Mr. Thomas Mebu is the former General Secretary of the Lagos Chapter of the Estate, Rent and Commission Agents Association of Nigeria (ERCAAN). He is currently aspiring to become the General Secretary at the national level of ERCAAN. In this Interview with Moses Adeniyi, he speaks on the specific standards of ERCAAN, the challenges of quackery, the need for a legal backing for ERCAAN, multiplicity of Estate Agency Associations, among other pressing Real Estate issues. Excerpts:
Can you share your experience so far in the Real Estate Sector?
Putting things in the right perspective in terms of experience, we have a mix of the good, bad, and ugly aspects. In Real Estate, the truth remains that worldwide in the advanced world, the business is supposed to be a noble one, but here in Nigeria, because of the infiltration of those who have no business in it, I will say that we are experiencing some kinds of neglects and rejection on the side of the public because of the experiences people have had to go through. On the positive side, the business is somewhat lucrative. The bad experience concerns the name that has been attached to it by individuals who actually are not professionals but see themselves functioning in the business and engaging in some unprofessional conducts, bringing a kind of disgrace to the profession, which has been making a lot of people to look down on the real practitioners. In Nigeria, so many people are ashamed to be addressed as estate agents because of the name that has been attached to it. That is what ERCAAN really stand for; to see what we can do to re-modify things and redeem the image of professional practitioners; so that when people see an estate agent, they will see him as a responsible and honest personality. So the experience so far has not been all round good. That has prompted our relationship with the Lagos State Government to make sure that something is done about this to actually sanitise the industry.
The subject of the infiltration of quacks has been very pronounced as a major challenge in the Real Estate Industry. Apart from this, what are other challenges practitioners are facing in the industry?
Everything works in a chain. Under normal circumstances, the Landlords should allow the professionals to handle and manage their properties. One challenge we face is that as a result of the nature of the economy, you are not paid the right value of the service due to you as an estate agent as it should be done. We have a standard; and the standard is that in letting of properties, the commission value is 10 percent of the total value of rent. This depends on the level and type of the property at stake. For instance, for a three bed room apartment in the Lagos Island or in the Mainland, there are houses that their rents run in hundreds of millions of Naira. In those cases, you can consider the rent value and reduce the commission to five percent. You can have such kinds of properties of luxury value in places like Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Lekki, and Banana Island. Notwithstanding all together, sales of properties attract five percent commission. The challenge is that sometimes you have a landlord engaging you for services regarding a property for sale or rent, and you have agreed believing that as a landlord he will not breach the trust; but the problem is that after the deal is done in rendering your services, he might begin to give a second thought to what you are entitled to as commission for the services you have rendered. Then he might at the end decide to give you peanuts as if he is doing a favour. So this has been a very big challenge and I want the government to step into this issues.
What steps have ERCAAN taken to tackle this menace of breach of trust on the part of landlords?
What we have done so far can be more appreciated first and foremost in the sense that we need regard from the landlords, for them to begin to respect us as professionals and for that to be achieved, we must dissociate ourselves from the mischievous practitioners. How can we do this? We have realized that doing our business legitimately is the key, and we strongly need the support of the Federal Government. That prompted leaders of the association in the past before our administration during the tenure of former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, trying to suggest a way by which the government can come up with an Agency that would be responsible for regulating the business of Estate Agency so that for you be an agent you must register with the agency. Such an agency must be established by law. This was done and it was in the sort of a bill that was passed as law in 2007 in Lagos State which was called “Lagos State Estate Agency Regulatory Authority Law.” It was passed into law then and assented to by the Governor, but it was not implemented. So when we came on board (As Executives of the Lagos State Chapter of ERCAAN), we discovered the existence of the Law, and we saw that if this law is implemented, it will help us fight against those who are not supposed to be practicing the profession. What we did to make sure that this problem of quackery is resolved, was that we went to the government to protest the non-implementation of this law. We agitated then when Raji Fashola, SAN was the Governor of Lagos State. The outcome of the agitations was the result of what we now have as the Lagos State Real Estate Transaction Department (LASRETRAD). But where the problems lie is that it is not an agency on its own, it is just a department under the Lagos State Ministry of Housing. We are managing this, but we are still agitating for something more concrete. During our tenure, we wrote to the immediate past Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, bringing to his notice that there is no way LASRETRAD can achieve the aim of an agency because it is under a ministry and it is budgeted for solely. As a result, there is no way it can be able to fight and put these challenges in place. We are still agitating and so far so good if they can bite, maybe with the present Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on board, and with the promises he had made, before the end of the year towards 2020, there should be a difference on our request to curb the menace of quackery.
Is your demand from the government purely anchored on the establishment of an agency?
Our purpose and aim is to make sure Estate Agency Profession in Lagos State is regulated, so that we would know who really is an estate agent. How this is done is not much of our concern. Therefore, if they can empower LASRETRAD to do that, that is welcomed. Why we have been agitating for an agency is that we discovered that LASRETRAD has no powers. For instance if an agency is established, the agency must be budgeted for to run it activities. LASRETRAD is relying on what the Ministry of Housing can drop for them; so that is where the difference lies.
Recently, we had several groups coming up to form Real Estate Associations in Lagos; what effects do you think this trend will have on the profession?
As I have said we are Estate Rent and Commission Agents Association of Nigeria (ERCAAN), we have other associations and so many of them as you have mentioned. We have AEAN (Association of Estate Agents of Nigeria) founded by the NIESV, we know them and we are all associations. We are not fighting anyone, but what we have said is that the government should try to recognise the ones that have good intentions. As ERCAAN, we know our members. We don’t believe in recruiting everybody to become our member. For the Estate Agent Associations, if anything happens where an estate agent has committed an offence, the public does that want to know the association such person belongs, what they do is to generalise it to all estate agents. In as much as there would be other associations coming up, it then lies on the government to see that they are also responsible associations that will not recruit mischievous people. There are many of the associations but for ERCAAN there is one thing we have refused to do. We were invited to a stakeholders’ meeting where it was proposed that all these associations should come together under one umbrella, so that we can appear to the government as one association; not that when we come together, they will see all sorts. Well, we have no problem with that, but where we have problem is that we all don’t have the same ideology. There are some of the request we have proposed to the government which some of these associations stood against. For instance on regulation of members and sanctioning of people who are not ready to comply with government regulations. It has been discovered that many of them are not interested in effecting this. So there is no way we all can be together since we don’t have the same ideology. Now there was the formation of what they called REPO in which it was proposed that associations should be under them, but we do buy to this Idea. We discovered ERCAAN’s name as an association was submitted in a memo to the Lagos State Government to be part of them. When this came to our notice, we were summoned and we made it known that it was false because my signature as the general secretary then, was not there and that of the chairman. So we told them that we are not part of it. They know us and our standards. If I had not signed and my chairman had equally not signed, then there is no basis for that. So then we removed our association from that umbrella. There are many associations that have been operating here and there, but the one we have a keen relationship with, in which we attend their seminars on invitation and which we equally invite them for our seminars too, is AEAN. We have no problem with AEAN because we know they are also organised. So our standard is to work with those who are organised.
…To be continued.