Mr. Teniola Adesanya, managing director and chief executive officer of Oxford Commercial Services Ltd, a thriving young real estate firm is a man of many parts who tried his hands in several business ventures before settling for real estate business.
Before his foray into the real estate business, he had worked as Consultant, Manager, Networker, Administrator, Microbiologist, Entrepreneur, Professional speaker, Realtor, Finance Manager, Financial Planner, Investment manager, Marketer, Hotelier etc.
Teni as he his popularly called is a graduate of Lagos State University, BSc. Microbiology and has an executive Masters degree with professional courses in various disciplines.
His company, Oxford Commercial Services International Ltd, though relatively young is set to change the narrative in the Nigerian real estate business by carving a niche for itself to offer a complete property experience. Within a short time of its establishment, Oxford Commercial Services International Ltd has carved a niche for itself as a reputable corporate entity providing cutting edge and professional services to customers covering sales, development, property management and consulting.
In a chart with a team of The Top10 Magazine led by the publisher, Tony Iji, Mr. Adesanya shared the story of his journey in the business world and his final foray into the real estate business, the core value of his company and the factors responsible for the huge successes recorded within the short period its operation.
Can you give us insight into your background and the formation of your company? Was your entry into the property business by design?
My name is Teniola Adesanya. I am from Ijebu Telle in Ogun state and my father’s name is Samuel Bola and my mom’s name is Comfort Adesanya. They were both civil servants in Lagos. My Dad worked as a teacher and retired in Lagos state at level 16 as assistant permanent secretary while my Mom worked in Unilag as a non academic staff.
I schooled at Lagos State University where I studied medical micro-biology. After then, I studied other professional courses and I am presently one of the students of Lagos Business School studying enterprise development as we speak.
I started real estate business because of my passion for it. Actually so many of my friends were already in the business while I was into finance. I did a bit of oil and gas marketing, a bit of selling of shares at Nigeria stock exchange and I also went into micro financing, borrowing and lend people money before I finally found myself in real estate business. My passion started when I saw some of my friends who came together to start their own real estate firm, and I actually had another friend too that was into real estate and he was doing very well. So, I felt it was an opportunity for me to learn about real estate, so join them to learn about real estate. I discovered that real estate is more like a physical business, not a service and it’s tangible. Because of the country where we find ourselves where trust is something that is very scarce, a lot of people deal with you base on the fact that they must know your background, they must know where you come from, even when the credibility is there, when the facts are there, that this is real, they will still have to check your background before they will do business with you, that is the kind of country we come from. So I felt real estate is fair, pure, physical, lest risky because people don’t like putting their money in risky businesses. So I learnt real estate and then, that is how we started Oxford Commercials ltd.
One of the things we saw at that time of starting Oxford was that, we discover Nigeria has over 20 million housing deficits. So many youths that are earning between 80-200 thousand Naira don’t have shelter, they don’t have the house of their own, it’s not as if they cannot find a way to save from their income and get themselves a land and start building, but because of this same trust issue. People feel that with my one hundred and fifty thousand Naira, our mortgaging system has crashed and definitely they cannot put money in mortgage banks because they feel that if they put their money in mortgage banks, by the time they collapse they will not get their money back. So what we did was to now create a system that looks like a mortgaging system where they can start paying from what they have to get the land at a particular period then, from what they have, they will start using it to build. Before you know it, they will own a house. Then from that little medium income that they thought they are earning that is nothing, that is the same income that we are going to make plan for them to buy and build. That was how oxford was given birth to, and that is what we have been running over two years now.
That means, your coming into the industry is not by accident?
No, it is not. It’s by plan.
What is the scope of your operation presently and what plans do you have for future growth in terms of where you want to be in the next 5-10 years?
