This is, however, changing with a burst of growth buoyed by renewed interest in the area. It is today one of the few towns, outside than Nairobi and Mombasa, with a thriving real estate market.
The allure of the town lying northwest of Mt Kenya is driven by tourism, owing to the large number of wildlife ranches scattered across the Laikipia Plateau and north to Samburu.
The town has quietly turned into a playground for the nouveau riche scrambling for a share of vacation homes. Demand for furnished apartments in the region is usually at its peak around Easter weekend and Christmas holidays.
This coupled with its diverse hospitality offering is a plus for the town. This demand has seen Nanyuki attract housing developments that would be at home in a Nairobi high-end suburb.
One such investor is Bongo Development Company Limited (BDLC). The firm has developed the Sh250 million Bongo Apartments, a 32-unit development for phase 1.
“A homeowner, one can rake in a cool Sh70,000, for a two bedroomed apartment while a three bedroomed apartment fetches Sh80, 000 per month at the current market rate,” says BDLC co-developer Francis Mathenge.
But it is not all rosy in Nanyuki. However, the booming real estate growth has favoured the upper segment of the property market, leaving behind a growing market for homeowners among the middle-class.
Nearly every developing city is short of affordable housing. Nationally, 11 million renter households – more than one in four – spent at least half their income on rent in 2017.
In high-cost housing markets, the numbers are significantly worse.
Stephen Mbau, Bongo Development Limited Company co-developer, says there is a looming disaster if the scramble for land for new real estate developments goes unchecked.
“The takeover of arable land that was previously used for tea, horticultural farming by real-estate developments around Kiambu, Murang’a and other counties neighbouring Nairobi is worrying. If nothing is done to arrest the situation, then we’re doomed,” he says.
Others concur: “Moving forward, counties such as Isiolo and Marsabit need a land use policy to ensure they are controlled town developments,” said David Mwenda, managing partner, D-square Ventures, a Nanyuki-based property letting agency.
The biggest hurdle, especially for emerging real estate markets, is seen as lack of a regulator to control prices.
Land prices are high, with and an acre of land in some areas going for up to Sh30 million. “Why, for instance, should rent or price of a house or land be this much on one side of the town while exorbitantly high a stone’s throw away in the same town or area?” wonders Mwenda.
“It is time real estate stakeholders came up with a price index, market performance statistics, and rate of return on investment,” says Mwenda.
Nanyuki is not, however, seeing a change of fortunes alone. The general area, going as far away as Isiolo town, in Isiolo County, have in recent times seen an upsurge in homes construction and infrastructure works.
The construction of an international airport in Isiolo and the building of a mini-oil refinery have all put Isiolo Town on a growth path.