A 21-year journey with TUHF

Solly Ramalamula first made contact with ICHUT (which would become TUHF two years later) in 2001 when he was a Director at African Housing Company (AFHCO). In the 21 years since, Solly has grown a successful company – Take Shape Property Management – and developed 11 affordable residential rental properties in the inner cities of Johannesburg. Seven of these have been funded by TUHF, and Solly says he’s not done yet!

A former policeman, Solly was the liaison between TUHF and AFHCO in the early 2000’s, reporting on the performance and condition of TUHF-funded buildings in AFHCO’s portfolio. Solly’s relationship with TUHF, and his knack for building management, led to his first TUHF-funded property refurbishment in 2009. Boland Court in Turffontein was a “small project” according to Solly, in which he converted and refurbished six units into 13 good quality rentals.

He sold Boland Court in 2015 for a R600 000 profit, which he used to put down equity on another project in Primrose. “Working with TUHF has been a big help in growing my property portfolio,” Solly says. “I used my pension from the SAPS as the equity deposit on my first property, but it wasn’t enough to qualify for the loan with TUHF. Fortunately, they offered to fund the rest of the equity through the Inthuthuko Equity Fund [IEF], and without that extra support I don’t think I would have been able to start my property journey.”

Solly’s first three properties were purchased with the help of the IEF, and TUHF has funded seven of his properties in total. Currently working with Kea Nkotswe, Solly says his account managers at TUHF have been more than just financiers to him.

“Kea has been so dependable and involved in helping me succeed. TUHF has  helped me with feasibility studies on the properties I’ve wanted to buy, offered advice on how to manage my properties when I’ve needed it, and stepped in to help me during challenging times like the COVID pandemic.”

Hollywood Centre, Solly’s biggest refurbishment project with TUHF, is an example of how this relationship has helped him weather difficult times. “Hollywood was a massive project – R 33 million in 2014 – and TUHF worked with me every step of the way to ensure it was a feasible investment,” he says. “We converted a 7-storey factory in the Johannesburg CBD to 101 1- and 2-bed units, with a car dealership on the ground floor. TUHF helped me get hold of the building’s original plans, put me in touch with an architect to help with the conversion design, and introduced me to a quantity surveyor to assist with cost estimates. Both of them were willing to do the work on risk.”

TUHF also helped Solly reach out to the Gauteng Partnership Fund (GPF) to access the R 8 million he needed to put down in equity for Hollywood Centre, while TUHF funded the remainder of the costs. “Kea was very involved, coming onto site to check on progress and making sure we weren’t overpaying contractors. There was even a time that we had to recoup some costs from a contractor that had delayed the project,” Solly recalls. “TUHF ensured we paid our draw-downs on time, and that we were able to finish the refurbishment on time and in budget.”

The COVID-19 pandemic struck about half-way through Solly’s repayment period. “We emptied about 35 units during the pandemic,” Solly says. “And this was a time when my relationship with TUHF and my good track record of servicing my loans made a real difference to how we coped through lockdown.

The vacancies at Hollywood Centre have recovered well since lockdown ended, with only 19 units currently unoccupied. “And those are all under renovation,” Solly points out. “I renovate five empty units every month as part of my business model, because it’s important to keep the units up to date.”

Solly’s most recent project with TUHF – Pearl House – was ready for occupancy in 2020, just as the first hard lockdown was announced. “We had 11 empty units out of 32 during COVID, which was really worrying on such a new project. But TUHF was supportive on this project, too, and we are almost 100% occupied now.”

Solly manages all his properties himself through Take Shape Property Management. His company focuses on managing residential and commercial units, ensuring the provision of safe, clean and well-maintained locations to the emerging lower to middle income group. He remains confident in the inner-city as an investment destination and has recently started looking into the opportunities in social housing in townships as well.

“My business is a legacy I want to leave to my son and family,” he says. “And without TUHF’s help and support over the years I don’t think I would be able to leave something like this behind for him. He’s just started his first project with TUHF as well. Though I have been training him within my business, he’ll be working with his own loan officer and managing this project by himself. It’s important that he also learns to stand on his own feet.”