Okay, I discover that even before our forefathers came into business, real estate has also been existing, people have streamlined it down to estate management, they call themselves agents. When I don’t have all the money, let me at least help the big men to rent their houses, that is how real estate started. Now, the big men that were building that time were just building to make money but not for business. That is why when they die, they will share the properties among the children because they were not seeing it as an entity that needs to be managed. If I have 10 houses in Lagos, it’s a company on its own. I can manage those houses to be bringing income every year and I will be fine. But they share it because they feel it is as an asset. Now, real estate is not an asset but it is a business. It is something that you can invest in and then get multiple returns on investment. Our center focus is on real estate investment. People think when you buy land, you have to keep it for 20 years, that is not true. It’s like shares, you must know the time and period of buying, keeping and selling. They are some lands, the moment they get to their peak, they don’t grow anymore, N5million is N5million in 10 -15 years, while they are some other lands that the moment they get to N10million, you still have to give them time to grow to N50million, even at N50million, they will keep on growing. It’s like a portfolio that you need to manage and you have to understand when to sell. It is not just buy and keep. I can decide to buy somewhere in Iyana Ipaja for N10million, in 3years time it will be N15million and it will not move from N15million for the next 5 years. Why? Because there is no signicant development in that area, government is not interested, there is no infrastructure and probably the road that link to the place is not even good so it will stall, so at that point you need to sell. Most customers don’t know. So our own focus is to educate customers on real estate investment. How to grow N2million to N100million in 5 years, that is our focus.
Now, how do we see our self in 5-10 years? Well, this is our second year. We started from 500 Naira and that was our startup capital. I am sure that amount is just a transport to find out if the name is available for CAC or not. We started from the sitting room of one of us and from there we move to two bedroom and then we are here in our office. Where we see ourselves in 5 years is to carve a niche in the real estate industry where people will know us for real estate investment.
When you are into real estate, it’s not just to buy house and rent or buy house for sell. People have streamlined real estate to that. Real estate is what you can use as a financial management portfolio, where you can raise generation of finance for people to be feeding from for the rest of their lives and it must not have to be a house. It can be land property, renting or any other thing but the goal is, when you have portfolio, you start growing it from one level to another. Like I said, there is always startup capital for every portfolio. Give me N2million, I will buy one hectare somewhere in Atto in Ogun state, two years later, I will sell and use the same money to buy 4 hectares in Owede, in another one year, I will sell and use the money to buy maybe, three hectares at far away somewhere like Shagamu , and like that. Before you know it, I will grow N2million to N50milion in a space of probably between 10-15 years. It’s like shares but many people don’t know. So that is what we educate people on and as we are educating people, we are also growing in the industry carving a niche that is different from whatever all other real estate firms has ever done before we came. So, we want to be known as a giant for real estate investment.
You want to carve a niche for yourself?
Carving a niche for yourself means you are working on a very strong competitive edge. What do you consider to be your main competitive edge in the industry?
First of all, for any company to strive in any competition, you must have integrity. Integrity is the first thing you must bank on. You must create a standard which will be very difficult for other organizations to meet. Customer care must be top-notch. When you respond to your customers on time the way other companies don’t do, you will be able to carve a niche for yourself.
In the real estate industry, there is what is called, allocation of land. That is where most real estate firms get it wrong. Most of those top real estate companies in Nigeria have problem with allocation, I can say it anywhere. Most times you buy land with these companies, they will not allocate you your land on time. Six months, they still not have allocated you land and people are waiting to build. You are giving a time line of saying that within a period of one year, that you can build but six months has passed without being allocated land, so how do you build? So they are pace setters, if those of us that are coming understand what instant allocation means, giving the customer the desired need on time, I don’t know why they are doing that way. Another thing I saw in the real estate industry is that, people struggle with greed. I tell you, nobody can venture into real estate business and be in poverty, it’s not possible because the return on investment is huge and when you have customer funds in your system, you know whenever a customer pay for land, their money is in your system and it’s counting for you. So whenever you delay allocation, the interest of that money is not been used to capitalize the business. Instead of me to allocate now, I will allocate in December and by that time, I would have used the money to buy so many other locations and they would have sold before allocating you. All those things are malpractices.
So if you have integrity, it will give you a cutting edge over your competitors. We at oxford we don’t do shady deals or malpractices with customers funds.
