It was meant to be a regular end-of-month meeting at a residential estate located in Lekki Phase 1, beside the beach. Residents gathered for their usual monthly meeting and were at the ‘other business’ segment of the agenda when someone spurted out a remark that ignited an uproar in the forum.
To the shock of the Exco members, one of the residents had turned their apartment into a short-stay, breaking the estate bye-laws. The accused resident claimed that it was their only way of surviving amidst the COVID-19 pandemic which had led to a downturn in his regular business. Unknown to other residents, this is not an isolated case in their estate.
Thanks to tech apps like Airbnb, it is now a common feature for most houses that do not deliver the monetary benefits assigned to their income.
The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 lockdown. Most of the major hotels with 3-4-star ratings have shut down their doors for months, resorting to ancillary services such as laundry and private dining to keep the lights on. But while major hotels scavenge to survive, smaller boutique hotels are having the time of their lives.
Hotels without names
Boutique hotels with less than 40 rooms have operated surreptitiously for years, preferring to operate without signboards or brand names, as is the case for their more illustrious majors. For some hotels, they are known to their customers only by the street number. Hotel names like 12, 23, 42 etc., are not uncommon across most major suburbs in Lagos.
This nomenclature for hotels is not surprising to most hospitality experts. They explained to Nairametrics, that most of the hotels were previously residential houses but turned into boutique hotels by their owners, and continue to retain the house number. Some also believe it is a common tactic used to avoid taxes and regulators.
Converting residential apartments into hotels, or short-stays helps owners make more from room rates than they would if the apartments were rented. This business model has now morphed from boutique hotels to short-stay apartments.
The facilities are also designed to give the home-away-from-home feel, as they cater mostly to business travelers, weekenders, groups, pleasure seekers, adventurers, and many who wish to explore life differently, away from their conventional homes.
These lodging options offer a simple alternative to big-name hotel chains, with the provisions of a variety of convenient in-house self-service amenities. Today, more travelers are choosing to book short-term rentals, rather than stay in hotels.
How patrons book facilities
For most of these hotels, their booking channels range from word-of-mouth to a simple online Google search. Some of their customers resort to apps like Airbnb, Hotels.ng, or Trip Advisor to make their bookings. Others go directly into the website of managers of these apartments, and select their preferred cities and spaces, view the amenities, and make payments. Once payment is confirmed, they receive an email and SMS notification of their door access code, and Google maps address to the space. After being checked in, guests simply use WhatsApp or text messages to request concierge services, which are available 24/7.
According to an owner of such facility, “The idea was conceived when I found that travelers now want the privacy, functionality, flexibility, and comfort of a high-end home, along with the efficiency of hotel services.”
Olajide Abiola, Co-founder and CEO, Smart Residences Ltd, operating as Gidanka, explained that traditional hotels with their limited spaces, and boring repetition of interior decoration have given rise to the demand for better lodging and accommodation options.
“People want to live like locals in new and fascinating neighborhoods, whenever they travel. At the moment, it is an emerging industry in Nigeria, with little competition,”
“Airbnb represents the only competition, but with limitations in that, quality supply on such home-sharing platform, is like a game of Russian roulette, as there are apartments of little quality and uniqueness,” said Abiola.
According to him, his company works with local developers and realtors to design and take out long leases on spaces in neighborhoods determined to be travelers’ and tourists’ preferences, based on research and data analytics.
How they get funds
A source, who pleaded anonymity, because he was not permitted to talk on behalf of House 23, a short-let apartment in a location in Lagos, told Nairametrics that the owners of the apartment secured loans from some banks (undisclosed), to convert the building to short-let apartment standards.
“Initially, we had challenges with patrons, and that is because the estate management frowned at using the residence for commercial purposes, but the business picked later. Without many publicity tools like signposts or any form of paid adverts, the business has been self-sustaining,” he said.
In the case of Gidanka, which has facilities across four neighborhoods, Abiola said, “We secured N1.07 billion in seed funding, and have been able to lease out properties in four neighborhoods, to provide 86 unique spaces across the Abuja cityscape in the last seven months,”
“We have hosted travelers from over 12 countries, and have paid 65% of the loan. Interestingly, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our spaces have seen steady patronage, because of the excellent service reputation earned within the short period. Initially, there was a one-week dip in occupancy rate because of the pandemic, but as the chaos ebbed, the demand normalized, as people sought living spaces that felt like home,”
“There has been steady uptake, and about 30% to 70% month-on-month growth since January 2020, when an additional 28 space units were added. The revenue is steady, ticking up and good,”
“Revenues are made from nightly, weekly, and monthly room rates. We will be cash flow positive before the 4th quarter of 2020, even in the face of COVID-19. Out of the debt raised, 65% has been offset within seven months, which is five months ahead of the moratorium.”
