E. Wells Realty: Providing Advisory Services for Home Owners, Investors and Developers in Ghana

In this exclusive interview, Hanna Atiase gives an overview of E. Wells Realty and Consultancy, a company specialized in providing advisory services for home owners, investors and developers, and helping to connect individuals in the diaspora to real estate opportunities in Ghana. She also discusses upcoming projects and shares her vision for E. Wells Realty in the next few years.

Interview with Hanna Atiase, CEO of E. Wells Realty & Consultancy

Hanna Atiase, CEO of E. Wells Realty and Consultancy

Give us a little background of the company.

When I transitioned to Ghana back in 2013, I realized that the real estate market was unregulated, things were a bit chaotic, and I needed to get a good grasp and understand the nature of the market. I ended up joining a real estate mortgage provider just to understand the terrain in the market. Then I started E. Wells Realty in March 2014. I noticed that it was very difficult to get a property to rent or a property to buy because there was a lot of unprofessionalism in the market. Through the challenges I faced in being able to do that, I figured I was probably not the only one from the diaspora to face them. I decided to find a way to bring regulation and familiarity within my company, so those in the diaspora could feel comfortable buying and renting properties.

Give us the scope of your business.

We have two divisions at E. Wells Realty & Consultancy. E. Wells Realty helps people buy, sell and rent their properties, as well as lands. Then we have the E. Wells Property Management, which is facility management, managing units, and essentially helping them grow the assets they have acquired. Before, we were primarily focusing on residential brokerage, but now we have gone into both commercial and residential brokerage for both departments.

Are you into building as well?

In the very near future we will be building E. Wells Homes. Currently, we are partnering with developers.

What is your competitive advantage?

Our main competitive advantage is our customer service, and our customer experience. We want clients to walk away saying: “Wow, I had an incredible experience coming to E. Wells Realty”. Customer service is something that is lacking in this country. It is a huge advantage to be able to provide that kind of service for clients who are used to that – again, we work with those in the diaspora, so they have a certain level of expectation when it comes to service. We can meet that expectation in terms of our turnaround time, response time, and the quality of the service they receive, the follow-ups, the engagement, and walking them throughout the process. Because to a lot of people, this may be their first time investing in Ghana, and a lot of them purchase without seeing the property. Some send representatives, but others trust you to guide them throughout the home-buying process, which is one of the largest investments anybody will ever make.

What is your perception on the real estate industry in Ghana?

First of all, there is a housing deficit of close to 2 million units. That means that we would potentially have to build about 100,000 units a year for the next 20 years or so. So, developers are building towards closing this housing gap. However, individuals are starting to buy land and build themselves because of the high property prices. I would honestly encourage more developers to build affordable homes, which will help people begin to climb this property ladder. If not, there should at least be some housing subsidies or housing programs to help people purchase the property. I know they have pension-backed schemes, but we need more housing grants to be able to help people, and we need the prices lowered. My take on the matter is that more people would be housed if we lowered the prices, but when lowering the prices, we should not lower the quality either. We should be able to provide more affordable luxury homes.

What do you mean by affordable luxury homes?

The reason why people get a bit skeptical about this is that, usually, affordable homes are not well built and the finishing is poor. The way they are built and the architectural design is not the best. That turns people off. But when you look at “luxury” – which is a term a lot of developers use – it is that impression that we are using good quality materials, and providing good finishing, etc. You are getting everything you would get in a luxury home, at an affordable price.

What is your target market?

Our target market is the diaspora. A lot of the individuals we have are first-time home buyers in Ghana. That is why, last year, we conducted the First Time Home Buyers in Ghana Seminar. The purpose of that was to educate people on the home-buying process here in Ghana so that they avoid becoming victims of fraud. We will be doing that every year in December in partnership with the Diaspora Affairs Office, the Office of the President, and “Beyond the Return” initiative. Most of our audience is either first-time home buyers or investors. They see the investment opportunities in Ghana in terms of appreciation, capital gains, and rental income. Ghana has the highest annual rental yields in Africa. They look at all these things and they say: “Okay, this is a good place to invest in real estate”. Because real estate is a dollar-backed security, it makes it very difficult for nationals to be able to purchase a home. A lot of them are paid in the local currency. If we look at the median average income, it is about 1,400 Cedis a month. That word affordable needs to be coined well, because affordable, for somebody of an income of 1,400 Cedis a month would be a home priced under 100,000 ghs. If you income is 1,400 Cedis a month, you probably need mortgage financing, and the rates are high at 34 to 37%. These are some of the reasons why affordable is not affordable.

If you look at a $500,000 home in the US, it is value for your money. If you look at a $500,000 home right here in East Legon, it is barely one plot. The finishing that they use is different from the finishing they would use in a half-a-million-dollar home in the States. Also, because a lot of the building material is imported, you have high tariffs and high taxes on that. Then, because of the Cedi dollar depreciation, maybe a bag of cement is 60 Cedis today, and tomorrow you will be looking at 75 Cedis. These are all fluctuations in the market that add to high property prices. But there are developers out there who are planning ahead. If you are purchasing your supplies and keeping them in inventory, then you will not be experiencing price hikes. It is all about your plan and strategy.

What are the main challenges that affected your business?

The first challenge was the negative narrative surrounding real estate agents. A lot of people preferred to use their relatives as their property consultant. If you have a couple of people who have built houses in your family, they apparently become your real estate experts. Firstly, we had to build trust with individuals. Secondly, there is lack of technology software in the real estate space that us conducive to our work. We have had to build our real estate software that we could use in the company, like a CRM system that we can engage not only our clients but our partners as well so that we all can get regular updates in terms of client transactions. Thirdly, real estate developers not meeting their timelines in terms of completion dates, and also, in some cases, real estate developers not completing the project, or changing their minds about certain projects and having to move it from one location to another has posed as challenges we have had to surmount. What we did to help with that is we partnered with an escrow agent. Now, funds are not sent directly to the developer. They are channeled through the escrow agent, and there is a disbursement condition on the sales and purchase agreement. They disperse in phases based on inspection. We are the only real estate agent right now that works through this escrow account system.

