James Orleans-Lindsay: JL Properties Ghana is Building the Biggest Innercity Development in the Last 25 Years

James Orleans-Lindsay, CEO at JL Properties

Interview with James Orleans-Lindsay, CEO at JL Properties

Can you provide us with a brief background of JL Properties, including how and where it started?

JL Properties Limited is a part of the JL Holdings group, which comprises of more than a dozen other companies. We have JL Plantations and JL Foods, Casa Vendas which is a complete kitchen installation company. There is Paintmaster: a paint company. There is JL Silver: whose sole mandate is to build affordable homes. We also have JL Côte d’Ivoire and JL Sierra Leone, which are both engaged in real estate development. Additionally, we have JL Togo, which is based in Lomé, and JL Nigeria, which is involved in real estate development in Abuja. We also have JL Properties in London, specifically in Waltham Abbey, as well as several other companies. However, our flagship business is JL Properties in Ghana, which was established in 2011. Our core business involves revitalizing unused lands such as disused areas and quarry sites, and turning them into gated communities, mainly residential ones. We are the largest innercity developers in Accra. Nobody builds more houses in the city proper than we do, and we are presently working on the biggest innercity development in the last 25 years, which is a project that will create 500 new homes in Achimota. Our success in real estate is primarily due to the model we have developed and executed. In a nutshell, we build in the heart of the city and do not venture beyond a certain point. This approach allows us to avoid issues related to commuting and other factors that can impact the desirability of a development. We have applied this mentality to great effect and have done very well in the real estate business.

Are you mainly building residential communities, or do you also have a focus on commercial properties

We do not build commercial properties. Our specialty lies in residential properties, specifically two, three, and four-bedroom homes. We also build single-storey bungalows for older men and women who prefer to avoid stairs due to age. People often come to us to buy homes for their parents, and we cater to their needs. We also build three and four-bedroom story homes for younger folks, such as finance and marketing executives. That is what we excel at.

What is your competitive advantage? What makes you stand out and what keeps you afloat with this competition?

We are not just keeping afloat; we are expanding exponentially. We have the most competitive prices in the market. In fact, we challenged others to match our prices for a similar property in a similar location, and we offered $10,000 back if they could. But no one was able to match us. We also ran a promotion where the first 20 people to buy our four-bedroom houses received an SUV that cost $22,000, in addition to the building. These are the things we do, and people come to us because we are the most competitive. We have a unique model. Every year, JL Properties increases the number of homes we build. Our best times in the business were during COVID when people bought more houses from us than any other time. We have the strongest and most solid foundation, and the best designs, which we are always improving. Other developers come to us because they have found out that we have a model that works, and they are emulating everything we do. We intend to continue developing year on year, and the sky is the limit.

Can you describe the types of homes you offer?

Whenever people talk about affordability in real estate in Ghana, it makes me smile. The truth is, out of the 4.7 million people in the city of Accra, there are only around 500,000 who have the pocket to pay for disposable income out of their income. From that, I need to get 1000 people every year who are ready to buy homes in Accra, and I need 500 of them. I am not chasing affordability, I am chasing people who are willing to buy homes at an average cost of $200,000 in cedi equivalent, to protect the city. For me, real estate is not about affordability, it is about location and the square meter built up area in Accra. We use the principle of finding people who want to buy homes or invest in homes for rent both short and long term. We are not worried about affordability; we go for what we can get.

The cost of land in a prime area in Accra is one of the most expensive, and it is not possible to buy an apartment for $20,000 or $25,000, as people wrongly assume. As a company, we are primary developers with the biggest mid-range of offers in the city. We need to sell 200 homes a year to expand. We cannot afford to have our homes standing for 24 months, unlike part-time developers or secondary developers. We may be accused of bringing prices down, but we do not care because we want to provide affordable homes for families.

JL is a family-oriented business that touches lives. My happiness is when families recognize me and say I am the one who gave them their home. The money is secondary to us, and we are not just developers in it for the short term, we are in it for the long term. We want our properties to transcend generations, and our hallmark is quality.

What projects have you done and are currently working on?

We have more than 1,000 homes in Accra, including some unfinished ones. In the west of Accra, we have built around 200 homes in the New Weija area, and all are occupied. In Accra, we have 25 more homes standing alone, and in the Achimota enclave, we have completed five different phases, with over 400 homes in gated communities. We also have smaller enclaves, with 10 to 15 homes per cluster. In East Airport, we are presently doing 115 new homes, and people are already living there. On the Spintex Road, we have six different enclaves, with the smallest comprising of 20 units. We can be identified by the distinct colors we use on our properties – pink and cream for Spintex Road, and brown masonry, cream, and white for Achimota properties. We also have stand-alone homes, but we do not count them because they are one, two, or three units at a place. Presently, we are doing 120 luxury apartments at North Airport, and 20 apartments at West Achimota.

