Real Estate: Cornerstone Developments Aims to Become a Legacy Developer, in Ghana and Beyond

Joe Leslie Obeng-John discusses latest news related to Cornerstone Developments, a real estate developer known for combining efficient, functional and aesthetically pleasing designs with premium luxurious finishing, as well as a green approach to construction. He also mentions some of Cornerstone’s projects in Accra and shares his vision for the company to become a legacy developer, in Ghana and beyond.

Interview with Joe Leslie Obeng-John, Managing Director at Cornerstone Developments

Joe Leslie Obeng-John, Managing Director at Cornerstone Developments

What is your assessment of the real estate sector in Ghana?

Everyone is trying to produce a good product in this market. In terms of the real estate sector in Ghana, over the last 10 years there have been a lot of new developers entering the space and a lot of developments coming up. Due to that competitive element, the landscape has changed quite a lot. Everyone is being pushed to do better in order to be a major player in the industry.

In Ghana, property is not cheap because almost everything that is being used for finishings must be imported and the majority of products are not manufactured locally. For instance, we do not have any tile, door, or window manufacturers in country, so these products are imported from abroad and then assembled locally.

In addition, land prices in Ghana are very expensive. We are exploring expansion into other countries and territories in West Africa where land is substantially cheaper in comparison. An acre in Airport Residential or Cantonments costs $3 to $4 million. However, in other countries, the price is only $100,000 per acre. The land cost is one of the major elements that makes developments in Ghana expensive.

We also have high duties in this country. Developers must add their profit margins to the shipping costs. All these elements make it very expensive for developers to present a good product and these factors have an impact on the price of the properties for the consumer.

What is the history and background of Cornerstone Developments?

Cornerstone Developments began its journey in 2015. I had been traveling quite a lot between London and Accra, and I saw that there was an opportunity for me to become involved in the real estate market in Ghana. I started my first development in 2017, which was Noble Square in East Legon consisting of four townhouses. Our next venture was Altitude Residence, which was comprised of 30 apartments in Labone. We then completed Nyla Court, which is a community of townhouses in East Legon. We are currently in the final phases of completion for the Aura Cantonments Residence. We also have a number of other developments being launched this year including the Ava Residence in Airport Residential and Nissi Place in East Legon. Our focus at Cornerstone Developments is purely residential real estate over commercial real estate.

What are the competitive advantages of Cornerstone Developments? What makes you stand out amongst your competition in the sector?

One of the key factors that makes us stand out amongst our competition is quality. In every part of our developments you can sense, feel, and see the difference in quality. From our finishes to the materials we use to the architecture, everything exudes quality. That is our unique focus at Cornerstone. The people that work for and with us know that I am very critical when it comes to attention to detail. I want to ensure that we get the best possible quality in our developments. Investors in Ghana are very discerning in their choices now and that is one of the reasons that we are doing so well. They know that what we are delivering is high quality and that we do not cut corners and they continue to reinvest with us from project to project.

We are also very environmentally conscious. In every element of our developments, we use energy efficient products. Along with solar energy, we try to harness as much of the environmental options that are available to us. From our finishings to the claddings that we use to our double glazing, we ensure that each piece will allow the buildings to perform better and be as efficient as possible. The grade of the appliances, their efficiency, how they consume electricity are all factors that matter when you are trying to take care of the environment and minimize your environmental impact as a developer.

We also look at infrastructural improvements. It is not simply about the development; rather, we always try to improve what is around us. If we are developing in an area and the roads are not to a high-quality standard, we will make sure we improve the roads. If the drains are lacking, we will repair and improve the drains at our own cost. We do this because we want to ensure that we are leaving something behind that it is not just our products, but improving the area as a whole. These are some of the things that make Cornerstone different from other developers.

What is your international reach? Are you planning on expanding regionally or internationally?

We have been doing some feasibility studies in Sierra Leone which is one of the markets that we are excited to enter within the next two to three years. It is a very promising country with good prospects coming up.

What are some of your major projects and developments?

One of our major landmark projects is the Altitude Residence in Labone. It really showcases our belief of ensuring that our projects are landmark projects that are always a reference point. Nyla Court consists of townhouses that were done for the residential owner-occupied market in East Legon. We also now have our landmark project in Cantonments, Aura Cantonments, completed in July. Noble Square was completed previously. Finally, we have recently launched Ava Residence in the Airport Residential Area in Accra. Our main focus for our residential projects is luxury townhomes and luxury apartments.

Who is your target clientele?

Our clientele consists of local Ghanaian buyers and investors; however, we also have many people from the diaspora buying from us, as well as some foreign nationals. We have found that Ghanaian residents and nationals continue to buy from us because they are very happy with what we are delivering to the market. We have a wide scope of buyers and investors and that works very well for us.

What is one of your major success stories that you are proud of?

The proudest moment for me is knowing that we are leaving a legacy and a footprint. We are adding to the overall infrastructure of Ghana and changing the overall ideology of what luxury truly is. Our definition of luxury that we are delivering is comparable to high-end luxury in the UK, Dubai, or the US. We are very happy with the quality of what we have been delivering and we will continue pushing the envelope every time to improve on every detail to ensure that each project shows progress from the last.

Are you interested in attracting investors to the company?

My vision is to keep 100% ownership. However, we are always open to investors in developments in terms of equity shares. If those options are on the table, we will examine them on a case-by-case basis.

What are some of your upcoming and planned projects?

Ava Residence is one of our biggest projects to date. It is located in the Airport Residential Area, and it will be a truly amazing development. There are many elements to this development including three swimming pools, penthouses with their own private pools, a cinema, restaurants, etc. We try to improve the experience for the people who are going to be residing in the building. Especially after the pandemic, many people have made their home their offices. We want to ensure that when you are at home, all the amenities that you require are there. If you need a rooftop garden space, a restaurant, or somewhere to relax with your friends, it is available to you. We have really looked at all those elements and tried to package that into this new development to ensure that when you are at home, you are as comfortable as you can be and you do not have to leave your home because all the amenities you require are within the footprint of your building. We generally sell out before we start construction because people are anticipating our developments and we have a waiting list of buyers.

What is your vision for the medium term, three to five years? What do you hope to have achieved for Cornerstone Developments?

Over the next five years, we want to be seen as the leader in this market and to also be pan-African. We have to cross borders and affect other territories within the West African subregion. We also have plans to expand into the UK over the next one to two years. We have a global vision, but we will go one step at a time. We will finish conquering Accra and continue to push the boundaries here as well as in other African regions, and then look to Europe.

What is your personal inspiration? What drives you to do what you do?

I have always had a passion for property. Wherever I go, whether I am in hotels or apartments, I always look around, I always try to get a feel of what they are doing. When I came to Accra and I saw that there was an opportunity for me, I took it with both hands and ran with it. It is what I love and what inspires me, and I always want to have a positive impact on the lives of other people. I want people to come to Ghana and be comfortable. The first time I came to Ghana, I did not have a great experience due to where I was living at that time. As time went on, that situation changed. But because of that, I always wanted to do something that would make people feel like they are in another country in terms of the quality that is delivered, even while they are in Ghana. Outside of Africa, people have a negative idea of what Africa or Ghana is until they come and experience the good things that we have to offer. It is very important for us to develop buildings that are the best quality and the best possible luxury in the marketplace. That is really what pushes us in definitively leaving a footprint, leaving a landmark, leaving a legacy. We want to be a legacy developer and in years to come, people will say that when Cornerstone came in the market the whole landscape in Ghana changed in terms of real estate.


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