Student housing: Emerging investment frontier with high yield, stable cash-flow

by | November 14, 2017 2:21 am



widening gap between a growing student population and little or no student accommodation supply has thrown up opportunity in student housing which has capacity to offer high yields and stable cash-flow to investors and developers ready to make the switch.

Nigeria has a population of over 170 million with a growth rate of 2.6 percent per annum. 70 percent of its population is below the age of 30. There are 133 universities in Nigeria, and most of them were built without adequate provision for accommodation.

Because government is no longer putting much in education development in the country, private capital are finding their way into the development of education infrastructure just as in other sectors.

 The ability to sign a long lease on land belonging to a higher institution or acquiring land adjoining a higher institution, building and charging a ready pool of student off-takers a market rent with 100  per  cent  occupancies  leading  to  a  stable  cash-flow,  sounds  like  a  real  estate developer’s dream.

A new report on real estate market in Q3 2017 by MCORE says many developers are already taking advantage of this development. “Universities are latching on to the trend, offering land parcels to developers under a long term Build Operate and Transfer model and seeking a share of revenues in exchange. Gross yields can be as high as 15 percent, but a closer look at the story is not as easy as it sounds”, says Munachi Okoye, CEO, MCORE.

Okoye says, however, that for this new investment frontier to be attractive, it has to be sustainable. With treasury bills offering risk-free rates of up to 18 per cent, allocating funds to risky green-field development in exchange for a 15 per cent yield does not sound so attractive.

International investors to whom a 15-percent yield may sound very attractive also have to contend with the currency risk inherent in a potentially depreciating Naira eating up dollar returns, especially over a long time frame.

“A market that appears to offer stellar returns may hold dangers lurking beneath.  However, attractive returns may exist for the  investor  that  is  able  to create  a well branded ,  scalable , institutional  offering  that  can roll  out a high  volume quality product at low cost.

Taking a look at the commercial office segment of the market, the new report notes that the  introduction  of the new supply of Class A buildings to the Ikoyi and Victoria Island office markets  over  the  last few years have made significant adjustments in the markdet.

This, combined with  a fall  away  in demand over  the  same  period due  to  recession, has fermented competition between new higher quality Class A space and older historical Class A space. The new space has pushed  the  old Class  A  space down  the  rankings  to  re-emerge  as Class  B  space with an  attendant negative impact on achievable rents.

“The new prime  Ikoyi/Victoria  Island space  commands  rents  as  high  as  $750psqm, but  rents  for Class B space formerly classed as A space have fallen from a high of up to $900 per square metre a couple of years ago to as low of $450 per square metre in order to remain competitive”, Okoye said.

At these reduced prices, Class B rents are now becoming affordable to a wider array of businesses that used to occupy residential accommodation re-purposed as office space , allowing  such  businesses  to  migrate  into  purpose  built  office  space  at  rents  higher than but still comparable  to  former  residential re-purposed office space.

Historical  commercial  office  locations  in  Lagos include Marina,  Victoria  Island,  Ikoyi  and  Ikeja.  In  recent  times, Lekki Phase 1 with an attractive location abutting Victoria Island is now vying to join this group with  the introduction  of  purpose  built  Class  B  office  space currently being  built  primarily  a long  the  Admiralty  Way.

Floor  areas  are generally smaller and  number  of  floors  less  than  in neighbouring  Victoria  Island,  however  the smaller leasable areas  allow for  an  easier  absorption of  the  space  into  the still  emerging  Lekki  Phase  1  market. 

Occupiers are primarily professional service firms, traditionally occupying residential property in the Lekki Phase 1 / Oniru area who see the benefit of purpose built office space without having to pay Victoria Island rents. Rents range from as low as N50,000/ $140 per square metre to a high as N180,000 / $500 per square metre.

It is perhaps bad news for speculators but good news for genuine buyers that as the Q3 of this year, Prices of prime land have remained  stable  over the last year showing a growth rate of only   per cent in both Naira and USD terms.  Oniru, also known as Upper Victoria Island in Lagos,  has shown the strongest growth of 10 per cent while Victoria Island at the other end of the scale has fallen by 5 per cent over the last year.

Eko Atlantic, according to the MCORE report,  remains the most expensive of the locations it tracked with a 37 percent premium  above  neighbouring  Victoria  Island.  The premium  reflects the improved standards of infrastructure in the Eko Atlantic City but is also reflective of Eko Atlantic land prices benchmarked in dollars.

Eko Atlantic now sells for N524,000 / $1,700 per square metre;  Banana Island, N385,000 / $1,261 square metre;  Victoria Island, N380,000 / $1,250 square metre;  Ikoyi N369,000 / $1,210 square metre,  Lekki Phase 1 N195,000/ $640 square metre, and Oniru N168,000 / $550 square metre.

CHUKA UROKO