What you need to know:
- Building or investing in a rural or urban area should be informed by your needs, preferences, goals, and priorities.
- Do not invest your life’s savings in your rural area when you spend most of your time in the city.
It is often said that real estate is one of the safest investments one can invest in. A big number of Kenyans make it their life’s goal to buy at least one piece of land, on which they go on to put up a home.
Those who can afford it, buy multiple parcels of land, sometimes in remote areas, with the expectation that the future returns will mitigate the cost and risk.
There is also the chance of regeneration of the area in which the land is located, usually due to government initiatives, or an influx of people, meaning that piece of land will be in high demand for either commercial or residential purposes.
But there are others who purchase land without a plan to develop it, yet they spent their life’s savings to buy it, and since they lack further funds to develop the land, may have to wait many years before reaping from their investment.
This is the situation that many Kenyans who buy land in remote areas, and in some cases rural areas, face.
The question, therefore, is, should you invest in real estate in far-flung areas, or should you steer clear of this form of ‘dead capital’ as Professor Bitange Ndemo once called it?
What he was inferring to is a term that was first coined by Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto to explain capital in the form of a property which is considered lost value because the owner is not able to transfer or leverage the property for capital or capital access.
Traditionally, properties in rural areas attract little or no interest whenever financial institutions are approached with the units as security. In instances where banks agree to take up such securities, valuation is often dismal compared to similar units in major cities even when the expenditure in terms of costs of building materials—outside the cost of land—is the same.
Username Investment Limited CEO, Reuben Kimani gives a comprehensive outlook on this topic.
Real estate opportunities in Kenya’s rural areas
Rural Kenya makes up over 82 per cent of the total land mass, confirming the high potential that these areas possess for development. Some areas are not habitable, while others are set aside for the natural environment or farming, but this still leaves huge tracts with the capability of being developed into urban areas. The farming communities often have their own distinct society where they build homes, cantered on their farms, and this creates room for developers to buy up land and promote urbanisation.
In the realm of real estate investment, the allure of bustling urban centres has long overshadowed the hidden treasures scattered throughout rural landscapes, however, astute investors are increasingly recognising the untapped potential and profound allure of rural Kenya’s real estate market.
Why do people build homes?
To start off, we need to ask ourselves why people build houses. One of the main reasons is to have a place to live. Basically, a safe place for their children to grow and thrive.
In addition, the desire to have a space that reflects your personality and lifestyle is a motivation for those looking to build either a house in the rural areas or one in urban areas.
Additionally, building a house is a good way to build wealth and ensure financial stability. As we all know, real estate is one of the safest ways to build wealth through appreciation.
There are more reasons why people build homes in rural areas. They may build for their parents with the aim of developing where they come from or upgrading their parents’ lifestyle. Others do it for status and prestige – having a home earns some people respect within their circles and spares them embarrassment when friends and peers visit their rural homes.
Still, others put up homes in the rural areas so that when they retire, they can have a place to call home. Cultural beliefs also influence this trend. In some communities, men are expected to own homes in their ancestral home, regardless of the number of times they visit.
Still, there are those that do it with the intention of creating a legacy, a lasting reminder of the person who built the home, a place where families can gather for generations to come.
Factors to consider before deciding where to build
Building whether in the rural or urban area, is not a one-day decision, it is influenced by several factors that shape individual perspectives. Some of the factors include goals and objectives, family needs, convenience and availability of amenities. All these factors determine when and where one will finally settle and vary from one person to another.
Individual goals and objectives
The first question you need to ask is why you are building. Is it a house to live in now with your family, a retirement home, or a vacation home? When and where do you desire to build a home? If you answer these questions, it becomes easier to decide where to build.
Your family’s needs
Does your family live in the city? Which type of home do they need, is it a rural one or urban one? How will each benefit them? These are critical questions that help you identify the immediate needs of your family and help you make a better decision.
If you work and live in a city, you will need to factor in convenience when deciding where to build your home. The aspect of convenience will also greatly influence where you will put up a house. For the sake of your convenience and that of your family, make the right choice.
Availability of Amenities
Access to amenities may be more limited in rural areas. You may need to pay for the installation of utilities such as water, sewer, internet and electricity. Most rural properties do not have such connectivity in comparison to the city.
