Tenacity required to survive in real estate industry, says Ghanaian developer

When Harry Quartey started his Ghana-based real estate development business, Emerald Properties, more than a decade ago, business was much tougher than it is today.

Harry Quartey, CEO of Emerald Properties

Harry Quartey, CEO of Emerald Properties

“I went through a lot of difficulties trying to get buyers. Even though I reduced [the prices] of my units drastically, I still had a bit of a challenge. But it is expected. In this part of the world we are in a market where so many people have been disappointed so many times. If you are new, they don’t really want to take any chance on you,” Quartey says of the early years.

He describes his first sale as a “mixed feeling” due to the fact that he sold the unit for a much lower price than originally planned.

Educated in the US, Quartey returned to his country of birth towards the end of the 1990s. After working for a local mortgage bank for a couple of years, he decided to take the plunge and in 2001 started his own property development company, specialising in apartment complexes in Accra’s top neighbourhoods.

To date Emerald has developed a number of apartment blocks across Ghana’s capital.

Growing demand for apartments

Over the last decade Accra has seen an increase in demand for apartments, as opposed to free-standing houses.

“The demand for apartments is very high. It has been this way for the last 10 years. We’ve seen a steady growth and interest in apartments… The cost of land has gone up about more than 10 times over the last 10 years… People would rather invest in what they can afford, which is apartments,” Quartey explains.

According to Quartey, the majority of buyers of Emerald’s properties are Ghanaians. Most of these properties are bought for investment purposes and then rented to expats. He is however, seeing an increasing number of buyers also occupying these properties.

He says Ghana’s nascent oil industry has pushed up demand for accommodation. Ghana started with offshore oil production in 2011, and the industry has been responsible for much of the country’s rapid economic growth over the past two years.

“We don’t just sell the units, but we also manage the units that we build, so we have a fairly good idea about the clientele who is coming in for rentals. We are definitely seeing an increase in companies providing services for the oil companies, as well as the oil companies themselves have taken up some of our units,” says Quartey.

Honesty and perseverance required

Quartey notes that financing is one of the biggest challenges of operating in Ghana’s property industry. In many instances, banks are hesitant to provide long-term funding.

Emerald has attracted investment from SME-focused private equity firm Jacana Partners. Quartey says Emerald’s track record and the fact that it has a private equity firm on board, make is slightly easier to access financing.

He says honesty is essential to make it in Ghana’s real estate market. “You have to be honest. This market is full of individuals who always try to cut corners, to make more money off the customer. In this business, as well as any other business, I think honesty is key.

“When you take a long term view of whatever you are doing, you don’t just take a look at the profits that you make on one house, you look at what you make on the subsequent 200 homes. If you are honest and the customer believes in you, the word gets out there, and the customers will come in.”

Quartey adds that those looking for success in the property industry need to have the capacity to persevere through the various challenges. “You need to have a lot of perseverance, because it is not easy raising funding, and getting a lot of these permits that you need to get your projects going. It requires a lot of tenacity to survive, and so you really need to be prepared to work hard and persevere under these sorts of circumstances.”