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Why there are empty houses where the rich live in Abuja, Lagos

Johnson Wede’s story is one of many in Abuja, where empty, finished buildings contrast sharply with the housing struggles of everyday citizens.

Wede, a dedicated family man, lived with his wife and two children in a spacious three-bedroom flat in Wuse 2, a highbrow area. Though their annual rent of N3 million was steep, it was manageable given the convenience and proximity to their workplaces and friends.

Their stability was shattered when their landlord converted the residential building into a commercial space, forcing them to vacate.

Desperate to stay in Wuse 2, Wede searched for a comparable flat but found only options priced between N4 million and N5 million per year, which had clearly not been occupied recently. He wondered why property owners wouldn’t lower the rent slightly to make some money rather than leaving them vacant.

Unable to afford these exorbitant prices, Wede and his family had to relocate to Life Camp, a less expensive area farther from their social circle and workplaces. This move disrupted their lives, increasing their daily commute and distancing them from friends and familiar surroundings.

Wede’s story highlights the broader housing crisis, where high-end properties remain empty while families like his are priced out. This issue is common in highbrow areas of both Abuja and Lagos, underscoring its widespread nature.

To investigate why many finished buildings in Lagos and Abuja’s highbrow areas remain empty, Naijaonpoint spoke with real estate consultants managing high-end properties.

The aim was to understand why owners leave these properties unoccupied instead of renting them at competitive rates, despite the significant investments that went into building these structures.

Temple Ugwu, a real estate surveyor with Bluemeen Partners, explained to Naijaonpoint that one reason for the numerous empty houses in upscale areas of major Nigerian cities, such as Lagos and Abuja, is the selective targeting by developers and property owners.

They focus on attracting high-net-worth tenants like oil and gas workers, corporate executives, expatriates, and celebrities. This narrow focus excludes many potential renters who are willing to pay the high rents but do not fit this specific profile, resulting in a significant number of vacant properties.

Ugwu further explained that landlords in upscale areas often hold out for tenants who can meet their high rental demands. He noted that landlords understand that once a property is occupied, it starts to depreciate faster due to wear and tear. This depreciation leads to additional maintenance and repair costs, which they want to avoid unless the rental income justifies these expenses.

Adepetu Emmanuel, a Lagos-based estate surveyor and valuer with A. A. Babarinde & Co., told Naijaonpoint that some houses in upscale neighbourhoods of Ikoyi, Banana Island, and Victoria Island in Lagos State remain empty because their owners keep them for prestige rather than renting them out for profit.

Another real estate consultant, who requested anonymity, explained to Naijaonpoint that the high rental prices in upscale areas of Abuja, such as Asokoro, Wuse 2, and Maitama, contribute to the many unoccupied houses in the city. She attributed this to the enormous costs incurred by developers or property owners while acquiring land and constructing these buildings.

She elaborated that almost no empty land is available in these high-end areas, and the few available plots are extremely expensive. As a result, developers often purchase existing properties, demolish them, and erect new structures, which requires significant financial investment. Because of these high costs, developers and property owners prefer to keep the properties vacant rather than reduce the rent, which they believe would undervalue their investment.

The Abuja-based real estate surveyor also highlighted another reason for the abundance of empty, finished houses in highbrow areas of Abuja: the influence of unprofessional agents who inflate rental and sale prices. She explained that property owners often depend on these unprofessional agents who mislead them about market values, leading to overpriced properties that deter potential renters and buyers.

Housing gaps are estimated at 17 million to 18 million in Nigeria, though several professionals dispute the official data.

Housing gaps are estimated at 17 million to 18 million in Nigeria, though several professionals dispute the official data.

The International Human Rights Commission (IHRC) says more than 28 million Nigerians lack access to decent and affordable housing.

Nigeria has 42.8 million housing units but 75% of them are substandard, according to the Federal Government data read by former Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.

The issue of empty, finished houses in the highbrow areas of Lagos and Abuja is a growing concern. Experts in the real estate sector, particularly those managing high-end properties, have provided suggestions on how to mitigate this issue.

Ugwu, earlier cited, recommended that developers and property owners broaden their target market to include other potential renters who can afford the high rents but do not fit the specific profile of high-net-worth individuals.

He noted that this approach can help increase occupancy rates by tapping into a larger segment of the rental market. He also suggested government intervention through incentives and policies, such as offering tax breaks or subsidies to developers who rent out properties at competitive rates, to encourage more balanced pricing.

Additionally, Ugwu proposed implementing competitive pricing strategies that balance rental income with market demand to attract more tenants. Property owners should conduct regular market assessments to adjust prices based on current economic conditions and demand, he noted.

The Abuja-based real estate surveyor, earlier quoted, told Naijaonpoint that the issue of unprofessional agents who inflate rental and sale prices, which keeps properties unoccupied, should be addressed. The surveyor recommended that property owners hire professional property managers and estate surveyors to handle property management.

She emphasized that these professionals can provide accurate market valuations and ensure properties are priced competitively, avoiding the pitfalls of overpriced listings that deter potential renters and buyers.

Regarding vacant high-end buildings left unoccupied for prestige reasons, Emmanuel, a real estate consultant with A. A. Babarinde & Co., suggested balancing prestige with practical considerations to enhance property utilization.

He recommended that owners evaluate the long-term benefits of maintaining occupied properties versus keeping them vacant for status. He also called for implementing regulations to prevent property hoarding for prestige purposes, which can help increase the availability of high-end housing.

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