional body and declared what role they expected us to play, in terms of revaluing their mortgage assets that have gone bad.We had series of training on how to approach the very delicate issue that had threatened the very existence of financial institutions in Nigeria. Our members worked tediously to meet with the demands and up till now, we have a very good working relationship.

    However, there appears to be a disconnect or misunderstanding of the very principle of valuation. Ours is a moving economy, a lot of changes took place in our economy, some due to frequent government policies that affected the economy in all ramifications and some due to corruption. Some valuations that were done about five years ago, when you bring them out to sell today, because of the changes in the economy, you find out that AMCON may not sale them at that value and what is needed is a revaluation.In the past, when the economy was more stable, you could do a valuation and the value would remain the same for a particular number of years, but with the kind of economy we have today, where the foreign exchange is not stable, there is need for frequent review of valuation reports and valuation works to make them current with the trends in the economy. AMCON is coming up to ensure that valuations done years ago, which are now put in the market, are reconfirmed at the point of sale. We are working with then to harmonise our rules of engagement and to ensure that we satisfy the client side of the bargain.

    The tenure of your administration is half way, what have you done differently in this one year?
    The last one year has been a wonderful experience for me and also the busiest time of my life, because though our profession would clock 50 this year, but by the time we did internal appraisals, we realised that we are far from where we ought to be. I must appreciate the contributions and efforts of our past leaders, who laid the solid foundation and added building blocks to the institution, in terms of bringing us to where we are today. But the societal expectations from estate surveyors and valuers, the growing population of surveyors and the dynamic nature of our economy have brought pressure on what we must do to accomplish our mandate.

    Having been around and being part of the hierarchy of the leadership of our institution since 2006, I have garnered enough experience, such that I know some of the pitfalls and where attention is needed most. So, coming into office, I did not hesitate in bringing new ideas to addressing those areas. My administration started with a visit to the site for our national secretariat in Abuja. When we came onboard, the foundation of the building was being prepared and we took it from there. Within the 11 months of our administration, we have been able to get it up to the second floor of the five-storey building, and our expectation is to finish the structural work within the remaining 12 months and possibly relocate the operations of our secretariat there.

    Culled from The Guardian Newspaper, March 2018