Advantages of rural real estate investment
Affordability: the most compelling aspect of rural real estate in Kenya is its affordability. Properties in these areas often come at a fraction of the cost those in urban areas go for. The price an average investor would pay for a rural property could be as low as half of what they would pay in an urban area. This affordability is a significant draw for many investors.
Diverse land types: rural Kenya offers an extraordinary range of land types, each catering to various investment objectives. From agricultural land primed for cultivation, to idyllic recreational properties, land in various rural areas depending on location can give investors various investment options.
Tourism potential: rural areas that are near national parks, game reserves, and cultural attractions can provide a great opportunity for investment in accommodation, hospitality and related amenities.
Agricultural investment: the fertile land in rural Kenya provides ample opportunities for agricultural investment. Investors can explore ventures in crop farming, livestock rearing, and the burgeoning world of agribusiness.
Navigating challenges and considerations to make
While rural Kenya’s real estate market holds immense promise, it is not without its challenges and considerations:
Infrastructure - some rural areas may suffer from underdeveloped infrastructure, including poorly maintained roads, inconsistent electricity supply, and limited access to clean water. These shortcomings can impact the feasibility of certain projects.
Regulations and land rights - understanding land tenure systems, local regulations, and the complexities of land rights is important. Land disputes and unclear property rights can present significant obstacles to investment.
Market knowledge - a deep understanding of the local market dynamics, demand patterns and potential risks associated with specific regions is essential. One-size-fits-all approaches do not apply when it comes to rural investment.
Property management - managing rural properties can be more challenging than managing those in rural areas. Limited access to services and maintenance resources can pose logistical difficulties.
Investment avenues in rural Kenya
Eco-Lodges and holiday homes - rural Kenya is home to an array of national parks and wildlife conservancies. Investing in eco-lodges, luxury safari camps, and tourist accommodations is a potentially lucrative venture as the demand for immersive wildlife experiences continues to grow from both local and intentional tourists. However, this can be challenging as the competition is high, and these parks are only in limited locations.
Agricultural ventures - investors can explore opportunities in crop farming, orchards, dairy farms, poultry operations, and value-added agribusiness. Land in rural areas which is cheaper makes it more favourable for such investments.
Residential development - as more people seek solace away from the urban hustle and bustle, residential developments in rural areas are gaining popularity. These can range from affordable housing projects catering to local communities to luxury estates targeting discerning buyers seeking tranquillity and proximity to nature.
Recreational centres - another way to utilise real estate in rural areas is by creating recreational centres. These can be as big as Chaka Ranch in Nyeri County, for instance, or just small investments offering recreational services tailored to fit the surrounding areas, for instance, hiking, mudding, or nature walks.
Conservation and eco-projects - investing in conservation efforts and sustainable eco-projects can serve both environmental and economic objectives. Projects such as reforestation, carbon offset initiatives, and community-based conservation programs are gaining traction.
Tips for a successful rural real estate investment
Local partnerships - collaborating with local experts, stakeholders, and community leaders who intimately understand the nuances of rural areas can significantly enhance the success of your investments.
Due diligence - like any other real estate investment relating to land, rigorous due diligence is imperative. This encompasses thorough investigations into land rights, title deeds, and any potential disputes that could hinder the development of your property.
Infrastructure assessment - evaluate the state of infrastructure in the area of interest and consider making necessary improvements if feasible and cost-effective. This may involve road construction, water source development and renewable energy projects, whether present or planned developments in the future.
Diversification - the age-old wisdom of diversifying your investment portfolio applies here too. Spread your investments across different property types and regions to mitigate risks and maximise returns.
Long-term vision - it is imperative to understand that returns on rural investments may not materialise overnight. A long-term vision and a degree of patience are often required to fully realise the potential of rural real estate.
Neutral ground - with the growth of devolution, a small town can offer the best of countryside and city life. If you prepare to have a blend of rural and urban, consider looking for a neutral place with a countryside feel and urban feel which can be found in major cities in Kenya.
In conclusion, building or investing in a rural or urban area should be informed by your needs, preferences, goals, and priorities. Do not invest your life’s savings in your rural area when you spend most of your time in the city, but if you can afford it, go ahead and do it, but only if it meets a particular need.