How Abuja shylock estate agents milk renters, turn housing dreams into nightmare

How Abuja shylock estate agents milk renters, turn housing dreams into nightmare

Looking for residential accommodation is a herculean task for residents of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, who fall to exploitative estate agents, ESTHER BLANKSON writes

Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, is known for its beautiful landscape, tree-lined boulevards and bustling metropolis. It is the seat of Nigeria’s administrative and political power. Home to various embassies, government parastatals, private companies and universities among other amenities like stadiums, hotels and an airport, Abuja embodies the promise of a better life for many migrants who flock to the city in search of opportunities.

Yet, for those who seek shelter away from home, the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. The housing market in Abuja has become a minefield where unsuspecting renters fall victim to the deceitful tactics of housing agents who exploit their desperation.

Apart from the fact that the government and private estate developers have not been able to bridge the gap between supply and demand resulting in poorly constructed buildings, the pressure on infrastructure has overstretched the city, forcing many to the neighbouring states such as Nasarawa and Niger.

Not only is it a problem to find affordable housing but the cost of a home in Abuja is also way higher than its monetary value. It includes an incredibly long period of hunting and for most people, the physical and mental stress of choosing between waterlogged estates or a house unreasonably far from their workplace is daunting. But that is only a tip of the challenge as the road from inspection to final payment is lined with many crooked agents.

Mike Albert, a resident of Abuja, is just one of the many casualties of this housing crisis. Upon moving to the city last year, he eagerly began his search for a one-bedroomed apartment. However, his experience with housing agents was a far cry from what he had expected. Pushy and evasive, the agents refused to give him straight answers to his questions.

His worst mistake was allowing his desperation to get the better of him when he eventually paid a commitment fee for a property based solely on the agent’s description and photos. It turned out to be a disaster: the property was in a dire state with damp walls and broken facilities in the kitchen and bathroom. Regrettably, Mike’s story is not unique. Many renters in Abuja face similarly daunting challenges in their quest for a home.

The real estate market is rife with scams and the real estate agent is the latest cash cow in Abuja. Oftentimes, renters have no respite from losses as the “profession’’ is an all-comers affair and there is no accountability or regulation. Many people who shared their experiences with our correspondent narrated how these businessmen sold false hope as properties at exorbitant fees.

The lack of regulations governing the housing market in Abuja has made it easy for these agents to operate with impunity, leaving tenants with little recourse when they are victimised.

Ekas Essien said her experience with Abuja housing agents had been very unpleasant. She disclosed that the agents abandoned her to fate after renting out a  two-bedroomed apartment in a storey building with damp walls.

“My experience has been disappointing, to say the least. I moved into my current house six months ago after paying 20 per cent to agents who shared the profit among themselves in my presence. My house is in Kubwa and it is a two-bedroomed apartment. The rent was N650,000. The agents charged me an additional N130,000 for the house.

“I have yet to recover all that money because they have not fulfilled their promise to me. The kitchen is in a bad shape. I have used my money to renovate the house, yet they swore they will use part of the 20 per cent to offset the bills.

“Just last week, after accepting that it is a waste of time waiting for them to fix some of the bad items, I coughed up N30,000 to fix the doors. I can’t count my investments in the house. The caretaker and the main agent are all the same.”

“During the rainy season last year, the walls got soaked in water. I am talking about a storey building. God forbid that anything happens,’’ she lamented.

A couple, Joy and Ameh Daniels, said, “Agents built a house ‘on top of our heads.’ When we first came here after our marriage, we had a budget for the kind of house we were looking for but to our shock, it became a tall dream to find one.”

“We used several housing apps to find a house targeting our preferred location. First of all, the agents charged us inspection fees. The lowest we paid was N3,500. Imagine paying about three of them daily. Their transportation fare was also on us.

“The annoying part was that many of the agents we met did not take us to the location we agreed on based on pictures and videos. We trusted them since they were from a registered platform. But it is either they told us the house key was with the main agent or that they had a better property to show us. At the end of the day, we had to pay outrageous charges to settle down and focus on other things.”

Lisa Ukpono said she moved to Abuja following her transfer from Port Harcourt. “ I can tell you that I have seen over 20 properties in this city before I finally paid for the present one in Jabi. The agent charged me 20 per cent which he said included legal fees. Yet, we did not sign any contractual agreement with a lawyer or witness. He whipped out an old form which required scanty details after I transferred the money to the landlord’s account. I was very disappointed. I had better expectations of Abuja.”

“I had horrible experiences with these agents, “ another resident, Wale Larry, told our correspondent.

“During my house hunt, one agent decided to help me find a suitable apartment in one of the estates in federal housing, Lugbe. We toured many locations around Lugbe to find one. Each time I thought my struggles had come to an end, I realised that I had only just begun. Finally, when I was about to seal the accommodation deal, six people showed up, all claiming that they were the main agent.

“One said he had direct contact with the owner, and the other one said she was the one who convinced the landlord to bring down the rent because the facility was old. The one I contacted said he brought me to the property and convinced me to pay. It was very embarrassing. Everyone had a stake including those I had never met. You needed to see the entourage of agents that followed me.

“Well, I did the necessary documentation, collected the house key and left them to settle their fight,” Larry concluded.

Yusuf Abubakar, a lawyer, said he would have been exploited if not that he had legal knowledge. “Even at that, the cost of making repairs to the house and fixing basic things cut deep into my pocket. I underestimated the amount of work to be done. At the end of the day, the amount of money I spent would have gone a long way to furnish the house.

“I didn’t meet the owner of the house. Every piece of information I got was from Jose, the agent. He downplayed a lot of things and raised my hopes in other aspects. They will act nice until the money hits their accounts and then they bolt, leaving you to deal with the landlord in terms that were deliberately miscommunicated.

“Even property sites are no different. All of them are in the same group. You will see a website telling prospective buyers not to pay inspection fees to anybody but at the end of the day, they don’t follow their rules. The average employer in Abuja cannot afford bigger real estate companies. So we have to deal with the ones on the street.”

Eric Jonathan said when he saw a listing on one of the popular property websites, the description was “a two-bedroomed apartment in a choice location in Bwari”. However, when he met the agent and set out on the journey, “I did not expect that a human being would take me on a long bumpy ride to a deserted village and expect me to shell out money to him”.

He said, “I ordered him and his friends to take me out of there. My experience has made me believe that most of them are mostly interested in the daily inspection fees. On a good day, with the housing situation, an agent can land five prospective customers.’’

Recalling what she and her husband went through during their house hunt in Abuja, Madam Rukky observed that getting a decent apartment without falling prey to the antics of estate agents is an uphill task.