Insecurity nightmare dims the homeownership dreamTuesday March 14 2023
Imagine sweating yourself out for several years, saving and doing all that you can so that you can build your family a nice home and escape the yoke of monthly rent, then having those dreams quashed by insecurity after putting up a unit and moving in.
Realtors say the ghost of insecurity is creeping back into several neighbourhoods and is wreaking havoc on single-dwelling unit owners, sending the would-be homeowners back to renting.
For those lucky enough, a working neighbourhood watch has proved to be a great deterrence although one must be home early and safely tucked in.
Take the example of Mary Wangui, a widower who was forced to move into her incomplete house in New Valley in Kitengela, on the outskirts of Nairobi.
“I had a sick child, finances were tight and to save on rent, I decided to move to my own unit which I had not completed. I had no perimeter wall, no gate,” she says.
“Several times, break-in attempts were made with my only refuge being to switch off the lights so that the attackers did not know where in the house I was.”
Fortunately for Ms Wangui, the neighbours came to her rescue in time, blocking an access road to the area cutting off any entry or exit. The neighbours also employed security and a security response protocol in the event of any alarm.
Ms Wangui eventually completed her house and built a perimeter wall and put other security features in place.
Another resident of the Lakewood area in Kitengela who did not want to be named as it is ‘shameful to complain after moving to your own house said it is not just insecurity that is an issue.
Other concerns she pointed out include having to buy spare parts every now and then for their car due to bad roads, lack of electricity and water connections to their home.
The cost of staying in her own unit, she says, is higher than living in an apartment in a more developed area and she is already searching for an apartment to rent.
Speaking to property agents and homeowners, many say they have been forced to leave their houses in a rush and move back to renting apartments or living in gated communities where security is assured because of the large number of residents.
The development has either meant that their units end up being dead capital until the security situation improves or a source of meagre rental income at best when they rent them out to tenants who often pay well below market rates.
This is especially true in some parts of Rongai, Ngong and Rangau in Kajiado. Some areas of Utawala have also been singled out. In areas such as Lukenya, theft of iron gates for sale to scrap metal dealers is now rampant.
The dream of owning a home is shattered especially if one is forced to sell and never return because of the trauma of insecurity and even rape or death.
Property agents say this is especially true in some locations in Kiambu and other parts of central Kenya.
Real estate agents say that a combination of the prevailing harsh economic environment in the last couple of years, the ease of working from home as fast-tracked by the advent of Covid-19, and technology has witnessed a surge of individuals moving from rentals to their own homes.
But this has come with its share of challenges, especially on the security front.
Michael Otieno, a property agent, and a homeowner reckons that among the key considerations when one is moving to their own property, is security.
“Everyone freaks out at the thought of any danger to their family, especially children,” said Mr Otieno.
“Security installations is a major expense for those living in their own homes in neighbourhoods which are not gated communities.”
The resurgent trends in crime are reminiscent of what used to happen to neighbourhoods such as Kabete, Kinoo, Rongai, Kitengela, Muthaiga and Kikuyu from around 2000 to almost a decade later when crime reversed homeownership expansion to the outskirts of the city picked up.
Such neighbourhoods attracted no tenants and the rent charged was at a throwaway price.
Back then, a whole four-bedroom unit on its own compound attracted as little as Sh5,000 compared to market prices of Sh35,000 and above and even then they could not attract tenants.
According to agents, insecurity is now creeping into even high-income neighbourhoods such as Karen and especially among the old couples living alone in big houses with huge compounds.
According to Martha Mbote of Offshore Properties, an agency, the solution lies in strong neighbourhood watch and even some form of pseudo-gated community where access roads are restricted, well-marked and guarded.
“The rise in the preference for gated communities on the outskirts of the city is primarily driven by the (in)security concern. A gated community has numbers,” said Mr Mbote.
“For those areas where single dwelling units are prevalent, some form of a gated community needs to be put in place as well as a strong community watch.”