‘Spirits of the dead’: Funeral home complicates area property market

David Waithanji, a property broker in Murang’a, says September 23, 2019, was his worst nightmare in his 10 years of dealing in real estate.

“I had two potential buyers of three plots collectively measuring half an acre at Makenji village, which is 48 kilometres North of Nairobi. I was sure of pocketing at least Sh600,000 as my profit. My asking price for the deal was Sh3 million, but I was sure to get Sh2.6 million from my clients and give out Sh2 million to the real owners who had recruited me to get them buyers,” says the Jungle Properties Solutions broker.

His clients were civil servants working in Thika town, hailing from the Western region of the country. They had been enticed by the property’s close proximity to Blue Post Hotel and Thika town.

Two months prior to this date, there was a development that was nearly opening for business.

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“Some said it was a shopping mall being opened, others speculated that it was a Murang’a County funded industrial park, while yet others just adopted a wait-and-see attitude,” Waithanji says.

He had seen a petrol station open nearby and to him, this was all good news since it would make area properties appreciate faster, meaning better deals for property agents like himself.

Then the newest business in the area opened its doors. It was a funeral home!

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“While my clients wanted the pieces of land to build residential homes, I highly doubted whether they would accept to be near a funeral home,” Waithanji says.

When his clients picked him from an eatery in Thika Town, accompanied by a woman they introduced as their lawyer to oversee the deal, they looked excited, and one of them was holding a cheque book. But when they realised where the property was, “they all glared at me. For a moment I thought they would strangle me… I shouted that the car was heading into a ditch”.

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Branded a witch

“They ordered me out of the car, cursing and branding me a witch, and they drove off leaving me right at the gate of the funeral home. I felt like booking my Sh600,000 profit deal dead in the facility,” says Waithanji.

However, it is not all gloom. The funeral home has brought mixed fortunes to the area property trend where land has appreciated from 2017’s Sh700,000 an acre to about Sh2 million.

The downside is that residential buyers are hard to come by. 

Ms Josephine Gaita of June Land Brokers says interest has been restricted to buyers wanting to either invest in a hospital, a funeral home to compete, petrol stations or a medical training centre.

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Others are entertainment joints and complementary funeral services like selling coffins or leasing out hearses.

This has come with its challenges for area brokers since the minimum acreage for such businesses is higher, limiting the range of potential clients.

Property in the area is expected to keep on appreciating as it has been earmarked to host several government projects like the Great Northern bypass, Murang’a County Industrial Park, an airstrip and the proposed upgrading of Kenol/Sagana road to a dual carriageway.

Another key project in the area is the Vision 2030 producer groups market in the outskirts of Maragua town.

Francis Mbogo of New Generation Properties Consultants says area land pricing rates have grown fast - a percentage that is ending up in brokers’ pockets.

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He says a quarter of an acre of land that under normal circumstances would sell at Sh200,000 is being sold at between Sh1 and Sh2 million.

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Murang’a CountyThika Town