Once a young boy growing up in Pimville, Soweto, now the Director of Black Real Estate, Thato ‘TT’ Mbha is fast making a name for himself as the go-to real estate practitioner for high net worth celebrities in South Africa.
His friendship circles include SA Idols judge, Somizi Mhlongo, he’s already been featured in one of the country’s popular men’s magazines, Destiny Man, and is now being described as the man responsible for bringing swag back to the real estate industry.
That being said, TT insists that his services are not exclusive; he works with anyone and everyone looking for property to invest in, no matter the size of their budget or the colour of their skin.
I recently caught up with TT to find out more about his unique business model and vision.
TT is a qualified fashion designer, Chartered Marketer and a recently qualified Master Practitioner in real estate. His primary passion is real estate, however, which is what eventually lead him to establish his own company, Black Real Estate, in 2014.
“I always knew I would work in real estate one day, I just didn’t know how,” TT explained. He described scenes of himself as a young boy walking the streets of Soweto with his friends, standing on piles of rocks to look at houses ‒ the ones on street corners, specifically ‒ while dreaming of owning a corner house of his own one day.
TT very much attributes his current success in real estate to his experiences growing up in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa. “I come from the era of black kids who were the first to be accepted into white schools in South Africa. I went from my predominantly black neighbourhood to a school populated with Indians, Coloureds, Whites ‒ you name it. It was initially quite a culture shock for me, as I then had to go back to the township each day. And I had to be black about it.”
“I eventually had friends of all colour and from all neighbourhoods in Johannesburg. I believe this experience has made it easy for me to work with clients across all demographics. This ranges from families wanting to move out of a township for the first time, to high net worth individuals who can afford a property worth millions.”
The strategic partnership between Black Real Estate and Keller Williams Realty Worldwide evolved after TT did some shopping around to learn about other agencies’ business models and partnership opportunities.
“Keller Williams stood out for me because of their empowering business culture. The entrepreneurial partnership I formed with them allows me to operate under my own branding, with their full blessing, and provides me with access to Keller Williams’ resources. This has greatly reduced my overheads,” explained TT.
This partnership has also enabled him to extend his services to a pool of U.S. based investors looking for property investment opportunities in Johannesburg and Cape Town. In turn, TT develops partnerships with small, black-owned businesses ‒ painters, photographers, plumbers ‒ to provide them with ongoing work opportunities. He selects these businesses based on their levels of excellence. “They MUST deliver,” he emphasised, “I’m not trying to use BEE to leverage my business on the merits of my ‘blackness’ alone. I want to become the most preferred agency of choice because my services are good, not because it will make other companies look good to work with me.”
On being black
Black excellence, empowerment and upliftment is very much at the core of what Black Real Estate is all about. “Black is a state of mind. It’s a lifestyle and a movement. It’s about being proud of being a black South African and then striving to do our best, to focus on upliftment and move beyond the injustices of the past,” explained TT.
He emphasised that this doesn’t mean that he is against white South Africans. “The reality is that, in a population of 55 million people, 90 percent of South Africans are black, and I am simply catering to the majority,” he explained.
“I know how important it is that I have practical experience in property investing, which is why I have a sizeable property portfolio of my own, made up of land, apartments and holiday homes across the country.”
It is TT’s hope that his story will inspire other black kids living in informal settlements to pursue their dreams and rise above their circumstances. “I can only hope for the South African real estate industry that there will be more TTs who will emerge ‒ individuals who are willing to start from the bottom up, as I did, who are passionate about the job and aren’t expecting everything to just fall into their laps.”
TT shared that he is frequently approached by individuals wanting mentorship from him; over the years he has realised that, while he strongly endorses mentorship, the mentee needs to understand the need to own the process and drive their own mentorship programme.
“People in South Africa want mentors, but they can’t simply expect an information download over a five-minute cup of coffee. They should rather approach a mentor with an idea in mind and ask for help with unlocking it. Something else that will get a busy business person’s attention is if they are presented with a compelling solution to talk through.”
The broader vision for Black Real Estate includes the upskilling of workers with limited access to formal education to increase their labour value and help improve the economy. TT had the following to say about this vision: “The aim here would be to help unlock the full potential of the black entrepreneur who cannot afford to study, or who doesn’t necessarily want to ‒ because, let’s be honest, formal training isn’t for everyone. I want to be a servant leader who serves the interests of others to help them build their own legacy through real estate.”
By: Jean Brown