Experts state how COVID-19 affects Nigerian real estate sector

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having a far-reaching impact on all sectors of the global and Nigerian economy. The spread has grounded economic activities and the Real Estate sector is not isolated from it.

Contrary to the opinions of some critics that the sector would not be affected by the pandemic, which could be the reason governments pay little or no attention to the sector, operators explained that though the industry might not feel the effect now, especially in the second quarter of 2020, the impact would be felt before or by the end of the year.

A real estate practitioner and also the Vice President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, (LCCI) Gbenga Ismail, explained that the impact of COVID in real estate would be felt later, because of the tenancy/rent structure of the sector.

Unlike what is obtainable in other climes like 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.

According to Ismail, who spoke in an interview with Channels TV, most people that have either lost their jobs or whose salaries are 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. He said:

“Right now, what happened is that by the period of the lockdown, you won’t feel anything but by the third or fourth quarter of the year you start feeling it; then, we will 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 not sure 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.”

Will tenants also request for a moratorium from property owners?

Ismail added that tenants would likely plead for a moratorium because businesses may have been affected and some might have lost their jobs.

“Those who have mortgages and 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 because the COVID situation is a force majeure, which nobody expected. People are being forced to make decisions that they did not plan to make,” he added.

Is the government offering incentives or bailout?
Another real estate practitioner, Ranti Ajao, expressed his displeasure over what he described as government negligence and insensitivity to the sector. According to him, the real estate has been taken for granted by everybody, including the government. He said:

“Government does not realize what it has to do for the sector. When the government is offering bailout or supports for other sectors, it needs to consider areas where the building materials are coming from, like developers, interest rate, contractors who are going into these areas because they would be affected. If they get affected by any of those variables that have been affected by the lockdown, they won’t be able to deliver.

“If you look at the stakeholders’ situation in the real estate value chain, from acquisition, construction, and all the areas connected, there must be a way for the government to intervene, especially taxes and levies, without necessarily having to put money in someone’s hands, but the things that add into the cost of the building must be looked into.”

But is there light at the end of the tunnel?
The experts insisted that the real estate sector had always overcome every problem it faced and the COVID-19 pandemic would not be an exception. “When the global financial crisis struck the world in 2008, it was real estate driven but it turned around in 3-4 years and now it is providing wealth for some people. COVID is a health crisis, which is temporary,” Ismail added.

What it means to investors
Asset value will drop and that means this is the time for investors to invest in the sector because it may come out rapidly and prices will increase and effectively return the value it may have lost then.

Nobody should panic. Stay focused, invest in real estate and all will be well. For new entrants, don’t hold cash, keep enough cash that can take you from day to day, and invest in an asset that will give you value tomorrow.

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