Mercy Muthui spent the first four months of this year looking for a house to shift to after her employer made working from home permanent last October.
Her two-bedroom rented house became smaller when she became the fifth person spending time at home after her husband became one among millions of Kenyans who have lost jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I needed an extra room to perform my duties without distraction. My job requires high concentration and a noisy environment sucks away my focus,” the 36-year-old mother of three narrates.
Mercy, who is an accountant, had spent Sh5,000 trying to get a spacious but affordable three-bedroom house in Nairobi unsuccessfully.
“It is five times that I would pay someone Sh1,000 to get me a good house. They always promised to find me what I wanted but they never delivered. I wanted a tiled floor, a furnished kitchen and reliable security,” says the Kawangware resident.
After giving on manual search, she reverted to the internet where she came across a platform whose description includes guaranteeing potential tenants easy access to hundreds of houses for rent in Nairobi.
“I only paid Sh200 and within four days, I got what I wanted and shifted to Ongata Rongai,” she says.
Online meeting point
The platform, xPodd, is gradually becoming the online meeting point for landlords, tenants and movers, creating a mini ecosystem where every stakeholder benefits.
Chairperson of the Nairobi-based startup Alastair Campbell says the solution helps to eliminate points of friction when it comes to finding a property or landlords finding tenants.
“You can connect directly with the landlord in a convenient, safe, cost effective and efficient way,” he notes.
The firm offers solutions for both commercial and residential properties in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu and Kakamega, allowing property seekers to connect to property owners.
Betting on the business potential of Big Data analytics, the platform which is offered both as an app and web portal, also utilises Google Maps geo-location service to allow users to view apartments and get directions to the physical addresses.
To identify and enrol landlords, it enlists ‘finders’ who search for houses on behalf of tenants and earn part of the fee paid to xPodd.
Source of revenue
“The finder takes 87 per cent of the access fees paid by prospective tenants which ranges from Sh200 to Sh3,000. This is calculated by the app's machine learning algorithms depending on time required, location and budget.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, this has provided unemployed Kenyans a source of much needed revenue,” Ms Priscilla Waithera, the communications officer at xPodd explains.
When Nation.Africa logged on the platform to look for property in Donholm Estate, we realised that once users create an account, they can search for houses for rent from across the country. They can choose between furnished and unfurnished houses.
You are asked to input the estate you need to rent a house in, then a notification goes to three different landlords in that hood who must respond in 24 hours by sending back three photos of their houses on the platform.
Once you choose the house you want to shift to, the platform offers you various movers around the area who can assist to ferry your belongings to the new house. Along the entire process, the user is sent real-time notifications via both SMS and WhatsApp.
Instead of looking for legacy transporters with high overhead costs, drivers offering transport services on the app are already becoming part of the digital economy where everything is handled by technology. Users only pay Sh50 to connect to them.
M-Pesa Global and Paypal payment models have been enabled as the startup eyes the global market while maintaining contactless payments during the pandemic period.
“People are becoming too busy working from home. We realised that they need convenient, fast and accountable solutions. They have no time to move around looking for houses,” she told Nation.Africa
Amid rising cases of comanship in the tedious task of searching for new houses within the city, the startup seeks to reclaim trust in the property industry while preparing it for the future.
“You identify a house or land online only to get to the ground and find it’s something different or does not exist. These are some of the things we want to eliminate,” chief operations officer Nekoye Inzaule says.
Mr Campbell says the startup is working with apartment owners to ensure CCTV surveillance is connected to the platform to end sexual harassment among unsuspecting female house seekers.
“There are also many fake photos for properties. Here is where deployment of technology can end fraudulent deals and keep house seekers safe,” Mr Campbell said.
The platform, secured through Google, has multiple layers of security while maintaining user data protection. Landlords cannot see tenant contacts till the final processes of the deal where they are satisfied by the conditions of any property.
Since its inception in June 2019, the platform has helped more than 14,000 Kenyans access houses for rent, business stalls and office space.
“We refund all the money paid by people seeking to rent property if the property turns out to be different from what they expected, within two hours. Sometimes tenants find that the house has wall cracks, poor drainage, electric faults or was previously used by criminals. They demand for a new house and we help them find another one,” says Ms Waithera.
The real estate industry in Kenya continues to evolve under the current digital revolution, with realtors using emerging technologies such as virtual reality, Big Data, cloud computing and Internet of Things to attract property investors across the world.