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Ume-Ezeoke: From modest living to real estate guru

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Dr. Ikem Ume-Ezeoke  reveals how his father’s decision to withdraw him from a school in the city and enroll him in a village public school, literally put on his legs, the springs that made him one of the loud names in Nigeria’s real estate sector.

Ume-Ezeoke, who is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Homes & Homes Real Estate Solution, also provides answers to salient questions on Nigeria’s mortgage sector.  He is the current President of Lekki Professionals and Real Estate Club.

WHAT was your growing up like?

Growing up was fun and it happened in a humble way. I grew  up in the eastern part of Nigeria under a strong and strict modest catholic  family. My father was a businessman and my mother was a flexible business woman, who was always there for her children. We were not special children. We were not given all we wanted, but we were thought respect and  modest living. Education was the only thing on the lips of our parents. We were never treated specially, I attended public schools.

Were there landmark experiences that shaped your upbringing?

The major landmark experiences were when my daddy withdrew me from school in the city and enrolled me in another secondary school in a village. He said my performance standard was dropping and I needed to concentrate more. I was taken to an aunt who would wake me  up and strain my  ears early in the morning on how I had been spoilt in the town.

I spent some time with her before I was sent back to the city. The second one was when my father insisted I had to work after secondary school and learn before enrolling in the university. Both experiences were very significant in my life because I saw my young mind recreating itself and saw life differently and independently.

You have won several high profile  awards both locally and internationally such as African Achievers Awards, The integrity International Award which you won in Ghana last year, The Leadership Awards for Excellence and you were recently nominated for the prestigious Black Caucus Award for Leadership by the US the Congress in the city of Georgia. What is the secret behind the recognitions?

Those are man-made accolades billed to encourage one to strive for the best. Such keeps one on his toes. It feels good to realise that your little efforts by the side are being recognized in as much as one isn’t in the limelight. I appreciate God so much and all those who felt I deserve such even when I know I haven’t done anything. I encourage everyone to do his or her best and never compromise excellence and integrity. The world is watching in as much as we think we are not recognized, but God has designed it in a way the system throws you out in excellence just like in bad news.

Although people hardly recognise hard work, so I appreciate those who found time to recognise hard work and pray they are rewarded for rewarding people like me. The young minds shouldn’t be discouraged even in these difficult times, they are trying times for our nation. I suggest we all recreate and rethink in the direction of optimising our brains for useful solutions to our nation. This country has a whole load of potentials in young People, it is so sad that we keep losing them through hardship and crimes.

How did you find yourself in real estate business?

I had my first  degree in Estate Management (Bsc) from Enugu State University (ESUT).  I had to practice what I studied. Although Estate Management was not my first choice, it was not very popular and it was also a five-year course. I think the justification in spending five years for the program that wasn’t what I wanted, but through divine providence, I did the course. I enjoyed studying it because the course modules associated with it touched on other areas that caught my interest, especially on law, surveying, building construction, geography, urban design, and architecture. Estate Management gives you an opportunity to be a guru in environmental sciences and building industry outside the core provision of the course which are valuation and property management. It broadened my mind so well and it made it easy for me to be at home with other professionals.

How did you build your brand in the industry?

I haven’t seen myself as a leading name yet, but trust me it feels good to hear one is grouped as a leader in the field of his endeavour where there are veterans who have done so much for the industry and the community. The awards we have received were God-given and we really appreciate that. We haven’t even done 25 percent of what we intend to do. The housing shortage or gap we have in this country is a major challenge and this should make professionals in the same industry come together more often to create contents, create more alliance with the government to deal with housing deficit.

Have you had challenges that left you with regrets professionally and personally and how were you able to conquer them?

Challenges are part of life and one shouldn’t be afraid of them. They should be expected in every phase of life. The more you achieve or ascend in life, the more challenges you encounter. I think challenges makes one more mature in terms of how you reel out solutions and apply such to cure whatever you encounter in life.    When you come out of challenges, one tends to learn more. It defines who you are, your future becomes clearer, you have a better view of life and how you shape your options and choose your steps. Challenges are good for everyone, especially the young people.

Perhaps you must have learnt key lessons in the industry in your professional pursuits, how do you think people can inspirations from such lessons?

The lesson I have learnt in the industry which I think by extension applies to other industries is that integrity pays, both personal and professional integrity. People should be able to remember your name  in your absence and give you of credits. That is what everyone needs, to forge ahead, and that to a large extent expands your reach and your success. One shouldn’t take anything for granted. What you have decided to do should be done well because those are the things that speak for you in your absence. They are your legacies. I pity those, who focus on the financial gains at the expense of integrity.   The moment we start compromising our integrity because of money, we start losing the divine purpose of life.

