When Abdulahi Dahir, a real estate developer, tried to purchase a parcel of land next to Katani Road in Syokimau, Machakos County recently, the seller declined his offer at the eleventh hour.
Reason? The government, through the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA), is tarmacking the 10-kilometre Katani Road and landowners are looking forward to higher prices. Large tractors and earthmovers can be seen parked on the roadside, with the drivers sleeping in or talking by the side of the machines.
“An eighth of an acre goes for between Sh2.5 million and Sh3.5 million, but people next to Katani are holding out,” Dahir, the developer of Nairobi’s Imara Gardens housing project, said. “They know the plots will fetch more when the road is completed.”
He was speaking from the balcony of one of the 34 five-bedroom maisonettes at Mavoko Park he started building in late February on a five-acre plot with the aim to sell. Overlooking Community Road, we could see the imposing St Veronica Catholic Church located in Syokimau inside Mt Sinai Primary School.
Down the road, the Stima Village consisting of 76 town houses by Stima Investment Cooperative Society Limited sits. Beyond, Elite School dot the location.
Anthony Kioko, a salesman sat on a plastic chair next to Katani Road and looked bored. On a desk in front of him, a pile of brochures and a book were the only items.
He lit up when we stopped. He came over and did his best to interest us in plots his firm was selling. We asked for the brochures. Instead of Sh2 million for a 50 by 100 plot, the price had been slashed with a biro pen, with Sh3.5 million scribbled next to the previous price.
“Why has the price changed?” I asked.
“That was two weeks ago. If you do not buy now, the price will be Sh5 million by August,” Kioko casually said. “This whole place was a bush a few years ago. Wakati ni sasa (The time is now).”
More and more buildings, both stand-alone houses and maisonettes and flats, are coming up in Syokimau. Lorries ferrying sand, bricks, concrete and piles of wood can be seen crisscrossing the murram roads that last week were full of portholes filled with rain water.
The area beyond Syokimau is a quarry that supplies stones to the area and beyond.
“The roads are a big mess when it rains,” said Humphrey Odhiambo, the current chairman of Syokimau Residents Association (SRA). “It is just recently that KURA started constructing Katani Road. As residents, we have realised we can go ahead and raise funds among the ourselves to level most of the murram roads because waiting for KURA, or even the County Government of Machakos to maintain the roads can sometimes be frustrating.”
Odhiambo explained that SRA has achieved so much for the residents, a far cry from the days when he moved to Syokimau, a place named after the great Kamba prophetess and healer. She prophesised the coming of the white people to Kenya.
“I have been here since 2011 and one of the biggest achievements of the association is building connectivity among the residents. Initially, people were aloof and they only cared about the four beacons of their properties. We managed to raise the membership of SRA and as much as there are individuals who are not members, I can say we have generally got a majority of the residents on board,” he said.
Alex Muema of Ndatani Enterprises Company Limited, a land buying company, says the new tarmac road by KURA will make the place accessible and increase the pace of real estate development in the area. He says improved security in the area will be a plus for most developers.
“Building materials are also available from nearby quarries while cement and roofing materials are available at Athi River and Mlolongo, respectively,” Muema said, adding that a 50 by 100 plot in the areas a bit further from Mombasa Road used to fetch between Sh300,000 and Sh500,000 five years ago, but now fetch up to Sh2.5 million.
“Land is still affordable here, unlike other places like Ruaka,” Muema, who has sold land in Syokimau for over 20 years, said.
Syokimau has had its fair share of controversies. In late 2011, bulldozers demolished tens of houses in the area, on a plot that the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) claimed was theirs. The demolitions started at Kyang’ombe slums, an area designated as a flight path.
The demolitions were opposed by the residents and even the defunct Mavoko Municipal Council, who claimed the acquisition of the land and subsequent development was above board.
“It was a frustrating period for many homeowners and developers who watched helplessly as their palatial homes were being pulled down by the bulldozers.
The company which sold the land to the residents is still in court. The area, said to be a flight path, has since been fenced off,” said Odhiambo, adding that most of the affected residents relocated to other places while others embarked on constructions on their other plots in Syokimau.
Dahir, while taking us through a tour of his latest project, which will cost about Sh1 billion when completed, explained that most developers are eyeing the burgeoning middle-class who can spend a few millions on quality housing.
“Syokimau is attracting the right kind of investment for both developers and home seekers because of the location and the possibilities this place offers. There are good schools around and various churches and malls are in the pipeline. The association is also on top of things, it is working round the clock. As for our project, we expect the asking price of Sh13 million for five-bedroom houses to have gone up by mid-next year. The demand will be highest when the roads are tarmacked,” said Dahir, whose project is expected to be completed by June next year.
A quick online search shows that two-bedroom apartments in the area go for about Sh3 million. Four-bedroom maisonettes go for between Sh12 million and Sh17 million.
With access to Mombasa Road, the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the area is fast becoming the ‘it’ place for families, airport and airline personnel and people working along Mombasa Road.
Syokimau also prophesised the coming of the train, not the one from Syokimau to the Central Business District, though.
Since November 2012, the residents of Syokimau and its environs have been serviced by trains operating from the Syokimau Metro Station. Vehicles can be seen parked inside the station, with some of the residents preferring the train to the unpredictable Mombasa Road traffic.
But in all the positivity Syokimau is eliciting, one challenge is proving hard to tackle: insecurity. A number of houses have been broken into, with stand-alone houses the main target.
“We have realised most of the criminal elements are actually the masons, artisans and plumbers who work on a house then later come back to rob the occupants. We are trying to pre-list all the artisans and plumbers that work here so that we can have a catalogue of only trusted fellow,” said Odhiambo. “Another plan is to work with willing corporate bodies to light up the whole area.”
The area also lacks connectivity to fresh water, with many developers sinking boreholes to supply water to their projects. Plans by the association to have Mavoko Water and Sewerage Company Limited (Mavwasco) set up pipes for fresh water are underway.
“There are a few teething problems like bad roads and water problems. But it’s better to buy now when the plots are still cheap. It will not be long before property prices in this place get out of reach for most people,” said Kioko.