The real estate market in West Africa

Made up of three large regions, Sub-Saharan Africa contains 54 countries, 3 international languages, and more than 1,000 dialects. It’s hard to talk about a single real estate market. That’s what makes sub-Saharan Africa so interesting: the specificities of each country, city, and sector.

In this article, we study the West Africa real estate market. On average, West Africa is less developed today than East Africa. In East Africa, English is widely spoken which facilitates the arrival of foreign capital. Yet it is in West Africa that we find the most attractive city in terms of rate of return on the continent: Lagos, where already 21 million-inhabitants in 2020 leave is the most populated city on the African continent. The city is expected to reach between 85 to 100 million people by 2050.

Thanks to its economic, political, and monetary stability, Senegal is also highly attractive, especially for French-speaking investors. With its new airport and its new city Diamniadio, the Dakar region concentrates all the real estate activity. On the Ivory Coast side, thanks to strong economic growth, the real estate market in Abidjan is promising, there are the financial and banking poles of large multinational groups. Despite higher GDP growth in Ivory Coast,  the country remains less stable. As for Nigeria, it remains a difficult market to penetrate despite the attractiveness of the city of Lagos due to high inflation which slows down capital.

The residential sector in Africa

There are two main types of offers for the residential sector in West Africa: high-end and low-cost. While the luxury-upscale sector has already been the subject of many corporate investments, we see that the low cost did not benefit from the same intentions. It is, however, a market that is about to explode in light of strong demand.

High-end residential

Ivory Coast is the country with the highest prices in the high-end real estate category, with an average price of 427.65 euros per square meter for a villa. High-end residential development is done primarily in zone 4 / Bietry in the south, and Cocody as well as Les Rivieras in the north. Over the last few years many luxury buildings have emerged and the trend continues. The market that had been stimulated by the African Development Bank’s return to Abidjan in 2014 could be affected by the relocation of hundreds of it’s employees towards Nairobi or Johannesburg. Outside Abidjan, it’s worth noting that road infrastructure was improved to promote the emergence of affordable housing and the purchase of small parcels of land for the construction of owner-occupied housing.

Ghana, for its part, is seeing a considerable increase in the price of land in Accra. While the locals were used to buying plots to set up single-family homes, the price increase per m2 resulted in the consolidation of homes and the emergence of buildings. Buildings make it possible to optimize the space available and increase the profitability of the land plots by offering more housing. So we gradually moved from single-family houses to buildings that could accommodate more people. On the other hand, social classes with middle to high income see this type of property as a good long term investment.

Economic development at the beginning of the decade encouraged an increase in residential sector activity, which today suffers from an oversupply. Prices for good quality products are falling but the margin of developers on housing sales remains substantial.

In Nigeria too, and more specifically in Lagos, luxury residential is the focus of attention. Eko Atlantic, an urban development project launched by the State of Lagos in 2007, symbolizes this high-end appeal. The aim was to build an African version of Dubai on an artificial island to make Lagos an attractive tourism and business megalopolis. In 2016 the city welcomed its first residents to the Eko Pearl Tours. In the end, it is expected that Eko Atlantic City will have a population of 250,000 and provide jobs for 150,000 people. The World Trade Center in Abuja, Nigeria ‘s federal capital, is Nigeria’s most luxurious global trade, luxury, and high-end entertainment destination. Other large-scale projects are planned in the residential luxury sector, including Gracefield Island and Orange Island

In Dakar, residential sector development is progressively taking place with buildings comprising up to 20 units. Projects like O2 and Ocean Drive have been extremely successful and the market, with the exception of the seafront, remains relatively dynamic.

Real Estate specialists

Low cost residential

There are only a limited number of offers in the residential sector in West Africa, in particular due to the high construction costs. However, the infrastructures are financed by the states which, given their budget, have to be careful about the construction price. Governments, as in Nigeria for example, take on the dual role of investors and promoters. They commit themselves to building and reselling with minimum margins. Therefore, the challenge for construction firms is to find quality raw materials at reasonable prices in order to preserve their margins and ensure a low price for resale per sq meter.

To this end, the cement manufacturer Lafarge tried to innovate with bricks mixing cement (imported resource) and earth (local resource), in order to limit the import of raw materials. The group, however, failed to offer this product at an attractive cost relative to bricks made entirely of cement. Today’s challenge in West Africa is to manage to build quickly and cost-effectively to meet the particularly high demand for working-class housing.

Currently, low-cost buildings are located far from employment basins, on the outskirts of cities or in secondary cities. While governments are trying to attract developers of real estate in low-cost housing, interest remained low. Chinese developers have not hesitated to invest in this sector, yet as of now, the quality of the constructions remains below expectations. Therefore the enthusiasm for big cities and high-end buildings remains strong, while a whole market segment remains to be developed.

The Hospitality Sector in Africa

According to a study by the international firm PwC, the hotel sector attracts significant foreign investment.

West Africa, led by Nigeria, is among the most popular destinations for hotel investors. The country has experienced a major recession with negative growth since 2016, however, its hotel sector paradoxically records a steady increase in its revenue. In 2017, the industry saw a 5.2 percent increase in its total turnover compared to the previous year.

For its part, Ghana’s hotel industry has leveraged government support to develop. The country has had to face the fall in raw materials prices and is now relying on hotel sector development to diversify its activity. An increase in visitors and tourists on business is also anticipated. Over the next five years, experts are now betting on “sustained sector growth.”

However, the pace of hotel development depends largely on the ability to cope with certain obstacles such as land access, financing, foreign exchange costs, the slowness of the work, the import of materials, the quality of finishes. There are few destinations suitable for 5-star hotel development and we mostly find the Club Med brand among the operators who are banking on strong tourism growth in the sector.

