REAL & SHINE

Zambia 2015 | CONSTRUCTION & REAL ESTATE | REVIEW: REAL ESTATE

The combination of a fast-rising population, an expanding middle class, and plenty of space (Zambia is one of the world's twenty most sparsely populated countries), means things are looking good for the real estate sector. The challenge is for it to keep up with demand, particularly for housing.

Recent developments in infrastructure, new airports, and, especially, roads, have made the country even more accessible for property buyers. In the past, economic development followed the railway line, from the Copper-belt zone in the north to Livingstone in the south via the capital, Lusaka. New main transport corridors have recently provided new impetus for growth, developing further the Central and Eastern Provinces.

There are several companies specialized in real estate and property acquisition. REIZ, one of Zambia's lead property investors listed on the Lusaka Stock exchange. Property portfolios include residential apartment blocks, office buildings, hotel chains, shopping centers and also, farming acreage.

HOUSING

Zambia's population is growing by 3% per year, alongside a steady but continuous shift from rural-to-urban living. Lusaka today has more than 3 million inhabitants in need of proper, affordable, housing. For years, the government underestimated the housing shortfall.

Today, the average price (to buy) per sqm is $900 in Lusaka's city center, and $1,500 per sqm outside. By contrast, a one-bedroom flat in the city center costs an average of $700 per month to rent; outside the center tenants can expect to pay closer to $400. A growing middle class, fostered by a booming mining industry, employing more than 60,000 people directly, especially in copper mining, and a stable government, make affordable housing one of the country's major concerns. Increased investments from China and South Africa are only exacerbating residential and commercial property demand, and inflating average prices still further.
Zambia's economic prospects remain strong with GDP growth expected to increase above 6% in 2015-16 after a decline from 6.7% in 2013 to 5.7% due mainly to waning copper production and lower prices for copper from China, which is responsible for buying 70% of the copper production. Mining and agriculture are still the mainstays of the economy, with a bumper maize crop this year account for a 6% growth rate this year. Inflation, a real hindrance to the emerging economy, is also expected to fall below 7% by 2017.

However, lack of road infrastructure, the need for a nation-wide airline carrier, and persistent power cuts (despite the massive opportunities for hydro-electric power and solar power projects) threaten to make the country somewhat less attractive for property investment. Yet increased private investment in the key areas of airline travel and infrastructure and electricity could change all that.

Housing prices have, in fact, fallen recently with the housing boom. The cheapest newly- built home by a formal developer or contractor, was estimated at $70,000 in 2014. In 2013, the estimated price fell marginally to $68,363. The average house price in Africa is about $30,000, which makes it a high priced market. High interest rates, high inflation and lack of housing units could explain this phenomenon.

The interest rate tumbled from 20.06% in 2009 to 12.14% in 2012, and inflation subsided from a doubt-digit of 13.4% in 2009 to a low of 6.4% in 2011 and GDP budding up from 6% to 7.3% in 2012.

The cost of housing in the capital in Lusaka is one of the highest in Africa—but it is nowat last coming down a little. It sorely needed to. Less than 1% of the population can afford the cheapest formal house, which is currently estimated to cost $68,363. The return on housing investments remains high, as low supply and high demand make renting and buying property relatively difficult. The returns for investors prepared to take the time to understand the market remain potentially high.

The housing boom has made residential properties in Lusaka between 10 and 15% cheaper. An increase in housing stock has meant that the average rental has reduced by $500 from January to August 2015. A devaluation of the national currency, the kwacha, has made property prices decrease even further. The domestic credit which included foreign currency loans, construction finance and mortgage loans had risen by 32.6% to $2.5 million from $1.89 million in only six months, from December 2012 to June 2013.
Projects such as the $1.5 billion Nkwashi development, an 8,400 residence city outside of Lusaka, the capital, have been picking up speed, aiming to end the penury of housing which is estimated to have resulted in 3 million people who lack adequate housing.

The 438-dwelling Kaluluchi housing development promoted by the government pension authority as far back as 2012 is now a white elephant, largely unoccupied due to exorbitant prices. The government is now allowing them to recoup costs. In all of these projects, the costs of construction were part of the initial problem.

But there are equally many Zambian success stories, too. A Chinese entrepreneur, Liu Xiuyi, invested in Lusaka more than twenty years ago, capitalizing on Victoria Falls, one of the country's most extraordinary natural sites, and the largest curtain of water in the world. Their $18.3 million three-star hotel and restaurant complex, the Golden Chopsticks in the former colonial outpost of Livingstone, has been a great success story.

But developments in mining, manufacturing, tourism, communication and infrastructure are ongoing. And there re still great opportunities to invest. The country is also becoming more and more urban as farmers, fleeing the lack of employment and subsistence farming, go to the cities to find work. The property market , residential or shopping malls and mixed-use developments, is the real barometer of economic development.
The building of new shopping malls, office blocks, government buildings and housing estates is defying economic problems in key markets such as Zambia.

The Levy shopping mall in Lusaka was one of the first in the country, opened in 2012, and was followed by the Embassy shopping mall, the Arcades, and the Cairo shopping complex. Construction of the $200 million, 18,000 sqm shopping mall in Kitwe (in the copper belt, a rich mining region) was completed in October 2014 and is now the largest in Zambia. A rising middle class and aspirant shoppers in lower-income groups will continue to support the malls in the cities, making it a steady long term investment with steadily rising returns.
For brave investors, buying a farm in Zambia is the new wave. Not only does acquiring a farm contribute to keeping agriculture alive, but is a good investment on the longer term.

Only in Zambia and other sub-Saharan countries can one find such sprawling agricultural acreage, green valleys, blue lagoons, and with unique wildlife such as lions and leopards. Some private equity firms such as Duxton spun off from Deutsche Bank, SilverStreet, CVC and Altima Asset Management, have already made the leap of faith investing in Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya, and announcing returns of 15-20% in just five to seven years.

The African continent still holds the world's largest available agricultural land, with 1.2 million ha and a total of 94,500 farms. An increased global consumption of meat (in part due to greater wealth in Asia) which necessitates more land to produce and feed the cattle means that there will be an ever greater need for farming acreage.

The price of land in Zambia, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo—and seven other African states including Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola—is directly related to road infrastructure and irrigation. Scrub or bush is worth $50 per ha, whereas bare land with a title costs around $500 per ha.

There are also wildlife farms and game reserves for sale in Zambia or alternatively game lodges with touristic value. With natural populations of indigenous elephants, antelope, leopards, buffalo, giraffe, and zebra, Zambia is an ideal safari traveler destination—with some extraordinary opportunities for the savvy realty investor.