Learn how to look: The Subtle Art of Site Evaluation (Part1)

——  April 5, 2021

Over the years, we have had numerous enquiries from friends, clients and acquaintances seeking advice and guidance as whether or not it was advisable to purchase a property within a particular location. Our experience in this regard has thus prompted the thought that it may be a useful idea to put together some key considerations in this regard which would be accessible to our various stakeholders as well as the general public. This write-up is therefore the result of this emergent thought and our subsequent attempt to articulate the various relevant site selection factors one needs to consider. As there are quite a few points to discuss in this regard however and in order to make for easier reading, we have decided to present the article in two parts of which this is the first and in which we discuss Access factors and Security considerations whilst in the second part we will discuss Proximate infrastructure considerations as well as Soil conditions. Note that whilst the discussion is mainly with reference to properties in and around the Lagos metropolis, the principles discussed therein can as well be applied to locations in other parts of the country as may be required.

The issue of the ideal location for a property that one desires to buy is usually a complex one and depends on several factors. In the event one is planning to buy such property for personal use, factors such as proximity to one’s workplace, or to available schools for one’s children may come into play. Where the property under consideration is to be purchased for Investment, a major consideration would be prevailing rental rates in the neighbourhoods being considered as well as the concomitant rental demand. For Nigerians in the Diaspora seeking to purchase property in the country, a critical factor may be the desire to acquire a property in the city where the prospective buyer’s roots lie or has ongoing business interests whilst in a few cases the relative orderliness of certain Nigerian cities compared to others may be the relevant attraction.

Beyond these broad locational factors however, there are more specific factors that one should ideally evaluate in order to ensure the property to be bought is fairly well located and one does not make the mistake of buying into an area with little prospects for value appreciation or that may indeed turn out to be a bad investment due to the environment in which the property is located. In addition, when prospecting for a property, there is the need to ensure suitability of the property site and location in terms of soil and drainage conditions to mitigate against avoidable expenditure during or after the construction stage. In this wise, we will in the following discussions endeavour to outline the key parameters that need to be looked at when going to inspect a property location especially where the property is a piece of undeveloped land rather than a built-up property. Note that the points discussed in the ensuing paragraphs with respect to undeveloped land are generally equally valid for single plots of land being offered for sale by individual owners and landowner families as well as the numerous site and services scheme being offered for sale by developers in various parts of the Country.

ACCESS FACTORS – INGRESS, EGRESS & LOCATION AMBIENCE
The very first issue one should consider when looking at buying a property is the Access route that leads to the property. This however needs to be considered from several angles as follows.

In the first case, how many access roads lead to the neighbourhood or estate where the subject property is located? Are there multiple access roads or is there effectively just one major road leading thereto? In our experience although having just one access road leading to a neighbourhood might appear to enhance the security of the prospective site, in practical terms and as the area develops, except the neighbourhood in question is a very small one of not more than say 20 to 30 dwelling units, that single access road will almost certainly become a bottleneck in future, at least at certain times of the day. Ready examples in this regard would be the Apapa residential/Industrial area of Lagos which has almost always experienced traffic jams since the Seventies, Festac town up until the construction of the Festac link bridge, or the Addo/Badore road which gradually developed into a bottleneck as the population living in the Addo/Langbasa/Badore axis swelled over time. In all cases, all that is required to trigger traffic mayhem is to have a breakdown of an articulated vehicle or perhaps a vehicular accident and in no time the entire access road becomes impassable. When checking out a property therefore, it is important to look out for scenarios such as this, especially if you intend to live in the area where you are planning to purchase a property and would need to be commuting daily to your work place through that single access road.

In the light of the foregoing, it might then appear that an ideal situation is for a neighbourhood or community to have as many access points as possible. However as in most things in life, moderation is key and for a neighbourhood with too many ingress and egress points, security could become a major issue especially if the neighbourhood is just developing. In our view, two and probably a maximum of three access routes to a community or neighbourhood appears to give a good balance, as beyond this number, access control to the community becomes more difficult. An Estate Surveyor friend of opined several years ago that the multiplicity of ingress pints into Lekki Phase 2 Estate may actually have hindered its development despite having virtually all infrastructure such as paved roads, concrete drains, water works and public electricity in place early in its development. One is quite inclined to agree with this view being aware that at a point in time Armed robbery attacks were so frequent in the estate that a detachment of mobile policemen were more or less permanently stationed there for nightly patrols and this may have been attributable to the fact that the Estate had no perimeter fence and could be accessed through several little known routes from the surrounding communities of Ogombo, Lafiaji, Olokonla and others. This is therefore a second point to consider in evaluating access to a prospective property location.

Thirdly, due to the fact that many new private estates in the Lagos area are sited on land purchased from landowner families whose ownership claims tend to date back far in time, such estates also tend to be sited very close to or extend from the ancestral villages of such landowner families. In this regard one thing to note if the developer of the estate has not taken prior care to locate the estate somewhat away from the ancestral village is that it is less than ideal to have to drive through the village to get to a property or estate where one resides as not only does this usually diminish the ambience and value of the property location, it also tends to have unwanted security implications as those living in such estates tend to stand out in stark contrast to the residents of their host communities and could become targets of attack in the event of social upheavals.

The final point to consider under access factors to any property location being prospected is the nature of the Access road itself. Obviously a paved or tarred access road leading to a property site is much more desirable than an unpaved one which would increase the wear and tear on residents’ vehicles and also has the propensity to easily become impassable during the rainy season. This is therefore something one should also look out for when going to visit a property site. One must however add that where the property being prospected is still under construction by a reputable developer, the developer may have given assurances of constructing the road upon or towards completion of the project which would come to more or less the same thing as if the road were already fully constructed and paved as at the time of inspecting same. Several examples of fully paved access roads that were constructed by reputable developers do abound in the Lekki area and do not require specific elaboration. Beyond just the access road however is the question of associated drainage which is as equally important as paving of the road itself. This is as we are also aware of several instances of fully paved roads constructed by private developers without any associated drainage. This approach is often taken by such developers as a means of saving costs whilst still providing the psychological comfort a paved access road gives to prospects. The result however is usually that within a relatively short period, sections of the road may be washed away during heavy rains or may become partially flooded thus negating the actual purpose of providing the road to begin with. When vising a prospective property therefore, it is essential to look out for seemingly minor details of this nature.


SECURITY

A second factor that requires adequate consideration when evaluating potential sites for property acquisition is the issue of Security of the location. In this wise, how secure is the immediate community in which the property you are considering is located. Does the community or Estate have a secure boundary or can it be accessed at will by all and sundry? We have discussed this somewhat in our comments on multiple ingress routes above whilst in addition we do tend to advise prospective property investors to endeavour to purchase property within gated Estates. One of the reasons for this advice is the immediate security advantage staying in a gated Estate confers, and this is due to the fact that the principal cordon of Security is pushed to the perimeter of the estate rather than the particular property boundary as is the case with a stand-alone property. Thus, choosing a property location within a large gated estate community has the advantage of not only providing communal and usually enhanced security at a lower individual cost, it also provides a level of security that enables residents’ children play safely outside the house without their parents being unduly apprehensive.


The above concludes the first part of our discussion on site selection considerations, whilst the following part of the write-up will throw more light on the importance of proximate infrastructure to a potential property site as well as the critical nature of soil conditions and site drainage.