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Investor Creating a Niche in Kenya’s Real Estate Sector

by Caroline Theuri

The real estate market has been hit. In a recent report by Cytonn, the investment manager reveals that performance in the rental sector declined marginally in the third quarter of 2019, with commercial and residential offices declining by 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent respectively.


But despite such drop in performance, one man sees a green light.  Daniel Ojijo, the owner of Homes Universal, has been running his real estate company with zeal, since he founded it immediately after graduating from Egerton University in the early 1990s, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and Mathematics.


“I got into the real estate sector with an intention to change the image of the industry. The sector had a bad reputation then, and I wanted to be among the people who could provide information about the industry. There was a need for experienced and professional real estate agents,” he says during the interview held at Kenya International Convention Centre (KICC) this October.


Seeing people live in good, affordable houses and experiencing modest lifestyle is at the heart of Ojijo- the very reason he’s been passionate about his business, growing one of the largest real estate companies for 25 years.


He started the company with a capital of less than Ksh50,000 from a single shop. Currently, the company has quite a number of projects in key Nairobi suburbs, including Lenana Gardens, Kitisuru Terraces and Malibu Courts. A project goes for Ksh1.6billion.


Homes Universal, Ojijo says, addresses the gap created by agents who had been providing homes such as rentals or for management. The company’s core focus is on the built in environment, which goes beyond stakeholders such as developers and contractors, to consider other players such as suppliers in the industry and manufacturers of kitchens.


The developer intends to offer real estate solutions, all under one roof. Hence, it opened other subsidiaries such as Villa Care, which offers real estate marketing and management.


It also founded Home Fixed, an engineering and construction company; Mentor Group, which does feasibility construction projects and Securities Expo, which focuses on security and integrated services. Homes Kenya, the firm’s real estate publication, which offers information on real estate issues across East and Central Africa, has been in operation for the last 15 year.


During the 25 years Ojijo has been in the industry, he says he’s witnessed quite a number of developments and challenges in the housing industry as well as the economy. Housing for instance, has been hampered by challenges such as bureaucracy and high construction costs.


It’s partly for this reasons that the Kenyan government came up with four economic pillars in 2017, dubbed the Big Four Agenda, which included affordable housing, to address such challenges.


According to Ojijo, the programme is key to solving most of the housing challenges present in the city. More than 40 percent of the Kenyan urban population lives in slums, in sparse areas that lack sanitation and proper security. The residents also lack disposable incomes with which to purchase houses.


While cities are expanding at a rate of 4.2 percent, Ojijo says, the current housing units haven’t been able to support the growing population. For investors and property developers, it remains a challenge in acquiring deeds as collateral for either purchasing or constructing property.


According to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business report, it takes 128 days to acquire a construction permit, but there’s still a gap that needs to be filled.


“Homes Universal is trying to address such challenges by sensitizing the public on them. Government should provide much more incentive such as alternative finances to the private sector. It needs to zero rate completely, develop taxes and duty for any developer for low cost housing,” he says.


Ojijo adds that if as a developer you are allowed to borrow credit at a rate of 13.5 percent that is too expensive to provide housing for the locals.


His company has partnered with other relevant organisations such as the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) and the Property Developers Association (KPDA). And it now looks to expand its services abroad, after creating its niche in the local market.


“I think that when the history will be written, real estate growth will be attributed to Homes Universal because we have promoted it through the expo, encouraging players to come in and show that the industry, indeed, has value. We have also been key in lobbying the government to recognise real estate as an important sector of the economy,” Ojijo says.


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