MS BIOLA AFOLAYAN, a computer scientist with a bachelor’s degree from University of Ibadan, founded Beryl Shelter Limited in 2001. Despite lull in the property market, Beryl owner and broker have triumphed, negotiated more deals in commercial real estate sales and lease transactions. She had her first career shot in the manufacturing sector, a small-scale female shoes manufacturing outfit. When her capital dried up, Afolayan went on to a less capital intensive market of making wooden framed corporate motivational quotes as corporate gifts. She shares her thoughts in this interview, especially steps taken to re-define creative selling and deliver exceptional profits to all stakeholders.

What is the future plans of your company, Beryl Shelter?

Beryl Shelter will start the property development division . Our target markets are the middle to high income earners. We will build homes to love -21st century high precision classical architecture with impressively big windows to usher in sunlight, large greens areas to blend in the earth and a pleasant form and flow of lights capped with fantastic modern designs of kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms and studies. We are targeting glamorous homes that blend in nature and welcome harmony.

Lagos state government said it would be adopting the Singaporean approach, which allows the construction of high rise building in place of bungalows as a means of ensuring judicious use of available land. Will this work?

High-rise in the country without electricity, I don’t think it will work. Are we not trying to punish the people, the more? If any building is more than six floors, it is idle that lifts are provided. That means the government will continue to build for the rich as it would not be affordable. The government is planning how to make money not providing houses for the masses. If our leaders realise that a good leader never leaves any body behind, that’s the only way there would be solution for affordable housing. Many leaders think the masses are never their problem, where they live and how they transport themselves do not matter to them.

Houses in highbrow areas such as Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki are still lying fallow. Buyers trickle in once in a while. What is your take on this?

Ikoyi is a saturated market not because of any meltdown. When the federal government did its monetization, it sold all their properties to public. Developers that bought started constructing 10-15 storey buildings with luxury flats. The kind of rent is an average of $60,000 and the kind of people such rent attracts is just oil workers and expatriates. So, if everybody builds the same apartments for the kind of people, who will rent it? For which market and do they really analyzed the number of people that fits into such market? Not many Nigerians live in $60,000-$110,000 flats. There are too many units of the same thing. What will likely happen is that the prices will fall and a lot of people in Victoria Island will move into Ikoyi. Many of the developers should have gone to the mainland, where there are little developments and there are higher rates of return on investments.

Nigeria’s housing deficit has continued to grow while government seems to show less concern to the issue of affordable housing. What should be done to increase housing stock in the area?

Housing is everybody desire and a basic need of life, it’s not a luxury but a necessity. We have structures and policies in place like National Housing Fund (NHF) and National Housing Policy, to ensure low-income earners are provided with affordable housing. We also have the land and ingenious building materials. But the governments at various levels lack the will to provide houses for the masses and implement its policies. Every government has used housing as a bet to secure people’s vote and mandate; none has met these expectations. Few months ago, it was a campaign tool for several aspirants. When they get there, they seem not to remember what they said. It’s not like if they want to provide the housing, they can’t be able to provide the houses. I feel houses can also be made available if the government is more lenient with the people and more sincere with their policies. In a situation whereby levies are so high, developmental levies and Governor’s consent are high and building materials are expensive, you don’t really want to help the masses. If government wants to give free education, it should also consider shelter as a necessity for the masses

Agreed that the governments make money from the sector, housing is a very sensitive sector. There are other areas, which don’t make up as part of the basic needs. There are sectors you can double the returns, through increasing tariff on them and then reduce levies imposed on housing or give tax holiday or concession to developers to make it affordable. Government should also consider concession for building material importers and local manufacturers to bring down the prices. In terms of rental and sale, there has been about 500 per cent in the last four years, which has made a lot of people not to have access to descent homes. Even when governments construct houses, they build for the rich.

I appreciate the fact that the government wants to generate revenue, it should also have to reduce the charges, levies and taxes on the housing sector as a lot of Nigerians are on the mercy of shylock landlords. There should also be an emergency strategy to make sure that people can have houses. In America, the government intervened; they injected new money into the housing system. That’s a government that cares for its citizens.

Many governments are towing the line of public private partnership in the provision of housing. Is it the answer to housing problems in the country?

Definitely, it would not bring relief to the issues of affordable housing. When you introduce any businessman to any market and expect him to pay the kind of taxes you levy on the sector, it would not work. For instance, if I buy a land in Lekki for N10 million and pays Lagos State government an additional N5 million, how will it be affordable on completion for the masses. It is not about opening the borders that will help the housing alone; it is about all the levies. If a private developer enters the housing market and forms a synergy with the government, gets the land at high cost, the prices of the houses would never be cheap and expectations of any businessman is to make profit. If the government looks at housing as a priority, where people and dwelling, we would not have the kind of problems we have now.

Nigeria’s mortgage system has been bedeviled with so many problems, looks as if it is not meeting expectations of prospective homebuyers. What really is wrong with our mortgage system?

Mortgage is a long-term loan and many banks and institutions are now looking at short-term returns. No body wants to wait for long term for return on investments. Banks give out money to buy a house at a commercial loan. Many of the banks argue that their sources of funding are short term. We don’t understand what that means. The kind of money they are getting is the same money other financial institutions in America are getting and they are still giving out mortgage loans at low interest rates in single digit. If there is a true passion and sincerity as well as selfless service to God and humanity, people will care on how to make things happen for people. The country will be a better place.

Besides, it is time for government to ensure other alternative sources of funding such as the NHF work. The time lag for approval and payments should be improved upon while at the same time ensuring transparency in the scheme. Things will happen. The money is there as people’s salaries are deducted monthly for the NHF scheme.

Recently, collapsed buildings have resurrected as a major issue in the building industry. Some experts have attributed it partially to the importation of substandard building materials. How do we check the incessant building failures?

I think the regulatory bodies such as Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and other agencies at the ports have failed us. They failed us in all sectors. Agencies that are supposed to implement polices, do little in that regard. It’s a human thing for people trying to do things wrong. But the government should check the nefarious activities of these importers and developers. SON should improve their supervision and enforcement of standards for imported building materials while state’s agencies should also buckle up in their monitoring of buildings under construction.