Ingrid Lashley's Keynote at the launch of 'Property Matters' Trinidad Hilton on Friday October 21st 2005

Last Friday, former Business Guardian columnist Afra Raymond launched the book Property Matters, a compilation of his commentaries on the local real estate market in this newspaper last year.

At the function, the chief executive of T&T Mortgage Finance Ingrid Lashley, delivered the feature address in which she both reviewed some key features of the book and gave her own insight into local property matters.

It is indeed an honour for me to be asked to speak at an occasion of such achievement, writing your name in history, leaving behind a story to tell—not that Afra would have needed documentation to do so.

The occasion is also professionally inspiring as it says for me that my colleagues in the industry consider my opinion, and consider that I may be able to contribute to make this time noteworthy in the documentation on real estate matters in T&T. Afra, I thank you very much for making me a part of your own accomplishment.

Indeed, property matters. It matters to our basic need for shelter, it matters as evidence of civility and growth in our society, and as we go through life’s changes, it matters in providing for stability and security for our families both in terms of shelter and over time acquired savings and wealth. So yes, property matters.

For that reason, and you must forgive me for abusing the pun, property matters are matters that deserve the time and attention of all of us, at all levels of our society. To have it is to improve it, to be without it, is to scramble to acquire it or live in hope of so doing.

Over the last three or so years, the Government has been focused on providing affordable housing for the lower- to middle-income earner.

In this quest, issues have arisen that are peripheral to the ownership and allocation of property—the fact that some just will not qualify for mortgage financing based on sound credit criteria, the fact that title issues and the vesting of state lands must be addressed to ensure that ownership can be secured and certified, the fact that the process of property ownership particularly where it involves mortgage financing, may seem long, expensive and foreboding.

In his review of these among other issues, Afra identifies some of the hurdles to our progress in achieving the stated goal.

These have not fallen on deaf ears. In fact, in the Budget, and even prior to that, the Government has proposed options to accelerate the possibility of ownership of property particularly among those who, by virtue of their current circumstances, cannot readily afford full ownership.

Proposals are under consideration for a “rent to own” option for those in such circumstances.

The rental arrangement may be subject to five-year review so that ability to qualify for mortgage financing may be reconsidered as life’s circumstances and, ultimately, earning power changes.

Other options to improve affordability including recognition of sweat equity, upgrade of existing property and expansion of the State’s obligation to include the lower lower-income earner on one side and the upper middle-income earner on the other, speaks to a greater recognition of the fact that like health, education and social services, property matters.

My impression of Afra’s amalgamation of information, data and opinions thereon is a critique of our current position on aspects of the real estate industry with recommendations for improvement for change.

The backdrop of the operation of real estate matters in our country is dated and, in many cases, archaic.

As the authorities attempt to update our systems, methodologies and processes, the long and tedious process of legislative change to effect new operating standards and principles is also to be addressed.

It is an integral part of our 2020 Vision for housing and before we even get there, it is an integral part of the government housing policy of September 2002 to which Afra refers in his book.

Afra also laments the availability of data.

As a member of the Housing Committee of the Vision 2020 programme, I recall our extensive research and analysis in an attempt to gather data that would inform our deliberations and recommendations.

The search for information included local and foreign agencies, statistical data provided by the Central Statistical Office, the Central Bank, ministries of housing and finance, the United Nations Development Programme, the IADB, to name a few.

Recently, the Central Bank has undertaken to gather data available outside of the traditional financial services sector on matters involving real estate financing.

This kind of research, analysis and evaluation is essential to informed decision making and carefully planned and executed improvement in enhancing the fundamentals of the industry.

We have to put all of this information in one place. We have to ensure a co-ordinating body that will gather the physical, financial and social data associated with this growing industry.

As more participants enter this market, such information becomes essential to the structured development and enhancement of all aspects of our real estate business, of the real estate market and, ultimately, the real estate industry.

I want to spend some time on the financing associated with this industry particularly because that is where my real interest lies as a participant in this market.

Afra notes that most people who acquire property do so via mortgage financing.

In years past, even months maybe, that involved only specialised mortgage financing companies, mortgage bankers so to speak.

Now we’re in a place where furniture stores finance the purchase of household items, car dealers finance the purchase of vehicles through their associated finance companies and traditional providers of such financing particularly banks and even credit unions have become mortgage specialists.

As a matter of fact, financial institutions that were previously mortgage specialists are now including the financing of household items, appliances in particular.

The expansion of the players in the mortgage financing market must redound to the benefit of the property purchaser. It is the success of the real estate industry, its growth and stability that have encouraged new market entrants.

Of necessity, these operators must set standards in the industry that are competitive on the basis of price, process and delivery.

We must look for methods of cost reduction including fees and interest rates that are reflective of the demand and supply curve in this specialised financing area.

We must look to product variations and standard documentation that is reflective of the flexibility required to meet consumer demands. And therefore, we must give this specialised product, specialists willing to serve their customer with full time, attention and knowledge peculiar to this product as opposed to other traditional financing options.

The expansion of market players does not stop there. We have noted an increase in the number and use of real estate agents in real estate transactions, mortgage brokers to negotiate among banks and financial institutions on behalf of the purchaser, site inspectors, approvals facilitators, to name a few.

Note that this third party intervention in the process, while not necessary, is reflective of a new sophistication in society that values time over money and therefore is willing to incur the cost of convenience over the time that it would take to explore options and requirements oneself. It is not necessary, but it certainly is convenient.

Public education on these and a number of issues related to the acquisition of property, the development of the property market, financing, social development and even the planning of our physical environment is another issue that receives Afra’s attention.

In an area so vital to our long-term well-being as a civilised society, it is important that our players and particularly our consumers understand the merits and demerits of the market and the processes involved. Such a public education programme must be addressed where we live and work.

The Land Registry requires such an exercise in order to encourage all property owners to participate in a programme of review and update of our records to facilitate an easier flow of property transactions.

Afra has touched on many issues that demand our time and attention as we pursue our action plan for developed country status by 2020.

The time constraint, however, requires that all participants take a more active role in accelerating the pace of change required to achieve our target by the due date.

All players—lawyers, valuers, quantity surveyors, financial institutions, government agencies and even the property owner—have a role to play. We must continue our research and evaluation to upgrade all aspects of this growth industry constrained by traditional systems.

The documentation of matters related to our real estate industry gives us a perspective of the status, room for improvement and the writer’s recommended direction for the industry. But it is even more important that he has taken the time to write.

In a society that unfortunately does not seem to read as vigorously as it used to and further is not inclined to document its position, its history or for that matter its achievements as readily as it might (and pan—another of Afra’s interests comes immediately to mind), we must laud this undertaking for the example it sets in professional responsibility.

In essence, Afra’s work in this area has only just begun. There are new matters requiring his attention.

There are new issues to explore in the analysis of the financial, social, physical and environmental overlap in this unique area of our national development—we have to address rural development, the issues around East Port-of-Spain, our infrastructural and education facilities—all of which are receiving the time and attention of the authorities.

Active participation in deliberations on these issues is our responsibility, our obligation, to the T&T of the future. I am honoured to be associated with one who is willing to take the lead and make his position known.

My congratulations to Afra on this accomplishment. I am sure that I will have the benefit of his input on all areas involving our real estate market development—that is who he is.

More importantly, he doesn’t just recount the problems—he makes suggestions and recommendations for change, for solutions.

You don’t have to agree with him—I don’t always myself—but certainly in a society where complaining is often so rampant in and of itself, we must pay cognizance to one who is willing to think, to share, to execute, whatever the personal cost.

Thank you, Afra and thank you, ladies and gentlemen.