As with many African property markets, Gabon has seen its different subsectors evolve in very different ways. Gabon has an estimated housing deficit of 200,000, concentrated on middle- and low-income earners, but there is a growing oversupply in the high-end segment. Despite empty units, high-end property remains expensive, especially in the capital city. Libreville is Africa’s third most expensive city, and it costs up to $5859 a month for a three-bedroom apartment, according to the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa.
Construction of both residential and commercial property has slowed down as the government has delayed payments to construction companies in light of internal debt pressures. As a result, the impetus for development activity in the coming years has shifted to the private sector, which had targeted the construction of 4096 homes between 2010 and 2015, of which 1302 have been completed, according to the Directorate General of Habitat and Housing.
However, the economic slowdown has not left private developers untouched, and work has stopped completely on some projects. Government-sponsored social housing has also seen slow progress. In 2011 the government set a target of building 5000 houses a year over seven years, but to date only about 7000 have actually been completed.
Turnover in the sector declined by 21.3% in 2015, from CFA5.6bn (€8.4m) in 2014 to CFA4.4bn (€6.6m) in 2015. Despite a pronounced housing shortage in Gabon, the weakness of 2015’s transactions, coupled with the non-renewal of housing stock by some agencies, contributed to the drop. The number of registered real estate agents also fell by 21% in 2015, to 144, according to the General Directorate of Economic and Fiscal Policy.
Land costs can vary greatly in Gabon, especially in larger cities. In Libreville, for example, plots cost CFA1000 (€1.50) per sq metre near the airport and go up to CFA5000 (€7.50) per sq metre in the affluent neighbourhood of Akanda. A key factor determining the cost of land is available infrastructure. Often plots are sold that are not connected to a road, electricity or water supply. In the interior, plots sell for around CFA500 (€0.75) per sq metre. However, the average cost is not indicative of how much land is sold for. For example, land in the affluent embassy neighbourhood of Libreville sells for as much as CFA300,000 (€450) per sq metre. In Libreville’s commercial developments tenants can buy retail space for as low as CFA60,000 (€90) per sq metre, all the way up to CFA150,000 (€225) per sq metre, in areas like the Mbolo complex, which hosts retail shops and a hypermarket.
However, retail space in Libreville outside of developed complexes can be found for sale for less than CFA20,000 (€30) per sq metre. In the special economic zone of Nkok land costs €90.14 per sq metre in the industrial zone, $108.17 in the commercial zone and $117.18 in the residential zone.
In an effort to boost real estate development, among other public works, the government set in motion plans to establish the legal basis for a National Laboratory of Building and Public Works (Laboratoire National du Bâtiment et des Travaux Publics, LNBTP du Gabon) in October 2015.
Sitting under the Ministry of Public Works LNBTP is tasked with the promotion of sustainable housing solutions. The laboratory will work with the National Agency for Major Infrastructure Projects (Agence Nationale Des Grands Travaux d’Infrastructures, ANGTI), a newly minted body from July 2015 that was created from the restructuring of two infrastructure promotion authorities (see Construction overview).
The ANGTI is tasked with implementing projects under the National Infrastructure Master Plan (Schéma Directeur National d’Infrastructure, SDNI). Published in 2012, the SDNI is a roadmap for projects, including housing, through to 2025. Since its establishment in 2011, the National Agency for Urban Planning, Topographical Works and Land Registry (Agence Nationale de l’Urbanisme, des Travaux Topographiques et du Cadastre, ANUTTC), has been responsible for the supervision of real estate projects, maintaining the land registry and purchasing and facilitating title transfers. The agency has made strides in cutting the time it takes to acquire land titles, from as many as 10 years to 180 days, largely as a result of the one-stop shop it instituted in 2012.
There are also a few agencies that deal specifically with housing. The Société Nationale Immobilière (SNI) was created in 1976 to oversee housing projects across the country, while the National Housing Council, also established in 2011, is a body with public and private sector representation that aims to steer priorities in the housing industry. Special Brigades for Urban Planning and Construction are another authority that was set up to tackle illegal housing occupation. Lastly, the Société Nationale des Logements Sociaux (SNLS) has a social housing focus and was established in 2013 to address the shortage in low-income housing by developing affordable units.
As with many frontier and emerging markets, the country’s housing deficit is more acute at the lower end of the income spectrum. In 2011 the government announced plans to construct 35,000 homes through to 2018, at a rate of 5000 homes per year. The SNLS was charged with working with developers and the SNI to deliver the homes.
Sale proceeds from June 2015’s 10-year, $500m eurobond were partly aimed at funding house construction. This was the country’s third eurobond issue since 2007 and was six-times oversubscribed, but the drop in oil prices and subsequent internal debt crisis slowed the ability of the government to move forward, and so far the total number of homes that have been delivered to date is shy of 7000.
The launch of the ANGTI’s new Angondjé Social Housing Programme was the highlight of 2015 in the public housing space. This programme targeted the densely populated Estuaire Province to develop housing financed exclusively by the state, bringing in prefabricated houses from Turkey. Out of the 2000 homes planned by ANGTI for completion by the end of 2016, 872 were available by the end of January 2016, of which 233 beneficiaries received their keys in February. At the end of March 2016 around 400 homes had been allocated.
The SNLS is also working with Compagnie Minière de l’Ogooué to deliver 2000 low-income homes in Bikélé, with financing coming from Banque Internationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie du Gabon and Union Gabonaise de Banque. Brazzaville-based Central African Development Bank is also lending support. Home construction is already largely complete, and the provision of connecting infrastructure such as roads and electricity is the next step.
The SNI is also working on projects in Estuaire, as well as in the eight other provinces. In the Estuaire Province 3133 houses are set to be completed by the end of 2016, with 2048 were under way as of April 2016. Another 1897 houses are planned for the other provinces, with 1515 currently under way.
In addition, the China-based Beijing Dacheng Taihe Steel Structure Science and Technology Company is planning to build 420 affordable housing units in Angondjé in 2016. The implementation timeline saw the first 20 homes delivered in July, followed by 100 in August and 200 in September, with the final 100 slated for completion in October.
The future of Gabon’s real estate market will likely remain tied to overall economic conditions. If oil prices do not recover, the businesses that left the market are not expected to return. However, plans to further diversify the economy under the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan could prompt a real estate boom if new investment opportunities and industries spring up. Social housing efforts will continue to be the main driver of the real estate sector, but the government will also need to tackle its internal debt challenge if these plans are to move forward on time.