BusinessDay

How Rent Small Small is bridging tenants, landlords gap

Tunde Balogun is the CEO of Rent Small Small, a technology company that is disrupting the real estate market, and helping to ensure that monthly rent payment is possible in Nigeria. Balogun in this interview with Modestus Anaesoronye shares his experience in the last three years, how he has sustained the vision and opportunities in the industry. Excerpts:

Nigeria in recent times has seen the influx of proptech firms. What does this mean for the real estate industry?

Technology is an important tool for driving change and the real estate sector has witnessed a growth of property technology companies rising to address the gaps and meet the customers at their needs.

This portends huge growth for the sector that will lead to an evolution of new systems where quality is never in doubt and all stakeholders are held accountable in their roles as players in the sector.

In the last few years, we have witnessed change in the listings and rental of property, with more property listing websites that make a wide range of house options available to customers.

It has grown beyond that in recent times, with companies like ours, Rent Small Small who have come in and introduced new monthly rental options for tenants and landlords.

We are challenging the status quo by eliminating discrimination against people because of their gender, tribe or religion as is obtainable in the traditional rental system.

We have also ensured that egregious fees such as agency, legal and inspection fees are gone, so that customers rent their houses without incurring additional costs such as those.

With the rise of more proptech firms, the Nigerian real estate is in for some great change that will redefine it over the next coming years, one that would guarantee more customer oriented solutions.

This is precisely three years you have been in the industry, how has it been looking at the challenges, and your acceptance by customers and partners?

Operating in a sector like real estate comes with its own suite of peculiar challenges. We are dealing with a core human need- shelter and so recognize the huge responsibility we have in ensuring that we deliver excellently.

Real estate transactions are marketplace transactions, and in a very broken and disorganized rental market like Nigeria where expectations between vendors and subscribers are worlds apart, so, coming in as a player to manage and align the expectations is a tough job.

We have chosen a tough problem to solve. One that saw one or two players who came before us gave up. We have been in business for over three years now, and our success till date are based on One: Our resilience and commitment to understand the problem and stay on cause to solve it.

Secondly our customers, both Landlords and Tenants who are early adopters of our solution. I always tell my team, we will not define our success by how many tenants we have paying rent monthly or number of landlords we have collecting rent monthly, rather, how many tenants are paying rent monthly in quality properties and the number of landlords that are providing quality properties on monthly rentals.

It is this drive that led to our widely published survey, which showed that 88 percent of Lagosians want to pay rent monthly, highlighting the demand for monthly rental in the state.

This survey would be a reference point for the state government as it announces the monthly rental scheme in the state. In the last 3years, Rent Small Small has proven that monthly rent payment is possible in Nigeria, and we did it against all odds; and today, it is on record that we have never paid any landlord one-year rent upfront.

However, the big task for us now is providing access to quality homes. It has always been an objective for us to be the gateway to quality living, but we know quality living cannot be completely achieved without quality housing.

The housing market is filled with poorly built properties and it takes a toll on property managers because it means the bulk of our time is spent fixing issues.

For decades, home builders have built bad houses, landlords have built with substandard materials or bought from bad developers, traditional real estate agents have stayed far from addressing the problem, rather they’ve pushed landlords to demand for 1 to 2years upfront rent, settled for their 10 percent to 20 percent commission with zero to little work done, and they’ve left tenants to carry the cross of maintaining the properties.

It will take monthly rental arrangements to transform the system because now tenants have the flexibility to shine light on the problem and immediately demand for change.

Rent Small Small on the other hand, as a key driver of the change, with a strong online presence and presenting ourselves as a face for this change, we cannot avoid taking some hit whilst creating the change, but we cannot afford to be distracted.

What has been significant in your findings that tell you that you are in the right industry and position?

Our passion to provide Nigerians with a rental system that enables them to pay rent as they earn monthly tells us we are in the right place. The system whereby people are asked to pay their rents for one or two years upfront puts a strain on the tenant’s finances and sometimes inhibits their ability to maintain a good and balanced lifestyle.

This is why we are doing the work we do, and are convinced it is important that we effect positive change in the system. The feedback we receive from our customers, both positive and negative, continues to fuel this passion and drives the transformation we are putting in place in the industry.

In specific terms, what unique solutions are you deploying to meet the needs of your customers – tenants and landlords together?

Last year, we did a survey to find out what makes a happy landlord and a happy tenant on RentSmallSmall. For landlords, receiving their rent on time and creating wealth with their real estate assets top the list.

For tenants, having issues resolved on time and getting the services they paid for were topmost. Through the course of this conversation, quality has been a recurring word. This is because it is a core requirement if we are going to see the standard of properties renters in Nigeria need.

We recognize that this is essential and we are set on providing landlords with the means to keep their properties in excellent condition, grow sustainable wealth and meet their tenant’s needs.

It is why we are introducing the Emergency Maintenance Coverage, a type of insurance that allows landlords access funds to fix issues such as electrical, plumbing and other maintenance issues in their properties speedily.

We are also using technology to keep landlords abreast of issues as they arise. We are introducing a first of its kind Landlord Dashboard that gives them insights on the state of their buildings, its appreciating or depreciating value in the marketplace and an education of what is required to keep their properties to standard.

Through this Dashboard, we will rate the properties using set measures on a regular basis. Our goal is to work closely with the landlords in taking care of their properties and ensure that they remain of the highest quality.

We also recognize that tenants need a quick turnaround time in resolving issues and so are introducing a new Tenant Dashboard that enables them to log in complaints and track the resolution of it.

This enables us to have quick access to our customer complaints, and be enabled to resolve them quickly, working closely with the property owners through the Emergency Maintenance Coverage.

We have also partnered with a financial institution to introduce an embedded finance credit product wherein our tenants can access funds with low-interest rates to meet up with their needs ahead of their monthly salaries.

We are committed to ensuring that tenants on our platform are empowered to live with peace of mind, and so are partnering with them to get the lifestyle they desire. For us, it is more than just renting and staying in a Rent Small Small property, it is about optimizing the entire customer journey and experience.

To further drive the change, we launched buy2let product, our retail property investment product, and inserted ourselves in the production of homes by working closely with developers who build well, in turn, these properties are available as an end to end investment solution to both new generation of investors who want a head start in real estate investment and older generation who wants to increase the investment portfolio.

Give us a picture of where RSS plans to be in the next five years

Our vision is to use technology to drive transformation in the real estate and property market. We have commenced this journey and in the last three years have recorded significant progress. But, the magnitude of change we envision, would require so much more and it is why we are constantly innovating and improving on our processes.

We are working to create a system where monthly rental will be the norm, and people are able to have access to quality properties that become home. It is our plan to stay leading in this area, to become the partner of choice for people desirous of quality housing. We will work with other market players that can help drive this, because alone, we can only do so much.

We will also become partners with our landlords and property owners by providing bespoke facility management, supporting them in their sustainable wealth creation journey and ensuring that their properties maintain the quality they deserve.

We will redefine the relationship to be more than contractual, but one where they are also driving the growth and transformation of the market. Furthermore, we will expand our reach to other states in Nigeria, and across other African countries because we believe that this is something everyone should partake of.

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