The rise of short-stay apartments and boutique hotels also points to their profitable business models and financial viability. An operator in a hotel located on Victoria Island informed Nairametrics that apart from the initial one-month lockdown in April, occupancy rates have picked up to pre-pandemic levels.
“Most of our rooms are fully booked sometimes for days,” he explained, preferring to be simply called Femi.
In another hotel in Lekki, the owner told Nairametrics that his major challenge was not having enough rooms. “I wish I could purchase the adjacent building and expand my operations. I lose money I would have easily earned because I have to refer my customers to other hotels,” he remarked.
Sometimes, customers book a day or two ahead just to be assured of a room whenever they need one. Asked who their typical customers are, he maintained that they were mostly young single men with laptops, “I don’t know if they are Yahoo guys, but most of them seem decent and could pass for tech geeks. We also have a lot of married men as customers, even though they hardly sleepover.”
In contrast to the smaller boutique hotels, bigger hotels have all shut down and despite opening recently, still operate skeletally, as Nigerians gradually ease back to work. Most of the hotels are also suffering from a lack of banqueting and physical meetings, which are two major drivers of room occupancy rates.
Like other real estates, short-let apartments also have their challenges, ranging from reputation management to irregular power supply.
“When one offers such high quality, efficient, and high standard services that we are offer in an environment where consumers have lost confidence, restoring such can be an uphill task. Therefore, we sometimes have prospective guests, who want to carry out an inspection, just to be sure that the pictures and the amenities on the website are not too good to be true,” Abiola stated.
On the issue of irregular power supply, he said, “People want to be sure they will have continuous power supply at all of our spaces. Most times, we must deliver comfort through alternative power sources.”
In all, there appears to be no barrier to the growth of short-term home rentals. The regulation is still business-friendly because it remains a developing and widely untapped industry.
The crucial role of Digital Transformation in the future of the Real Estate industry
We are witnessing a transformative phase in the property industry globally.
No business can escape the digital transformation taking place across the globe, and the real estate sector is no exception. Real Estate companies are using modern technology to improve customer experiences, boost sales and increase operational efficiencies. Many organisations have been slow to keep up with adopting new tools and technologies to transform their business, however the pandemic has made everyone realise the importance of digital transformation is. We have seen companies quickly trying to pivot to get their businesses online and accessible to their clients. The lockdown also left potential homeowners to spend more time on digital platforms to search for a home.
Uber, Airbnb, and Netflix are just a few examples of how the pace of innovation has created a new competitive landscape. The benefits to digital transformation become clear when you look at the companies whose business models have been “disrupted” by technological advances. Our taxis, advertising companies and hotels had no idea that they would lose business to anyone other than their direct competitors.
Real estate is the largest asset class in the world – yet it is one of the last to adopt technology. Microsoft Excel has remained the most commonly used tool for data management, 30 years after its introduction! There has really been no incentive to leverage technology as traditional ways of doing things have done the job. We are witnessing a transformative phase in the property industry globally. The term PropTech which is a blend of the words property and technology is popularly used to describe this change. PropTech is to property what fintech is to the finance industry. If you are already using listing sites to search for a home, CRMs etc they are PropTech. However, there is a huge opportunity in this sector to address the current pain points with solutions to digitize workflows and provide better transparency for all stakeholders. Some of these opportunities include as follows:
- Demand for faster, more efficient and cost-effective construction has resulted in increased usage of innovative construction technologies e.g. 3D printing. This will dramatically reduce the time and cost attached to building construction.
- Blockchain technology can radically enhance financing and operations in real estate through tokenisation, smart contracts, and storage of land titles.
- REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are fractional real estate ownership mechanisms and an important tool for democratizing access to real estate investments.
- IoT and artificial intelligence will drive informed analytics, real-time monitoring, and predictive maintenance. This will lead to more smart buildings designed to deliver a personalised user experience.
- Drones and AR/VR technology are changing the buying experience, enabling companies to create high-quality viewing experiences for buyers.
- Co-working spaces are popular with start-ups and SMEs. They provide individuals and corporate users looking to share ownership, operations, equipment ideas and knowledge.
