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Align house designs with the new realities

COMMENTARY
By Elvis Onchwari | December 10th 2020

Iconic Nairobi city towering buildings parliament towers, KICC, Times Tower from Upper hill on 23rd November 2020. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The Covid-19 lockdowns have revealed the downsides of unplanned real estate development. In March this year, footfall traffic to sites declined as investors avoided crowded areas due to the government's social distancing directives, which meant real estate developers had to engineer new ways of showcasing their properties.
 

Most rental residential and commercial properties have been designed in a manner that space is not a priority. For instance, some residents have had to move out of a house with unbalanced spaces such as a tiny kitchen, tiny mixed toilet and bathroom spaces but a huge living area or vice versa.
 

During a real estate exhibition I attended last year, one of the clients who paid a visit to our stand told us that most architects (mostly male) tend to design houses that ignore the importance of a spacious kitchen, one of the ‘therapeutic’ spaces for women who love to experience their culinary skills.
 

She said, “We need more women architects to design our homes so that they can balance the rooms accordingly. Men architects seem to design large living rooms with a big television screen for soccer in mind.
 

Quite unfair.” While the design of small spaces is relatively true in most estates, it must have been quite hard for residents who resorted to working from home this year, yet share tiny rental spaces not sufficient for daily online meetings and learning for their children. Most rental apartments also lack compounds and security for children to play.
 

Larger houses
 

As we embrace the new norm, it is evident that the real estate players will also have to embrace changes in architectural design in the post-Covid-19 era, where spacious homes and offices will be on high demand in a bid to reduce overcrowding and prevention of future waves of infection.
 

The work-from-home concept is expected to continue, which calls for most households converting their living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms or extra spaces into comfortable, quieter workspaces for all, including children studying online.

Perhaps the converted work areas will require prefabricated interior insulation that prevents external noise, more lighting and ventilation, creating a sustainable work environment. This means that open spaces will less likely be a consideration.
 

While the future is to have houses accommodating more functions, it is vital for real estate actors to consider construction of larger houses more than ever, as the widespread work from home becomes popular.
 

To adapt to the lockdown experience, real estate investors and homeowners now demand “live-work-play and invest” environment, commonly known as master-planned developments.
 

Lack of flexible spaces and efficient living environments is set to drive new demand towards master planned estates, away from congested house spaces.
 

Continuity Plan
 

Middle-income to high-income households have been buying real estate units in anticipation of capital appreciation in the future. Investment in residential homes provides a sense of security during calamities, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
 

On the other hand, some businesses may not adapt to the work from home concept as they are dependent on the outdoor offices, shops, factories and housing for their entrepreneurship infrastructure to thrive.
 

Business owners should consider re-modifying their spaces for social distancing to ensure the reduction of mass infections and change of employees’ work-in-shift. This not only protects the health of the staff but also guarantees the achievement of a Business Continuity Plan.
 

While the architectural design change of building and construction is inevitable post the Covid era, the real estate market in Kenya remains attractive to developers and investors throughout the pandemic.
 

Developers must therefore adapt and change the way they design property, with a health crisis in mind, in order to suit the needs of consumers in both residential and commercial development.
 

Being a long term development project, developers should focus on a highly attractive asset class for consumers in order to acquire good risk-adjusted returns.
 

While the sector was already under pressure pre-pandemic, Covid-19 has simply highlighted the resilience of many of its sub-sectors as well as its future opportunities.
 

So, do not be too quick to forego that spacious, master-planned real estate investment you have been thinking of. The pandemic uncertainty is a platform for future preparedness of a spacious working environment.

 

Mr Onchwari is the Brand and Digital Marketing Lead at Superior Homes Kenya

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