UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | Annette Babigamba, Director of Universal Multipurpose Enterprises/Affordable Housing Uganda, has come a long way from her humble beginnings in real estate.
Before 2016, she pursued real estate management as a hobby while primarily focusing on other endeavours. Today, she stands as a successful and sought-after condominium real estate agent, effortlessly connecting buyers in the diaspora to their dream homes.
Annette’s entry into the field began unintentionally. A conversation with a friend led to an introduction to another individual residing in England, seeking assistance with property management back home.
“They later introduced me to one of their cousins who was struggling with their property in Bukoto where clients came and went without pay,” she says.
Her clientele soon expanded to include several other friends and relatives based in the UK. Although real estate wasn’t her chosen profession at the time, she found herself managing and facilitating the sale of numerous properties.
Property management, as Annette can attest to, is a bustling field. Client demands range from attending to plumbing issues, solving power disruptions, to seeking tenants to occupy vacant spaces. Over time, she had built a network consisting of plumbers, electricians, and brokers to cater to these demands.
Her network and reputation earned her a spot among a group of agents. She attributes this to one of the agents she had previously worked with. Her reach grew significantly when she stumbled upon fliers advertising apartments for sale at a friend’s place.
“A banker friend had them and she said that one of her Indian friends was selling one-bedroom apartments at Shs45m though the initial deposit was 20 percent with payment completed in six months,” she says.
Intrigued, Annette decided to call the number provided on the flyer. The quick and professional response she received left her astounded. The man on the other end invited her to view the property.
“Going with a friend, we finally met him and visited the project in Bweyogerere. However, to my disdain the rooms seemed very small but this friend, who was also in the property sector, said the size was very fine coupled with the location; near the road,” she says.
This encounter was the beginning of a fruitful partnership with the property developer, Rasheed Abbas, which exposed Annette to new aspects of the business.
Seizing Opportunities and Business Acumen
Rasheed would later invite Annette Babigamba to look for land for a project he had initiated in Najjera. Seeing an opportunity, she recommended a friend’s land for sale.
“At 5pm, we were on site and he inquired about the price which was Shs 1 billion then. There and then, he said, he could deposit Shs900 million, if he saw the land title. Unfortunately, the sale did not happen owing to land wrangles,” she said.
However, the speed and agility of his decision-making and execution of transactions left her astounded and served as a lesson in business acumen.
Annette soon found herself in a position to help Rasheed again, this time with finding a house to for him use as office premises. She was managing a suitable property in Bukoto, behind Kabira Country Club for a client in the UK, so Annette suggested it to him.
Rasheed wasn’t deterred by the fact the landlord lived in the diaspora, and asked that a WhatsApp group be created with him, his lawyer, the landlord and Annette as members.
With the group created, she was texting the property owner about Rasheed, the prospective tenant. Rasheed needed certain changes made to the property, and promised to make payment upfront, which he fulfilled with a seven months’ rent cheque.
“That was when I got my first pay because the landlord gave me a commission of sorts,” she says.
Annette facilitated the transaction. She also handled the implementation of the necessary changes to the property, personally overseeing the work. Her being at present at the property also gave her an opportunity to help Rasheed source office staff, which helped her secure positions in the office for her cousin as a security guard and her sister, as an office administrator.
Expanding Responsibilities and Building Expertise
As the property manager, Annette made frequent visits to the new site where her sister was now employed. There, her sister had started off plan selling (selling houses still under construction).
Rasheed further introduced Annette to the commission-based nature of the business, motivating her to hone her marketing skills in the art of selling houses off-plan, and she made a couple of sales.
As the business expanded, Annette was entrusted with finding a new, larger property for the business. She rose to the challenge, securing a property in Naguru within three weeks, now home to Universal Homes.
“With time, I liked the whole idea and also searched for land. The first sale was yet another piece in Najjera because he had told me his preferences such as location. That earned me more commission and it was good money. I was surely sold out because the man was also honest, updated me on what was going on, and protected me against the sellers because they often cheat intermediaries. With that, I became an agent and with time, became the one that either sourced or approved any land deals,” she says.
“The amazing thing with working with Rasheed is that he is honest. Additionally, once I gained his trust, transactions and dealings became easy in that once he likes a property, the rest is left to me and the lawyer to ensure all goes well,” she says.
Annette ‘s diligence and dedication resulted in her appointment as a non-executive director. She has since learned on the job and supplemented her knowledge through extensive reading on various topics.
“He is one of the best marketers I have seen and I am always with him as he closes sales hence picking a couple of tricks and skills. He has also helped me understand things such as sizes and given me an amazing technical team such as the architect to work with,” she says.
Annette Babigamba has cultivated a reputation of trust and integrity, selling properties to diaspora clients who deposit Shs5 million with no interest rate. Most of these clients lease the houses, taking advantage of the prime locations that are easily accessible from main roads. Short-term rentals, particularly through Airbnb, are popular among her clientele.
“With this method, clients pay in installments with less pressure. On the other hand, it also helps us to get financing to build. Nonetheless, the titles for these condominiums are ready as of the time we start selling a particular site. Therefore, if one paid fully, they would get their home title,” she says.
Location Trumps Size: Balancing Luxury and Affordability
Most of the diaspora clients buy houses with the mind of renting them out, which Annette says is enabled by the prime locations where one does not have to travel off the main road toget to their apartment.
“Therefore, getting tenants is not always a problem as agents also market them. As such, one does not have to advertise,” she says.
Looking back, Annette resonates with her friend’s words about the common desire for luxury that many can’t afford or necessarily need.
“I have come to appreciate that location beats size,” she says.
Annette Babigamba has made a successful career out of facilitating affordable luxury through her real estate venture. With years of experience under her belt, she is a testament to the power of seizing opportunities, nurturing relationships, and maintaining integrity in the bustling world of real estate.
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