Aside from the apartments, we are building the biggest residential community in the last 20 years in a city. We are doing the biggest innercity development in the last 25 years with 500 new homes next to Achimota. We have completed about 102 of them, and we have 24 to 36 months to finish all 500 new homes. We plan to do 1000 new homes in North Kaneshie, a mix development comprising of 1000 apartments and residential properties. We launched “10,000 in 10” 14 months ago, and our plan is to do 10,000 homes in 10 years, using the new technology of concrete printing.

Are you the first real estate company to do this with 3D concrete printing?

I am not sure if any of my competitors are pursuing this idea. It is very difficult to change people’s mindsets. So typically, real estate developers do not want to venture into anything that will create problems for them. 3D concrete printing has been done before. Chinese have built a factory in Nigeria making them pioneers in the technology in Nigeria. However, we are the first company to seriously consider setting up a factory for this purpose. That is what sets us apart.

What is your vision for the future?

Our focus is to provide tailor-made housing solutions for as many people as possible. We know that there is a huge demand for housing in Ghana, with 1.7 million people needing homes. It is not just about lack of homes; it is also about the ability to pay. However, our research has shown that there are still around 400,000 people who need homes and have some money, but not enough to buy the kind of homes they want. We want to reach out to this segment of the population and provide them with quality housing. Apart from that, we also want to make better use of disused lands within the city by resettling squatters and building better accommodation for people. We want to stay within the city as much as possible, to provide people with access to all the necessary amenities. We also have plans to give back to the community through the Lindsay Foundation. We plan to build at least a 20-bed hospital block every year for the next 10 years. We have already built one last year for the Achimota Hospitals, and we are currently working on another one in another municipality in Ghana. These hospitals will be fully donated to the health sector and will provide healthcare to those who need it. Additionally, we are setting up a building institute to teach proper practical building practices. We have partnered with a company in Malta to set up the institute in Ghana. The focus of the institute will be to train artisans on the proper application of construction materials and practices. We have observed that 95% of buildings in Accra have dampness issues due to capillary action. By training artisans on the proper application of construction materials, we hope to solve this issue and improve the quality of buildings in Ghana. All these initiatives are part of our corporate social responsibility. We want to contribute to the development of the industry and help people in need.

What is your philosophy? What was the push that led you down this path?

I have tried not to bring my personal issues into this discussion, but the truth is that Grace found me. That is what happened. If I have become the biggest developer, it is not just because of me, but also because of my team. We have a family-centered company where anyone who joins becomes part of our family. JL is like a family, and we look after each other. Grace found me, and once I had passed a certain level, I became content with what I had. All I want to do is to employ more people, start more businesses, and help people provide for their families. When I go to the table with a clean mindset and a clean heart, and the idea is to do something good, the results and profit will come. That is my philosophy. I wake up every day wanting to come to work because I am building something and the happiness and joy in my heart come from seeing lives being changed. When you visit, you see a company that is up to something good, not just focused on profit. We need profit to move on, but we go into business with the mindset of touching lives, and the profit comes as a result. We call it the philosophy or the job mentality, and it brings us happiness. Even though the market may not be straightforward and at times may be slow, we will still ride the storm because people will always need homes.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I never set out to be a real estate developer even though it is a family love. My father was in the construction business as a big contractor. But my first degree was in biochemistry, and I wanted to go to med school. I went to Budapest for almost a year to study medicine, but I could not understand the language and had to come back to Ghana after ten months. During my time in Eastern Europe, you are taught in the language of the country you go into, and the Hungarian language is one of the most difficult. I struggled a lot and had to come back. So, I did biochemistry as my first degree with the goal of building a big hospital lab and joining my grandfather who was a doctor in Kumasi.

One thing led to another, and after building my own house, a stranger passing by said he liked it and asked to meet me at Barclays Bank the next day. He paid cash, and that is how I started my business. I built two more houses and started to grow from there. It is not wrong to sell your home in Ghana, even though traditionally, it is an uncommon to sell your property. People are taught to keep properties for generations. But if you know what you are doing with the money, it is a blessing to sell your home. You need to build at least two houses with the money; otherwise, you should not have sold it. This is why the secondary real estate business is weak because everyone is holding onto their homes. The simplest way to start a real estate business is to build your own home, sell it, make a profit, and build a new one and keep going.

After finishing my studies at university, I went to Salford University for my master’s and Hertfordshire for my doctorate. But my continuous education was in construction management, and I am an alumnus of both universities. People would ask me what I was doing in real estate with my background, and I would tell them that I know the industry, and people who know the industry should get into it. Even though you do not need a degree to do real estate, it is one of the most profitable industries. The system has been good to me, and I believe that the real estate industry in Ghana is at a crossroad. It is an industry with a path of growth, but you need to be very careful about planning and education. Once you do all that, it is one of the most profitable industries. When I started my real estate in England, I realized that there were too many people like me, and the system did not need me. But in Ghana, I stand out because you can come and visibly see the things I am doing.

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