Rwanda’s real estate development sector can be said to be one of the most strategic sectors. The strategic importance of the real estate sector is seen through its capability to offer an economic stimulus to the local economy in a number of ways.
Rwanda Development Board (RDB) estimates that investors pumped over US$500 million last year into the local economy adding over 800,000 square metres of new space within retail and commercial sub-sectors.
Given the fact that the sector is newly built from scratch in last 20 years, naturally one would expect new entrants into the sector. The hordes of new entrants especially entrepreneurs are mainly attracted by lucrative prospects across the wide value chain that is slowly taking shape including brokerage and other value added services.
Natalie Campbell-Rodriques, founder and Managing Director of brokerage and letting real estate firm Forest Jackson Properties Ltd is a perfect case in point. She came, saw, sought and fell in love with Rwanda and immediately chose to take a position in the local real estate sector.
A former politician and director of youth in her native Jamaica, Natalie spent the last 13 years being a trailing spouse and mother.
“Now that the children are not at home full time I decided to rebuild myself in a professional manner and real estate sector is my new calling”.
“ I came to Rwanda as part of my family’s move for my husband’s job but as soon as I arrived the opportunity in the real estate market became very obvious. Within 2 months I had opened the company as a one woman shop for several months. Back then we were called Forrest Jackson Relocation Services”.
This gave way to Forest Jackson Properties Ltd.
“We know real estate and offer prompt, professional and ethical service”.
Natalie is cautious to state the value in dollar term equivalent she has pushed in the market but she is quick to say that: “We still have a way to go to meet our earning target per annum. We are on track for our 5 year goal but it seems so far away”.
Rwanda’s real estate sector can best be described as being at an adolescent stage. While the sector is yet to mature, its current status has its own set of challenges including lack of skilled manpower and related technical gaps thereby presenting a number of management weaknesses.
A major highlight of current weakness lies in lack of provision of technical and professional services in the housing sector value chain that holds huge promises in terms of providing services needed in supplying bigger stocks of homes to vast majority of Rwandans.
For instance, lack of qualified mortgage financiers has led to a huge mismatch in supply and demand in terms of provision of low income focused housing stocks in the market.
Mortgages in Rwanda being driven by a coterie of commercial banks are very expensive offering high interest rates with short term tenures by nature and are thus geared towards higher income earners.
This sort of distortion in the market has resulted in locking out a vast majority of low income earners from owning decent homes. The net result arising from this market distortion is that a vast majority of Kigali city residents have to make do with living in informal settlements.
The same challenging situation despite the huge opportunities applies to lack of qualified manpower needed to assist in carrying out mega housing sector projects. The Rwandan market is known to be in dire need of an army of land economists, architects, quantity surveyors, engineers among others.
I asked her to explain in her own words what needs to be done to move the sector forward.
“The sector needs to be professionalized and be seen less like a sector for hustling. Real estate agents for our case need to be licensed and be held accountable for unprofessional and unethical practices”.
However, she is quick to explain that the sky is the limit for those seeking opportunities in the sector.
“My love for Rwanda is deep and surprising given how different here is from my own Jamaican culture. I am happy to be living in Rwanda at this time when she is growing and flourishing. One can only imagine the awesomeness which will be Rwanda in the next decade”.
By Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah