Ghana Real Estate: Discussing the Future of Dream Realty and The Octagon with CEO Jihad Ibrahim

Jihad Ibrahim presents Dream Realty, a Ghana-based real estate development company specialized in high-end buildings, which came about as a joint venture between Jamil Ibrahim Establishment and Interplast Limited. He also discusses latest news and shares his vision for the future of the company and its flagship project: The Octagon.

Interview with Jihad Ibrahim, CEO of Dream Realty

Jihad Ibrahim, CEO of Dream Realty

Could you give us a historical background of Dream Realty?

Dream Realty is a real estate development company based in Ghana, with a long, diversified and multi-disciplinary experience in building. We are a joint venture between the Beirut-based Jamil Ibrahim Establishment and Interplast Limited of Accra.

The Jamil Ibrahim Establishment started in 1958 in Lebanon. My father raised a small capital and started working in construction. By the late 1960s to early 70s, he thought the only way to succeed in the Lebanese market was to distinguish himself and define a niche market. So he decided to focus on the high-end residential segment. Our main objective was to provide innovative luxury buildings. At the time, we were sometimes criticized about the fact that our buildings were not too creative in terms of the outer design, because we always designed the apartments from within. But we knew that the kind of marble the facade had was not going to impact the client, while the kind of house, the size of the rooms and the facilities would. So, in time, we specialized in luxury buildings.

Later on, Dream Realty came by as a result of a partnership with Interplast Limited. Between 2002 and 2008, we started off a seafront project in Lebanon, which was a success, and the partnership was perfect in every sense. The sense of common purpose and vision led to an extremely successful venture. So, we thought of imitating that in Ghana, even though we had never been to Africa. We came here and fell in love with the country and its prospects. The partnership started and Dream Realty came alive in 2011. We bought the parcels of land that we now own and had a few projects already planned to be developed here. We executed two of them: The Octagon in Accra Central and the AMA building. We also have plans to develop two immediate projects: one in Marina Drive and the other in New Airport Road.

What is your assessment of the real estate business landscape in Ghana?

From time to time, I go around with a broker just to look at what is being offered. There is no doubt that there are a lot of quality projects coming up, especially in traditional areas like Cantonments and Labone, where you can find three to five story apartment buildings, mainly targeting Ghanaian expats, which don’t have business or transportation aspects to consider.

On the other end, there are haphazard developments. For instance, you have the amazing East Legon and New Airport Road areas bosting amazing projects, but the problem is connecting them to the business centers. Accra’s centers have to be connected and this is what is lacking here.

I personally live in Labone, and it used to be a very calm residential area. Now, you cannot sit in the garden because it has restaurants and open-air nightclubs all over the place. It has buildings going up next to single home dwellings, so the privacy that you were looking for when you bought your home does not exist anymore. The quiet neighborhood that you were looking for by living in Cantonments or Labone does not exist anymore, because you now have some commercial developments going up.

In my opinion, any good residential project will always find somebody. There is mobility within the Ghanaian society already. Work is forcing people to sell their far-off houses and buy houses closer to their businesses. That inner flow, besides the general economic situation, will always be here and will always create micro demand. So, the higher the economic activity, the more demand you have.

There is a big need for commercial buildings, but we need to define where the center is. This is an uncertainty towards the future. If I had a map or a study telling me where the present government and the succeeding ones were going to take this city, I would know that I would have some main commercial centers located in specific areas, and then make my decision.

The commercial space is needed, but the problem is the economy now, as commercial is much more sensitive to the economic situation. A lot of local companies have their income in cedis, but now we want them in dollars. So, the impact is completely different. If you had budgeted for 1000 cedis for your rent, while my dollar is constant and costing you 2000 cedis, there is no doubt that the general macro or microeconomic situations have quite a bit of impact on the commercial space, especially rentals. Within one year I dropped the prices by 30%, and frankly, it has not changed anything.

Could you tell us more about your flagship project: The Octagon?

We are currently in the process of marketing The Octagon, which is a 100,000 sqm office building. Block AB is already occupied with rentals and sales. Another block was sold and is now being constructed as a five-star Hilton hotel. Then there is block C, which was initially intended to be furnished apartments, but right now that project is on hold, and we are seeing other options for that section. Within block AB, which has quite a bit of space, we have offices starting at 85 sqm up to 2,000 sqm, which represents the whole floor. As of now, two companies have a 2,000 sqm office. Most of the other companies have offices above 400 sqm. So it seems we appeal to multinational companies with quite sizable staff, who are looking for safety, a neat and well-serviced project, giving them the right image. When you come to The Octagon, the impact of the building is completely different from any other building around. From the size, to the quality of the finishings, the entrance, the decor and cleanness, everything in the building looks smart and vibrant.

We believe in quality because we sell quality products. Luxury and quality are things you cannot discount. You either do it all the way or somebody else will come and offer something better. We are specialized in luxury and high-end buildings. We have the most advanced solar system here that can service the 100,000 sqm. We have the Caterpillar generating sites that can sustain electricity for long without having to depend on the national grid. We have our own water reverse osmosis system in case we need that. And we have 24 hours security. The whole project is kept as one security unit with multiple entry points, but you can only access it by magnetic cards, so you know exactly who is coming in and who is going out. We offer quality in terms of building, finishings and service. The Octagon provides everything. Besides, we are now opening up a restaurant to provide food for the people working here.

What is your vision for Dream Realty in the next two years?

The vision is still the same: to develop as much as we can, with and through the Ghana economy. We are committed to this country. Ghana is completely different from other markets we have dealt with, the speed, the expectations and how the economy develops is different. It has its own rhythm. Our top priority is also to put The Octagon in a safe place since occupancy is less than 50% overall as of now. We are starting a big project in Block C, and if that project works, The Octagon will be a true presentation of our vision for Ghana.

What is your philosophy and what inspires you?

I believe that work is life, and productivity is creating a new life. In the last 40 years, I have had an amazing background and experience. I was lucky to touch on a lot of businesses. I have worked in agriculture, farming, manufacturing, and oil filling in Lebanon. In the early 1990s, I had the biggest facility management company with 1,800 employees.

As Dream Realty, we have always believed in new technology. In 1969, we began constructing a building where hot water was totally supplied by solar panels. Nobody had heard of solar panels at the time. We started doing double walls and double windows in the 1980s, when nobody was even thinking of them. We were already reducing the environmental impact. Of course, the technology existed. We did not invent anything, but we would get an idea and immediately apply it. For me, developing and improving the work, as well as ourselves, has been my mode of living. And the positive impact that we have on the local society is very important as a mature company.

Currently, my main aim is to develop our business in Ghana for the next 10 years and hand it over to any of the Dream Realty partners who would want to continue with the project. My vision and plan is to put our business back on track, and develop the nice projects that we have in mind. I feel I am in the right place to make profits for the company and have an impact on Ghana and West Africa.




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