By CHARLES KUMOLU
The late American civil rights activist and Pan-Africanist, Dr. W.E Du Bois had in one of his writings, asserted that “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” This saying resonates fully in the life of the Managing Director, Joe Etoniru and Associates, Mr. Chidi Etoniru, who didn’t just become what he was taught in his affluent background, but became an authority in real estate like his dad. He narrates how being willing to learn and not being scared of making mistakes, resulted in his ability to create a massive presence for the firm in Nigeria.
Love and interest:
I was born into a close-knit Christian home. My mother, who is a music teacher made sure my siblings and I learnt to play an instrument. At age seven, I started playing the keyboard while my sisters learned to play the violin and clarinet. I also grew up knowing a lot about real estate because my father, an Estate Surveyor and Valuer involved me in work- related activities. I remember accompanying him to construction sites where he had several ongoing projects. Overtime, I developed love and interest in real estate. In 1993, my father bought a piece of land and car for the same value. Years down the line, I watched the value of the car depreciate as other cars came into the market while the value of the land kept appreciating.
Closer to my dream
This experience made me realise that land is one of the most valuable assets anyone can have and this knowledge further influenced my interest in real estate. My foray into the real estate sector started with a role as a Facility Manager in an oil servicing company. After working for a year, I realised that I was not any closer to my dream of becoming a real estate developer. To kick-start this dream, I knew that I needed to gain a holistic understanding of the real estate industry especially the business of real estate. This propelled me into what I consider as one of the most defining moments in my life which was starting a branch of the firm in Lagos State. Today, we are big in Lagos.
I quit my 9-5 job in 2010 to set up a branch of the firm, Joe Etoniru and Associates in Lagos State. The firm was established by my father, Mr. Joseph Etoniru in Port-Harcourt. Since 1990, the company’s clientele has grown and comprises federal, state,local governments, banks, oil companies, insurance houses, other corporate bodies and high net worth individuals.
We have metamorphosed into a reputable real estate company and we intend to position ourselves as a firm that would creatively revolutionalise the industry.
I remember discussing my decision to quit and set up a branch with him and he made it clear that his role would be solely advisory. This meant that I was going to raise the capital, establish relationships and fund the branch on my own. I eventually set up a branch of the firm at 284 Herbert Macaulay Way in Yaba with only half of the rent paid. Months down the line, we hadn’t sold or leased any property and so there were no funds to run the day to day operations of the firm. I could barely afford office equipment. It was a tough time for me and I remember wondering if I had made the right choice to quit my 9-5 job.
Shaping my choices
However, after a year I finally made my first sale and from this came the first company car and office equipment. One of my inspirations in the real estate space is Mr. Olalekan Mutiu, a real estate developer. In my experience in real estate agency, clients will usually insist on physical viewing of a property before making a purchase. However, I remember a particular incident when a client purchased a property after seeing only the pictures. This client had seen some of Mr. Olalekan’s properties in the past and was so confident in the quality and detailing of the property that he made a purchase without inspection. As a young man with a passion to build smart high-end houses, this experience was significant. I reached out to Mr. Olalekan who readily supported me and provided me guidance to start the development arm of the firm in Lagos. My father also played a key role in shaping my choices in business. I learnt a lot from him about making prudent business decisions. He’s a highly ethical businessman and seeing how this has worked out for him has helped me imbibe similar values in running my business.
Carving a niche
Leveraging the power of advertising was instrumental in carving out a niche for the firm and putting us out there. Properties are fixed assets and so this meant that we needed to go the extra mile to reach potential clients with adequate information to pique their interest in our properties. Above all, my faith in God has been the key factor in setting me apart from other players in the space. Over the years, I have learnt to anchor my business on biblical principles.
Learn, make mistakes, explore
There are lessons I have learned in the industry that I would want to share. First, starting early in business is key. After my one year mandatory national youth service, I worked in a company for a year and then I left to start a branch of the firm. It was a risk but this gave me time and opportunity to learn, make mistakes and explore the industry without the responsibilities of taking care of a family. As an Estate Surveyor, integrity should be the basis of your actions. Buying or renting properties is capital intensive and people need to know that their money is in safe hands. Over the years, the relationships I have built with clients have been based on trust and this has led to numerous referrals and opportunities.
Studying the market over the years, it was clear that the demand for smart houses outweighed the supply. This informed our decision to focus on building smart homes. We cover mostly residential real estate, because this area has the strongest participation by prospectors and investors. A sleuth of residential estates, apartment buildings and single family dwellings are built daily by real estate investors all over the country. They come in all shapes and sizes, with interesting configuration, amenities and styling. Yet opportunities still abound even here because of the gap between current availability and demand. Our firm focuses on meeting these gaps coupled with the regularity of demand of properties in these highbrow areas.
Personal relationships are an integral part of the real estate business. Real estate is most times about who knows what you are doing. Most times, we deal with individuals we’ve never met and because of the huge sum of money usually involved in transactions, they need a sort of assurance that their money is in safe hands. Building personal relationships will always be a key part to a successful real estate business. Personal relationships in real estate business increase the likelihood that the client will want to do business with you again. It also attracts referrals as clients are more confident to recommend you to others. We listen first and understand the needs of our clients and collaborate to meet their needs.We invest in empowering our employees, recognize their growth and reward their contribution.We challenge our team to dream big, believe in the possibilities of the future and make positive contribution to the company and society.We face challenges with optimismand tenacity.
Launching the development arm of the firm in 2016 has been an additional way to meet growing client requests as our luxury and demand-based development has met our client’s needs to build to taste like our newly completed luxury 5 bedroom waterfront detached duplex with 2 BQ in Pinnock Beach Estate. Expert building techniques coupled with smart home technology has been our watchword.
Our firm dedicates itself to providing holistic real estate experiences to every client that looks to invest, buy, sell or rent within the real estate industry. To meet this promise, we have provided avenues for people to invest in real estate without hassle, live in their desired homes and also get extra value-added services like our moving service, MoveSmart.ng which is dedicated at assisting buyers and renters move in and out of their homes or offices with ease; our cleaning service, CleanSmart.ng which assists in cleaning homes, offices and post-construction with the best materials and professional that would give you peace of mind and lastly, BugBoss our fumigation service that helps get rid of any rodent, insects or any other undesirable in your homes or offices.
Real estate industry
One of the biggest problems clients face when buying or renting is lack of adequate trust in the realtors they choose to work with. Most times, these realtors do not advice on the best course of action just focusing on the commission that would come to them at the end of the transaction. To help bring a measure of professionalism to the industry, Joe Etoniru & Associates will be running training programs that would ensure that selected realtors who would like to attend our master-class sessions on client management and customer service delivery in real estate would be trained on best practices in real estate.
We believe as a company, it is our duty to ensure that transactions in the industry are conducted with the highest integrity and grit.