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One-bedroom, studio apartments turn Kilimani into new Eastlands

Kilimani aerial view with modern apartments. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Kilimani and Eastlands areas in Nairobi County may be two worlds apart yet so similar in many housing units or upcoming structures.

The push by investors to fill the area (Kilimani) with studio apartments and one-bedroom houses resembles the same script that has seen parts of Eastlands dominated with bedsitters and one-bedrooms.

It appears that once these types of units land in your neighbourhood, the affluence or value of the estate or place starts diminishing – just like in the case of Kilimani.

A decade ago, a drive or stroll around Kilimani, Nairobi, would have been met with the stillness, green scenic beauty and breeze of fresh air that was synonymous with posh leafy suburbs.

The once detached and semi-detached homes with well-manicured lawns and canopy of trees sitting on quarter-acre plots have all been replaced.

Studio apartments, one, two, three and some four bedrooms are now the dominant housing units. So what jinx exactly do smaller housing units (studio and one-bedrooms) bring to an area causing it to be devalued?

Mr Abraham Samoei, Institution of Surveyors of Kenya (ISK) President, describes this phenomenon as dividing the cake many times.

In the case of Kilimani, as revealed in The Hass Property Index Report for the fourth quarter of 2021, the area recorded a 0.9 per cent drop over the quarter which was the third consecutive drop of the year.

On an annual basis, the suburb recorded a 1.1 per cent drop.

The index report noted that the new developments are high-density units which include studio apartments - a shift from the ample apartments and detached houses that characterised the area a decade ago.

"It is not clear if the present infrastructure will adequately cater for all the stock coming through,” said Ms Sakina Hassanali, Head of Development Consulting and Research at HassConsult.

Samoei said those dense developments put pressure on services and infrastructure.

For example, on transport services, the area will suddenly attract public service vehicles. Even if all those who move into the once posh area have personal cars, there will still be pressure on the available infrastructure.

“Previously, in a one-half acre, there was a single unit and maybe two vehicles leaving in a day. Then now, you have 100 residents. So even if say 70 per cent are driving you, see you have 70 vehicles this puts pressure on the infrastructure,” he said.

This scenario has been captured as well in The Hass Property Index Report which notes that prices of land in the area are cooling as investors ‘go slow’ due to uncertainty on whether the present infrastructure will support the new wave of developments.

Alex Moseti, a property consultant and valuer notes that the introduction of smaller units like the studio and one-bedroom apartments has made it easier for many who could not afford to live in Kilimani.

And as many people flock to the area, so has been the prices of property. “Four years ago, a three-bedroom house was going for around Sh22 million but currently you can get one at Sh15 million or even some cases Sh13 million. Sh13 million is the lowest I have heard,” he says.

He notes that previously, the market was overpriced. However, the introduction of the studio, one and two-bedroom apartments is a matter of demand and supply.

Kilimani aerial view. [David Gichuru, Standard]

“Before any investor does investment, there is something we call a feasibility study which is done to show best returns,” he says.

“When you look at three-bedroom currently, most of them are vacant even the two bedrooms. The reason is there is the decline in demand because the prices are a bit high.” Moseti explains that if the prices were about Sh40,000 or Sh50,000, then they would have been full.

“But because the prices are around Sh80,000 or Sh90,000 many people cannot afford yet everyone wants to be associated with high-class or high-end lifestyle,”  says Mr Moseti.

So in order to cater for individuals with these whims, investors are coming up with units that are easily affordable to this population. During the highs of its glory, the only smaller housing units in Kilimani were servants’ quarters. 

“That is why people end up bringing up the studio apartments which are affordable and are guaranteed of returns,” he says.

“Something else which I tend to think brought the rise of studio apartments is Airbnb. It is easier to convince someone to take an Airbnb in Kilimani for Sh5,000 a night which has the same status as a hotel,” says Moseti.

He says some of the investors are not building the unit necessarily as residential but targeting the Airbnb business.

A report by VAAL, a real estate company in Kilimani area published in August 2021 confirms this.

It indicates that serviced apartments outperform other themes due to their differentiated offerings of the hotel living concept.

“We anticipate the delivery of premium, branded serviced apartments in Kilimani with the entry of larger brands as well as the diversification of existing local hotel operators,” reads the report.

While this development is good for business, the social aspect of what makes areas like Kilimani posh wither away as soon as these units become operational.

For example, just like Eastlands, Kilimani has become the new haven for individuals running away from the law. The area pops up in the news more often for all the wrong reasons.

While Eastlands is known as the key hideout for criminals, Kilimani has the same reputation too. Mr Moseti however says the area even with the increasing population pressure and affordability is not likely to turn out as Eastlands.

“For Kilimani, the services are a bit high-end because you can see the roads are done. This is unlike neighbourhoods like the Pipeline area where the development came before the upgrading of the infrastructure,” he says.

“It is a completely different scenario,” he adds. The main problem with congestion he says is the social vices that come with the increased numbers.

These include insecurity, water shortages, sewer system failures because previously the infrastructure was not meant to support such a huge population.