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Spotlight on President of the African Real Estate Society

- Wits University

Lessons from his father and mentors have shaped Akinsomi's journey.

Kola Akinsomi is an Associate Professor in Real Estate Finance and Investments at the School of Construction Economics and Management, he was elected as the President of the African Real Estate Society (AfRES) and will serve for a term of two years from 2021 to 2023. He previously held the position of Vice-President of the Society. He holds a PhD in Real Estate Finance from the National University of Singapore and is a qualified Chartered Surveyor (MRICS). He is a member of the board of directors of the International Real Estate Society, Member of the SAREITs Research Committee, Advisory member of the South-African Council of Property Valuers Profession (SACPVP) and an NRF-rated researcher. Wits Communications spoke to him about his views on various aspects of real estate.

Kola Akinsomii, Associate Professor in Real Estate Finance and Investments at the School of Construction Economics and Management

Q: How do you feel about your election as President of the Society?

A: The journey to become president began in 2013 when I officially joined AfRES on the advice of my mentor – Professor Ong Seow Eng of the National University of Singapore. I have served as Director of Development of the Southern Region of the African Real Estate Society (SAfRES, 2013 to 2015), Chapter Head of SAfRES from (2015 to 2021), Vice-President of AfRES (2018 to 2021), Chair of the Future leaders of the African Real Estate Society (FLAfRES). I am a reviewer for the Journal of the African Real Estate Research, the flagship journal of AfRES since 2013 to present. In some instances, I have held three to four positions at AfRES at one time. So back to the question of how do I feel about my election as the president of the African real estate society? It’s another opportunity to serve but now as the No.1 citizen of the African Real Estate Society. It is an important position I do not take for granted and the goal is to leave the position much better than I have found it.

Q: What value does research into real estate add to industry and practitioners?

A: Research is the backbone of any successful real estate organisation. Every firm does research in some way or the other, some more rigorous than others. However, research assists the industry and practitioner to improve processes, to be innovative, to be cutting-edge, and to lead from the front. I implore real estate organisations to support research in universities, sponsor research students as their research results has the opportunity to push the frontiers of knowledge and gives us a better understanding of current knowledge. African real estate firms need to be more research-driven and also partner with African universities who engage in high level research.

Q: What are some of the pressing issues that Africa needs to focus on in terms of real estate?

The African continent is playing catch-up in a number of real estate problems and issues. The pressing issues is in housing. Africa is currently in a housing crisis and this is propelled by an urban explosion across African cities. For example, since 2020, Nigeria has a housing shortage of 17 million, Kenya has a housing shortage of 9 million and South Africa a shortage of 8 million. The mortgage financing system is also at its infancy. Mortgages help in stimulating house ownership and transactions that stimulates the economy of a country. For instance, outstanding mortgage markets stand at US$160 billion in Africa while the outstanding mortgage market in the United States is US$17 trillion.

Another pressing issue is in the area of valuations. There is a lack of skilled property valuers and skilled property professionals on the continent to provide premium real estate services to investors. Africa needs to focus on human capital development to train our younger generation in possessing skills to meet the needs of the teeming African continent.

Q: Was real estate always your career of choice as a young man?

A: I was born in Lagos, Nigeria. In my early years in high school, my initial ambition was to become an investment banker, I quickly let go of that career choice when my mom was retrenched where she worked as a HR manager at an investment bank in Lagos. I felt at that time that the industry was too unstable and let go of that career choice. As a 13-year-old, I had made a decision to make a career out of real estate. I made that decision as my dad at the time was a very successful real estate consultant in Nigeria with branches across a number of cities in Nigeria. He is still active in real estate in Lagos but has largely now diversified as a large-scale farmer in oil palm plantations and is into politics. I am a second-generation real estate professional.

Q: Covid-19 and the economic downturn has affected the real estate market. What’s the future for real estate? And what about those studying this area?