Tourism in West Africa today is primarily linked to business and the “region” is still not unattractive to international tourism except for Cape Verde, which has made tourism its priority. West Africa is still home to few tourist destinations for the moment, and in 2019 it is Ghana and Senegal that are doing well with more than a million tourists, a threshold below which the two countries do not. Are more downhill. Nigeria had already crossed it in 2008 but has since 2018 fallen below that threshold. The reasons for the weak development of leisure tourism are primarily inadequate accessibility to air traffic, lack of accommodation, and lack of qualified workforce. There is also a weakness in the services sector and the production standards (hygiene, quality, safety), which are essential factors for gaining a foothold in the global travel industry. On top of these structural flaws, in some regions, we have to add security concerns, political fragility, health threats, and terrorism. All these are challenges that West Africa needs to address in order to remain competitive in the hotel and leisure tourism sector.

The Commercial Sector in Africa

Ghana has large shopping centers, especially in Accra. With Accra Mall in particular and its 20,000 sqm. With West Hills Mall (27,000 m2) and The Junction Shopping Center (11,500 m2) new infrastructures have emerged in the last few years. However, due to a difficult economic environment, the mass distribution sector risks reaching a saturation level. Retail development should focus on secondary cities like Takoradi and Kumasi, in the short and medium-term.
Although the Nigerian economy has suffered a loss of dynamism in recent years, this has in no way affected the retail sector with the development of projects such as the Eko Mall within Eko Atlantic, which could be the largest shopping center in West Africa, and the Twin Lakes Mall (50,000 m2) offered by Actis and leased by Carrefour in order to put an end to the virtual Shoprite. Secondary cities like Onitsha, Ibadan, and Warri recently welcomed shopping centers, proof of the good performance of the sector.

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With only two high-end projects in Senegal, the supply is relatively low: Sea Plaza and Dakar City, shopping centers that together offer a total surface area of around 20,000 m2. Benetton, Mango and Guess are mainly the international brands present in Dakar. The activity comes mostly from small supermarkets spread throughout the city and largely owned by the Spanish group Citydia. CFAO / Carrefour ‘s opening of PlaYce Marcory in December 2015 enabled Abidjan to have a first-class shopping center and to provide capital residents with access to new distribution brands, mostly French. The same group has developed a second shopping center north of the lagoon, known as PlaYce Palmeraie. The shopping center sector’s rapid growth in Abidjan is fairly recent and allows the Ivorian capital to significantly outstrip other African French-speaking markets. Probably the next development projects will include the modernization of old centers and the establishment of new infrastructure in peripheral areas such as Yopougon.

The commercial sector, like the residential sector, is primarily geared toward the high end. There are still few services tailored to a local population that are not part of the upper-class, which is an opportunity for trading and e-commerce players who want to settle in West Africa. In this niche, shopping centers dedicated to the working classes (COSMOS) only Abidjan was able to develop an offer. The presence of Afrimarket in the Ivory Coast, the African Amazon, must also be emphasized. The start-up specializing in e-commerce has had significant success: three fundraising events in five years, monthly growth of 15 to 30%, establishment across West Africa, hiring by bulk …

The Office Sector in Africa

While there are a lot of similarities in the residential, hotel and commercial real estate between Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, the office sector is more complex. Note that most office buildings in Ivory Coast have high renovation needs, which paves the way for a huge market for asset rehabilitation. The Duval group is doing this notably by renovating iconic buildings according to international standards.
Thus, while the office market is developing well in Ivory Coast, the situation in Ghana is different since the recent slowdown in the Ghanaian economy has reduced demand for office space in Accra despite new ones being built. The largest office building on the market to date is The Octagon by Dream Realty with a space of 36,000 m2. The rents charged remain relatively high, owing to tax increases. Indeed, the state has made large investments in the education sector of the country and now wants to cover its costs by applying substantial taxes to big business.

There is also an oversupply of office space in Lagos and Abuja in Nigeria as rents in “category A” have fallen in the last few years. This higher supply than demand is due in part to delays in projects but also to huge construction in Lagos such as the RMB Westport Wings office complex (26,000 m2) where Ericsson established its premises, Heritage Place (16,000 m2) or the first building of the Eko Atlantic project initially dedicated to the no longer existing oil company Afren. Also contributing to the over-supply was the recent completion of the World Trade Center office tower in Abuja.

Lastly, Senegal is a dynamic office property market, thanks in particular to the development of the country’s startups. That trend is due to the proximity of the country to Europe and North Africa. Even if the presence of large companies headquarters is still small, despite the establishment of a few international groups in the north, we should observe a change in the situation in the years to come with the discovery of oil wells off the coast of Senegal. Thus the country should experience significant industry development and attract foreign capital and businesses. The new town of Diamniadio, developed notably by the promoter Teyliom, will also allow Senegal to attract large groups and provide a solution for Dakar’s saturation.

While Sub-Saharan Africa is destined to become one of the most dynamic places in the real estate sector, the various countries have to make choices about their urban center development and planning.
The Smart Cities represent the future of developing cities with the rapid urbanization of the African continent. Therefore, African territories must consider climate change and imagine their cities in a sustainable environment, offering accessible and reliable transportation, easy access to education, and a local economy with activities exploring new technologies. Therefore, African Smart City must be based on three principal principles: sustainable mobility, urban development, and energy efficiency.

Are you interested in investing in real estate in Africa? If yes, make sure that you understand real estate as an investment and that it’s the right type of investment for you. Maybe ETFs or Index Funds are simply the best choice for you.

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