We heard about different investment options offered by your company, can you throw more light on these investment options and their benefits to customers?
Like I said earlier, we are focusing on real estate investment; we are looking at building a portfolio from ground zero. We came out with a product called Oxford Gold. In the system of Nigeria, before you can do anything finance and interest, you have to be licensed probably as micro finance or any other but our products have nothing to do with finance. It only has to do with land. Now, if I know we sell a particular land for N1million and I have only N500,000, instead of doing malpractice by telling you to pay N1million and yet, we still go ahead and allocate you in 6months, we will ask you to pay the N500,000 which is half of that money into the system and give you allocation in 6months. What it means is that, N500,000 will be paid as what we call buying and selling and it will start growing. So we have expectation that between 1-6months, N500,000 would have grown to N1million so that you will be able to use that money to purchase a land you were suppose to buy six months ago, with a promise that the price will not change, that is oxford gold. We use that to be able to bring people that have less amount of money and want to enjoy the luxury of having that plot of land. So you can put your money in a system that grows and use that same money to buy a land that is Oxford Gold. Also, we have some people who put their money in the system to grow for 6months and they still feel that, instead of me collecting the land, why not just give me cash? So instead of us giving you the land that is doubled the amount you put in, we just give you 25% returns on investment. That is, your cash, and 25% return on investment. So, instead of you having 100% for land, we will give you 25% percent cash difference. So it’s your choice to decide either to collect land or cash, that is the kind of investment we run.
How can you describe your company’s relationship with customers and other partners?
In Oxford Commercial we don’t have staff but associates, we call them entrepreneurs. They are people who don’t want to be caged or work for just one person. They just want to come in, do business with you and then go home. So we don’t call them staff, we call them business associates. They bring in business, earn their commission, and find their way. Now, one other thing we are doing is to build incentives. Like, if you meet up with certain amount of money even though they earn commission we still give them incentives thanking them of job well done at the end of the day. Incentives such as travels, cars, TVs, wristwatches, laptop in addition to their commission. So every month we have a target. We may decide like saying this month whoever brings in N30million get a car, so everybody go out there to bring in business. So when you hit your N30million mark, we give you a car. That car will be branded by Oxford and by law, you are expected to leave the branding for one year and after one year, the car becomes yours.
So is that the idea behind the promo and raffle draws we are seeing all over the places?
As for the promos, we have what we called corporate social responsibilities that we do as an organization. Since we cannot construct roads or build houses for the government, that is even if they will allow us to do that. So we felt okay, let us focus on the people because, people are the government so, if we declare promo of which most times we declare up to 50% discount so that, people can subscribe at a very low price and then pay on installment for six months. That is huge and that is what we do often when we do promos. And for raffle draws, it’s just like incentive where before you enter for the programme, you must have a ticket which is used for raffle draw. People win rice, gas cookers and so many other things just to make the place lively. But the most important thing is the discount we give on that day. If you can make a commitment on that day, the discount stands, so we will give you opportunity to pay for six months. On a normal day, if you come to us that you want to buy land, we will not give you six months but if you come for our promos, we will give you that opportunity to pay for six months which means, the price of the land will not change in the next six months until you finish paying. Apart from that, we also give out free plots of land on our promo days. When customers buy plot of land from us and commit N20,000 to N50,000, we will now do a raffle draw for people that bought land on that day and one person will emerge the winner of a free plot of land in addition to the discounted price he bought for. We have given out more than 20 free plots of land with the recent one at Igando in Lagos called double awoof promo and the next one is coming up on December 10th as our end of the year promo at Havannah hotel, Gowon Estate and we are going to give 5 free plots of land to our customers as end of the year gift. It’s more like a corporate social responsibility apart from business, you are entitled to ensure that everyone becomes land owners.
We also have a product called one-land one-customer which we design to help low income earners who cannot pay big amount of money to pay between 1-32months from their salary for a plot of land. What we do is to push them to our social capital companies and they help us to check their financial history and statement of account to be sure that they are actually working with whoever they are working with and they are actually earning salary so that when they engage themselves with that product, they will not default. Because, if I say a particular land is sold for N500, 000, you are going to pay for it for two years which means, in two years, the land will be around N1.5million. So if I give you opportunity to pay N500,000 for two years, you should at least not default. So we do financial check on them before we sign them up for the programme.
