New market opportunities in Ghana

As Ghana’s economy has garnered increasing international attention over the past few years, so has its previously rather overlooked real estate sector. Foreign investors have come in to finance office blocks, malls and residential development, bringing muchneeded modern property onto an undersupplied market. While the economic slowdown in 2014 and 2015 has had an effect on the market, economic and demographic fundamentals over the longer term are strong. Supply remains relatively tight in some areas and developers continue to push projects forward.

Economic Context

The performance of Ghana’s real estate sector, as in many other countries, has a broad correlation with overall economic growth and investor confidence. Following several years of very strong growth, particularly in the wake of the discovery of oil in 2007, the economy cooled in 2014, expanding by just 4.2%.

While this is still a highly respectable figure, it represented a significant drop from recent growth peaks. Factors dragging on the economy included lower commodity prices, difficulties arising in the international economy and concerns about Ghana’s large fiscal deficit. These contributed to pushing down the cedi, increasing costs for developers reliant on imported products, and thus cooling investor and consumer confidence.

In July 2015, during the mid-year budget review, Seth Terkper, head of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, revised the government’s forecast of full-year growth down from 3.9% to 3.5%, given these difficulties. Not all segments of real estate have felt the strain, however, with malls experiencing high occupancy and industrial space continuing to see some of the highest pricing in Africa. Yields on high-end residential property remain healthy, and the economic cooling will likely not reduce demand for low-cost housing, of which there is an estimated shortage of 1.7m units (see Construction analysis).

Long-Term Potential

Many developers have continued to push ahead on projects, with an eye either on segments that have retained strong demand, longer-term growth or both. Ghana’s economy is also expected to pick up pace in the medium term, expanding above 5% again in 2016, thanks to rising oil and gas revenues as new fields come on-stream, industrial growth, and increasing public and private investment, including in infrastructure. A $918m deal with the IMF signed in April 2015 should also bolster confidence, both by underpinning public finances and by increasing pressure for fiscal consolidation and reform (see Economy chapter).

One of the most important fundamentals boding well for the sector’s future is demographic change. Ghana’s population is growing quickly, at around 2% per year. Some 38% of the population is under the age of 15, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a US-based non-governmental organisation. This suggests both sustained demand for residential property and a growing market more broadly.

UN Habitat, a UN programme working on urban development projects, forecasts that Accra’s population will grow from about 2.5m in 2011 to some 4.2m in 2025. This is on top of several decades of fast growth that has already left the city with a significant shortage of housing, with hundreds of thousands in need of more suitable homes.

The relatively small area of Greater Accra, at 3245 sq km, also struggles with restrictive land ownership in some outlying areas, where stool (local traditional leaders) land ownership complicates development, as well as a large and growing population that creates pressure to build upwards.

Prime Real Estate

The scope for investment in property in Accra in particular is indicated by its relatively high prime real estate rents, partly a sign of scarcity of supply and partly of rapid growth over the past few years. In its “Africa Report 2015”, UK-based property consultancy Knight Frank ranked the Ghanaian capital 10th in Africa for its prime rent ranking, which is calculated by a weighted aggregate of rents across the residential, office, retail and industrial segments.

Accra came in below Maputo (Mozambique), Cairo (Egypt), and Abuja and Lagos (Nigeria), but above N’Djamena (Chad), Cape Town and Johannesburg (South Africa), Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), Nairobi (Kenya) and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).

The ranking may be somewhat inflated by the high cost of Ghana’s industrial space, but nonetheless is a broad indicator of Accra’s rents comparative to other major cities on the continent.

A March 2015 report by professional services company PwC, titled “Real Estate: Building the Future of Africa”, forecast that as successful cities grow, prime urban real estate costs will continue to rise, as will density, pushing down the average size of dwelling. This trend is likely to occur not only in fast-growing Accra, but in regional centres such as Kumasi, Takoradi and Tamale. The increasing demand for urban space will force developers to be more innovative in design and construction, with prefabrication and even 3D printing technologies showing potential to increase the supply both quickly and efficiently.

Central Bank Measures

In February 2014 the Bank of Ghana (BoG) imposed controls on foreign currency transactions in an attempt to address the decline in the cedi. The measures included limiting access to foreign exchange and restricting trading access to the cedi. Exporters were given a limited window to repatriate earnings to Ghanaian banks for conversion to cedis. Payments and withdrawals in foreign currency were also limited.

The BoG then eased restrictions in June 2014, while retaining some limits on foreign exchange withdrawals. While the measures were intended to bolster the cedi, they were poorly received by investors and institutions such as the IMF. “The change of law regarding foreign exchange affected the economy and was a huge cause of concern for international investors,” Nana Kwame Bediako, the president and CEO of Petronia City Development, which is developing a large mixed-use project in the Western Region, told OBG. “The Ebola scare in West Africa has also, to an extent, deterred some international investors from committing to the country.”

