Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | Jaffar Tonda is the Team Leader at Synergy Partners, a real estate developer. He spoke to Ian Katusiime about the real estate sector in Uganda and its prospects.
As Team Leader at Synergy Partners, what’s your leadership style like?
Mine is more macro based, where I have a certain set of mangers that are empowered to make decisions. However, there are times when we are all stretched and have to work on projects together or interchange roles with the top management. We also have time when we brainstorm on certain issues.
You manage six estates. What exactly does this entail?
We have the Commercial Forestry and the Residential. What we did differently for Residential is to organise communities that have a certain set of order. When anyone buys land from us, they become part of our housing association.
Our management entails managing associations of the different housing estates. Each single land owner pays a certain amount of money ranging from Shs6, 000- Shs7, 000 a month, which is collected into a pool and we manage the grounds.
This is to ensure that when somebody finishes a house before the rest, they don’t find themselves in a bush. That money is used to manage the community parks, chemical spray the roads, among others. If you go to any of our estates, you will notice that there’s distinction between us and the typical land developer.
There is a tree component in your housing estates. What explains this?
Our primary thing is Residential. Our going into trees was us delving into social entrepreneurship. What we do is, we sell people land and there is still an aspect of land development. But we asked ourselves; how can we contribute to a sustainable environment? We thought about tree planting as a way of mitigating the risk the world is facing – climate change.
And since we were good at opening up land, we created an investment product where people could buy land and we help them plant and maintain trees. This product has worked well because we have so far opened up about 1,000 acres. We have onboard different individuals playing their part to mitigate climate change even those living abroad that we have never met.
The economy has been sluggish for the last few years. How do you keep going?
In economics, there is something called effective demand – a desire backed by people’s ability to pay. It helps create products that people can afford.
Our model is incremental housing project where people buy land first in our gated housing estates and then build incrementally with our support.
We therefore do things that give our customers a payment plan on land. Even if a piece of land is worth Shs10million, the typical customer will deposit Shs2million and we give them a payment period of 6 months to 1 year and that matches well with people’s income. As a result we have been able to survive this slowdown.
Yes, there has been a bit of decline in sales but our product is more matched with the affordability of the people. We are not like those developers who build homes of Shs300-400 million yet there’s high mortgage and interest rates. We target people who earn between Shs2million a month all the way up. Right from the start of this company, my dream was to build a housing estate where even my maid can own a house.
What is your outlook of the real estate market this year?
I don’t see anything in terms of our economic growth. I don’t see any driver; agriculture which is the backbone has been hit hard by climate change. When you look at the economy, you don’t see much changing. That is how I see it but unfortunately, I am not very optimistic.