interviewBy Mustapha Suleiman
Austine Okonkwo is the Executive Chairman of Zebra Technologies Nig Ltd, owners of an online search engine company that offers solutions to the property sector in Nigeria. In this interview, he gives an insight on how online information can help boost property investment in Nigeria. Excerpts:
What exactly does Zebra Technologies Nig Ltd do?
Zebra Technologies Nig Ltd, owners of www.propertyfinder.com.ng, an online property search engine offers a completely new solution that will raise the bar in the Nigerian property sector, giving Nigerians the one-stop opportunity of getting the best housing deals; finding their dream homes; making quick home sales and much more at the touch of a button.
Why did you choose to invest in online property search engine?
Well, we are not new in property development and management. We have been in this for years now. We have a property development company that has two estates - one in Abuja and the other in the eastern part of the country. We have a facility management company that has a major contract with government. And so we realize one of the major challenges confronting property development in Nigeria is marketing of houses. I mean, after one must have gone through thick and thin in sourcing for loan, which is usually at a very high interest, and then goes through the rigors of building, selling the houses become a problem. Regrettably, most often than not, property investors, especially in this part of the world, do not place premium on marketing from inception so suddenly, after building, they realize the enormity of the problem they are confronted with.
Also, we realize those looking for property to rent, either for commercial or residential purposes, are subjected to a lot of trauma, including being duped. So, we felt all these can change, and these and much more gave rise to propertyfinder.com.ng. With this, Nigerians and anyone interested in property in Nigeria, either for rent, outright buying, selling it or indeed leasing, the platform will guide such person to making the most desirable choice.
How will propertyfinder.com.ng operate?
Though propertyfinder.com.ng is an online search engine, it actually does much more. We had in-depth research before venturing into the market. Our robust combination of requisite expertise in Information Technology and property development give us benefit of insight on what is needed by property investors. So we don't just help you rent or buy or sell a house, we as a matter of fact, help your business succeed. Our well-trained field and desk personnel are always on ground to interact with on every area of property management. So, basically, we don't just sell your property for you only, we offer building and after sales maintenance services. Indeed, you can rely on us to thrive in real estate in Nigeria. It is quite easy and friendly, simply upload your properties for rent or for sale free of charge and at no hidden cost, and those wanting to rent a house, use our search engine and for any reason you couldn't find your specification, email us with it and we take it up from there. If you are engaging in any of our paid services, you can send us an email or call us and our personnel will discuss further with you. As you know, we have outlets in all the states with regional offices in Lagos, Enugu and Abuja.
So what differentiates your company from its competitors?
Well, the differences are obvious. First, we offer free listing of property, which within a month of operations has shot to a record of 1,000 houses with a capacity of 50,000 houses before year end. Our free services are not with hidden charges. We offer extra services that can add value to your outfit. We are truly national and we have one of the leading technical partners in the world, and they are in the forefront of property search engines in the US We have a team of personnel with cognate experience from both local and abroad. In fact, the current managing director of Zebra Technology had worked extensively in the United Kingdom. To substantiate our platform, we have relationship with major stakeholders in the Nigerian housing sector, the Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria, the Nigeria UK Housing Society, NUHS to mention a few. And we are sponsoring some major property events as part of our own contribution to the industry.
So how do you hope to check agents or home owners from uploading fake property or other fraudulent activities?
That is an interesting question. Actually, we have provided gaps for all that. We try as much as possible to ensure properties on our site are scrutinized and double checked. However, we are not liable for the properties that we have not put our 'v' mark on - meaning that we didn't validate it. Though we offer extra services in this context, if you want us to validate a property for you, it's a service you have to pay for. And you also must know that from time to time we guard our clientele, updating them on current trends in the market.
Is Nigeria ripe for online property search?
Sure! There cannot be a better time than now. It is not an option, whether we like it or not we must embrace it. Already, many government departments of lands and housing have keyed into it. Like the Abuja Geographic Information Agency, AGIS, has all its data capturing online; same with Bureau of Land in Lagos and Port-Harcourt Greater Garden. So it's a gradual thing but we will get there.
Propertyfinder.com.ng hopes to provide similar service whereby you can check your land title on our sites. Virtually all countries now make their transactions, online. Whether its property or household or just mention it. So basically we can't run away from it. I am optimistic about a bright future for the online market in Nigeria.
What is your impression of the Nigerian property sector?
In spite of the box load of challenges bedevilling it, I will say the sector has a lot to offer. I don't want to go into the issues with land administration, poor housing management, non-implementation of government policies, corruption and all of that, which many complain about. However, for us, the sector still has a lot of elastic tendencies that can accommodate new entrants, nourish investors and provide platform for tremendous growth. For instance, the sector is largely private sector-driven and provides jobs for millions of Nigerians. The quality of houses being built nowadays is testimony to the development in the industry. There is healthy competition that provides competence and quality. So, you just have to keep thinking ahead. Besides, the current lull in the market, which is a global problem as a fallout from the global financial crisis, the sector is well enough with great promises.