From our discussion so far, you are more into buying and selling of land. Do you have a plan of going into real estate development in future or you have one already on ground that you can point to?
We came into the industry to define what the industry should be, that is why sometimes I don’t count people that came to the industry with billions as competitor because, they did not gather the people from the grassroots. We came into the business with N500, some came into the business with N500billion, so they can buy anywhere of their choice and do real development, and sell to the rich. 90 percent of our customers are average, not the rich.
So we have consistency which we refers to as current base, the consistency of income is strong.
The first stage we are doing is sales, the next is development. We currently have 22 estates we are already selling and we have started development with one of them called West View Estate at Ota. As we speak, we are building gate house, parameter fencing, road network, hospital, police station and other basic necessities inside the estate and the contract has been given to the engineers already and they have started. Now we are hoping that in the next 5 years, we would have done that in all our 22 locations. We are hoping that within 5 years, all our locations would be inhabitable seeing people living there as full functional estate, that is what we are look out to in five years.
We started from sales, we started by bringing the people and before the contract was given out to engineers, we call all the people that bought lands in that location and had a meeting with them in our office which was our first CDA meeting. Nobody has built, but we are telling them, this is the plan. We are going to move in, do the normal development, while they will come in and start building. We also told them before March 2019, they must move in and we are sure before the end of 2019, there will be enough houses in that estate. So we are also looking at next five years to going into construction and building, houses for sale but for now, what we do is to sell the land, develop the estate for people to live.
Apart from your business, what is your view about the Nigerian property market generally, the prospect, the challenges and its contributions to Nigeria’s economy?
First of all, I think the government is not doing much. Most of the things we the real estate firms are doing like construction of roads, drawing electricity from one town to other, those are the responsibility of the government. Government is suppose to put those things in place but you see real estate doing that on their behalf, maybe we can say that is our own corporate social responsibility. But for God sake, the same money which is supposed to be use for construction of these roads will still be paid to them and it is real estate firms that are the roads.
Sometimes you will see government celebrating some things on tv and you will be wondering who did the road, you or the real estate firm. But the most important thing is, the Nigeria’s economy, government cannot do it alone we have to be factual. Our own role is to increase the number of shelter for our people if real estate firms really understands what they are doing because it’s not all about the money if they really want to do the job, I know within 5 years, we should be able to reduce the housing deficit to the bearest minimum. But if they don’t understand because people enter into businesses because of one thing or the other, we know why we are in business. We want to see how we can drag 20 million housing deficit down drastically.
I went to one of our locations in Ibeju lekki recently and to my surprise I saw that one of our customers has already built. The truth is that, most of those customers pay for the land on installment and now, they have the money to build. You will be wondering like, where is the money coming from? Somebody who is suppose to pay you N1.5million, paid it 10-15 times and now they build their house once. You will discover that people out there have the money but out of fear or out of conviction that I can’t do this or that. You know, to own a plot of land is always the problem but to build a house is not a problem. So if you can have someone who will guild them through, which is our joy to guild them through and pay, and they get their necessary documents and go ahead to do whatever they have to do, they will be excited and even if you have to borrow to build, you will be willing to build. So with this, I believe we can help the government to push down housing deficit.