- Co-living is being driven by the young and millennial population and rising rental prices.Covid-19 has proved that working from home can be just a productive as working from the office, some businesses have also reported increased productivity. As a result of this we may see more live, work, play hubs;
Gary Keller is the Co-Founder of Keller Williams (KW) which is America’s largest real estate firm, he declared that it is, ‘no longer a real estate company…we are a technology company No. 1’. Maybe it is about time many real estate companies jump on the band wagon and adopt this mindset. We are entering into a golden age for real estate and technology and here are some ways in which Mixta Africa is taking an innovative approach to business:
- Mixta has realized the importance for us to innovate and evolve to stay relevant and to stay ahead in business. We have developed a strategy for adoption of technology and innovation in our service delivery. This strategy defines specific priority initiatives.
- A digitised application platform that allows customers to easily submit their application form and KYC for client onboarding. This has provided immediate access to clients’ information upon submission. There is no need to wait for an Agent to submit documents and KYC via email which has also led to improved turnaround times and processing of transactions.
- A platform used to automate the processing of sales agents’ commission. Typically, this is a manual intensive process that can take a few days to complete. The new commission platform will enable us to run the process at a click of a button in a matter of minutes.
- The synchronization of our internal IT systems to eliminate working in silos and a lack of connectedness. This includes the integration of our CRM with our accounting system.
If you don’t have a strategy, you will not be successful in implementing new changes by adding PropTech to your current business. If you are interested in implementing the technology process, you can start by assessing where you are now and where you want to be. If you want to make digital transformation a reality for your organization (and avoid disruption), you need to start by transforming your workforce.
Author: Ola Awodipe – Head of Operations, Mixta Nigeria
Smart ways to invest in real estate
Before venturing into real estate, it is imperative to note the smarter ways to invest in it.
It is a satisfying and lucrative investment strategy to buy and own real estate. It is quite unlike bond and stock investors. The prospective real estate owners may use leverage for buying a property by only paying a part of the complete cost upfront. They pay the balance amount and interest later over a while.
One of the better ways for investors to make money in real estate is by becoming a landlord of a rental property. Then there are house flippers who buy some undervalued real estate, fix it, and sell it for a higher price. Here are more details about ways of investing in real estate.
Owning rental properties
Having rental properties is a terrific opportunity for people that have DIY and renovation skills together with the patience to manage different tenants. But, this strategy needs you to possess a good deal of capital for covering the upfront maintenance costs and the maintenance costs during the vacant period.
However, this provides a regular income and you will have properties that appreciate. It also raises the capital via leverage and there are several tax-deductible expenses associated with the business. But, keep in mind that it can become tedious to manage tenants because there is a possibility of property damage caused by tenants and less income due to possible vacancies.
This line of business is for people having a great deal of experience in the field of real estate valuation, renovation, and marketing. It also needs large capital and the capability to perform and oversee repair as required. House flipping is considered to be the wild side of real estate investing. The house flippers are different from the buy and rent landlords.
The flippers are mostly looking to sell undervalued properties they have purchased within six months. Pure house flippers do not invest in the rebuilding of the property. So, their investment needs to have an intrinsic value required for achieving profits without any modification required. Otherwise, they will just eliminate the house from contention.
The house flippers that are unable to unload a property quickly may find themselves in trouble because generally, they do not have sufficient available cash at hand that will take care of mortgages on the property over the long term. This leads to snowballing losses. Another type of house flipper buys reasonably priced properties and increases the value by performing the renovation. It can be a long-term investment and allows investors to take on a couple of properties at the same time.
Investing in New York real estate
The real estate business in New York City is renowned for its investment opportunities. New York is one of the significant cities in the world and buying a property in New York can be a unique investment opportunity. But real estate in the city is expensive. It is probably the most expensive city in the world in terms of rent and one of the more expensive ones to own residential properties. You can find turnkey properties where you can buy a house, fix it, and rent it out immediately. There are NYC property management companies out there that specialize in the sale of these kinds of properties.
You can also invest in NYC real estate by using REIT or Real Estate Investment Trust. The REIT allows the investors to buy residential and commercial properties together with mortgage loans. But the unique thing about REIT is its singular focus on retail or commercial buildings such as Union Square. Another possibly cost-prohibitive NYC investment opportunity is via buying the property directly. It is a difficult proposition though because of the inherent demand in the city. The investors are faced with stringent requirements if they are looking to invest in NYC real estate.
Because of the huge popularity of real estate investments, there are just a few things to remember while you are planning to invest. The first important thing to realize is that you are competing with several other investors. But that is not the only thing to worry about and you are required to consider many things while investing in NYC real estate. However, it is a lucrative line of business if you can act quickly and have a proper plan in place.
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