How Ola Went From Living In A One Room Apartment To Owning Property Portfolios Worth £2million
What do you do, when you live in a room apartment with your mother and siblings? You find an escape.
This story is about a Nigerian who moved from sharing a room in Lagos Island to owning property portfolios in the UK worth more than £2million.
What do you do?
I am a property investor and a property developer in the UK. I am what you will call a general property entrepreneur.
Great. What was growing up like for you?
I grew up in a loving household with a mother who did the best she could with the limited resources she had. Financially, it was hard as we lived on the lowest of income; My mum and siblings all lived in a room. But despite the limited resources, it was a loving household. I also do not regret it as I believe being born poor or growing up in such environments teaches you extraordinary lessons that a rich kid might not know.
At what point did you know your situation had to change?
Growing up on the street of Lagos and you could almost tell that Lagos is welcoming to people that are considered wealthy.
Like I also said earlier, poverty can be a major source of motivation (even though this area of thinking is rarely explored). I also attended Eko Akete Grammar School which was a government school that wasn’t well funded and next to my school was Kings’ College where kids of slightly well to do parents go to. I knew from that point that I wanted to be on the other side.
So, what did you do to be on the other side?
I knew Nigeria as a country did not offer the political, economic, technological, environmental and legal context for an individual to prosper. Hence, I have the utmost respect for individuals who succeed without political or family influence in that context. I focused my effort on simply leaving Nigeria with the little money I had and from family support.
When did you leave? And tell me about your experience.
I left Nigeria just before turning 18. It was a peculiar experience as I had no direct family in the UK. Luckily for me, I found a stranger who was happy to let me stay with them for some time. I knew that with a little bit of hard work and constant improvement, I was going to excel in my new environment. I could feel it.
I went to college to study Mechanical Engineering. The plan was for me to work and pay school fees, but I was kicked off the course after the first year because I could not afford to pay the school fees. Funny thing is, some of my coursemates have gone on to secure high paying jobs in BP both in the UK and international companies as the course was focused on BP and their operation on upstream operations.
Mehn, that is something. What did you do after being kicked off the course?
I didn’t have many choices as I was in the UK on a student visa. And because of that, I had to join the British army, and that not only enabled me to stay in the UK, it also made me who I am today; it was the army that straightened me up and made me disciplined. I also learned the importance of commitments and motivation on the individual. Do you know why I love the army? It is a level playing field, and for the first time in my life, it was not about who you are or who your parents were, instead, it was about sheer determination and mentality. And that was it for me. From the army, I learned that with the right mindset, the son of a nobody can move mountains.
Omoh. What was your experience in the army?
It is still one of the hardest experiences I ever had as an individual. For someone who did not really have an authority figure in the house while growing up, I find the whole authority or someone shouting really hard at me surprising, and while it took 12 weeks to finish basic training. It took me nearly 16 weeks for a range of reasons such as talking back to the instructor and lack of preparation for the physical part.
Also, I joined a regiment I shouldn’t have joined, a regiment that recruits mainly from Yorkshire and other parts of the northern region in the UK. There were substantial racial issues and racist individuals during my time.
On the other hand, there were a lot of things I also enjoyed: I learned about comradeship, selfless commitment to your team, being loyal to your battle buddy and simply having a can-do mental attitude
So what did you do after you left the military?
I served nearly 5 years with a tour In Afghanistan. After this, I moved to London where I had a job as a furniture fitter. I nearly bought a flat. Looking back, I am glad that plan never worked because I would have been stuck in a job. I mean, paying for the flat meant I would have to pay for the mortgage on the flat.
One night, while I was clubbing, I met a girl who I became friends with and she tried everything to get me to go back to uni. But in my mind, I was struggling with how I could pass in University or cope with assignments and exams. Looking back now, I think sometimes, you can’t see the picture when you’re in the frame. My friend Mariam saw in me that I had what it took to do it and finish; she encouraged me and pushed me to sign on. Understand this, she was the one that filled my university form and student loan form for me. Going to university for my first degree was one of the best decisions I made.