As for industry in Nigeria, we are still scattered. Everybody call themselves real estate managers. I think I have to put it straight to CAC. Although there is something they do now, the moment you said you are into real estate business, bank will subject you to register with SCUM (Special Control Unit for Money laundering) with EFCC. Now, there are thousands of real estate firms in Nigeria, that their CAC is not showing they are into real estate business rather, it shows they are into buying and selling of tomatoes and pepper, their CAC is showing they are into general merchandise and they are doing real estate. So those kind of people do not have to register with SCUM because the bank doesn’t know they do real estate. But we are registered with SCUM because it shows clearly in our CAC that what we do is real estate business. I think we have to find a way of coming together and align our goals because some people are in business not to solve housing deficits but they just want to make money. Like let me build the estate somewhere in Banana Island and I sell for one billion Naira. But those of us who are in the business, and we are eradicating shelter issues, we need to come together and form an alliance to push down housing deficit as soon as possible. One thing is this, for any country to have wealth, housing deficit must be defeated, fear must be defeated, trust problem must be defeated, our mortgaging system must have to come back alive. There is nothing wrong, if I earn N200,000, I should be able to buy a flat for God sake. And people on the Island should stop pricing houses as if it’s lambogini. You will get to somewhere in the Island and they will tell you a house is N150million, because of what? Those things need to be regulated if not we are going to be in trouble in this country. How much is block? Block is not expensive, cement is not expensive, how come the house is so expensive? And these houses are somewhere in canals or somewhere inside the mud. I think government need to step in and start regulating price of houses, at least three bedroom duplex should not be more than N30 million because, these people may not build it more than N12million. So why should you want to sell a three bedroom duplex in Lekki phase 1 for N100 million and Mawal of just some meters away from Lekki phase 1 will be selling for N30million. You can see the difference of N70 million. Since it’s not regulated, people will just sell house because of beauty like, this house is fine let me sell it for N100million. I think government need to step in that regard so that people that earn between N200, 000 -N500,000 can actually buy a comfortable house because, they should be able to, irrespective of whatever our currency value is now. Most of our customers that built don’t earn up to N500,000 and they build three or four bedroom duplex which if they want to sell, probably they should be selling up to N20 million of which maybe they may not spend up to N10 million when building. If it’s not regulated now, our children may come in the future to buy house for billions of Naira. They are some houses in Banana Island which are N8billion and I kept wondering, is it gold that is the floor or what? But it’s just the way Nigerians are being tutored in business. Somebody asked me a question that is it true that in advanced countries, real estate has crashed? If you are in developed countries, you cannot say your house is N8billion, who will buy it? Nobody is even paying outright because the mortgaging system is working. If you say N100million, they will say fine, and how many years should I pay for it, 40 years? And you are going to keep on getting offers like 30, 40 years because nobody there will give you more than what they earn, it is from what they earn that they will pay from. So the best thing is to bring down the price so that they can pay you between 10-20 years because nobody pays outright, that is what crashed the real estate business there. But in Nigeria, when they say house is N80million, people pay cash, that is where the government needs to step in, that is where Dino Melaye & Co needs to be shouting on the senate floor, not all these idiot things we are hearing from them. Like my house in Ikota, the guy built 4 duplex on a plot of land which he bought for N30million and he built four duplexes and want to sell each for N40million, meaning N40million x 4 will be amounting to N160million on a land of N30million. As the matter of fact, the land of N30million is over priced in the first place. And there is no mortgaging system, how do I pay N40million from N300,000 salary? That is where people like us step in to help you plan to buy land and help you as well to build the house.
Although you have mentioned some of the things I wanted to asked but, how friendly is the operating environment to do real estate business?