A: Covid-19 can be described as a black swan event – a rare occurrence which has had an adverse impact on real estate since February 2020. Social distancing and movement restrictions has been detrimental to landlord and owners of real estate space specifically in the Office sector (due to remote working) and retail sector  (due to movement restrictions during high restrictive lockdown implementation). This has affected the ability of tenants to pay rent. Landlords have had to provide rent holidays to tenants during the covid pandemic. Real estate will bounce back as it has always been resilient over the years. However, the use of space and its dynamics is likely to change. We are already seeing high conversions of space (office to residential), we are seeing more investment into the community/neighborhood shopping centers since most people are working from home and making use of these centers more. So, the dynamics of real estate use and investments has been impacted due to the covid pandemic and we will see more changes as the market adjusts.

Students studying real estate or graduating during the pandemic would obviously witness a period where some employers are unsure of their growth strategies and are holding off on some recruitment, however, the vaccination programs are very welcome particularly in South Africa and we would see more growth and bounce back in real estate activities which augurs well for recruitment of our real estate graduates.

Q: In your first address as President you mentioned that your father was a real estate professional. Can you share more about this? What lessons did you learn from him that influenced you?

My dad was my first mentor. He was one of the first pioneers of real estate professionals in Nigeria. I always say that he singlehandedly brought our family out of poverty by making a decision to study real estate at university. He lost his dad at such a young age and he was so determined to succeed. He is my role model and I look up to him.

I have learnt the lessons of hard work, resilience, thankfulness, and a never-give-up attitude from my dad. He always has a can-do attitude and nothing is impossible in his eyes. These traits have rubbed off on me and I have applied them in life.

Q: You speak highly of the benefit of mentorship and that your agenda as President is to groom the next generation of real estate professionals and academics. How does South Africa fare compared to other countries or continents where it comes to talent development and mentorship?

I am where I am today because of mentors. My first mentor was my dad and I have had so many influential mentors in my life that have helped shape the successes. To me mentorship is significant to success. I have been instrumental in the creation of the Future Leaders of the African Real Estate Society under (AfRES).

South Africa is in dire need of talent development and mentorships. Some of our students are the first to go to universities in their family and so this can be a burden on them, particularly being far away from home in a new and alien environment. This can have an impact on learning. This is where the role of a mentor is key. Our students need senior colleagues to hold their hands, to assure them that they can do it and guide them. At Wits we do have several mentorship programmes organised by the students through organisations such as South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA), South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners (SAIBPP), Women Property Network (WPN). I encourage more mentoring programmes by real estate organisations and urge real estate alumnis to give back through mentoring. This would increase the amount of successful real estate professionals in South Africa and Africa.

Q: In you view, what contributes to the gender imbalances at AfRES? Is this the same in industry and what is the remedy?

Real estate has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. It is a global phenomenon and not just an African phenomenon. However, things are certainly changing. For instance, the Wits property studies programme has graduated more women than men in recent years. The way to bridge this gap of gender imbalance in real estate is through mentorship programs, connection to top leaders (women and men) in the profession who would help women to advance in their chosen careers in real estate.

At AfRES we encourage women participation particularly in leadership positions, our immediate past president, the current treasurer and the program chair of the future leaders of the African real estate society are women. We would continue as an organization to promote women in the real estate profession. A special issue was released this year by the Journal of African Real Estate Research celebrating women researchers across the African continent. We hope to continue with initiatives to encourage women participation in AfRES.

Q: In your view, which African or Global project can be considered a success case; and why?

In terms of city planning and how societies should be. I have always been an admirer of the Singapore model. I have also had the privilege to live in Singapore for seven years- I studied and worked in Singapore. The City-State is a success story, it is a livable city that continually strives for excellence in all facets. It’s a city that most African cities should learn from. The model employed, as well as visionary leadership, was able to take Singapore from a fishing village to a world class city in a short space of time. From an African standpoint, Rwanda as a country is leading the forefront in terms of accountability, transparency and innovation. Our leaders in Africa across all sectors of the economy and in government must be visionaries, selfless, and incorruptible.

Q: What are your other interests outside of real estate?

A: Outside of real estate. I enjoy playing sports. I am an avid golfer, tennis player, football player and I enjoy running short distances of 5 to 10km. I enjoying burning calories. I also enjoy travelling. It is always an eye-opener to learn other people’s cultures and see things from other people’s perspectives. I have currently visited about 40 countries. A view from other peoples lens makes the world a better place to live in and encourages understanding and tolerance.

Read more about the African Real Estate Society.