Young women break glass ceiling in property market


A report by Edenville says that 75 per cent of the units in its first phase of development were sold to Kenyan buyers in their 30s. Photo/COURTESY

Beth Wanjiru Muthui is a Kenyan woman who would easily fit the description of a modern woman.

An IT professional, she began her career in the banking industry aged 24, rose rapidly to become a manager and bought a three-bedroom villa on the outskirts of the city.

Among other things to celebrate, the house purchase is a step that has seen her join a growing class of young Kenyan professionals buying into properties that fit their dreams of a future family home through mortgage finance; and an investment to reposition them for a lifetime.

Recent figures from the Central Bank of Kenya and World Bank show that Kenya’s mortgage industry is now growing at an average 34 per cent a year, up by Sh42 billion between 2006 and mid this year.

But what the topline figures do not yet reveal is the way the banks’ increased appetite for lending and decreasing interest rates are leading to a changing trend in the profile of people seeking mortgages.

A report released by the house development firm that Beth bought into — Edenville in Kiambu — reveals that 75 per cent of the units in the first phase of development were sold within six months to Kenyan buyers in their 30s, with the youngest buyer aged just 25.

Of these, 10 of the villas, priced at 12.5 million each, were bought by women, with the initial investments currently appreciating in value by Sh1 million within the first 12 months.

For Beth, the purchase came as part of a clear investment strategy.

She bought the villa when she was still single, and not even engaged.

But her partner, she says, was supportive of her investment plan.

She admits men are still expected to provide financially in their homes; indeed, owning property can be seen as a deterrent to having a relationship, because ambitious women intimidate to some men.

But her partner encouraged her at every step, once she realised the investment potential of the project.

According to a Stanbic Investments report released in October, capital growth in Kenya’s property market over the last 10 years has been 183 per cent, or a near tripling in value, compared to growth of 125 per cent in the stock market.

When Beth found the project details of the gated Kiambu housing development, set 8.5 kilometres from the Muthaiga suburb, she had, within a span of two weeks, completed her research and established the development’s managers — Hass Consult and was ready to engage them.

She started the process of securing a villa in the first phase of the development, and a week later her initial down payment had been deposited.

When she saw the ground-breaking work, she felt like all her years of working finally made sense to her.

She mow had a tangible testament for her nine years in employment.

“It felt great, it was a moment of pride,” she says, sounding confident and fired to confront life by focusing on the ultimate prize — the right accommodation.

Her rise professionally has been rapid. She started out as an IT operator at CFC Bank.

Within a year, she had moved to the hire purchase department as a clerk, where she worked for two years. From this perch, she moved to Chase Bank as a credit officer.

There, she was quickly promoted to senior credit officer, and then assistant manager, and is currently the branch manager at the Riverside HQ branch.

Now married, Beth views the house as a complementary investment and plans to rent the villa out after furnishing it, to ensure the investment works for her.

She has also joined an investment club where the agenda is the real estate and buying stocks.

Her work as a professional banker is very involving, and she invests in ventures that do not require too many hours of input.

“I seek out investments on which I can do my independent research and take a position,” she explains.

But housing has always been key. At 25, Beth decided to rent a house along Riverside Drive, but observed her own rule of not spending more than 35 per cent of her net income on rent.

A good home and a good living environment, she says, make all the difference to outperforming at work and enjoying a good life.

Her formative years could have played a major role in shaping her thinking towards investment and taste for accommodation.

She grew up in a four-bedroom maisonette with its own small compound in Naivasha and always envisioned her dream home should have space to host her guests, ideally not less than quarter of an acre, of emerald grass, a white picket fence and a neat flower bed — a place where she can relax and empty her mind.

Middle class

It is a dream that many young professionals now share, and for those with several steady years of middle class employment under their belts, the mortgage industry is courting them.

Housing financiers remain reluctant to lend to people who have not worked for more than five years.

But with the average level of a Kenyan mortgage loan now running at some Sh6 million per loan, new finance still coming onto mortgage books, and a middle class that is now estimated to include more than three million Kenyans, the market is looking as yet barely opened.

And where Beth was one of the first 10 young women buyers at Edenville, many other young professional Kenyan women now look certain to follow.

African Laughter