First of all, I think most banks received mandate that they should not help real estate firms. I went to the bank to borrow money for my real estate development, I was asked to go and get house collateral. So if I have a house, would I have been going to seek for loan from bank? I think I would have sold it. The banks are not helping, they will tell you they don’t have your funds, that is the way they put it. If you are into buying and selling of pepper, they will be ready to assist but once you talk about land, they are not interested because they know that any land issues will drag in the court for number of years. So we don’t have bank funding, the only funding left with us is to actually buy and sell. I can tell you from start till date, we don’t have any bank funds in our account and no bank can say I borrow you money to go and do your business. Because of that, we are limited to some things we are suppose to do. So instead of you to create an effect in the business, like something that will take you maybe 14 days, it will take you like 6 months because you have to firstly raise capital before starting. So far so good, it’s been nice. The real estate business has been divided to Island and Mainland business which is another thing in Lagos. Also, there are Mainland associates different from Island associates with people in Island grouped as high rise people and Mainland as low rise people. So when you tell them your property is in Ogun, they will consider it not serious. But when you say Lekki,they believe you are the real estate person. That the person selling land in Ator, Ojuore, Sango Ota, that one is not a real estate business. So we have been able to create effect that they have started seeing it and now, most of these firms on the Island are now coming to the Mainland to do business. Why? Because they are seeing that the real estate is a game of number. They have the billions, but they don’t have the customer base. We have the millions, and we have the customer base, that is why they are trying to pull their neck and that is why you see most of those companies now having locations in Mainland places like Ator and you will be wondering, what really happened knowing that they are in Ibeju Lekki and other big places. The competition is high but the space of the market is big. Every Nigerian is a potential customer, even the ones that are still in school. Since we have 200 million Nigerians, how many real estate can you build, we cannot share it finish. The competition is high, especially in the area of branding of the business. People use to see us in Egbeda that we are in the far corner of the earth but we have been able to create a brand here in Egbeda, so when you visit us from Island to our office, you will be able to know that we are different people. We have branded cars everywhere, we are on radio, TV, we are doing everything we can to reach out to people and we are with you now (The Top10 Magazine). We are doing everything we can to reach out, on all our social media handles, we are active. We are letting people to know what we do as an organization and I know within a space of 5 years, Nigeria will know us. As I speak, we have over four thousand customers in two years and I know in 5 years,we are going to build 20 thousand, and when you take one percent of the Nigerian population, people will know us.
I believe most of your contemporaries will want their office to be in Lekki, Banana Island, on the island generally. What informed your desire to settle in Egbeda?
When they were doing Nigeria census, we discover that Alimosho is the biggest local government in Lagos with over six million people living in Alimosho. If you look at the way people work on the Island, they come back here and because people cannot afford houses on the Island but they can afford houses here, what we did was to position our self to fetch these people that are always coming back. They will go to Island and work and bring their money back here. Our business started here in Egbeda and we have presence in Lekki anyway with a small outlet and I hope in five years we will have a bigger outlet in Lekki which will address our locations in Agbowa, Ketu-Epe, Sala in Epe and Eleruegbe in Ibeju Lekki but then, we are focus here too. I discover that in business, wherever you decide to place your head office doesn’t matter but it’s where people can get to. We have over 200 marketers, so wherever they can get to, they can. But what we did here in Egbeda is in case a customer wishes to know where your office is, we should not fall short of expectation, that is why we have our office. On a normal sense, our business is out there, not in the office. So all our other offices in Sango Ota, Lekki, Ibadan, Igando, Ketu are just mini outlets, just to let customers walk in and make enquiries or make payment and where our people can gather together before going for their businesses.
From the interview so far, your business seems to be concentrated more in Lagos and the neighboring states. When do you intend to reach out to other markets such as Abuja, Owerri, Port Harcourt etc?
The truth is, we in the real estate, we have ambitions. I have been to Abuja and all other places and vet where we can do real estate business but it is important that when you want to site your real estate, you must have a presence in the place. So, sometimes human capital doesn’t allow you move. Owerri for instance is a very good place for real estate business but when you don’t have human capital to manage stuffs in that location, you will be forced to reserve whatever you have. We know before 5 years, we will get to those locations and people will know us, it’s just matter of time, just watch out for us.
Do you have any message to pass to people or the government?
I will like our people to understand that we have come to stay. We are Oxford Commercial, we are the owners of Oxford Estate, Zam Estate, Providence Court, Titan Estate and Westview Estate. These are our estates in three locations which are Lagos, Ogun and Oyo.
I will like our people to give us a call and come and do business with us because, when you talk about instant allocation, it starts with Oxford and to our competitor, when we say instant allocation it starts with Oxford.
How do you handle the menace of land grabbers or Omonile as they are profoundly called?
Simple truth remains that, when you deal with them with plain hand, they will not play you games. And they way they relate with individuals is different from companies. We deal with them plainly as a company. Sometimes you will see that some of them will send or run to you with their financial problems. So they are easy to relate with.