Kenya’s property market has witnessed a boom in the last five years, riding on a growing middle class and continued interest in the country among investors. However, finding property for rent or sale has not always been an easy task.
Kenyan-born entrepreneur Jamie Pujara identified this gap in the market and established Buy Rent Kenya, a real estate portal.
“I noticed there is a need in the market. I don’t know if you have been apartment searching; it’s quite difficult in Kenya. You can’t get the information you need. I wanted to create a space where we could put all agents and developers’ properties online.”
The site offers listings for residential and commercial properties from accredited and compliant agents and brokerages. Agents and developers showcase their properties on the platform with photographs and short description about the location, price and particular features.
Since its launch in May 2012, Pujara says the business has been going “really well” due to Kenya’s high internet penetration and unmet demand for property.
“Property is something that interests everybody, from the fresh graduate to the 70-year-old who is still investing. We are now the biggest site in terms of property listings, the agents signed on and user base.”
Buy Rent Kenya charges agents and developers a subscription fee for membership. The agents and developers can either pay KSh 6,500 (US$74) per month for silver membership which allows them to make 15 listings or pay KSh 9,500 ($108) for gold membership and enjoy unlimited listings.
“Our job is to provide leads; the agent’s job is to make the sale. We don’t think the service is expensive. The cost per lead is much cheaper and agents get access to the diaspora market where a lot of real estate funding in this country comes from. It is worthwhile,” says Pujara.
In its efforts to “get rid of all the conmen”, Buy Rent Kenya insists on working with legitimate agents and developers only. Due to this, most of the properties listed on the site are on the higher side of the market locking out potential buyers in the lower-end segment.
“We can only list properties that are legitimate. I don’t want to put up property online that I am not sure if the source is genuine. Unfortunately, that jacks the price up a little bit. In the eventuality that we have a more structured housing market in Kenya we will incorporate more [affordable housing].”
For Buy Rent Kenya, the biggest challenge is getting its clients to understand how they can maximise the potential of the online property portal.
“If you have an online platform and you can put up 20 photos, why put one? If you can write a description of two paragraphs about the property, why write two lines? If you want sell your house, make it look like a house you want to sell.”
The online property market is set for stiff competition following the recent entry of Vamido, funded by Berlin-based Rocket Internet, and Property24, which in turn is owned by South African multinational media company Naspers. Kenya’s Nation Media Group also recently launched its own real estate site, N-soko Property.
“Big competition tells you the market is big, it’s got a lot of potential and that this is a service the market needs. How are we going to cope? One, we are a Kenyan company. We want to identify ourselves as the Kenyan brand. Two, we have a head start; a first mover advantage.”
Pujara is not worried about the competition these multinationals have brought to the market.
“Competition is good. I think we got too complacent towards the end of last year when we officially became the biggest property portal. The growing competition has given us a chance to refocus.”
“If you can find an online solution, then Africa is the place to be,” he says.
The entrepreneur, who also runs a high-end Chinese restaurant started by his grandfather 35 years ago, says one of the lessons he has learnt in entrepreneurship is making sacrifices and putting long hours of work and commitment into his ventures.
“I juggle two businesses and towards the end of the year as I said, we were getting complacent on one. I realised I have to work double the time to make sure they are both successful.”
Have a plan
Pujara advises entrepreneurs to have a clear business plan and set targets.
“You need to be able to measure against what you have set out to do That will always give you an indication of whether or not you are on the right track,” he says. “I think it is very important to have a plan and to keep referring back to it. When you start something new it is very easy to get sidetracked.”
He says it is important to keep things simple and be willing to keep trying even when one fails.
“You are always going to fail [but] you have to keep trying. There are a million and one roadblocks. You have to believe in your idea. You can’t hire people to follow your dream. You have to go on the ground and do it yourself.”
Pujara says he is optimistic about the potential of the market, adding that he plans to expand the business beyond Kenya.
“We want to consolidate the Kenyan market and then branch it out. We want to have Buy Rent in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Somalia, South Sudan and other markets in Africa. This is a long-term goal for us. It is going to grow really big.”