Over the past few years, the impact of climate change in our world has led to the introduction of several approaches to ensure environmental sustainability. One key approach among the several measures has been the concept of green finance which seeks to ensure that more financial resources are channeled into investments that are environmentally sustainable. In the global real estate sector, the momentum for green finance has been on the rise with multinationals such as BlackRock and Aviva focusing on investment portfolios that are green.
With these advancements around the world, the response to the global call to promoting sustainable investments has admittedly been at a slow pace in the African market. Presently, there are about 641 green buildings in Africa. Out of the 641 green buildings in Africa, Ghana has 10, representing 1.5% of the total green buildings in Africa. Although this is a good start for Ghana, clearly there still remain much work to be done in terms of green finance in Ghana.
Many Ghanaians have in the past expressed worry about the potential of maintaining a constant supply of green buildings due to the cost burden of green buildings at the start. Although many are pessimistic about the easy adaption to the culture of sustainability, the Ghanaian government has shown dedication to the promotion of green investments through green bonds. This follows the announcement of the development of green bonds in Ghana by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This is a step in the right direction towards the promotion of green investments in Ghana.
With the introduction of green bonds, Ghanaian investors would be incentivized to channel their funds into environmentally sustainable investments which would in turn lead to the generation of funds to finance real estate developments that are sustainable. Green bonds have the potential of curbing the cost burden associated with the development of sustainable buildings.
For the past few months, businesses, governments and organisations have had to re-strategize in a manner that anyone could barely anticipate. Like every other country in the world, Ghana suffered the effect of the global pandemic. The prices of major commodities declined unexpectedly and there was a decline in trade volumes. At the peak of the pandemic, Ghana’s GDP growth declined substantially. In fact, Ghana recorded the largest decline in GDP growth since 2016 in the year 2020. Obviously, Ghana’s economy was hardly hit by the pandemic. With several interventions such as lock-down, restrictions on international travels, and the development of vaccines, the world is nearing an era known as the post-covid era where it has become important that various economies find means of recovering. Similarly, certain sectors of the real estate market are in their recovery stages. While most people are very optimistic about the quick bounce-back of the real estate sector, there still remain some fears of investing in real estate in Accra. In this article, I have weighed the fears of investing in real estate against the opportunities of real estate investments for some key sectors of real estate.
Residential Real Estate
The impact of the pandemic varied across the two residential sectors – the sales market and the rental market. While the sales market recorded less transactions during the pandemic, the high-end residential markets which are dominated mainly by expats and diplomats suffered the most. Many expats and diplomats went back to their countries during the peak of the pandemic mainly because of the possibility of working from home leading to high vacancies in high-end residential real estate. Aside all of these, the residential market has shown signs of quick recovery as the government keeps easing restrictions, with both sales and rental transactions picking up. There’s also a new demand for home offices, as working from home has become a common practice. Although this may not reflect in the supply of residential real estate in the short term, this is foreseen to be a common feature in the supply of residential real estate in the post-covid era.
In Ghana, whereas most offices in other parts of the world resorted to working from home at the peak of the pandemic, the common practice has been to alternate between working in the office and working from home. Nearing the post-covid era, the running of shifts is gradually fading out at most work places. Despite this, there still remain a good percentage of office tenants who have devised means of effectively working from home. This has the possibility of causing a decline in office rents and occupancy rates – one that would barely reverse to the situation before the pandemic. Prime office rents have reduced substantially over the past few months.
The effect of the pandemic has seen an improvement in online retail platforms. Many are still discovering the effectiveness of these online retail platforms. This has the potential of leading to a decline in the supply of retail outlets. Although the patronage of online retailers may not completely eliminate the patronage of physical retail outlets, the demand for retail would still see some effects caused by the boom in online retail.
With a surge in online retail, logistics is gradually rising and presents prospects for growth in real estate investments. Presently, warehouse facilities have generally suffered some pressures in terms of increased demand. In view of this, innovation has become extremely important for the growth of the logistics sector for the economy of space. It is also foreseen that just as many other advanced countries are changing the existing use of distressed retail assets for logistics, Accra is likely to change the uses of many distressed real estate assets into warehouses. An increased demand for last-mile logistic facilities in areas closer to town centres is also foreseen as demand for online retail increases.
