By Ebele Orakpo
Mrs Tolulope Uko is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Trearoy Properties Limited (TPL), a real estate/housing development outfit incorporated and registered in Nigeria.
* Mrs Tolulope Uko Her passion and diligence in adding value to people’s lives and meeting their needs were all she needed to go into the real estate business. In a recent chat with Vanguard in Lagos, she spoke about how she ventured into her line of business and the challenges. Excerpts:
According to Mrs olulope Uko, a graduate of Banking and Finance from the Lagos State Polytechnic, “After my national youth service in Kano, I was looking for a job and I couldn’t get any. I have always loved business so even during my youth service, I was actually doing one business or the other.
I have always seen myself as a business person. I love adding value to people’s lives. I have this passion for meeting people’s needs generally. Although profit is important in business but then, I like to make people happy in exchange for reward which might not be in monetary terms, it may just be fulfillment, somehow I just have fulfilment whenever I meet people’s needs,” she pointed out.
On why she ventured into the real estate business, she said: “I grew up in one of the Jakande Estates in Lagos and then, in the secondary school, we used to poke fun at people that lived in public compounds popularly called face-me-I-face-you and we actually felt superior to them because we felt we lived in a neat environment, not a dirty environment.
It was an ego thing. So I got into real estate while hunting for a job after my youth service. One day, while job-hunting, I heard people conversing and they were talking about a property that they wanted to sell. They actually came to market the property and I said to myself: ‘Ah, I can do this business.’
So instead of continuing to waste my time looking for non-existent jobs (mind you, by this time, I had submitted my curriculum vitae to several places and attended interviews and at the end of the day, they tell me to go home that they will get back to me), I was not really happy, you know, with people looking up to me, expecting so much from me in the family; so that was how I decided to start marketing for other real estate companies as a freelancer/agent and I was able to get a mentor in real estate that provided answers to my questions. He helped me a lot and from my commissions, I was able to make some savings.
” Continuing, she said: “As an agent, like a middle man between the property owner and the buyer, I would source for people that actually want to sell their property – land and buildings – and then look for people that want to buy and when they buy, I get commission. I did that for about two years. From there, I was able to save and meet my immediate needs. It was at that period that I got married. Then along the line, I developed a strong passion for real estate. As we all know, there are three basic things that a man must have: they are food, clothing and shelter. Every man wants a roof over his head and also there is this challenge of incessant increases in rent. Rent increases every year while there is no commensurate increase in the people’s income.”
Mrs Uko who noted that although everyone dreams of having their own houses, she however, said that it is very difficult because only very few actually achieve that in their life-time. “It is alarming that after working for 10 – 20 years, many are not able to build their own houses. Some people actually wait to receive their pension to build a house.
At the age of retirement when you are supposed to have built your own house, you are just preparing to build, I mean it’s so painful, it grieves my heart. You see 10, 20 people living in one room, people squatting, I just feel that people should be able to have a roof over their head and enough of the harassment from landlords.
Some landlords increase rents every two years; you either pay or you quit and it’s so unfortunate that the houses are not enough. Good houses are not adequate and they are not even affordable. And aside that, many people who work in highbrow areas like Ikoyi, Lekki and Victoria Island cannot afford to pay for accommodation in those places,” she lamented.
The Trearoy Properties Limited boss stated that the company which specialises in obtaining rights to develop vacant land into prime residential and commercial outfits, also acquire land in bulk and sell in parcels.
Mrs Uko who named lack of funds as the major challenge faced by the outfit, noted that she started the company with no capital except for the little savings from the commissions earned as an agent and contributions from friends. “We actually approached a bank for loan and apart from collateral, you still need to give them assurance that you have another business that can generate income for you to be able to meet up with the interest rate and somehow, it’s so discouraging that one does not have source of funds.
There is what we call OPM (other people’s money) and over the years, somehow I have been able to build trust in people. I would say that it is not all about making money but your ability to build trust in people. Based on that, we were able to get people to invest in the business. We started from our house. I would pick a motorcycle and go round offices, sourcing for clients. There was a day I walked from one end of Awolowo Road to the other in Ikoyi. I was entering every office in sight. I would walk into an office, tell them what I have to offer. It was quite challenging but there was this passion, this drive to continue. You walk under the sun and rain.”
Another challenge then was convincing people to invest in real estate “because at that time, the stock market was booming and people preferred to buy stocks instead of investing in real estate but all that have changed. Now the real estate sector is booming because land actually appreciates with time.”
She said Trearoy Properties Limited has an estate under construction. “One of our estates is Goodly Heritage Garden in Mowe and we have another project in Ikorodu, but majorly, we sell two, three, four-bedroom flats. The two-bedroom flat goes for N5 million and the buyer pays in instalments.
Our desire is to build affordable houses for people. The economy is not that encouraging, it’s not as if it’s that bad. The resources are scarce but then, there is still hope. It’s booming but not like before because of the financial meltdown. People are actually buying but the major challenge now is funds because it’s a business that needs constant cash flow, it’s capital-intensive,” she said.