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House hunting apps giving agents a run for their money

REAL ESTATE
By Graham Kajilwa | September 16th 2021

Searching for a house in Nairobi can be a daunting task.

While it is supposed to be an adventurous and exciting exercise, especially if one is finally getting out of their parents’ nest, it can turn out to be a nightmare - not only emotionally, but also financially draining.

One even runs the risk of being conned when a simple request to view a house turns into a relay, where you part with a small fee before you reach the real landlord of the property.

You become a reluctant tourist as agents and caretakers take you round in circles, passing you from one contact to another as they give you directions to the house.

When you finally get to the house, the shocking news is: “Someone has paid for the house just right now, but I have more units down there I can show you.”

But you are broke and tired so you just head back to ‘Egypt’.

Such challenges are the reasons why some tech companies like xPodd.com have designed apps to ease the searches, taking competition to real estate agents.

“It has to be understood that we are not here to replace real estate agents. They have their role and we have ours,” says xPodd chief operating officer Nekoye Inzaule.

Other platforms in the market include jiji.co.ke, Jumia.co.ke, Keja hunt, Nyumbani, property24.co.ke and buyrentkenya.com.

There are also well-established property firms such as Optiven, Villa Care, Hass Consult, Azizi Realtors, Knight Frank Kenya, Dunhill Consulting, Fanaka Real Estate and Lloyd Masika that usually advertise their houses for sale and rent to prospective clients.

Unlike the traditional agent, xPodd connects tenants directly to landlords whose houses match the prospective tenant’s specifications for a small fee.

“Our services are real time. There is nothing like the house was paid for yesterday, what you see on our platform is available,” says Ms Inzaule, whose company has had about 19,000 client engagements so far.

Each online platform seeks to be as unique as possible. For example, xPodd, Inzaule says, reduces the noise in the internet for house or space hunting.

It also gives tenants a chance to be as detailed as possible on what they want and where they want the space.

“Our system can filter. For example, if you put all the details and say ‘it must be ground floor’, we are able to provide (a house) on ground floor,” Inzaule says.

“Our job is to make sure we get you at least three units that fit your requirement. If there are less than three, we will call you and say we have two or at times just one.”

Sammy Mwirotsi, a software developer at rental property management system Nyumbani, says such platforms while being seen as competition by real estate agents have helped to streamline the sector.

Nyumbani provides real-time reconciliation of rent receipts.

“There are tenants who pay less than the required amount on mobile money then they edit the message before forwarding it (to the agent or landlord), so we corrected that issue by providing a real time reconciliation tool,” says Mr Mwirotsi.

He adds that the platform will expand its scope to list all houses in their system for free to ensure transparency as there are numerous fraudsters out to swindle house hunters.

Inzaule says xPodd advises clients not to pay when they make their order to ensure trust in the system.

“When you make the order, you do not pay. At that point when you are ready to post, you will be told how much you pay once your requirements are matched with the available property,” she says.

“Charges are between Sh300 and Sh2,500 and you have the option of paying before submitting your details or once you are matched. This fee is refundable.”

Once you are matched, photos of the houses with their respective GPS location will be shared alongside contact of the respective landlords and another number from an official from xPodd who will be available to accompany you when you meet for complete the deal.

“If somehow you are not able to get what we promised you, we do 100 per cent refund.”

Maurice Ochieng, owner of real estate firm Property & Discounts Ltd, says the online platforms are the future of the business, but insists that people should do due diligence when transacting.  

“What this technology has done is shorten the time when you do due diligence,” he said.

While the apps give information, verification is still needed. 

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