Foreign Investments

Declining investor energy can also be attributed to the difficulties experienced by economies that have been significant sources of inward investment in Ghana, including the UK, Nigeria and South Africa, among others. Both the UK and Nigeria have put in stronger economic performances in 2015, which bodes better for Ghana, coupled with the country’s own revitalisation.

While South Africa remains in significant domestic difficulty – the economy shrank by 1.3% in the second quarter of 2015 – South African investors are still playing a major role in real estate development across the continent, including in Ghana.

One reason for this is that South Africa’s own real estate market is relatively mature, so companies and financial institutions are seeking higher yields elsewhere. The fact that Ghana has featured prominently is a sign of its appeal to investors, despite the relatively small market size.

Financial services company Rand Merchant Bank’s real estate development arm RMB Westport is a good example. RMB Westport launched a real estate fund in 2012 with $250m and has invested in Nigeria and Angola. The fund’s investments in Ghana include the Accra Financial Centre and Stanbic Heights, which is a nearly 20,000-sq-metre building in Airport City split between grade-A office and ground-floor retail. RMB Westport also opened the 11,597-sq-metre Junction Shopping Centre in November 2014, with Shoprite as an anchor tenant and international brands such as TM Lewin, Nike, Swatch and Bata.

Gaining Momentum

In January 2015 Momentum Africa Real Estate Fund, run by a UK-based company, launched with a target of $250m in equity. Ghana is one of its major areas of focus, alongside Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda, Mauritius and Zambia.

UK-based emerging markets investor Actis launched its first fund focusing on sub-Saharan Africa in 2006 and its second in 2012. It raised the capital, invested in equity and managed the development of Accra Mall, which opened in 2012, in partnership with local entrepreneurs. It then sold its 85% stake in Accra Mall in 2012 to South African property developer Atterbury and financial services group Sanlam. Actis portfolio company Laurus Development Partners is currently overseeing the delivery of the $62.5m One Airport Square, a landmark office complex with additional retail space. The project is a joint venture between Actis and Boston Investments.

Residential

The districts of Accra that have traditionally attracted higher-income expatriates include Cantonments, Labone and Airport Residential, forming a ring to the east and north of the city centre. Homes in these areas are often modern, of good quality, and, in some cases, small gated compounds.

Two-bedroom apartments rent for around $3000. Rents for a four-bedroom executive house in a prime location average $5000 a month, yielding 8%, according to Knight Frank’s report.

This compares to $3000 for a similar property in Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, yielding 8%; $4720 in Nairobi (6%); $8500 in Abuja (6.5%); $8000 in Lagos (7.5%); and $4000 in Dakar, Senegal (8%).

“We’ve seen strong demand for upmarket residential developments in Accra, which is unsurprising given the housing deficit and the limited number of well-built, high-end complexes,” Kojo Ansah Mensah, the CEO of Mobus Property Development, told OBG.

For some years, development focused on the high end of the market, a segment that performed well in the oil boom years from 2007 on. However, demand has been slower in the past two years, as the economy has dipped and the cedi weakened.

PwC forecasts that across Africa the residential development market will become more specialised, with smaller apartments in cities catering to young professionals, while young families gravitate towards gated communities outside the centre.

The latter trend is already gaining momentum in Ghana, where a landmark residential project is being built in the Airport Residential suburb. Villaggio Vista will comprise three towers, including one, Alto, which will be the tallest building in Ghana at 27 floors.

Cost & Access

 The bulk of demand remains at the lower end of the market. Ghana has a housing deficit estimated at 1.7m units. Efforts to address this have tended to be small in scale, at least in comparison to the scope of the problem.

There is some disagreement on how affordable housing should be approached to best meet the challenges of development. “The government’s idea of affordable housing is less than $50,000,” Alhaji Salah Kweku Kalmoni, director of developer Lakeside Estates, told OBG. “There are a number of factors that make me believe that this is not feasible. Mortgage availability is the biggest problem. The vast majority of housing in Ghana is paid for in cash, but the people who would want houses that are less than $50,000 do not have the cash up front.

In addition, building materials are imported, hitting the margins of affordable housing hard.” Mortgage rates average around 30%, according to Kalmoni, due to an interbank rate of 23%, making interest payments prohibitively expensive for many Ghanaians, particularly those with irregular or unofficial incomes. He argued that companies looking to develop affordable housing should establish their own mortgage arms that are able to offer lower rates than banks, therefore making home loans more accessible to a wider range of people.

