About 800 metres before you get to Nanyuki town, huge billboards advertising major brands compete for your attention along the highway.
And its no wonder. Situated on the edge of Nyeri, Meru and Laikipia counties, Nanyuki has emerged as a favourite spot for real estate development, tourism and trade, and is growing at a fast pace.
Its strategic position provides easy access to northern and central Kenya, making it an ideal destination for investors looking to put their money in residential and commercial property, holiday homes, hotels and adventure parks.
The upgrading of the Great North Road to a dual carriageway between Kenol and Marua, and the revival of the old metre-gauge railway line from Nairobi to Nanyuki is expected to further boost growth.
Real estate experts project that the rapid development of the town that hosts Laikipia County headquarters and its metropolitan nature could effectively steal the thunder from neighbouring Nyeri town, formerly the Central Provincial headquarters.
Abel Marite, a real estate developer, confirmed that there has been an influx of property investors from Nairobi and the neighbouring Nyeri, Meru, Isiolo and Nyandarua counties who are eyeing Nanyuki as a commercial hub.
“The town is experiencing an upsurge in construction as demand for business and residential premises has gone up,” said Mr Marite, the director of Marite Enterprises which manages a chunk of the property in Nanyuki.
He said the uptake of business space has increased rapidly compared to five years ago when devolution was just picking up.
“Business premises in Nanyuki are very expensive and people do not negotiate for the rents. We actually have a shortage in the town centre,” Marite told Home & Away.
The town’s proximity to Isiolo is also expected to spur further development as some investors opt to put up stores in Nanyuki and transport items to Isiolo for sale.
Marite, however, said office space is yet to record sufficient quality developments. His observations are in line with findings of a study by Cytonn Investments last year that showed the town’s office space sector was struggling.
Out of the property managed by Marite Enterprises in Nanyuki, only about five per cent is office space - about 20 buildings out of the 400 in the town.
“Most of our residential properties are let out at higher prices than office space,” said Marite.
Rooms go for as low as Sh4,500 per month, compared to Sh30,000 in Nairobi for a similar size.
Land prices in Nanyuki town are highly dependent on proximity to roads and the central business district, and as a result of high demand from developers, have risen as much as 10-fold in the last seven years, with a quarter acre going for Sh25 million compared to seven years ago when the same size was being sold at about Sh2.5 million.
An acre within the town is at an average price of up to Sh100 million, while on the outskirts it costs approximately Sh1.6 million.
Construction of high-end hotels, malls and lodges have partly led to the spike in land prices.
For instance, establishment of five-star Maiyan Hotel about three years ago saw land prices near Jua Kali area shoot up to Sh3 million for a half-acre from Sh150,000.
Another notable development in the town is Cedar Mall, which hosts giant business brands such as Chandarana FoodPlus, KFC and Java.
Most of the land in Nanyuki has previously been utilised as ranches but the market is now saturated with property agents selling plots.
Cytonn Investments observed that the plots recorded average annual sales of 45.8 per cent in 2019 due to growing demand for development land.
Francis Gitonga, a former chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Laikipia chapter, said there is a lot of bare land in Laikipia and this is where developers are moving to.
“The demand for development land is fueled by speculation for higher property value boosted by the opening of the Northern Corridor,” he told Home & Away.
Unscrupulous land brokers, he said, have also caused the spike in prices which has spilled over to house rents.
“There is vigorous marketing by brokers, and they are so many here. It is almost impossible to buy land without engaging brokers,” said Mr Gitonga.
The perceived high security in Nanyuki owing to the presence of a British Army Training Unit and Kenya Defence Forces barracks has also contributed to the increased property transactions.
“Nanyuki is cosmopolitan and this peaceful coexistence and political stability and security are key enablers for any investment,” said Gitonga.
With its eyes set on making the town more appealing and habitable for business, the county government has embarked on rehabilitating roads, drainage systems and pavements through an urbanisation programme, the Smart Town Initiative.
“We are looking at how to provide good and well-planned urban settings to do business. We are upgrading town plans to streamline further developments,” said Laikipia Governor Nderitu Muriithi.
The governor said they have a joint plan with Nyeri and Meru counties to enable growth of the town.
Nanyuki hosts key attractions, such as the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Mount Kenya National Park, Sweetwaters Game Sanctuaries and Ol Jogi Conservancy, making tourism one of the highest contributors to the county’s economy and promoting the country's hospitality sector.