Homeowners rush for city skyline view, pay sh2m more


Apartments with a 360-degree view of Nairobi and its environs are in vogue, and people are willing to pay extra for a skyline view.

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On a Saturday morning in Nairobi's Kilimani estate, tens of people walk in for a house show. It is a 17-floor residential property in its completion stages. Shockingly, almost all the apartments from the 10th to 17th floor are sold out.

Between 11am and 1pm, two of the remaining top-most floor apartments are sold; one to a cash buyer who coughed out Sh7.2 million for a tiny one-bedroom with a relatively small kitchen and bathroom.

The selling point? From the relatively small apartments, one gets the Nairobi skyline views and Ngong Hills.

The other one was booked after the buyer paid a 30 percent deposit on a bigger one-bedroom apartment on the 16th floor, also with Ngong Hills views from Kilimani. The apartment was on sale for Sh11.6 million.

Building upwards has been regarded as the answer to Kenya’s housing problems, but critics argue that they will quickly turn into symbols of poor planning, inequality and urban blight, signalling that their demand may not be as high.

However, even as Nairobi experiments with high-rise living— this time the appetite is there and the market is a very different demographic.

Boris Yieltsine Abuya, the CEO of Realty Boris, a real estate agent in Nairobi, says apartments with a 360-degree view of Nairobi and its environs, are in vogue, and people are willing to pay extra for a skyline view.

“Whether they [buyers] purchase the houses to settle or for investments, clients have been showing an affinity for property on higher floors. It is important to realise that apartment living especially in cities, is no longer basic. Buyers want to incorporate such things as scenic views into their daily experiences. And where better to do that than from the comfort of their homes?” Mr Abuya says.

Boris Yieltsine Abuya, the CEO of Realty Boris.

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For such people, he adds, then, apartments on the first floor would deny them that experience from say, their balconies or rooms. Natural lighting tends to be better as one goes up as well.

“This is almost always the first consideration many clients have,” he notes.

This is not just a Nairobi phenomenon. In Mombasa, where Mwenda Thuranira—My Space Property chief executive has sold properties for two decades, the experience is the same, especially in apartments with an ocean view. Buyers and those renting want spaces that promise a full view of the waters.

“When planning for the developments, we have this in mind. This is our biggest value sell. Beyond spending money and owning a property, homeowners want value that speaks to their interest in nature and planetary features. We sell that to a buyer on top of selling the property,” says Mr Thuranira.

MySpace Properties CEO Mwenda Thuranira.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The views, however, come at an extra cost, as he explains, “For our properties in Mombasa, we add sometimes Sh2 million. Prestige is costly. This is an unwritten rule in the property market. If we are selling a property on the first floor for, say, Sh10 million, five or more floors up would be between Sh13 million and Sh15 million, and for the extra prestige these properties come with, buyers are willing to pay extra,” says Mr Thuranira.

This is true even though the floor space and amenities remain the same across floors.

“Our apartments on the first floor sell last,” he adds.

Does this then pose a challenge to developers in terms of the purchase and occupancy of lower-floor properties? “Yes!” says Stella Njeru of Metastellar Properties. “For example, in Westlands, we are developing 60 units whose penthouses are all sold out, and even after making it public that we have none remaining, we still have buyers making inquiries," she says.

Some property owners have been forced to add additional floors to meet the demand.

Another off-plan project on Nairobi's Riverside Drive, the one-bedroom houses going for Sh15 million, are almost sold out, yet the construction has not even started.

"It is a mad rush that is pushing developers to keep up with the demand. This also means that we sell at lower prices the apartments that are not in high demand,” Ms Njeru says.

A majority of homeowners are buying the apartments to rent for short-stay accommodation. A growing number of Kenyan investors are now eyeing the Airbnb space as they buy studio and one-bedroom apartments in areas such as Kilimani and Westlands to rent out. Near-the-cloud apartments also offer privacy because there is limited access to the apartment and no one can peep from above.

For those buying the houses to live in them, Ms Njeru says, “The buyers are in their 30s and 40s, and they target higher floors because of where they are in life. They are not looking at settling—at least not in the moment—they want to experience their youth. Older buyers tend to go for those on lower floors,” says Ms Njeru.

Beyond views, there are reasons behind this high-rise living trend. “Insects cannot fly above five floors. If you were in Kenya during the locust invasion, you know that this would be a factor to consider when thinking about property,” Mr Thuranira adds.

What then is the industry forecast concerning this, is this a bubble that will be pricked soon? The three real estate experts seem to agree on one thing, the demand for these apartments will keep growing. Land costs mean providing affordable housing in the centre of the city is difficult; hence, the best pick in a high-rise building is the topmost floor.

“With cities’ authorities now allowing for the development of high-rise buildings even in places previously zoned for other styled developments, we will see more and more of this rush, and with the clients expanding their living experience to include the mentioned things, it is upon us as developers to meet their needs,” Mr Thuranira says.

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