SECTIONS

Property merchants go online in search of borderless markets

By FREDRICK OBURA

Previously, many real estate firms in the country primarily made their property listing in newspapers. This is no longer the case, thanks to the growing currency of online shopping.

This trend itself has been aided by the spread of broadband connections, increased Internet speed and of course falling rates of accessing Internet.

Sites such as kcbpropertyguide.com, propertyzote.co.ke, propertyleo.co.ke, and property.co.ke are currently cashing in on online listing to capture the borderless market that Internet offers.

Launching its mortgage portal last week (kcbpropertyguide.com), the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) deputy Chief Executive Officer Mr Peter Munyi said they would be using the portal as a value added proposition to meet the needs of a fast growing local and regional market.

"In response to market demand, we are innovating and developing new products and services to support our local and regional property players," said Munyi.

Emphasising the need to take real estate into the digital space, Munyi said KCB would be developing the web portal to become the starting point for curious and avid consumers of mortgage news, services and trends.

The site would seek to provide up-to date information on the regional mortgage scene as well as offer a fast hand market to developers and consumers alike seeking to purchase or offload property.

"The big winners here are consumers who spend less time before making decisions. Traditional real estate brokers have been forced to rethink their marketing strategies," says Wanjiku Muiruri, the Managing Director of property.co.ke.

Muiruri says their site too is another success story. Currently, Web Solutions Ltd, the holding company for property.co.ke boasts of over 40 top Kenyan real estate firms with over 800 properties and over 1,000 units listed, making it another popular real estate site in the country.

"Once agents and individuals sign up on our website, they list property on their own in the administration section. Individuals who are not estate agents can also list property directly on to the website," she says.

"We don’t carry out aggressive marketing, not yet, we simply show agents our resume and they usually sign up, thanks largely to our referrals," she notes.

"Once someone lodges an inquiry with us, our registered real estate agencies are able to get mail inquiries directly into their web mails," Muiruri says.

THE UPSIDE

The copy of the mails helps in monitoring responses and follows up on payments by the real estate agencies.

What’s more, as a means to drum up business, these sites have looked to expand their features to include services such as mortgage calculators, advertising banners, real estate articles and news, currency converters, complimentary company directories as well as real estate website links.

"The stakes are high with the scramble for online shoppers," Muiruri says.

"We even have a monthly newsletter with over 21,000 subscribers, which contains the latest real estate news, topical issues, new property and so forth."

Internet advertising has no boundaries and it reaches a global audience or at least everyone with access to the Internet — approximately 1.4 billion people or a quarter of the global population.

"It’s less expensive than print media. Property Zote offers free listing for four months, followed by membership that costs a fraction of the cost of print media," says Mr Ferdinand Kaptich the founder of propertyzote.co.ke, a website with listed properties across East Africa.

An obvious advantage of Internet shopping is availability of the search tool, which basically allows browsers to search a specific listing like a house in Lang’ata, Nairobi, for between Sh3 million to Sh5 million. This literally narrows the searching, saves time and money.

"This latest development speaks to the new direction that we foresee for our mortgage business that is an even 50-50 split between developers and retail markets," says Caroline Kariuki, KCB Mortgages Divisional director.

As the Kenyan economy improves, the mortgage market is projected to maintain an annual growth of between 30 and 40 per cent.

Currently, the country has the third largest market in Sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa and Namibia, accounting for 2.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

Ms Kariuki says KCB had introduced the foreign exchange loan for both building and purchase of ready built units and commercial properties.

The product is aimed at meeting the needs of the Diaspora market, which remitted an all-time $519 million last year.

The dollar-denominated loan attracts rates of seven per cent compared to local currency loans. This advantage, coupled with online listing, is set to see an increasing number of people in the Diaspora spending more on properties.

"With foreign remittances playing a big role in the Kenyan economy, we are committed to providing even more investment vehicles to meet all available needs of market even for those Kenyans working and living abroad," she said.