A few years ago, homes to buy in areas such as Athi River and Kitengela were far from luxurious. Some were squeezed in small dusty spaces with basic interior finishes. They were far from shopping malls, casinos and cinema halls.
But now, developers with good money to invest are shifting their focus from areas traditionally considered high-end to Nairobi's outskirts. They are building estates far from the city which have clubhouses, gyms and gardens similar or better than those in some leafy suburbs.
At Royal Finesse, for instance, a gated development with lots of dreamy flowers and shrub hedges separating the town houses as if one is living along the famous 'Desperate Housewives' Wisteria Lane, life inside is different from the dusty, chaotic Kitengela.
Another development in Athi River, Crystal Rivers owned by Safaricom pension fund, plans to give homebuyers the luxury of having a renowned kindergarten — Rose of Sharon Academy — within the estate, a large shopping mall and a swimming pool.
Crystal Rivers will have apartments, town houses and three-bedroom houses. Most of these homes are built on 80 by 40 plot with a small lawn compared to those in leafy suburbs constructed on half an acre.
Developers have realised that even though these tastefully built houses sit on small portions of land, the fully-equipped kitchens, yards with fine-textured grass, extra bathrooms, an attic room are features that add value to middle-class buyers.
Generally, Kenyan buying behaviour is shifting and there is a growing preference for high-end villas on smaller parcels of land within gated communities that are designed and built to world-class standards, according to Knight Frank report. The size of the parcel of land is not a top priority.
The report further states that the current focus is on locations that offer the best education for children, personal security, an attractive lifestyle and the greatest opportunities for capital appreciation.
Few want the costs of owning large tracts of land in an urban setting. They want the ability to lock up and go, and the reassurance of shared security, backup water and electricity.
George Ochieng’, a business development manager at Cheriez Properties, a firm that built Royal Finesse says such homes were previously found in high-end suburbs like Karen, Lavington and Nyari.
But the high land and home prices in upmarket areas have made it hard for middle-class Kenyans with discerning taste to afford them. ''Most people don’t just purchase a home but ambience and neighbourhoods as value-adds. We wanted buyers to experience this in Kitengela. We came up with modern architecture and finishes, and added many green spaces,” he says.
Good architecture has also increased the prices of such fancy-looking homes in Nairobi's outskirts. For instance, Sh19 million is slightly high in an area where the average price of a basic house is Sh10 million.
Developers are also increasingly blurring the lines between home and play.
Charles Ng’ang’a of Crystal Valuers, the property managers of Crystal Rivers with town houses going for Sh15 million, says that besides a cinema hall within the estate, there is also a food court to cater for the increasing number of middle-class who eat out especially on weekends.
The mall will also house a casino for those who want to gamble in the slot machine.
“We are selling an experience,'' says Mr Ng’ang'a.