The hospitality sector suffered the most from lockdown restrictions and the restrictions on international travels. Although, some hotels served as isolation centres, the sector suffered a lot from the pandemic. With the present easing of restrictions on international travels, the sector has begun to see some patronage. However, recovery is gradual for most aspects of the hospitality sector. Many investors are still skeptical of investing in hospitality.
The healthcare sector is increasingly becoming a centre of attraction for many real estate investors as there has been the need for the development of the healthcare sector to ensure the delivery of quality healthcare services. The pandemic has brought out the defects of the healthcare sector and the need to increase the supply of real estate assets in the sector.
The need to go digital in the workplace has been reinforced by the effects of the pandemic leading to the need to move IT workloads to the cloud. Digital services have become very important due to the growth in the need for remote working tools. There is a new dimension of demand in data centres as the need has risen for the localization of data centres. This coupled with the digital Ghana agenda has made it necessary for data centres to be located in Ghana.
Indeed, although the pandemic has led to a decline in certain sectors of the real estate market, it has also opened up new opportunities for investing in real estate.
Housing is often too expensive for the average household to purchase outright. In developing countries like Ghana, people often resort to mortgages, informal loans, housing associations, incremental housing or simply renting. Regardless of the preferred method, it is important to keep track of how much is spent because it is usually the priciest expense. Factors such as household size, housing benefits, regional variances (differences in housing cost because of the location) and quality of housing all complicate affordability, but these are a few of the measures popular around the world.
This measure is most significant for renters, and simply involves viewing rent in proportion to income. This percentage informs on how much is being spend on housing as well as other expenses. Traditionally, spending no more than 30% of gross income on housing is deemed affordable.
Housing price-to-income ratio
Another popular gauge of affordability is the ‘housing price-to-income ratio’. This ratio captures how many years of a household’s annual salary can pay for housing, highlighting how long a family can expect to pay off housing if they choose to either build themselves or take a mortgage facility. The UN estimates that the ratio is approximately 2.5 in developed economies, but can be as high as 10 in Ghana, a developing country.
Affordability is a bigger socio-economic issue for poorer families because they generally have less disposable income to spare. Consequently, spending too much on housing will inevitably leave these with less money to spend on other essential expenses – food, utilities, transport, education for the children, savings and planning for retirement. Most households in Ghana do not consciously keep track of how much they spend on housing, but the implications of it demand attention and requires you to ask; am I spending too much on housing?
The submission of a group project report on a research study undertaken is a milestone in attaining a bachelor’s degree from the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. My preference was to explore topics relating to housing issues (e.g., housing deficits) in Ghana. However, the team leader, Eunice, had her ideas – Examining the concept of Green Buildings in Ghana.
The rest of the team – Claudette, Tracy, Fiifi and I – were a little hesitant as this topic was quite new to us. She, however, succeeded in bullying motivating us so much that we all finally agreed to explore the topic. This was a great learning experience, as I was exposed to how various real estate development and related processes can be used as a tool to attain environmental sustainability.
Financing is an important tool in real estate development and processes. There has been recent interest in using this tool to advance the goals of environmental sustainability, globally (especially in China). This is termed as Green Financing.
Green Financing in real estate is a structured financial activity (e.g., loans, debt mechanisms, investments, etc.) geared towards funding real estate projects with ‘green’ or environmental benefits. Such projects relating to environmental protection and sustainable development include renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, green buildings, and green technologies.
This financing mechanism can be pursued to achieve the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including goals #6, #7, #11, #13 and #15.
The built environment is an integral part of the natural environment. It is therefore important that human activities and projects are carried out using environmentally-friendly and safe practices to ensure better environmental outcomes.
This article is the first of a series on sustainable (green) real estate investing. Stay connected as we bring you more insights on the subject of green financing.