Empty house and broken home

48

BY DAVID ONJILI

Maxwell Onyande won the American Green Card and successfully relocated with his family in April 2018. Before departure, he had been living in a gated compound in Katani area of Syokimau, Machakos County. A five bedroomed house he had constructed to his taste, going by prevailing market conditions; he set out to rent it and earn some income not to mention the pride of being in the enviable club of Nairobi’s landlords. He estimated about Sh70, 000 in monthly rent. Two years down the line, his house is vacant despite lowering the rent to Sh35, 000.

A radius of half a kilometre from where Onyande’s house is, are several houses completed by property developers fetching some Sh10 million for a four bed-roomed unit. The occupancy to date is not more than half despite having been on sale for over a year now. This scenario continues to replicate itself in many residential properties within Nairobi and its environs.

In Hurlingham area, high-rise office blocks are unoccupied, many others coming up. Real estate developers are putting up with a plateau in demand for their units. Yet, this is just but part of the problem; Kenyans who invested their hard earned cash in purchasing houses are suffering with nobody to turn to.

Emily Aminde has been separated from her husband of six years for a year now. Life was rosy for the human relations graduate and employee of a five star hotel in the city. Her husband, James worked for a bourse listed company and they were blessed with two daughters, four and two.

The couple, like many others, had been approached by a real estate company and sold the dream of owning a home. The idea that rent would be a bygone was such an attractive persuasion that James, Emily’s husband got mortgage from a commercial bank secured by his salary in the form of a monthly check off. For years, they seemed like the ideal couple, kids going to school and both working and living in the ideal address they had chosen until the rain started beating.

Soon, James’ employer moved operations to Egypt citing a harsh business operational environment in the country. First he could not honour his obligations with the bank to pay the mortgage and also keep up the lifestyle he had accustomed his family to. This brought about an unprecedented strain on his marriage, which sadly ended in a separation with the wife.

As a man, James’ pride was his family and they were the reason why he woke up each morning to go to work. The monthly mortgage repayments ate deep into his saving to a point he could no longer sustain it, it pains him that despite having paid more than half the amount to purchase the house he still has no full custody of the title deed and house. James painfully admits that he took to alcohol to drown his worries and this was the major cause of him separating from the wife who could not tolerate his bingeing.

Luckily, his church, situated along Mombasa Road came to his rescue through one of its pastors. James checked into a rehabilitation facility to mitigate on his over indulgence. It is six months now since he stopped drinking. He has even gotten a job in a warehouse along Mombasa Road. James has restored his relationship with his family and he admits that it gives him joy that his life is back on track because he wants to be a role model to his children. Despite being separated at the moment, their church has intervened and offer them counselling as they seek to re-unite the man to his family when ready.

James admits that many Kenyans have put a strain on themselves by going for mortgages to purchase houses and when they lose their jobs the situation is unbearable. He says that he would rather build a home in his upcountry county of Siaya than purchase one in Nairobi because the mortgage is very high. Renting seems a viable option to him going by the exorbitant prices the real estate property developers are charging on property.

Whereas there are many success stories of individuals who have owned houses, there are also very many whose relationships have really been strained. The stress in relationships due to money is a burden, which many families are going through in silence. Others have lost their hard earned money from unscrupulous proprietors like the Ekeza Sacco and Gakuyo Real Estate fiasco, where thieving members have siphoned hard earned Sacco savings.

Several Kenyans fell for the so-called property boom in the country. Those in the diaspora purchased property having been made to believe that rent income would be forthcoming. Years down the line, few have achieved that as they have vacant property and heavy bank loans that need servicing.

The many complete but empty houses in areas like Athi River, Kitengela and Syokimau, Rongai and Ngong paint the desolation many property developers contend with. With dwindling sales, they have been forced to cut down on staff to stay afloat. Sadly, none of them is being honest to the general public as more and more property developers come up with the same old pitch of owning houses to the ever-gullible population.

Malls have not been left behind; Nexgen, along Mombasa Road has never had its units filled more than three years since it was opened. Initial tenants admit that some of them have had their rents discounted just to make sure that they keep occupying. This is a scenario that is replicated with many shopping malls and even office buildings. A number of entrepreneurs are moving away from renting expensive office spaces to working online from the comfort of their residences. Property owners are, as such, finding it tough to justify their high office rents.

The observation in the property market is that it is time both the government and property developers honestly accessed the demand for houses. The market demand should inform the units and rent prices so that we do not have a glut of units that don’t match the demand. With rising cases of couples murdering one another, fighting and separating due to financial issues, purchase of property has been a contributing factor especially when they cannot afford to repay mortgages.