Without a formal training in engineering or architecture, Bukola Iluyomade has over the years metamorphosed into a real estate amazon. A trained nutritionist, Iluyomade who is the Managing Director of Aimart International Nigeria Limited tells Funke Olaode about her foray into the housing sector and why shelter remains a top priority for every human being
From a young age, providence cut a path for Bukola Iluyomade, the brain behind the real estate agency, Aimart International Nigeria Limited. The daughter of an army officer, the trained nutritionist was raised in the barracks in the northern part of the country. Due to her father’s military career, the family moved around a lot. It was during one of the trips to the United States that she was drawn to the American system of affordable housing for the masses. Recalling her journey in the real estate world in a recent encounter, she revealed that she evinced a passion for functional accommodation from childhood but the trip to the States was an eye-opener.
“I have always had a thing for functional accommodation since my childhood. My father was an officer in the military so we used to travel a lot those days. The family travelled with my Dad to the United States for his post-graduate studies from the Nigerian Army. I noticed a lot of difference in the way a lot of things are done over there and here in Nigeria. I took particular interest in the way their houses were built and the kind of functionality it has,” she said.
Bright-eyed, Iluyomade couldn’t help notice the stark differences when she returned to Nigeria. She described it as a rude shock.
“When we arrived in the country, my father was posted to Ojo Military Barracks in Ibadan. He superintended over a lot of construction works within the barracks. This further aroused my interest in the provision of affordable accommodation for the generality of people,” she said.
However, her fascination with real estate didn’t materialise immediately for she obtained her first and second degrees in Human Nutrition from the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta and the University of Ibadan respectively. But with years of personal development, Iluyomade steadily began her journey to her childhood passion. Her mother, she said, played a critical part in helping her realise that dream.
“She has been asking me to come and see a particular land that she bought in a particular area. When she saw it, I was not too keen on coming there, but she played a fast one on me. She bought land in the name of my children and brought the documents to me. After all, I have to go and see the land she bought for her grandchildren. That was how I got there and saw a need to acquire more for myself. I ended up buying 20 acres for myself in that same location. Before then, my husband and I had built a couple of houses for rental income.”
Having reawakened her vision and mission in real estate, she hit the ground running immediately and the 20 acres she first acquired became her first portfolio in the commercial real estate sector. It is called Aimart Treasure Park. Others include Intercontinental Park 1 and 2 at Ibeju Lekki, Landmark and Birchbury Estate; Sunshine and Diamond Parks at the Mainland.
“Our portfolios are designed to meet the yearnings of different strata of people in the society both in commercial and residential. In fact, we are marketing both, depending on the location of the property. We have estates that we market strictly for commercial purposes and we have the ones that are purely residential,” she explained.
Today, the nutritionist-turned real estate tycoon is keen on providing befitting accommodation for all and sundry. This is evident in her commercial housing outfit which she established to compliment Lagos State’s affordable housing scheme. According to her, Lagos is still a hub for real estate despite being saturated.
“Lagos property market is the real deal in the Nigeria real estate market. Lagos has the highest density per square metre in Nigeria. The implication is that demand for property in Lagos will always increase. Land is inelastic but droves of people keep coming in for economic reasons. Rural-urban migration has increased due to the current security challenges in the country, especially in the rural areas. Real estate will always be in demand and especially in Lagos where the resources are scarce.”
While some investors have suffered setbacks, Iluyomade offered advice to prospective investors.
“This happens in every business and every sphere. I have been there so I know how it feels to have a setback in real estate investment. It is also one of the reasons we are in this business to let people know they don’t have to give up. The fact that people built houses and it collapsed doesn’t mean other people won’t still live in houses. Conducting due diligence before any transaction as an investor is key.”
Continuing on the unwholesome trend where investors don’t get what they bargained for, she said, “You see, we Nigerians are always in haste and don’t like reading, especially terms and conditions. An American jokingly said something a while ago that ‘if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book.’ Most times we sign documents we haven’t really understood. We assume a lot. My advice is for clients to read and fully understand terms and conditions governing the property they want to invest in before they cross the t’s and dot the i’s. Everything should be spelt out before commitment. All parties should respect what has been agreed initially. That, in my opinion, will solve the problem.”
