Standing at one end of the lakeside city of Kisumu, luxurious homes dot Riat Hills which is just over five kilometres from the central business district (CBD). The unique architectural designs and well-manicured fences that surround the houses provide a perfect place for a dream home.
On a closer look, however, most of the magnificent homes display elegance in decay as a number of homeowners have left their multi-million shillings structures unoccupied for most parts of the year as they reside out of town.
Abandoned mansions, some unfinished, are common in several cities where well-off Kenyans prefer to have second or third homes and only inhabit them when they pop in once in a while.
Unfortunately, when they remain deserted, elegantly constructed architecture plays host to insects, dust, and overgrown grass as the structures fall apart.
However, others opt to pay workers to manage them, a cost that does not come cheap. Eddy Anayo, for instance, who owns a house at Riat Hills said he has employed a caretaker to maintain the premium value of his Sh15 million investment.
He intends to sell the four-bedroom house which has a swimming pool, a solar-panel roof, a garage and a domestic servants quarter ‘‘once prices shoot up’’.
“I have another home where I live with my family and once in a while I use this house for social events like family get-togethers, birthdays and anniversaries,” he said.
“During these events, I get the opportunity to market my property among friends and even family members who can connect me to potential buyers.”
Mr Anayo’s house is located metres away other expensive homes sitting on large tracts of land owned by the wealthy in Kisumu including the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Other affluent neighbourhoods in Kisumu have houses owned by politicians such as former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, Oburu Oginga, Jakoyo Midiwo and Raphael Tuju.
Most of these wealthy Kenyans own other homes in Runda, Karen and other upmarket estates in Nairobi and they travel upcountry once after every two months or sometimes they just spend a few hours before leaving.
At Dunga Beach, one cannot fail to notice Charles Omolo’s beautiful house. The 47-year-old real estate entrepreneur who lives in Nairobi said the house cost him about Sh30 million.
“I chose to build at this site due to its proximity to the lake which provides a natural hideaway to relax after months of hectic city life,” he said, adding that when he brings his family, he prefers to have a private affair and even comes with a personal chef to prepare their favourite meals.
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The house has two swimming pools, a jacuzzi and a spacious playground and he has hired two workers to take care of it while he is away.
Several other homes at the serene neighbourhoods near the lake are owned by Kenyans in the diaspora who occasionally utilise the facilities when and if they visit the country.
Some leave their beautiful mansions desolate for years and have them spruced up when they come back for a short stay.
Controversial televangelist Gilbert Deya’s fancy bungalow in Asembo is, perhaps, the most outstanding structures along the Bondo-Owimbi Road.
The house has two large living rooms, a gym, two dining rooms and matching number of kitchens, a master bedroom and four other ordinary bedrooms.
Despite staying in the UK without visiting Kenya for over 10 years, Mr Deya has employed farmhands to take care of his rural home which is estimated to cost millions of shillings.
However, Lucy Githire of Edelweiss Realtors said owners should not abandon such homes but cash in the growing demand from tourists.
‘‘Kisumu is tourist destination, therefore these mansions can be listed on Airbnb to attract even foreign travellers,’’ she said, adding that some homeowners in Runda are doing the same and are subdividing six-bedroom houses to accommodate many renters who share common spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms.
Airbnb, an online marketplace and hospitality service which enables people to lease or rent short-stay lodging, is gaining popularity in Mombasa, Malindi and Kilifi.
A number of homeowners have turned their mansions into vacation rentals and reaping big especially during peak tourism seasons.
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