MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Buying a house used to be difficult in Nepal. Even 10 years ago, getting a loan of Rs 200,000 from a bank was next to impossible for most Nepalis.
The man who made it easier to buy houses using credit facilities, and opened the flood gates for housing loans is Ichhya Tamang, the founder of Civil Group, one of Nepal's largest and most-rapidly growing business conglomerates that owns Civil Homes.
Born in Okhaldhunga and raised in Hong Kong and Singapore, where his father was in the British Army, Tamang returned to Nepal to pass his SLC. As a hydropower engineer in Russia, Tamang witnessed both the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic hardships that followed in 1989.
When the ruble's value plummeted, Tamang found it hard to cope. "Even as a student, I had no choice but to get into business to survive," he recalls. Nepali students in Russia sold Chinese goods to the Russians. Some Nepalis bought and sold computers and built trading businesses.
After returning to Nepal, Tamang worked as an engineer but the war made his job difficult. Convinced that business would be the only means of getting through the crisis, he got together with 12 other engineers and started Civil Group in 2001, a conglomerate company that encompasses 10 firms including Civil Cooperatives.
The group, which was chosen as the Company of the Month by Nepali Times for July 2009 has grown to encompass real estate, housing, finance, trading and soon a commercial bank.
Civil Homes was first in Nepal to commercialise the idea of owning a well-serviced house within a gated community. Its success was quickly copied by others. Banks were initially wary about lending money to Tamang and his friends. But once they saw the demand for organised housing, they changed their minds. As the housing sector boomed, so did banking.
Tamang recalls the beginnings of Civil Homes in Bhaisepati when he bought 23 ropanis of land but did not have money to build and sell houses. The group made a computer-animated ad for a Rs 2.3 million house and broadcasted it on tv channels. The results were astounding, and Tamang hasn't looked back.
Buoyed by his first housing success, Tamang's group then bought 95 ropanis of land in Kalanki where more Civil Homes were built. That too was a success, and the group went on to build a satellite town in Sunakothi, with its own mall, health posts and a cinema hall. Currently, the group is working on its fourth phase at Dhapakhel on 200 ropanis of land.
Tamang sees the demand for housing going up because of urbanization and an economy buoyed by remittances. "Kathmandu valley is growing annually at the rate of 6,500 new houses, there are more than 30 housing companies but they don't create more than 2,000 houses a year," says Tamang.
Tamang is currently working on a real estate act to regulate the industry. He sees good potential for those interested in real estate investments, as more people move to cities, and the size of the middle-class grows. Last week, Tamang unveiled his newest project: Civil Luxury Residences of upscale apartments in Sundhara next to an international-quality shopping mall.
"Some find that the situation in Nepal is getting worse," says Tamang, "but Russia taught me how to survive. If you work hard enough, you can succeed no matter what the situation is around you."
Tamang is aware that too many housing companies can lead to a drain on natural resources. As an engineer he is researching new technologies and cost-effective design. He wants future residences to be solar-powered and harvest rain. He says: "Now that we are past the survival stage, we can afford to think broadly about our societal obligations."