Irene Nalwoga, a banker turned real estate owner

Irene Nalwoga, the managing director Renewills Real Estates, shares the story of her real estate journey at the company’s offices on Queens Road in Entebbe Municipality recently. Photos by Paul Adude

What you need to know:

She loved looking at houses, admiring every inch of the design and got amazed by the creativity. A visit to an estate turned her life around. Irene Nalwoga left her comfort zone in banking to venture in her newfound love -the world of real estate. In our last segment of Women in Construction this women’s month, we celebrate Nalwoga and share her journey in the male-dominated sector.

Real estate is no venture for the faint-hearted. Some people are afraid to venture in this sector, others give up so fast. We talked to Irene Nalwoga, the managing director of Renewills Real Estate Entebbe, on how she has managed to make it in the business.

“Formerly, I was employed by a bank for four years. I naturally love to visit houses that is when I found my love for real estate and one day, I went for a meeting that had Anatoli Kamugisha, the managing director Akright estates and he gave me another perspective of real estate. When I saw his estate and what he had done, I fell in love with it and I realised real estate, is a good investment” she says.

Quitting her job
Nalwoga says she requested Kamugisha to be her mentor and eventually turned her into a real estate agent.
“After meeting him for one year, I got the courage to resign from my job as I was registering my company at the same time. I started Renewills investment in 2011. I didn’t have money to build houses at the time so the only way I could go into real estate was as a developer,” she narrates.

Nalwoga further says after resigning from her job in December 2010, her love for art of homes in different designs made her more interested in real estate.
“I generally love visiting people’s places and what catches my eyes is the way they have designed the house. When I visit houses, there are those small things I generally look out for because someone’s house tells you a lot about them,” she says.

Nalwoga says she got her first big break in 2012, when she sold an old house in Entebbe and made Shs18m off it, a house she still manages for the owners who live abroad as a rental. This built her confidence in the real estate sector.
“I think leaving the bank was the best decision. Although I missed working in the bank the time before the business picked up, when I look at how far I have come in the past nine years, I believe I made the best decision in my life,” she says.
Nalwoga says she has managed to stay successful in the real estate sector by being patient, integral and sticking to her love of houses.

“I am very faithful with money. it’s easy for investors to trust me with money and if they trust me, when we make an agreement, we live up to our contract. I have a high level of integrity because I was trained by the bank. This experience has helped me a lot in the business,” she says.

Nalwoga adds that partnerships and dealing professionally with different stakeholders have helped her business grow.
“A real estate company cannot be run as an individual business but rather as a partnership. the customer care is totally different. In the beginning, I saw there was a lot of unprofessionalism in the business and promised my mentors Kamugisha and Vincent Agaba, chief executive officer Avats Ltd, who didn’t know me but had belief in the positive attitude I had that I would carry out my business in a professional way. If we have referral agents that give us business, we give them 10 per cent of what we earn so people recommend our business because they know they will earn,” she says.

Nalwoga says her staff’s keenness to details and research on properties has helped her avoid bad transactions in the past nine years.
“Our biggest business is the foreign market, but we also deal with Ugandans because they are the ones who own the houses.
:Clients are fed up of dealing with unprofessional property agents but when they find you are organised and faithful, they will keep on coming to your office without you doing a lot of marketing and they will refer you to others thus more business” she says.

However, Nalwoga says real estate is not an easy business, although the startup may not be difficult since all that is needed is an office, looking for the properties and gaining trust of clients.

“At first, it’s not easy because real estate is a man’s world and dealing with that pressure. I remember when I started, people used to say, ‘Oh she’s a woman and she’s doing agency’, so everyone was surprised but I knew my strength because I knew how to sell. We went on graduating from agency to property management and right now we are 60 per cent developers, 30 per cent agency and 10 per cent property management,” she says.

Nalwoga adds that the public perception of land brokers and agents being illiterate is also a challenge in the business.
“Another part is that people believe property agency is for men but believe me, a woman can do a better job. If she is organised and principled, they can easily serve their clients,” she says.

She further blames lack of government support and the country’s economic deterioration as a blockage to the development of the sector.
“Five years ago, we would sell properties on a monthly basis but nowadays, we sell properties on a three month basis, people don’t have money and they are not ready to invest.
“If government would support the entrepreneurs through a real estate scheme like is the case in other sectors, by, for instance, giving loans to real estate entrepreneurs at reduced prices, we would build more properties and provide employment to more people, and thus transform the country,” she says.

Future plans and advice
Nalwoga says her company’s goal is to have an iconic building in Entebbe like Dubai’s Burj khalifa.
She advises people joining the real estate business to be patient since money takes time to accumulate in the property business.

“You need to be faithful and loyal to your clients, staff referrals and to everyone you’re working with because real estate is all about trust. If people trust you, you will make money but if they don’t trust you, you will never see a coin,” she cautions.

Nalwoga further urges real estate developers to be cautious on the deals that are tabled before them since there are many conmen in the real estate business. Not every deal is a deal, be very careful with the sweet deals. Take the things that fall into your line of operation, if it is not, let it go,” she advises.

Nalwoga advises women to be brave and join the real estate sector.
“Real estate is not easy business, but it’s very doable for women because we have it in nature, we are born sellers. All that you need to do is love what you are doing. don’t suppress another woman or be envious of another woman. you have to encourage yourself to work with fellow women,” she says.

Working with Nalwoga
Peter Kabiri, the operations manager at Renewills real estate’s says Nalwoga is an enterprising woman with a strong sense of determination and a creative innovator.
“She’s a strong lady with a good personality as well. We started working together after I graduated from university in 2011. She’s a challenger, keeps me off my feet and has been my mentor” he says.
“Working with women is very good. They are very enterprising and have a strong sense of touch on the houses, more so when it comes to interior designing. When it comes to advising landlords, the touch they should give their houses in terms of colours, furniture, gardens and landscaping, they are good at it” he adds.