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‘The diaspora is still an untapped market’

By Mwaghesha Mkala | July 7th 2016
Faith Mwaura

FAITH MWAURA, the marketing director and franchise owner of Re/max Heritage Kenya, a real estate firm that deals in consultancy, property investments, valuation and property management, talks to MKALA MWAGHESHA about the diaspora market and the Re/max upcoming expo in Canada

Give us a brief background of Re/max Heritage Kenya in relation to Re/max Global?

Re/max works under a franchise model. Any person can run an independent Re/max office once they buy the franchise rights from the parent company based in the United States that has been in existence for 45 years.

Re/max Heritage Kenya started in June 2014.

You are planning a diaspora expo in late September in Canada, after another expo that took place in Australia. How important is the diaspora market to your firm?

The diaspora is still an untapped market. Unlike Kenyans living in the US and Britain who are knowledgeable about the local real estate market, markets like Canada and Australia are still untapped. The expo in Australia in March was our first foray into that market, and we liked the response we got. We are scheduled to do one in Toronto and Ottawa simultaneously from September 22 to October 3.

What has been the response so far and what kind of investors are you targeting?

We liaise with the Foreign Affairs ministry through the Kenyan consulate in these countries so that we get as many Kenyans as possible. These people are also hungry for investments. Most of the Kenyans living in these countries are professionals; they have the purchasing power and are looking for long-term investments. We are also looking at students most of whom work part-time. They can afford plots going for Sh400,000 and above.

The Central Bank of Kenya reported that remittances in 2015 rose 8.4 per cent to a record $1.54 billion (Sh154 billion). The report indicated that money is mostly sent to family members to invest in government securities and real estate. Is this part of the monies you are targeting?

Yes, and that is only what the CBK can account for. There is a possibility that remittances not accounted for are the same figure, or even more.

Because of rogue agents and unreliable family members, more and more people in the diaspora are looking into working with reputable firms with better portfolios to invest for them. In the Kenyan delegation we send to these expos, we have insurance companies, land agents, some with ready title deeds, property developers and investment agents.

In the two years you have run Re/max, and the years you have spent as a local entrepreneur, what is the biggest challenge that makes your head spin in frustration?

Lack of data and reliable information. There is no information sharing in the industry when it comes to knowing the value of land or trends in a certain area. Most people are selling land on emotional basis and agents are hiking prices to get big commission.

We need reliable, consistent and up-to-date statistics from government agencies. There is a need to regulate agents and I hope the Estate Agents Registration Board can address this challenge.

Other than the untapped diaspora market, what other facets of real estate are set to trend in the coming few years?

Low-cost housing. Not many Kenyans can afford the Sh20 million to Sh50 million houses on the market, and those who can have already bought. Twenty thousand mortgages in a country of about 45 million is a sign that mortgages is not the solution to home ownership. Most developers will shift to the Sh2 million to Sh4 million housing market. With new technology, these developers will be able to build and get return of investment.

Besides spending much of your time growing your company and scouting for possible investment avenues, who is Faith and what does she do outside the office?

I am a BCom graduate from Daystar University, Class of 2007. I have also done environment impact assessment training. I would say I am an entrepreneur. Apart from the time I was in university, I have always been in one business or another. I am married and a mother of two boys. I like travelling, attending live music concerts and I just started playing golf. It’s something I see myself enjoying.

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