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.
COVID-19 forces tenants to request moratoriums from property owners
Tenants demanding moratorium from landlords because of the effects of COVID-19.
The effect of the Coronavirus pandemic is telling on the Real Estate sector, as many occupants have requested moratoriums from property owners or managers.
In separate interviews, some tenants told Nairametrics that they could no longer afford their rents, hence the need for moratoriums. If denied, a lot of them are ready to move to border towns of Lagos.
A moratorium is a legal authorization to debtors to postpone payment. The document can be obtained by tenants, to prevent the managers or owners of properties from taking legal actions against them.
A banker and resident of Oduduwa Crescent, Ikeja GRA, who simply identified himself as Kola, said that his landlord had informed him of a planned 25% increment in his rent from April 2020, a month before his rent was due, which he had agreed to.
Unfortunately, in May 2020, his employer (one of the Tier-1 banks) gave him the option of either accepting a 25% pay cut in May or resigning. Considering the fact that he had no side hustle, Kola chose the ‘lesser evil.’
“I took the decision because it pays me to allow a pay cut, than being out of job. At that point, I considered requesting a moratorium, as I have never owed rents before. I could afford to pay the rent, but I didn’t know how long I will be without a job, and paying the rent from my savings was not a wise decision for me. As Expected, the property owner was not comfortable with my request, as he suggested that I relocate to a cheaper facility.”
In his own case, Richard, who was a manager in one of the hotels close to the Lekki toll gate, was not as lucky as Kola. His rent was due by May, the same month his employer asked him to stay at home till further notice.
Efforts to plead with his landlord to buy more time fell on deaf ears, as the owner of his Surulere apartment was bent on collecting the rent.
He said, “I had no choice but to plead for three months to secure another apartment when it became obvious that my employer would not recall us anytime soon. Eventually, I decided to move from Surulere to Magboro where rents are cheaper, and property owners may be reasonable unlike their counterparts in Lagos.”
Kola and Richard are only two among hundreds of breadwinners that lost their sources of income or had pay cuts, especially during the lockdown. A lot of them, whose rents were due between April and July, are currently looking for cheaper residences amidst pressure from their landlords.
No doubt, apartments are cheaper in some border towns of Lagos. Some of the areas are Akute, OPIC (Wawa), Arepo, and Magboro, all in Ogun State.
For instance, while a self-contain apartment is obtainable between N120,000 to N150,000, a 2-bedroom flat goes between N250,000 to N300,000 per annum, and a 3-bedroom flat is rented between N350,000 to N400,000. In the city centre, such as Ikeja, Gbagada, and Surulere or on the Island, the rents are astronomical.
The heat will be more
A Real Estate practitioner and also the Vice President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Gbenga Ismail, explained that the impact of COVID-19 in real estate would be felt later, because of the tenancy/rent structure of the sector.
Unlike what is obtainable in other climes like the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America, where rents are renewed on a monthly or quarterly basis, Nigeria may not feel the pressure now, as rents are paid in one or two years’ advance.
Ismail, in an interview with Channels TV, said, “Most people that either lost their jobs, or had their salaries slashed, are likely to have paid their rents in advance before the virus, and that could still ease the tension for now, at least till the end of the year. Right now, what happened is that, by the lockdown period, you won’t feel anything; but by the third or fourth quarter of the year, you start feeling it; only then, would we see how it has affected Nigeria. By then, people won’t be able to pay rents or buy houses as planned. We are not sure of where the monetary issues are going now, and if lending will continue into the real estate sector. We are yet to see some of these things going on. Even in inventories, where developers have put houses out for rent, the concern is who is going to rent them? Before COVID-19, we wait 6 months before houses get rented or leased, but now it may not be less than 12 months. The immediate impact would soon start to reveal itself.”
More plead for a moratorium
Ismail added that more tenants would likely plead for moratoriums, because their businesses may have been affected, and some might have lost their jobs.
“Those who have mortgages and are possibly in the risk areas of losing their jobs will definitely have discussions with their lenders if that happens. I think the mortgage firms have to listen and think of how to help them since the COVID situation is a force majeure – unexpected circumstance. People are being forced to make decisions they did not plan to make,” he added.
Explore the Nairametrics Research Website for Economic and Financial Data
In all, the experts urged all stakeholders not to panic, as the phase will definitely pass, and the economy will gradually recover.
