…In this report, CHIKA OKEKE examines the dubious activities of fraudulent estate agents and developers.
When Mr Andrew Agboola wanted to relocate from Ketu in Lagos to another residence at Ikeja, also in the state, he met an estate agent (name withheld) who promised to secure a one -bedroom apartment for him at the cost of N300, 000 per annum.
After Agboola paid the agreed sum, the agent assured that the house would be ready in less than three weeks to enable the landlord repair the badly damaged part of the house.
Agboola however checked back two weeks after only to discover that another tenant had occupied the house.
The agent couldn’t provide reasonable answer for the action and failed to refund Agboola’s money despite persistent calls. Angrily, Agboola’s reported the matter to the nearby police station, a situation that led to the arrest of the agent. The police however granted the agent bail as he was seen parading the street thereafter.
Agboola however took the case again to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who designated four policemen to re-arrest the agent, who was later charged to court. At the end of the judgement, the agent who was jailed, served his prison term, paid the N250, 000 and interest accrued to the money.
Collaborating Agboola’s story is Ms Mary John, a resident of Aco estate, Abuja, who was duped of N275, 000 by another estate agent. While N250, 000 was meant for the annual rent of one- room self-contain, N25, 000 was to serve as the agency fee, being 10 percent of the bulk money.
A week after the cash payment at the agent’s office, he couldn’t be reached on phone for further discussions and when Ms John visited the said shop, it was vacant. She reported the matter to the police who made some arrest and later freed the suspects since they had no clue about the agent’s whereabouts. One year after, the agent is still on the run while Ms John had to squat with her friend in order to raise money for another apartment.
Agboola and John’s ordeal are few out of over 5000 Nigerians that have been shortchanged or duped of their hard-earned money in search of alternative housing across the states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
LEADERSHIP findings revealed that this unending tales of Nigerians is happening at a time when over 95 percent of Nigerians relied on services of estate agents to rent houses or developers to buy properties. As Nigeria contends with the over 17 to 20 million housing deficit, the pertinent question is whether registered agents are insufficient to serve the increasing population or whether the sector is too porous that it cannot cripple the activities of quacks.
Lending his voice, a real estate developer, Arc Adewunmi Towolawi Okupe said that there is a need to reinforce the Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) in order to rid the built sector from the activities of fraudulent and quack developers as well as estate agents.
He suggested that hardworking and other Nigerians impacting the lives of people positively should be rewarded irrespective of their social, ethnic, political or religious background instead of rewarding fraudsters.
Okupe maintained that the loss Nigeria recorded due to the activities of fraudulent developers and estate agents in the last five years is unquantifiable in term of human and capital loss likewise the integrity of Nigeria as a nation. Another developer who pleaded anonymous said that quacks are attracted to real estate since the business booms expeditiously compared to other prominent businesses.
He called on the entire professional bodies in the built sector to collaborate and eliminate the services of quacks and fraudulent persons from the sector. The estate developers’ body, NIESV is worried that the activities of quacks in the industry would impede the expected growth and contribution to the national economy.
The immediate past president of NIESV, ESV Bolarinde Patunola- Ajayi insisted that all transactions in realty should be controlled by the Estate Surveyors and Valuers Registration Board of Nigeria (ESVARBON) to fight quacks in the sector.
He lamented the influx of quacks in the industry carrying out illicit activities saying that registered estate surveyors who are backed by NIESV code of conduct would be penalised on incidents of sharp practices against them.
Patunola- Ajayi pleaded with private developers to engage the services of professionals while investing on real estate to avert the activities of fraudsters and to build according to acceptable designs and standard.
He noted that barely 5000 members of the professional body is inadequate to serve about 180 million population.
The former president enjoined professionals yet to identify with the body to enroll for service in the areas of land and building valuation, compensation, facility management, environmental valuation and among others.
He called on federal government to parley with the professional body in ensuring that transactions in real estate sector contained the stamp and seal of ESVARBON.
This he said was necessary to enable the professional body and government take charge of transactions in real estate to avert fraudulent activities in the sector.
Aside fraud, estate developers have contributed to the skyrocketing rental fees in Abuja and major state capitals through over-pricing and high rental fees.
This has consciously increased the number of completed and vacant houses dotting the landscape of major cities like Portharcourt, Abuja, Lagos and among others.
Contributing, the principal consultant of AA Abdulfatai & Co, ESV Abdulfatai Abdulrauf pleaded with real estate experts to intimate their clients on the actual value of any property saying that some properties are over-valued.
He asserted that the entire properties in Abuja were built on artificial value both for the landlord and tenant.
He said, “It’s now that we are facing the reality of what the actual rate should be either for the landlord or tenant but the issue is that landlords should accept the economic hardship and review the rent downward”.
Abdulrauf regretted that most tenants preferred to adapt to artificial lifestyle by living beyond their annual earnings saying that majority of civil servants earning meager salaries live in highbrow areas instead of satellite towns.
The expert urged government to create roads in parts of Abuja satellite towns at affordable rate to enable prospective home owners buy cheaper lands.
Okupe argued that if the cost of houses are moderate and targeted towards particular income group that affordable housing would be achievable.
He pointed out that a tenant who lived in a rented apartment for over 20 years must have paid more than enough to build the house.
The expert stated that federal government anti-graft war also affected liquidity in the economy.
Recall that at the 46th Annual Conference of NIESV, in Abuja, the minister of power, works and housing, Babatunde Fashola said that time was ripe for a change of estate valuation even as he urged surveyors to comply with the principles of real estate pricing.
He pointed out that 50, 41 and 33 percent of the population in Lagos, Kano and Abuja relied on estate agents when searching for accommodation but wondered why agents make housing more difficult compared to the landlords.
Fashola noted that estimated 5000 properties in Lagos were not rented due to over-pricing and high agency fee.
The minister hinted that as all levels of government commenced housing development to improve home ownership that NIESV have a role to play in making housing affordable to Nigerians.
He stated that first step towards reducing the housing deficit begins with a good plan not lamentations, just as he expressed dissatisfaction over high fees charged by surveyors.
Fashola who was represented by the Special Adviser on lands and housing, Mr Abiodun Oki admitted that government alone cannot meet up with the housing needs of Nigerians adding that everyone cannot afford a house despite its availability.
He asserted that 64 percent of the populations in the United States of America are house owners while 34 percent are living on rented apartment despite their bogus housing programme.