The Queens of Real Estate in Kenya
Sometime in 2007, human resource professional Mary Kinyua walked into a bank and took a mortgage to purchase her first house.
This year, she has just placed a deposit for yet another house she wants to buy.
“I am likely to sell the second home and perhaps use the proceeds to buy a more expensive one,” she says of the Sh5 million three-bedroom villa in Nairobi’s Ruai area.
Mary, a 30-something, represents an emerging group of female realtors who are silently shaping up the vibrant housing market in Kenya: a battle of the sexes over the big money homes business.
The terrain of home-ownership is changing; away from the brick and mortar investors of yesteryears whose signature items were an old pick-up truck, a V-shaped sweater, grey hair, a limp and a fat wallet.
“Women are more financially independent now, meaning they can make big investment decisions by themselves,” says Mary.
Real estate firm Hass Consult reckons that women’s involvement in the property market in Kenya, and indeed globally, has risen steadily since the late 1990s, around the turn of the millennium.
Incidentally, the period coincides with the best years for the local property market where average values have grown nearly four-fold, creating the biggest pool of new millionaires from the construction and home sales.
In development of new homes, women have emerged to add colour, cash and new architectural themes in the market.
Names such as Sue Muraya, Ingrid Munro, Consolata Gituto and Terry Mungai are featuring prominently in mega housing projects that are redefining the market space, while blazing the trail for tens of other upcoming realtors.
It is this quest for good returns that pulled Mrs Muraya from her first love - fashion - towards real estate.
Her company, Suraya Property Group, (she co-owns with her husband Peter) is a household brand in the Kenyan real estate market where the firm has developed residential estates with a combined value exceeding Sh100 billion.
Sue entered the market with a purpose: “I wanted to do homes differently in Kenya,” says Mrs Muraya whose firm entered property development in 2006 with the motivation to provide lifestyle living ‘irrespective of the budget’.
She expects her firm to seek new investment opportunities in different towns as the devolved government system takes shape beginning next year and with it presenting new demand for homes away from the city.
Already, the firm has completed four major residential projects, all targeting the upper income market segment while four other ongoing projects are aimed at meeting demand from middle income earners and young people starting out on the home ownership ladder.
With her background in fashion design, Mrs Muraya is naturally the ‘more people’ partner in Suraya compared to Peter- an architect, and is admittedly the face of the company in the public space.
Suraya is now developing a low-budget housing estate for sale along Mombasa Road dubbed Sucasa, consisting of bedsitters, one- and two-bedroom apartments targeting young home buyers.
“The project targets young guys, likely on their first job,” said Mrs Muraya of the bedsitters that are selling for Sh900,000.
And that is a market, perhaps different from that of Mary who anticipates that the mortgage loan she took in 2007 for her first home would be repaid within two years, allowing her to assume full ownership of the house she lives in.
Enters, Ingrid Munro. The founder of Jamii Bora microfinance organisation that has developed thousands of homes for the urban poor in a sprawling gated community in Kisaju area, Munro comes to the market from the social enterprise side.
Ms Munro, a Swede, started Jamii Bora microfinance around 1999 with a mandate to enable destitute families afford decent homes by embracing cheap building technologies and providing the prospective buyers with financing options through microloans.
You only need to see the mega housing scheme in Kajiado that Ms Munro has put her name on in order to appreciate her contribution.
Here she envisaged creating a self-contained municipality where the residents would live and work- amidst social amenities like schools, hospitals and churches.
Ms Munro projected that using the peer network model, Jamii Bora would turn out to be a lender offering micro-loans for individuals to start small businesses and would then have an income against which a mortgage facility would be extended.
Today, thanks to Ms Munro, more than 2,000 houses have been completed in the low -income neighbourhood where a three-bedroom unit was selling for Sh650,000, the cheapest in a market where comparable houses would be selling at more than Sh3 million.
While the project was built on a not-for-profit approach, the housing scheme has transformed the larger Isinya area, opening it up to new human resettlement.
The business model has, however, changed since the entry of strategic investors early last year, who brought in more funds to boost the operations of the microfinance institution- that has now become Jamii Bora Bank, while the new homes under development are available for sale to the public.
Women entrepreneurs are looking to leave a signature on the terrain.
“I wished to build homes that bear a reflection of my taste,” says Mrs Terry Mungai, an entrepreneur in the beauty industry and the owner of Ashleys Beauty Academy who has entered into the real estate industry.
Her first project, Temus Executive apartments in Nairobi’s Ruaka area, is her signature project. Here, a stone throw from Runda and Rossyln Estates, she wants to get the feel of what property development would be like especially after the runaway success of her husband, Joe Mungai, the managing director of Tamarind Properties.
“Building homes is another challenge I always wanted to accomplish” she tells us. Mrs Mungai is banking on the success of the first project to seek new business opportunities in the property market.
After selling of the 48-unit housing project is completed, Mrs Mungai says “Am not sure of the type of homes I will build next, but am certain I want to continue.”
The Sh85 billion worth Longonot Gate golf estate project is perhaps the single largest development owned by a woman, Consolata Gituto- whose partner is Lee Karuri- also an architect.
“We wanted to build a lifestyle development, out of the city where home owners can enjoy a countryside life with all urban amenities,” said Ms Gituto, at the launch of the mega project last month.
On property financing, Carol Kariuki- formerly an executive at KCB and now the owner of The Mortgage Company, has cut herself a niche in mortgage brokerage and home sales.
In a market where home loans from financial institutions are difficult to come by, Ms Kariuki’s firm is emerging as a key player in the mortgage business providing cheaper credit than any of the banking institutions.
“We are looking at packaging our own loans in the near future, perhaps next year,” says Mrs Kariuki, who was the managing director at S&L, before its merger with KCB.
Her company is currently selling loans on behalf of institutional investors such as insurance companies, who have access to long- term funding but do not have the channels to reach the prospective borrowers.
Farhanna Hassanali, the property development manager at Hass Consult, and her sister Sakina Hassanali- the marketing manager at the family-owned real estate firm have played a central role in the development of a housing index in the Kenyan market.
Though the index only covers a segment of the market, and does therefore not capture industry wide trends, stakeholders in the real estate sector have applauded their input in shedding some light on home pricing.