While the real estate tycoon is interested in helping the Lagos State government in affordable housing for all with finance remaining a crucial component of homeownership, one wonders how affordable these houses are to the masses. She put it this way:
“The Nigeria mortgage system is evolving. We might not be there yet but I think we were no longer where we used to be. There are a lot of facilities that mortgage banks are offering but in my opinion, a lot of us have not made a good effort to see how they can be accessible. Imagine the federal civil servants who they have been deducting their housing allowance from the National Housing Fund (NHF) for over 30 years but never care to know how to use the fund to their advantage. This is why we are educating our clients and prospective clients on how to access their NHF account and become a homeowner. This is not in our culture in Africa where everything is cash and carry. You dare not go to buy a house abroad and pay with cash at once. You will be arrested,’’ she said.
Recalling an experience in Pretoria, South Africa some years ago when she chanced upon some spectacular low-cost housing development on her way from the airport, Iluyomade suggested that similar housing schemes can be replicated in Nigeria.
“It is a one-bedroom semi-detached development. This kind of mass development is called social housing schemes. It can only be done by government or nonprofit organisations. The houses are subsidized so that a lot of people can afford them. Also, the government should give out housing loans to her citizens with two per cent interest for a tenor of 30 years as applicable in other countries. The amount the Federal Government claims to be spending on oil subsidies can take care of this. Government should also amend the Land Use Act to make it easier for investors to be able to perfect their title documents easily and on too.”
Despite the stiff competition and depressed economy, she still believes that affordable housing can be all-inclusive. “All our estates are carefully selected to give maximum return on investment to clients. Our return on investment varies depending on the project. The minimum returns on any of our sites range from 10 to 30 per cent per annum despite the depressed economy. What we sell actually is homeownership that comes with a peace of mind package. We give a stressless and hassle-free real estate package. We guarantee wealth creation and wealth preservation for all our esteemed clients. We are accessible to different strata of people based on our carefully designed products. We also have instalment payment platforms.
“In the affordable housing sector, we are in partnership with mortgage banks to give out mortgage loans to our clients for up to a tenor of 15 years to pay back. This reduces the burden of having the bulk money at once to buy our properties.”
In a way, growing up in a family where the emphasis is laid on ability rather than gender has helped her to navigate the male-dominated real estate industry.
“My upbringing made it very easy for me. We were taught not to have an inferiority complex. First, in my family, there’s nothing like what a man can do a woman cannot do. We were all made to go through the same drilling. The irony of it is that my father is a gentleman to the core. He is a disciplinarian but very loving. He doesn’t joke with his children. He makes sure all our needs are met but there are boundaries you dare not cross. There’s no difference between a boy and a girl in terms of the chores or errands we run for the family. I learnt how to change flat tyres as a small girl. My father was in the education corps in the Nigerian Army. So, it is a no-brainer we were all bookworms. It was tough, but when I look back now it was those pieces of training that prepared me for challenges later in life.”
An indigene of Ifon in Ondo State, she has been married for 14 years to an Ondo town man whom she met during her National Youth Corps Service (NYSC) year.
“We were friends. We were in the same NCCF fellowship. The friendship grew and it was easy for me to say yes when he asked for marriage. It’s been wonderful. We have our fair share of challenges but it’s been an exciting journey thus far.”
Being a professional, mother and wife, juggling all three can be quite a herculean task. “But I thank God I have a very understanding husband who tries to help anywhere I fall short. That’s the only way I could cope.”
When she is not in the field, Iluyomade relaxes by going to the cinemas and visiting new places. “Maybe because of my upbringing and experience growing up. I enjoy travelling. During long vacations, the whole family will travel by road to visit a tourist site within the country. I enjoy the beautiful sceneries of green vegetation and undulating landscapes across the country.”
Simple and reserved in nature, Iluyomade is living her dreams. Giving a few tips on life lessons, she believes that in all human facets, including business, putting God first is important. “Patience and standing for what you believe is very important. Also, hard work does not kill. The reward may tarry but the multiplier effect, in the long run, is rewarding. In other words, there will always be a profitable moment,” she concluded.