CBN approves N200 billion housing loan for 300,000 households at 5% per annum
The facility is to enable FHF finance construction of social housing units for low-income earners.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has approved the sum of N200 billion as mortgage finance facility to the Family Homes Fund Limited (FHFL) and targeted at low income earners.
According to a circular, which was issued by the CBN and seen by Nairametrics, this financing initiative is to be implemented in collaboration with the Family Homes Fund Limited as the lead developer, as it is introduced to support the Federal Government’s Economic Sustainability programme.
This fund is to fast track the construction of 300,000 homes in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory and to create up to 1.5 million jobs in 5 years.
In addition to the 1.5 million direct construction sector jobs particularly young people on a low income, the programme also has the potential to create further 1 million jobs through its supply chain.
The CBN in the circular stated, ‘’The programme will house up to 900,000 children and adults (at an average of 3 persons/home) on a low income with direct impact on health, education and economic outcomes. Most of these would currently live in informal settlements with shared facilities in unsanitary environments. Towards targeting people on low-income level across the country.’’
(READ MORE:has approved the sum of N200 billion as mortgage finance facility to the Family Homes Fund Limited (FHFL) and targeted at low income earners.
On boosting local manufacturing, the apex bank stated, ‘’The programme is designed to utilize at least 90% locally manufacturing inputs and as a result conserve foreign exchange.
“In that regard the programme will deliberately aim to revitalize local manufacture of construction materials including doors and windows, ironmongery, sanitary fittings, concrete products, tiles, glass, electrical fittings/fixtures and bricks etc. for example, it is estimated that the programme will require up to 1.7 m doors, 7m door hinges and locks etc.’’
The funds, which would be released to the Family Home Funds (FHF) by CBN on a project basis is subject to the cumulative maximum limit of N200 billion. The facility type which would be a term loan is to enable FHF finance the construction of social housing units for low-income earners and is for a 3-year tenor from the date of disbursement.
The facility, which is expected to be repaid in not more than 3 instalments within the tenor of the facility, has an interest rate of not more than 5% per annum.
5 Nigerian real estate start-ups helping with easier living
This article examines a few startups making life easier for Lagos residents.
Living in Nigeria’s core cities can be enough struggle particularly for young professionals who want to be focused on being as productive as possible. By utilising technology, startups are building solutions such as rent splitting, home concierge services, among others in easing living difficulties.
The Nigerian property market has recorded significant growth in its Proptech ecosystem in recent years as we currently track 72 Proptech companies, an increase from 58 in 2018. Consumers, who are keen on memorable technology-infused experiences are increasingly utilising these products. Easier living solutions enabling a more convenient way of living in their apartments have been very essential in creating these technology-infused experiences. In this article, we are going to examine a few startups making life easier for Lagos residents.
1. Home Concierge:
i. Eden Life:
Services Rendered: Automating the service handling home chores such as meals, laundry and house cleaning by simply requesting an Eden gardener using the app.
Subscription Plans: ₦23,000 – ₦86,000 per month.
Year Founded: 2019.
Services rendered: Automating the service of home and corporate cleaning by booking a cleaning session on the application.
Subscription Plans: ₦6,575 – ₦110,000 (depending on service).
Year Founded: 2017.
2. Flexible Payment:
Services Rendered: A digital service for financing payment of annual rent in advance while the occupant pays monthly (Rent now – Pay Later). According to the company, for a 6 per cent monthly interest rate, the rent repayment is spread between 6-12 months.
Locations: Lagos, Abuja.
Year Founded: 2019.
Services Rendered: A digital ecosystem around the automation of flexible payment of rent and home concierge services. Other notable mentions in this space include Muster, Spleet, Fibre, Rent Small Small among others.
Locations: Lagos, Abuja.
Year Founded: 2017.
3. Flexible Hotel Hours:
Services Rendered: Enabling guests book hotels for 4, 8, 12 and 24 hours and choose their check-in time as opposed to booking hotels for a whole day.
Locations: Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt.
Year Founded: 2019.
Note: Quartered is currently undergoing some restructuring of their business model to make their services more flexible to users and hotels.
These are exciting times for Nigeria’s PropTech ecosystem and we are thrilled by the progress so far.
Which of these solutions do you find most interesting?