Time is running out fast for quacks in real estate sector

Disused plot or undeveloped land around the city is a hot target for cons. [iStockphoto]

Walking or driving around Nairobi, you will be greeted by “This Property is Not for Sale” or “Buyer Beware” signs almost everywhere you turn.

From affluent neighbourhoods like Lavington, Runda and Westlands to low-income estates such as Kawangware and Mwihoko, property owners seem to fear that their plots may be sold any time by unknown people without their knowledge.

Even if it is fenced off, any “idle” property, be it a disused plot or undeveloped land around the city, is a hot target for cons out to swindle unsuspecting Kenyans out of their hard-earned cash by selling them “air”. The vice extends to public land.

Apart from Nairobi, other major towns and cities like Kisumu, Mombasa, Nakuru, and Eldoret are not spared, either.

Kenya’s real estate sector has been touted as the goose that keeps laying the golden egg, minting fresh millionaires and making others billionaires every year. Even in the worst of economic times such as during the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago, real estate remained one of the most promising businesses.

But the sector has over the years been marred by chaos and bedeviled by illegalities and irregularities, including land grabbing and fake title deeds. Making things worse are quack estate agents lurking at every corner, waiting for their next victim. This, added to the proliferation of dubious land buying companies that have previously swindled unsuspecting Kenyans out of their hard-earned money by selling them 'air' instead of land, has made investing in real estate in Kenya very risky.

However, that ought not to be the case. Engaging the services of professionals such as registered estate agents will help investors avoid such pitfalls. Notice it is a “registered” estate agent, not just anyone calling themselves a broker or estate agent. Registered estate agents have a certificate to prove registration and they also have an annual practising certificate.

The practice of real estate agency in Kenya is regulated by the Estate Agents Registration Board (EARB), which derives its mandate from the Estate Agents Act Cap 533. The Act clearly gives authority to EARB to register and regulate anyone involved in the selling, purchasing, or letting of land and buildings on behalf of a property owner.

EARB ensures that real estate agents and property managers operate within the law, adhere to ethical standards, and maintain the highest level of professionalism in their dealings. It ensures that the interest of the public is protected and that property buyers and sellers can conduct their dealings in a conducive environment that offers fair competition and fosters investor confidence.

Kenya currently has 3,000 registered estate agents and the board has rolled out a massive recruitment drive that will see over 10,000 estate agents register in the next few years. To be registered as an agent, you must meet the necessary professional requirements, adhere to professional standards, and comply with the code of conduct developed by the board.

Coupled with regular training, this ensures that the estate agent can offer services of high professional standards. This is why users of estate agency services should engage and employ only persons registered with the board. This also guarantees a fall back in the event the estate agent engages in misconduct. The customer has the leeway to report such a person or entity to the board for disciplinary action.

The Estate Agents Act Cap 533 is currently being reviewed to, among other things, allow for different categories of real estate agents, depending on an individual’s level of education. So, you can enter the industry as a trained and fully-registered caretaker and with time move up the ladder to become a professional real estate agent. That way, we will encompass all players in the industry from the most basic to the highest level. This inclusiveness is necessary for proper regulation and to eliminate conmen in the industry.

Indeed, EARB has earnestly embarked on a journey to transform the industry. This includes redefining our operations: How we engage the estate agents, how we relate with other institutions, how we relate with the general public and how we engage with those seeking registration. We have also rolled out regional sensitisation that will see the board visit all parts of the country.

The board is also partnering with other government agencies like the Director of Criminal Investigations, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police to weed out conmen and quacks from the sector. All these are geared towards re-engineering the real estate sector and making it safe for investors and other players.

Another key pillar of that journey is the Estate Agents Conference to be held on October tomorrow in Nairobi. This is the second conference by the board for estate agents having held our inaugural conference in 2021 amid Covid-19 restrictions. The conference, to be graced by the Lands and Housing Cabinet Secretary Zachary Njeru, will focus on steering real estate in changing times under the theme, “Re-engineering real estate for emerging realities”.

I am confident that with these changes, no property owner will need to erect a “This Property is Not for Sale” or “Buyer Beware” sign next to his vacant plot.

-Ms Macharia is also a registered and practising valuer and a registered and practising estate agent