Elsewhere in Africa, governments have innovated to find ways to tackle the housing shortage through financing. South Africa’s Gauteng Province, centred on Johannesburg, has the Gauteng Partnership Fund, which assists housing developers with loans modelled on equity, boosting projects’ bankability and pushing down lending rates. Nigeria has a taxpayer-financed fund, which is run by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria to provide mortgages to low-income families and to support the development of new homes.

Office

Prime office rents in Accra average $37.50 per sq metre per month, yielding 8.5%, according to Knight Frank. Rents are high by African standards, though well below Nigerian levels, which stand at $85 in Lagos and $60 in Abuja, yielding 8.5% and 9.5%, respectively. Comparable rents are $28 in Abidjan (9% yield), $21 in Nairobi (8%) and $20 in Dakar (10%). According to Knight Frank, typical commercial lease terms are from two to five years, with a pre-agreed rent escalation of typically 5-10% per year, with a normal notice period of three months. Rent is paid quarterly or biannually.

Service charges tend to be 10-15% of net rent, including water costs. Electricity costs are borne by the tenant, as is the 8% rent tax. Prime rents weakened in 2014 as growing supply came into contact with softer demand, the economic slowdown and the weaker cedi having their effect on the latter.

Economic growth has helped drive office space expansion in recent years, as investors have established a presence in the country, and local companies and foreign firms already present in Ghana have expanded to meet rising demand.

The Airport City area has been a centre of development. Located 5 km to the north-east of the heart of the city, and close to Kotoka International Airport, the district is convenient for firms with international ties. Given that Accra’s traffic, hotels and high-end residential areas are nearby, proximity to the airport is a plus for such businesses.

Actis’ aforementioned One Airport Square is a major development in the area. It has 15,000 sq metres of office space and 2000 sq metres of retail space, and was partly financed through a $31.2m loan facility from Stanbic Bank Ghana and its mother company Standard Bank of South Africa, another sign of strong South African interest in the Ghanaian sector. The building was completed by mid-2015.

Closer to the centre is the Ridge, which is still not far from upmarket residential areas and is seeing new developments taking shape, including RMB Westport’s Accra Financial Centre and Dream Realty’s mixed-use The Octagon. The former is a grade-A office development with the Agricultural Development Bank as a ground-floor retail anchor tenant, with an additional 300 sq metres of ground-floor retail space and 13,700 sq metres of offices over nine floors. The Octagon is being developed by Dream Realty, Beirut-based Jamil Ibrahim Establishment and local outfit Interplast. It is taking shape on a 6500-sq-metre plot adjacent to the Mövenpick, one of Accra’s few five-star hotels and thus popular with business tourists, as well as a meeting point for the local business community. The five-block complex includes a 200-room serviced apartment hotel, 6100 sq metres of retail space and four office towers of 8-10 floors. According to Mensah, “Mixed-use development – including retail, office and residential units – offers a major opportunity in Ghana’s real estate sector, particularly given the level of congestion on roads in major urban areas.”

Retail

The retail sector remains dominated by the informal segment and stand-alone retailers, but formal space has grown in recent years. As of late 2014, there was around 45,000 sq metres of formal retail space in Ghana, according to Broll Ghana, a real estate company. Ghana’s first bona fide mall, Accra Mall, opened in 2008 and offers around 23,000 sq metres of retail space.

It is anchored by Shoprite and Game, both South African chains, and includes brands such as Mango, Truworths and Puma. The mall is due to be extended by 13,000 sq metres by 2016, including the addition of more food court space. Other existing malls include A&C Square (10,000 sq metres), Marina Mall (9000 sq metres) and Oxford Street Mall in centrally located Osu (5000 sq metres).

The incumbents were joined by the West Hills Mall in late 2014, with around 27,000 sq metres of space, making it one of the biggest in West Africa. The mall is 20 km from Accra Mall on the road to Cape Coast, west of the capital’s downtown area. A second phase will add another 12,000 sq metres to the mall.

Both income growth and changing tastes are seeing malls take off elsewhere in the country, perhaps most notably in the form of the 29,000-sq-metre Kumasi City Mall in the capital of the Ashanti region. The mall is due to be completed in 2016, and units are already available at a price of between $41 and $61 per sq metre, with a service charge of $9.50 per sq metre, according to Broll.

Ghana’s climate and Accra’s urban structure mean that ground-floor and high-street retail remain popular, and new developments in areas like Airport City take account of this, including retail units.