After 5 years in the military, you went back to school? That must be something!
In university, I was able to build my network and meet a range of people. I went to a university popular with Nigerians, and I met a range of well to do Nigerians. What’s funny is I surprised myself academically because I was one of the best students in my year with regards to grades. I finished with a first-class.
The best part about going to school was the knowledge I gained from one of my accounting modules, which changed my life. Financial accounts made me understand how a business or self-employed individual could offset their lifestyle and a range of expenses against their income. This means a self-employed individual can remove the cost of their car, phone, or even some entertainment from their turnover before paying tax. These simple steps changed my life and how I see money and how I will continue to earn money, since then.
Did you say, first class?
Yeah, I finished with first-class.
So how did you get into property investment?
While I was in university, I started proofreading and editing the coursework of my fellow students. I also worked as security. The money I saved from that and my student loan went into buying my first property in the north of England. I used a strategy called BRR which means to buy, refurb and refinance. The money from refinancing then goes into a new project and by the time I was leaving university, I was already receiving enough passive income from these properties not to look for any job while my peers were job searching. Since then, my company has bought properties and the portfolio is spread across Hull and London.
Now, BRR is a term that is widely used within property people in the UK, but when I started, there wasn’t such a term. A good analogy I use in explaining to people is: You buy an old iPhone 7 from your friend at a cheap price of £200, but because the phone is old, you take the phone to a repair shop and spend £70 on the case and every other thing that needs repair. Now, the phone is clean and is worth £320 but instead of selling the phone, you take it to a moneylender to lend you money based on the phone’s new worth. The lender agrees to lend you £270. This means you have all your money back to go start that process all over again. The thing with houses is while the house is with the lender, you are still making money off it in the form of rent and are paying down the lender’s debt.
My mind is blown. What was the first process like?
The first property I bought, I didn’t even see because I was in London and the property was in Hull City. Sometimes, you just have to get up and do it. I have many people who have more resources such as money and time than when I started, but they simply just talk about doing it. My first one then was £45,000 and I spent about £7000 on refurbishing the property. The bank valued the property at £70,000. I took out 52k which I then moved into another project. I have since done projects I bought and sold and properties I keep.
Wow! Can you give me a clue about what your portfolio looks like now?
I have properties in both my company name and the limited company now. And over the last couple of months, I have been focusing on selling single let houses in favour of blocks of flats. My portfolio total is now about £2,150,000 with a total of about 19 tenants.
You really joined the other side.
Ah ah, the main reason I also love property is for the lifestyle. I just don’t want to be busy as the focus is on enjoying more time with the family. That is why property development and investment are perfect as they can be relatively passive. If you’re doing a refurbishment, you might be busy for that period, but for the rest of the time, you simply sit back and watch the money roll in. Now and then, there are repair issues that my agent and handyman deal with. Going forward, I’d also like to focus more of my time on raising finance for bigger projects, where other people have the opportunity to invest with me and share part of the profit, leveraging my experience, credit line, network and established team.
Do you have any money regrets?
Yes, I fell for the same mistake many Africans living abroad make. This idea and notion that you have to build/invest in properties in your country of origin have resulted in many people living like paupers abroad while owning mansions in their home countries that don’t offer them any great returns or which they don’t really enjoy. I built my first house in Nigeria before investing in any property in the UK. It was one of my greatest financial mistakes. I spent nearly £90k on building the house in 2007 and it has been a major financial mistake with tenants who don’t pay rent. The rent payment culture in Africa is bad as there are no real consequences of not paying rent.
What advice can you give Nigerians moving to the UK that would like to join the property investment scene?
My advice is to ensure that their creditworthiness is never damaged or tarnished in any way. This is because, with good credit, you can be financially free as long as you learn how to leverage. For example, borrowing at 2–3% per annum and putting it into an investment that gives 15–20% per annum.
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