Are there any projects that you are working on particularly this year?

The main projects we are working on this year are; the African Youth in Real Estate Entrepreneurship & Investment seminar (A.Y.I.R.E.), and the mentorship program that is part of this initiative.

We also have the African Women in Real Estate initiative (A.W.I.R.E). Statistically, overseas, about 64% of real estate professionals are women. Whereas in the African continent, it is as little as 14%. We want to change that. We want to encourage more women to look at real estate as a career, whether it’s in construction, decor, brokerage, commercial, residential, or architecture. We will also have a mentorship program attached to that where we will mentor young ladies and guide them with a real estate career path.

Are you planning to expand outside the Ghanaian market?

We are looking for investors to come on board, and we are planning and experiencing exponential growth. We want to expand the property management division. We are planning on moving into other regions, Cape Coast, Kumasi, and Takoradi, and then we will move into the West African market.

Could you mention some of the developers that you work with?

We work with Mobus Properties, SuCasa Properties, Montgomery Residences, Kass, Signum Development, and Run Free Properties (who are building beautiful riverfront bungalows). We also have other properties under management like the Pinnacle and McDan Tower 2. The Pinnacle is mixed-use, it is beautiful, right on East Legon Lagos Avenue (the business corridor of East Legon). The McDan Tower 2 has commercial, retail and office spaces. Both buildings have rooftop terraces ideal for a restaurant, where you can have dinner under the stars after a long day at work, the skyline views are incredible!

Could you break down the services you offer?

We help individuals rent, buy and manage their properties. We also help people in land acquisition, to prevent all the horror stories you hear about lands. This is also another reason why we have partnered with the escrow agent as well. We make sure that we do our due diligence before people start paying for these lands. We also have property management for commercial and residential properties. We do facilities management as well.

I am also a speaker, I do quite a few speaking engagements in the real estate space. I do master classes, real estate investment courses, sales and marketing courses, and advisory and consultancy services. A lot of times, we get new developers who want to enter the market and need our advisory services so we offer advisory services. For example, we have a client now that wants to bring in a beautiful eco-friendly project here. I am the consultant on that project. Another client is doing a beautiful village, one of these beachfront areas. I am helping with that project as well.

We have heard about a lot fraudulent activities when buying property.

A lot of due diligence has to go into any real estate transaction. No, our company does not believe in the concept of moving fees and site viewing fees. We believe in building rapport with our clients, and that is why we get a lot of referrals from our clients. Because you provide them with the best service, even if they do not buy, they will talk about you and somebody else will buy, or somebody else will rent out from you if you provided them with professional service.

When I came to Ghana and realized that real estate was an unregulated market, myself and six other individuals started the Ghana Association of Real Estate Brokers (GAREB) in 2016. With that association, we have a code of ethics as well as standards that must be followed. For example, you cannot just charge a 10% commission because you decide to charge that percentage. We have a standard commission that you must charge. We have standardized forms that have to be used on all real estate transactions. We have tenancy agreements, as well as sales and purchase agreements that are standardised. We have legal counsel, who is one of the co-founders. Everybody has to have an office, you cannot be under this mango tree today and then somewhere else tomorrow. Everybody’s business must be registered at the General Register, and everybody goes for fingerprinting at the CID (Criminal Investigations Department) headquarters. If you have a criminal record, you cannot be part of this association. We go through all these rigorous background checks just to make sure that we have a body of professionals.

We have trained across the board, we have people from immigration that come in to train, people from the financial intelligence unit that come in to train, people from marketing, sales, from various diverse backgrounds that come in to train our team to ensure that we have a good professional network. We all have ID cards with our identification numbers on there. You can go to our website, and plug that number in there, you will see a picture of that real estate agent with their area of specialization and that they are in good standing with the association. I want to emphasize that, if you are looking for professionals, some out there are under this association. We get a lot of horror stories, a lot of victims of fraud and we have had people crying coming into the office, having been duped once, twice, three times, and they just do not know what to do. Some have their cases still in court. Court cases here are going to take several years. If we can help minimize a lot of these frustrations, then I think we are doing our job.

What is your vision for E. Wells Realty in the next five years?

E. Wells Realty is an African brand. I would like to see E. Wells’ footprint across the African continent. I would like to see more people being educated about real estate. That is why we host all these seminars; the First Time Home Buyers, African Youth in Real Estate, and African Women in Real Estate. We want to see more Africans being empowered through education. My passion is to see people build wealth through home ownership, one home at a time. I believe that this will come, first of all, with a foundation in real estate education.

What inspires you to do what you do?

When I was overseas, a lot of people were empowered through education. There were a lot of mentorship programs, there were a lot of examples of people in real estate that you could look up to. There were a lot of resources. I realized that we did not have a lot of education and knowledge about real estate here. But I believe that the people here are gifted, intelligent, and diligent, and all they need is just to be empowered with knowledge and education. We need a lot more mentorship programs. I started doing real estate because I had a mentor that was able to take me under their wing and show me how to do wholesaling at the time. By age 25, I owned about seven properties, so I want to see that here. I am so encouraged and happy to say that I have taken a few people under my wings and raised them in the area of real estate. Today, I can say that they have gone into the real estate entrepreneurship space and are now real estate investors. They own lands. They are even looking at building tomorrow. I believe that if we can empower people and provide the right programs for them, we will begin to see wealth creation in this nation through homeownership.


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