Being stuck in a posh maisonette or bungalow whose rent you can no longer afford in the prime city suburbs of Nairobi can as well open new frontiers. These include the wish to own a home.
But, must you live within the city? If you wield power and clout, you may, for the sake of ego, or proximity to some of the big offices that you probably need to constantly access.
But when pandemics such as Covid-19 strike, eyes dart to locations outside the city. The substitutes become the priority.
The many recent tussles between landlords and tenants where the latter are unable to honour their rent obligations have prompted some tenants to relegate selves to locations they can afford.
And for that hefty rent you pay in that three-bedroom apartment in a prime city estate, how many months’ rent could it take you to buy land for example along Kangundo Road or Kiserian and build your own house?
Lilian Mbugua, an actuary who bought land and recently built a bungalow in Ruiru, has no regrets. She might not have afforded land nearer the central business district (CBD) for the same price.
“Everyone wants to settle near the city as possible. But the prices are very high. At Allsopps (Thika Road), it could be impossible to acquire land for the same price,” she says.
Factors she considered when buying land included the potential of the place to develop and restrictions in the area for land buyers building high-rises, where such plans are not approved.
Ruiru is every potential property owner’s dream. Its infrastructure and proximity to Nairobi CBD make it attractive. The town is also home to over 60 major industries, companies, godowns, and a number of higher learning institutions.
Kitengela, Wangige, Kiserian, Ruai, Ruiru and Banana are in the outskirts but offer easy access to the CBD. This has seen them attract high number of buyers.
It is increasingly dawning on people that buying prime property near the city, or renting one, as many do, is barely viable. As such, a lot of people are opting to settle far away from the metropolis, even when they work in the city.
Perhaps, driven to the edge by ravages of Covid-19, tenants can finally appreciate what Prof George King’oriah, a University of Nairobi lecturer, has consistently spoken of - prices of real property in Nairobi are exaggerated.
Prof King’oriah has faulted the pricing of properties in the city.
Speaking to Home & Away, he said most estate agents utilise crude surrogates, such as auction market results, to indicate the price of land and related property.
“Nairobi people are so greedy that land prices will not respond to the market. This necessitates a ratchet effect, such that if the rent were to go up and there was calamity such as corona, while you expect rent to subsequently go down, they do not. They remain high.”
Prof King’oriah wonders how, even with a glut of office spaces, the rents are yet to take a noticeable reduction.
“The rent being charged maybe four times what was being charged four years ago when there was a dearth of offices in Nairobi. But now, there are some offices that are unoccupied. But you cannot touch them because the price is exorbitant,” he says.
“It is good to buy land where you can get value for your money. This is why people are going to Ruai and Tala, for example. The land prices in Nairobi are impossible. And they will not come down.”
With Covid-19 pushing people to their own houses, coupled with jobless and pay cuts, expenditure on rent has been one of the most dreaded costs.
In such tough times when nutritional foods such as milk are recording lower sales as households term them luxuries, there is every desire for tenants to vacate to places they can get better deals.
And for most, that would mean getting out of town.
Speaking to Home & Away, recently, Urban Tenants Association of Kenya Secretary General Ephraim Murigo urged landlords to face reality that “it is not business as usual”. “The going is tough and as everyone is being called upon to belt up, landlords are not exempt,” he noted.
Mr Murigo said the strife on rental yields is premised on the closure of most economic avenues that earn tenants some income.
The closure of major businesses and firms, he noted, has driven many workers into temporary poverty.
Exiting prime city rentals is an inevitability. But Cytonn Chief Executive Edwin Dande doesn't concur.
“Covid-19 is like a detour from a highway that has unexpectedly collapsed. It takes people off the highway for a period. It interferes with their short-term plans for the duration of the pandemic, but in the medium to long term, it is nothing more than a blip.”
The Kamulu based real estate company Denver Group Director Kennedy Murimi opines that more people are opting for areas outside major towns owing to low property prices.
“The opportunity for greater acreage, more space to build custom homes to one’s specifications and of course the tranquillity and million-dollar views,” says Murimi.
"Technological advances have also made city outskirts very attractive; the joy of working from home compared to the nightmare of traffic jams, a bit of country living with benefits of a small-town environment and a bonus of amenities like good schools and shopping areas."
“The trend to buy land for building in the prime satellite towns, influenced by the attractiveness of the suburbs is likely to grow. The pandemic has even pushed investors in that direction. The need for isolation and privacy been key aspects.”
Kagundo Road in Machakos County is their latest frontier. “The once sleepy towns of Ruai, Malaa, Koma Hill, and Joska have roared to life and will keep roaring for a while,” says Murimi.
The three greatest factors to consider, he noted are accessibility, amenities, and cost.
Accessibility is everything. The road network has to be good; both the access roads and the main road. It’s either the infrastructure is already in place or is already in the process of being upgraded.
Amenities make a place habitable. From schools to medical centres, to leading banks and retail stores, and not forgetting police stations to ensure security is covered.
“Cost is another element to consider. Land outside Nairobi can be both cheap and expensive. The closer the proximity to the CBD, the higher the price. Proximity from major landmarks also drives up the price. Land for sale in Uperhill, for example, is costlier than Kagundo Road.
The cost can also be affected by utility costs such as water wells, sewer systems, and electrical connections if they aren’t already in place. It’s also important to determine if the home site you are considering purchasing is in a flood plain.
"Engaging a surveyor is an additional cost. Convenience costs should also be factored in; how easy is it finding skilled craftsmen to travel to your location and transporting building materials?” intones Murimi.
Coming off a tempestuous Covid-19 moment, a lot of landlords will be looking to offer good deals to tenants to attract them.
Institution of Surveyors of Kenya President Abraham Samoei says new clients might enjoy rental concessions.
These are compromises landlords make to the original rent terms in the hope of finding tenants quickly.
It remains unlikely, however, that a lot of tenants will continue fancying living in the city at the expense of acquiring property outside where they can acquire land cheaply and build for less money.
Covid-19 has inadvertently reminded people of the need of having personal property where no one can harass them.
“Rent-free agreements could be reached with headline rents to follow. But the landlords have to be careful not to disrupt other contracts because such agreements could (lead to) older tenants asking for discounts, which the landlords may not afford,” says Mr Samoei.
People running from crowds and noise in the city find reprieve in the settlements that are tucked off the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.
In some of these places, there are no risks that a skyscraper might come up next to your house and impede your privacy.
“There are development control companies that have to approve plans for construction. They do not approve the construction of high-rise buildings in the estate. People buying plots here in pursuit of serenity will always have their privacy and serenity,” says Lilian.