On key challenges in the housing sector

You can’t minimally give a solution to the key challenges in the housing sector. The housing sector is a huge sector and it defines to a great extent the success of a nation and by extension the government. Housing needs in Nigeria should be a great worry and it’s a great worry. The first critical thing to do is to realise this as a challenge and call on stakeholders and every professional in the sector to engage more on frequent  interactions and select the right people to draw up a road map for housing deficits.

The major challenge that Nigeria has is appointing the wrong people to make decisions in critical sectors they don’t belong to.

The housing sector doesn’t require so much to resolve. First on the list are  funding,  land provisions and mortgage. There are few Primary Mortgage Institutions in the country. And you hardly find any that provides a long-term mortgage for home subscribers. Apart from that, job security also is another challenge because those houses should be subscribed by people who have jobs and viable businesses.

Another area to look into is the creation of more urban centres and decongesting the cities. The three major cities we have in this country outside Abuja are Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Kano. What are we doing to create additional mega cities and renew the existing ones to decongest these  cities and reduce heavy cost on  housing or property acquisition? The plan should be made so that people can stay wherever they are and have an equal measure of lifestyle they think they lack in their communities. We should improve our community infrastructure and amenities to reduce rural-urban migration. Lately, Lagos has been experiencing heavy migration of people and we fear for the future, although, the government is doing well to tackle that.

Further to this, we need to have a defined workable plan and only professionals who understand the housing gap can put it together. The state government and the federal government should look at the credibility of the people they allocate lands and partners to provide houses for the masses. Having a robust purse does not guarantee the developer would deliver. I feel the government should be the biggest player and only an experienced people who understand the gaps should be allowed or invited to  run the show.

 Lack of proper road map

Apart from funding, there is a lack of proper road map on how housing deficit could be reduced. I know we are plagued with the challenge of raising funds but that’s not our major problem. Understanding the problem is the key which we obviously lack. We need professionals who will come up with proper directions. This could happen when we constantly have frequent interactions to dissect the problems with clearer defined solutions.

No government can tackle the housing gap without robust PMI who would be saddled with creating long-term loans. Although various licenses have been approved and grouped for various PMIs to play, they are also saddled with raising funds to provide to subscribers. The government has even gone forward to provide a mortgage  refinancing company, but have the issues been resolved?    We need beyond those to resolve the matter and this is where you need experienced professional to handle such critical issues.

Further to the above, the government should rather be the biggest player. They should come out with a clearer blueprint where they should design a module and instil confidence in the masses and work with the masses’ funds to provide affordable houses on buy as you earn basis and within comfortable time lines. Land shouldn’t  be  given out to people who show financial adequacy but  keep those lands idle for a long time due to lack of knowledge or waiting for them to appreciate to sell off.

On getting money to build houses

The present government have a robust idea but I feel there major challenge is funding. As brutal as one can be, funding is not the only  major setback; one of the significant setback is  having experienced professional design a proper framework to deal with the problem. Getting money to build houses might work against the system if the system is not properly planned and zoned out. I think we should create enabling environment to have more ideas on the table where various people in building environment can interact for more robust ideas. A proper road map would create various options where people would key into modules suitable for them in home acquisition. This is sensitive but doable.

What would you consider as your most significant contribution to your community

The purpose of life is to impact humanity in every little way. This is foremost on my mind. You don’t have to give money if you don’t have, it shouldn’t also be inadequate or less when you don’t give  money. Your knowledge is wealth and that can also be tapped or donated to help humanity. These I have given in my little way and I am willing to share more with  people who can find value in it.

Your contribution and achievements in the real estate industry are enormous. How do you intend to replicate these achievements in your state?

I think if my state requires my services to help in closing housing gap which is also by extension national issues, they can afford to pay me to come. However, my state has enough and experienced professionals who handle their portfolios. The  areas I can make recommendations is on land allocations to people who have less experience to provide housing. People shouldn’t be given lands because they are financially adequate only.  New ideas should be sought. We should think of things to design that would take away the breath of any  investor, no matter how lowly placed in order to make people think of saving to own a home. Most of the ideas we sell still discourage investors. I think this might be the fresh idea one might suggest.

Other areas I would suggest is for the government to get more involved in creating homes rather than giving out to investors or businessmen, who provide at a premium and it becomes difficult to acquire. The framework for such is what lacking in the system. These are areas of critical structure which would create more jobs and more revenue for the states. If you want to predict or see the future, start creating it immediately, it starts now.

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