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Bringing Real Estate Expertise to Africa!

October 14 2010

africa map 200pxLooking out my hotel window, I see a busy city street--packed with busses and taxis and people. Often when I'm in another country I play a game called 'How do I know I'm not in America?' It's not easy knowing, as I look out the 8th floor window of the Nairobi Hilton, that I'm in Africa--the signs are all in English, and I see 'Sony' and other familiar brand names on the billboards scattered here and there. Many buildings are tall, and and sprout antennas and satellite dishes, and below me, the streets are packed with busses and taxis, though not as many private cars and I might see in a US city.

What I do notice is that the exteriors of buildings and stores seem a little worn and tired, and streets and sidewalks--even from this height--are in need of repair and resurfacing. But downtown Nairobi swarms with pedestrians, walking quickly and purposefully under the warm October sun. Nobody moves slowly and, once I am down at street level, I can see that they are dressed in what Americans would call 'casual business attire'--dark colors, neckties for men, somber suits or dresses for women. Occasionally I see a more ethnic costume--an embroidered hat on a man, or a long robe and veil on a woman. But what characterizes everyone is that they are in a hurry, dashing across streets and striding purposefully down the sidewalks.

I'm in Africa as a part of the International Real Property Foundation's work in emerging nations. The IRPF is one of NAR's best kept secrets, I tell people: it's a non-profit organization housed in the REALTOR building in Chicago, and it's dedicated to bringing real estate professional expertise to emerging economies around the world. Originally conceived to assist Eastern European countries emerging into political independence, the IRPF has now expanded into Africa, Viet Nam, and India. These efforts are funded by NAR, the Reume Foundation, and by USAID, as well as private donors. Norm Flynn, a past NAR president from Wisconsin, is the IRPF CEO, and the Board of Directors is populated by many recognized industry leaders.

In my work as a member of the Board and as a consultant for the Foundation, I've visited many countries--much of Eastern Europe, as well as Russia and Armenia, and assisted real estate professionals in these countries as they work to form their real estate trade associations and build their capacity to better serve brokers, surveyors, developers and appraisers so that the real property infrastructure can become stable and healthy within each country.

It's rewarding work--real estate professionals everywhere I visit seem eager to learn. They are enthusiastic and well educated, they are often young and enthusiastically entrepreneurial, and wanting to learn everything they can from the American experience of building successful associations and member services. Often they work agains huge odds--governments that are unstable and corrupt, tax structures where transfer taxes are 18 or 20% of value, no property records and reliable historical data, and no technology base (like dependable electricity).

I'm not sure what real estate life is like in Eastern Africa yet: I've only been here less than 24 hours. My job description on this assignment is to assist in the formation of a real estate information center, one that will encompass three countries: Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda and which will become self sustaining in its operations within two years. It's an ambitious plan, an extreme 'regionalization' project which, if it succeeds, will go a long way towards building organizations of competent real estate professionals in this area.

I'll keep you informed.