Office block owners change tack on glut

Jamii Towers, an office block on  Hospital Road in Upper Hill in Nairobi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG
Jamii Towers, an office block on Hospital Road in Upper Hill in Nairobi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 

The boom in office construction has generated an oversupply of around 3.2 million square feet, leaving some tower blocks almost empty and driving developers to seek out new marketing strategies in a now fiercely competitive market.

Office space supply in Nairobi has grown by more than 50 per cent over the past five years, according to real estate investment management firm Cytonn, which forecasts a further 21 per cent growth in 2018.

Kenyan developers traditionally market office space through real estate agencies. When there was undersupply and high demand from growing businesses, SMEs and multinationals, office blocks achieved full occupancy.

But now they find themselves in a situation where listing with an agency is not necessarily sufficient to achieve uptake in such a competitive market.

“The sector has been spoilt for a while. When office space was scarce and anything put up quickly got buyers and tenants.

“We have homogeneity in the kinds of office built environments being created such that very few of the office developments are really standing out,” said Tom Sitati, Partner at Brand Integrated Consulting LLP.

This has meant that developers have to embrace new marketing tactics such as live website chats to increase interest in a property.

According to US research real estate marketing firm, Boston Logic, in an article on 2017 emerging real estate marketing trends, consumer engagement is higher when they communicate with a human being instead of using a chatbot on a website.

“People love talking to other people. Not robots. A live chat solution available on a real estate website means that consumers visiting your site are able to go beyond browsing the surface and get more granular with the details they want to know. We also found that 63 per cent of consumers are more likely to return to a site that offers live chat, as opposed to one that does not,” reported Boston Logic.

Another real estate marketing trend that has emerged is the use of drone video. As drones become more prominent globally and with the Kenyan government approving the commercial use of aerial unmanned vehicles, their use is blossoming, including in real estate marketing.

Real estate marketers are now using drones to convey more vividly the look, feel, and appeal of their properties, and spark consumers’ interest.

In the US, Amherst Madison Legacy Real Estate in Idaho, for instance, makes use of drone video on the front page of its website to connect with clients across the world.

“It features the neighbourhoods they service from a bird’s eye view, along with homes, land and local amenities.

“This provides the buyers coming to its site with a unique experience and the ability to see what their life might be like in one of its properties,” reported Boston Logic.

An interest is also growing in Kenya’s real estate research marketing, which examines market needs and brand differentiation more thoroughly.

“It is high time developers challenged their consultants at all levels to come up with credible studies and real solutions for office space.

“It is also high time developers were clear on the brand of office spaces they are putting up before a single architectural drawing is done. In this way, we shall have office spaces that work for the users, are financially viable and contribute to the quality of the city’s built environment,” said Sitati.

- African Laughter