URBAN SHELTER – CREATING DESTINATIONS

Urban Shelter Properties is dedicated to providing affordable, high-quality housing and commercial spaces across many sectors and income brackets.
We find out how they do it.

Urban Shelter Properties is a real estate development firm headquartered in Abuja with a number of projects in development across Nigeria. “We’re developing 60 hectares in Abuja, Kaduna, Niger and Lagos State. We’re not only developing one particular type of real estate. We focus on the whole spectrum of retail, commercial, and residential projects,” explains the company’s CEO, Saadiya Aminu.

While their range of projects is impressive, there is one sector they are particularly passionate about – affordable housing.
“It’s a family run business in its second generation and our passion is in real estate. We really believe in affordable home solutions,” Aminu points out. “We’re offering homes from $14,000 at the lower end of the scale to $500,000 premium residences at the other end of the scale.”

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS

Urban Shelter has over 30 years’ experience in the real estate development industry, giving them a wealth of experience and a strong reputation that stand them in good stead on the market. But
beyond their longevity, Urban Shelter’s close attention to detail has seen them become a go-to development firm.

“There is a certain approach in how we do real estate, a number of things we take into account,” Aminu tells us. “It’s very hands-on labour of love, finding a location, getting a feel for what the consumers want, discovering the local infrastructure available which can be a real challenge. There are all kinds of factors we take into account. At the forefront of it though, its putting client needs first.”

This attention to the detail others might miss is seen not just in the quality of their properties, but in how they help customers source the financing to buy those properties.

“Our attention to detail, quality assurance and our approach that a home is a basic human right lead us to help people get on the property ladder through a five-year payment plan,” Aminu says.
“Through two other mortgage companies and an agreement signed with Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company, we can help people get onto the property ladder. We’ve noticed finance is the key point that’s really hindering people in that respect. Because we’ve been in business so long we have a real sense of quality at every stage of construction. We are proud to be have opened up many districts in Abuja including Katampe Kado, Kubwa, Apo. Urban Shelter projects are now synonymous with these locations”.

The company also has rare confidence in their own products, leading them to offer 100% refunds on their properties. Aminu says, “We don’t believe in penalising people who’ve fallen on difficult circumstances and that’s a vote of confidence for clients that they will enjoy the service and the product.”

It’s a level of confidence that has led Urban Shelter to form relationships not only with individual customers but also corporate clients and governments.
“One such a relationship has led to a joint venture with the Lagos Ministry of Housing to provide 1-3 bedroom houses for between 9 million to 25 million nairas,” Aminu says proudly. “As part of our previous engagement with the public sector we feel very privileged to provide homes to the National Police Force; TETFUND Staff, NNPC Staff and others; it’s good to know you’re providing a
social function.”

CAPITALISING ON SUCCESS

Like most companies in the real estate industry, Urban Shelter can sometimes find that finance is a challenge, particularly with Nigeria’s unique financial markets.
“We are looking for long-term finance but the sector tends to the medium term with high-interest rates it can be quite challenging for both the business and the customer,” Aminu admits.
“Mortgage products are limited in Nigeria, with interest rates of 18 or 19 per cent over the years. Federal Mortgage Bank Nigeria provides its hugely subsidised mortgages at 6%, consequently, many people are applying and so there is a huge waiting list.”

Fortunately, Urban Shelter’s size and longevity give them a strong foundation to navigate these issues from, something they’ve achieved by building some invaluable partnerships.

“Because of our size, we have a substantial sinking fund,” Aminu says. “We know we have capital available when we need it which helps us with planning, land acquisitions and to take on larger projects than most developers in Nigeria. Our average project size is 50,000 square meters of development. With 30 years in the business, we’ve never had a project where we’ve finished and still had unsold units, so we’ve been very fortunate in that respect. As a company when we obtain loans, we’ve had a few banks who’ve been really helpful in terms of the partnership, First Bank and Stanbic Capital have been incredibly good partners, giving us preferred rates not available on the market.”

GROWING AMBITION

While finding capital is a challenge, a far greater one is finding the right people.

“Challenges can include getting people to understand what it means to provide quality. It can be hard to get people good at precise masonry and carpentry, or appreciate the full scope of project management” Aminu says. “We recruit with great difficulty! We have two approaches. We try to build up as much as we can the existing team we have, identifying people with ability willing to put in the work to learn. We do a shadowing and mentoring programme for the junior to the medium level staff so they can understand what is expected of them. They are able to acquire managerial
problem-solving skills.”

This approach is becoming even more essential as the company’s ambitions and sophistication of their projects increase.
“Over the last few years we’ve expanded geographically – we have live projects in six cities (Abuja, Lagos, Minna, Kaduna, Enugu, Accra). Strategically we’re doing more sophisticated projects that run the gamut of low income to upscale to various forms of commercial spaces and hiring the brightest minds in the country,” Aminu says. “I do a lot of conference events and when I finish a panel, I usually get two or three very interested people coming up to talk afterwards, the people with the passion that we end up hiring. We also like to start early, with the Nigeria Youth Corps
Service programme. We take on a number of these young graduates annually, bright young minds with great potential and you nurture it.”

For Aminu, an important part of nurturing that potential is ensuring that Urban Shelter is drawing talent from the entire population of Nigeria, not just the men.

“Giving women a voice and an opportunity is very important to me,” she says. “I like to say in the time I’ve been in this leadership position I’ve been really pushing for greater participation of women. We have a 57% female workforce, but we still need to do better in senior management positions where the figure drops to 30%. But we can do better and I’d like to see that replicated across the industry. So many studies detail the importance of having women in management and on boards, for our decision-making abilities and because we’re not ashamed to say ‘I don’t understand explain more’. There doesn’t have to be a case to be made for why employ women, but I’m passionate about the growth of women in every industry.”

Overall, Aminu is just excited about what’s coming next. She tells us, “I see where we have been and where we are trying to get to and it fills me with a great sense of hope & determination. Beyond real estate, we are looking at how we create destinations, not just projects. We want to build a focal point for a city.”

2019 has been a phenomenal year for the company in terms of recognition. In January the London Stock Exchange Group named the company among “Companies to Inspire Africa 2019”. They were also named Real Estate Development Company of the year by organisers of the Abuja Housing Show and received the BusinessDay Nigeria Stock Exchange Next BULL Award.

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