Career banker’s appetite for real estate investments

BY VICTOR ADAR

In tough economic environment, you expect individuals to slow down in breaking new ground. As always the case, it is time to either reform or perish. But Martin Diaz who is the founder and group chief executive of FAPCL Group wishes that individuals who have been in business for the past 15 years re-invented themselves to make things happen. He is not blind to the fact that this lot have generally been at their lowest moments, and predicts that the slow business that we are witnessing now will, after all, be a thing of the past.

In early years when Mr Diaz had a stint in banks such as Barclays, ABC and NIC, offering financial, property and valuation solutions was never on his mind. Moving from a sector which is considered more secure to one which is controlled by demand and supply, is not for the faint hearted. Bank jobs are secured, and it is a guarantee that every month a salary will come through. Banks are doing well, posting impressive results even now that there is poor money circulation. Perhaps when few people are getting mortgage or just not buying for various reasons, you wonder what fuelled his current passion in running property and investment agency.

“Middle and high end is where we swing ourselves in,” he says. “It is a very different market, and since you can’t be in all the markets we chose Muthaiga, Gigiri, around village market. If it is Karen, the upper Karen works for us. Those are the areas. We are not targeting places outside Nairobi such as Kitengela, Athi River unless it is about land.”

The FACPL boss says that the regulators (government) must ensure that investors like him looking for injection of income on a regular basis are cushioned from economic shocks that can be controlled. To him, tax waivers in bid to woo more investors while boosting economic growth will go along way. But he is afraid that tax amnesties are generally given to money thieves. How long will it go? What has improved from January to now that is going to give players confidence that things will change?

He says that legitimate businesses rarely benefit, and that it never gets to the common man. It should be felt in the economy, and even people at the bottom of the pyramid should feel that the money from amnesty reached them. Amidst the slowdown, he is getting creative.

Shopping malls create a soft environment thereby attracting inquiries ranging from landlords seeking for tenants to rent a house, and vice versa. This has seen what Mr Diaz terms “property-selling portfolio” of FAPCL (both commercial and residential) rise to over Sh20 billion of land redevelopment.

“Our income has remained stagnant. I would say revenue has grown relatively year after year. First five years is always a challenge, and then people will start to know you in the seventh, eight, or ninth year. So next year we will be shouting a bit. It will be our 10th year,” he says.

Although new offices take time to settle, the company is spreading its tentacles, a move that is expected to avert the issue of slow business. Apart from setting up shop at ABC Place some two years ago, the firm has expanded with branches at the HUB, Village Market, along Waiyaki Way. With two other offices in Karen, and plans to open two more towards the end of this year, it seems Diaz is certain the market will behave in the near future.

“I have confidence in the country. I have invested a lot of money in the businesses, and I believe that there is away out. Even during hard times you have to manage your business and get there. Cut down your expenses and try to create more income,” he says.

To boost his footing further, Diaz says that their income is more concentrated on rentals valuation and estate management. He is also a board chairman for Brainwave Communications limited, which is an integrated marketing and communications agency based in Nairobi. “It gives you an opportunity to appreciate what’s happening in the market and benchmark the agency with its peers.”

Running a business is no mean feat. There are times that challenges abound. Right now the economy has, seemingly, come to almost a standstill. A majority of players are feeling it right now.

“Price circulation has now reached the peak. There was a price boom but prices have now saturated, and it will come down. Obviously that will be a big concern for us,” he says, adding that being in the malls is really paying off.