Rents & Demand

Prime retail space in Accra rents for an average of $42.50 per sq metre a month, yielding 7.5%, according to Knight Frank. Rents vary widely across Africa, with space in Dakar going for $29 (yielding 10%), in Abidjan for $32 (yielding 9%), Nairobi for $48 (yielding 10%), Abuja for $72 ( yielding 8%) and Lagos for $80 (yielding 7.5%).

In late 2014 Broll reported rents in Accra rising as high as $60 per sq metre for shops under 100 sq metres, up from $40 just two years before, due to a shortage of formal space. Despite new supply coming on-stream, Broll forecasts a slight rise in rents to early 2016, thanks to rising demand.

The mall concept is gaining momentum in Ghana and is becoming ever more popular with shoppers, while foreign brands are eyeing the growing market with interest and seeking space in the best malls. As of the end of 2014, mall occupancy was 100%, according to Broll. Not only are sales strong, but retailers consider it prestigious to have outlets in malls, which attract Ghana’s growing cohort of wellheeled, middle-class shoppers.

Meanwhile, international and local brands continue to snap up pre-let space in upcoming malls. Broll noted a considerable increase in interest in Ghana from international brands and South African retailers in 2013 and 2014, despite economic uncertainty. International brands tend to partner with local franchises, while South African companies, which have an increasingly strong presence across the continent, prefer to use a corporate model, retaining greater control over brand and operations.

New Supply

Between the last quarter of 2014 and the first quarter of 2016, Broll estimates that around 21,500 sq metres of modern retail space will be added, including Achimota Retail Centre (14,500 sq metres) in northern Accra, which is set to begin operations by the end of 2015.

A wave of openings is likely to follow. Broll estimates that 170,000 sq metres of modern retail space will be added in the 24-36 months from the last quarter of 2014. Developers have acquired a number of locations on which work has started or is expected to start by the end of 2015. These include the Exchange Mall in Airport City (11,000 sq metres), Meridian City Mall in Tema (20,000 sq metres), Takoradi Mall (19,000 sq metres) and Mallam Junction Mall in Accra (21,800 sq metres).

Industrial Segment

Industrial real estate is a relatively high-yielding segment in Africa, often outperforming residential, commercial and retail space, with yields reaching close to 20% in some cases. Accra’s industrial space is relatively expensive compared to its peers on the continent, at $10 per sq metre per month for prime property, according to Knight Frank. However, the capital typically returns a chunky yield of about 12%. Abuja is even more pricey, with an average rent of $12 per sq metre, yielding 13%, but many centres are cheaper. Abidjan’s prime industrial space averages $8 per sq metre (yielding 18%), Nairobi comes in at $4.20 (8%), Lagos at $8 (12%) and Dakar at $5 (13%).

Accra has both the North Industrial Area, between the Ring Road and the highway just to the north of the centre, and the South Industrial Area, to the west of the centre. These locations offer warehousing units of typically around 1000 sq metres, according to Knight Frank. Other important industrial centres are Tema – around 20 km to the east of Accra and the country’s major port – and Takoradi, along with its twin city Sekondi, 220 km to the west.

Tema handles two-thirds of Ghana’s maritime trade, and is particularly a centre for the Ghanaian imports and re-exports from landlocked countries to the north. Trade with the country’s northern neighbours also boosts demand for logistics space around the port, and could increase further if bold plans to redevelop Ghana’s railways and complete the long-awaited Boankra Inland Port (see Transport chapter) come to fruition. Takoradi is the country’s second port and its major maritime export centre by value, as well as the centre of the oil industry. It has thus seen strong growth in recent years, and the government is in the process of expanding the port.

Ecological Solution

The PwC report highlighted a growing trend towards more ecologically friendly construction due to concerns about climate change, which would have a large impact on low-lying coastal cities such as Accra. PwC cited the example of the One Airport Square development as a model for this sort of project.

Technologies that can be used include solar building integration, climate-responsive building strategies, use of renewable and ecological building materials, recycling, and more innovative design and planning. More companies are gravitating towards green property rentals thanks to their operational and economic benefits.

Outlook

With the economy expected to cool further in 2015, and clouds on the horizon in the shape of a sustained low in commodity prices and uncertainties over China – a major investment and trade partner for Ghana, as well as the engine of the global economy – the real estate sector may see its growth slowing. Residential and office property has proved more susceptible to the macro outlook, as consumer confidence tempers and companies continue to hold back on expansion plans.

However, even in the slower years developers have been able to achieve high occupancy on ideally located, well-designed projects that appeal to the market, or segments of it. This should continue to be the case. Ghana’s fundamentals, including its resource wealth, growing population, location and political stability, promise much for the longer term.

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The Report: Ghana 2016

Construction & Real Estate chapter from The Report: Ghana 2016

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