If a man’s home is his castle, then young buyers and renters in Kenya want theirs small, high-tech, built as architectural marvels and located in posh neighbourhoods with lots of greenery.
From the comfort of their mobiles phones, they want to control their entertainment devices, draw the window shades, switch on the lights, lock doors, turn on the microwave, the cookers or the coffee makers. They prefer intimate living spaces.
These changing tastes have forced architects and developers to push the design envelope to woo young sophisticated home buyers and renters.
Wilson Mugambi, the chairperson of Architectural Association of Kenya says the tech –savvy, young and wealthy demand very contemporary homes with bespoke workmanship. They love unobstructed views from living and sleeping areas and also prefer large terraces for relaxation.
‘‘They are well exposed to the latest design trends and seek to incorporate what they have experienced in their travels or read online or in journals. This results in very unique fittings,’’ he says.
Meehir Shah, a director of Coral Property International, a company that sells and rents homes in Nairobi and Mombasa says although the artistic touches are costly, they are offset by the fact that this generation is not as obsessed with large palatial houses as the older generation.
Younger Kenyans are happy to live in studios, one or two bedroom apartments, condominiums and townhouses as opposed to large stand-alone houses on sprawling acres of land.
“Properties are big in Kenya, but we are trending towards what you have in other cities in the world in terms of smaller properties that are more affordable,” says Mr Shah.
‘‘More people are looking for experiences. They don’t mind staying in a small apartment but they want the amenities such as swimming pools, gyms, nice views and increasingly we are seeing people looking for more green spaces,” he adds.
One of the properties that Mr Shah oversees is SkyNest apartments in Westlands which has a rooftop squash court and swimming pool, a daycare facility and a residents-only entertainment area for hosting a game night or a small wedding.
Daniel Ojijo, the executive chairman of Homes Universal, a real estate company, says the millennial purchasing power has really gone up.
‘‘They have got more disposable income than where we were at the time. In fact, for some millennials, what they earn in a month could be what their parents earned in their entire working time,” says Mr Ojijo, who has been in the real estate industry for 23 years.
He adds that the tech-savvy generation knows what it deserves in terms of interior design trends.
“Even if it is a one bedroom, they will be particular in terms of how does this one bedroom look like?,” he says.
Yet as much as these amenities woo millennials into choosing one house over the other, the real deal breaker is security.
“Security is a very big concern for the millennials. They sometimes work late or they club so they want somewhere where even if they were to drop by at 2am they would still be safe,” says Mr Ojijo.
For young families, that are more attracted to renting executive townhouses in gated communities whose rents range from Sh250,000 to Sh400,000 than apartments, security is especially important.
Often, these are travelling families so they want to be able to go away on holiday without fear.
Such millennials, who include locals and immigrants, have a soft spot for areas such as Kiuna and Lower Kabete with many international schools and centres for preschoolers.
Townhouses win young families over because they are a bit larger than apartments and have small gardens. “Millennials do not want to stay in large compounds because of the hustle of maintenance,” says Mr Ojijo.
Even for young families, technology-friendly areas remain a crucial determinant.
“Millennials are walking away from anything that is not green energy. They want efficiency and fast Internet connectivity,” he says, adding that how people keep their children busy is using Internet, ‘it is sit, watch on YouTube, let me work’,” he says,
Fear traffic jams
Young property owners in Kenya also recoil at properties in areas where traffic congestion is a problem. Neighbourhoods such as Kileleshwa, Kilimani, Westlands and Loresho are therefore popular among young Kenyans.
Property agents say this is why although some can afford to buy houses further out in places such as Athi River and Ongata Rongai, they prefer instead to pay more in rent for high-end neighbourhoods that are much closer to the city centre.
However, not many millennials are earning enough yet to purchase luxury housing. Instead of taking out loans and mortgages, most prefer to save over a long period of time to eventually buy these coveted homes within the city centre.
They buy land far but when they are when it comes to houses they prefer those within the city, property agents say.
Millennials in Nairobi are also more socially connected than previous generations so they prefer open-plan living. Since many career-driven millennials spend upwards of 10 hours at work every day, they cherish any time they have together.
“Millennial communities are less based on tribe. Now people who hang out together have the same causes,” says Sakina Hassanali, the head of development consulting and research at HassConsult.
Residents, for instance, live in a compound with both a zen garden and a bar for those who are more spiritually inclined.
NovaLife, a new development set to be completed this year is one of the houses designed for millennials eyeing Westlands.
It has spaces where everyone can come together. There is a gazebo with fire pits and a cozy residents’ lounge to mingle with neighbours, in addition to a car wash facility and a porte cochere.
Although young Kenyans’ housing trends mirror those in other parts of the world in many ways, they differ from their European and American counterparts slightly.
Kenyan millennials are less likely to room together because they can afford to rent full houses on their own. They also have the advantage that it is a little more socially acceptable to live with their parents until you are older, compared to European families.
“In Europe, some of the properties that target millennials don’t even have kitchens because they don’t eat inside; they don’t cook,” says Mr Ojijo.
Ms Hassanali adds that rent for compact luxury housing could range anywhere from Sh120,000 to Sh400,000 but Kenyan millennials are interested in the experience that they get from a place so they are less driven by budget compared to their parents.
Marketing has also shifted online. Real estate companies in Kenya now spend nearly half their marketing budget on online advertising. Rather than paper marketing, they invest in highly attractive photography, artistic impressions and advertisements on social media platforms which include Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Evolution of career choices also influences how they are selecting their housing. Since they do not have to work in a typical office, these young people have more impetus to make a castle of their homes.
“Young people are looking for convenience. I can easily work from home, walk out of my house, go to a Java, sit down with my friends, work in the Java and get to hold a business meeting there,” says Mr Ojijo.