Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jul-Aug 2020

Interview: Shafiq Akbar, Chairman, Imarat Group

Chairman, Imarat Group, on Graana.com’s plans to transform Pakistan’s real estate sector.

UZMA KHATEEB-NAWAZ: How does Graana.com differ from other online property portals?
SHAFIQ AKBAR: Graana.com was established in January 2020 and it is part of the Imarat Group; it is an online marketplace that allows people to buy or sell property. However, the idea is not to just provide property listings; we offer value-added services such as legal advice and assistance in paperwork, as well as advice from experts about technical issues such as how secure a building’s structure is. Furthermore, if a customer is interested in investing in a project, we have it verified and provide a comprehensive report about the stakeholders involved. We plan to offer guidance to our customers about how to make sound investment decisions. Graana.com is not just an online classified portal; we help people make the right decisions as far as buying, selling or investing in property is concerned.

UKN: Who is your target audience?
SA:
Property sellers, buyers and investors. We have many services in the pipeline which will make Graana.com a household name in Pakistan. Having said this, our primary audience are overseas Pakistanis. Reaching out to our target audience involves 360-degree nationwide campaigns, such as the one that was rolled out in January 2021. Our first TVC, ‘Hamara Yaqeen Dil Se’, featured Shaan Shahid and we intend to roll out similar campaigns in future.

UKN: Does Graana.com facilitate customers in acquiring capital from banks to buy properties?
SA:
It is very difficult to provide such a service at the moment. Banks are commercial entities and they have to look at their own commercial interests. It is not that the banks do not want to lend, but they are hesitant due to fraud and the lack of regulations within the sector. This can be improved through the deployment of technology and access to information. There is a huge base of customers who want to buy property if they have access to capital.

UKN: You have a strong contender in the market in Zameen.com. How do you compete with Zameen.com?
SA:
Zameen.com is not a direct competitor because as a group, we are working across six to seven verticals in addition to Graana. We have a hospitality vertical which establishes hotels, another supplies building materials; our industrial vertical constructs factories to manufacture building materials. We have a research institute which uses technology to collect and record data on the real estate sector so we can transform it. Our competition with Zameen.com is restricted to the online realm. Pakistan is a populous country that needs many real estate brands and we need more online portals that can provide value-addition to customers.

UKN: What is the Graana Club?
SA:
The Graana Club is about prestige and admission is free to members of Graana.com. Graana is all about families and communities and when we talk about communities, there are many activities that bring them together; the Club organises various events and sport competitions to promote civic values; we are partnering with other organisations to promote it further.

UKN: How much would you estimate the value of the real estate sector to be?
SA:
Today, the value of this sector stands at Rs 1.4 trillion and it has so much potential that it can revive the economy. Every year, about 34% of all remittances are directed to this sector – and almost $12 billion is expected to be invested this year via formal and informal channels. The per capita housing demand in Pakistan is among the highest in the world and nearly 20 million planned units are required by 2030 to fulfil this demand. The planned areas of Pakistan constitute less than 0.5% of the country’s total area (they are estimated to be valued at $700 million) and we need to develop one percent more in the next 25 years to provide housing for 100 to 120 million people. We have the data and are preparing reports on how and where residential, commercial, industrial and recreational developments should be established in an organised manner. We have been working on this for the last five years to create a blueprint for the next 20 to 25 years.

UKN: What role is Graana.com playing to revive this sector?
SA:
We have created a digital database that includes about 3.8 million units out of a total of 4.5 to 4.6 million in planned areas. The aim is to provide the general public access to transparent, authentic information about properties across Pakistan. When buyers have this information, investments can be secure and transparent. Technology is a tool that can be used to revive the real estate sector in no time.

UKN: What other measures can be taken to digitise records?
SA:
The 14 to 15 regulatory authorities that control almost 70% of the real estate sector should establish digital records to provide verified, authentic information about properties. Furthermore, a centralised database of properties should be established so buyers can get all the required details about them such as who owns the property, what is the existing legal status and whether it has been purchased via a loan and if so what the loan schedule is. DHA Multan has made such an online system and all regulatory authorities should do this as well.

UKN: What has been the impact of the construction relief package announced last April?
SA:
Overall, the schemes introduced by the PM, including the amnesty and the fixed tax schemes, have been beneficial for the real estate sector and a lot of people invested in it. However, 70% of the developments that have been established as a result are not planned very well and I foresee long-term problems arising, especially with regard to malls and commercial properties, because 80% of them may not attract investment due to poor planning.

UKN: What are the other challenges that the real estate market faces?
SA:
‘Extra-curricular activities’ – institutional harassment, red tape and even yellow journalism. Other things that are hindering the sector’s growth include a lack of planning, the absence of regulatory frameworks, a lack of information and malpractices. We can overcome these challenges by providing verified, authentic information about properties within the planned areas of Pakistan. The biggest issue in Pakistan’s real estate sector concerns land ownership and its registry and this can be solved in about five years by digitally mapping all the planned and unplanned areas and introducing an online land registry system with proper title registers and title plans.

UKN: What are your future plans for Graana.com?
SA:
We intend to focus on allied industries linked with real estate, including building materials, maintenance services such as plumbers, electricians, architects and designers. In future, all these services will become part of Graana.com. As far as the Imarat Group is concerned, we are establishing seven projects on almost 10 million square feet in Islamabad, including residential complexes, technology parks and malls.

For feedback: aurora@dawn.com