House-hunting in Nairobi is savage

Friday May 22 2020

I honestly can't imagine house-hunting with a family. HOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


We held a conversation with our landlord last week about rent reductions.

He listened to us for a good two hours before responding like the owner of Brookhouse School.

Okay, he 'wasn't rude, not even in the least, but he let us know in the softest voice that a reduction wasn't possible and that if we wanted to move, he would facilitate the return of our rent deposits.

He told us NO but took half an hour to explain how he also needed money and that Covid-19 was affecting him too.

Covid-19 has taught us many things but one of the most pronounced ones is that most of us live in houses we can't afford.

One missed pay cheque has us spiralling into a rent crisis — even looking to sell our cars if things don't get better.


Our landlord encounter took me to the nightmare that looking for a decent house in Nairobi is. You want one that is the right price, is convenient and one that is secure with water and electricity in plenty. Everything else is extra.

Two months of house-hunting, I was ready to live in a tent with my dog. I started off as a brave man thinking that I wouldn't mind a bedsitter in the leafy suburbs of Kilimani and its environs, but by the end of it, I wondered how I was going to live in a kennel for Sh25,000.

There was only enough space to breathe. How landlords have managed to call a single room with a sink at the corner a studio apartment is a major scam.


I had already cancelled out Thika Road because I have enough exes on that side and I have no business being stuck near Jambo Grill for two hours.

On Ngong Road and Waiyaki Way the houses I loved were unaffordable and those that I could had the Kikuyu Gothic Aesthetic — five different shades of tiles, toilet under the shower, and bedrooms so small that they fit half the bed.

There was that house in Jamhuri estate that was reasonably priced but had zero natural lighting. I set off to Mombasa Road and realised that I would not only pay the same amount of prime rent but I would also have to sit in the parking lot traffic for half my life and probably meet my wife and get married before reaching my destination.

I found the perfect house in Madaraka on paper. It had all the basics sorted out until the agent insisted that I had to send the deposit money immediately, (before seeing the house) otherwise I would lose it.

I could see Gakuyo Real estate in the background telling me to come waste money with them instead.


Houses were either too expensive or too far away (Hello to the "I live on Waiyaki Way" who live closer to Limuru"), or had bars on the ground floor (Hello Dagoretti Corner), have buildings up to 8th floor without lifts (Hello Pipeline), or last saw piped water just before the last general election (how ya doin' Langata?).

I stopped looking at anything that started with the word "executive" because it just meant higher rent.

Who is the god of Nairobi houses that made sure that each one is worse than the next? How has your house-hunt experience in Nairobi been?

I honestly can't imagine house-hunting with a family. Nairobi should be treated like a transit city, where you accumulate capital and flee unless you're rich.

If you're wealthy it will treat you well, but if you're not, sell your soul and hope for the best.