On Saturday, May 13, the usually quiet, rustic Mithonge Township in Kikuyu came to life as the residents welcomed their newest neighbours.
In a lively ceremony held in a tent, the 63 people were receiving the keys to their newly acquired Kikuyu Road apartments, built by real estate firm Heri Homes Ltd.
But one thing stood out: of the 63 who had bought the apartments, four were below the age of 30, and they were all women.
“One thing I have noticed about this investment is that there are more young women buying houses and investing in property than there are young men.
"I don’t know where the boys are; maybe they are buying cars,” Jorum Mwangi, Heri Homes’ operations director in charge of construction, said while addressing the gathering. It was Heri Homes’ sixth housing project.
Mr Mwangi said the company’s investment model requires customers to pay a deposit of 20 per cent of the cost of the house before construction begins — making them development partners with Heri Homes — and the rest during the construction period, which is usually two years.
WHERE ARE YOUNG MEN?
Perhaps in an attempt to compel parents to push their children to invest while still young, Mr Mwangi said, “You parents should kick your children out of their comfort zones by paying the deposit for them and then asking them to continue paying the rest if they want to own the house.”
A keen look at people in the giant tent revealed some interesting facts: women outnumbered men. And in the visitor’s book that DN2 stumbled upon in one of the apartments, on a single page containing 11 names, six were women’s.
This raises a number of questions: Are women more interested in property than men? Where are young men when their female counterparts are saving so hard to invest in homes?
And why didn’t the four young women draw in their male friends when they started the investment journey about two years ago?
DN2 spoke to the four women, who are all friends, and all of whom bought two-bedroom apartments, and Dismas Busolo, a Nairobi-based behaviourist and sociologist, to get some insights into this interesting trend.
“When we were starting, we shared the idea with our male friends. They listened, said how great the idea was but that was just about it!” says Diana Muthoni, 29, now the proud owner of a two-bedroom apartment that is worth Sh5.6 million, up from Sh3.5 million she paid for it off-plan.
She says even though one of their male friends did join them, he backed out along the way.
“He was very undecided even though he had put in some money. I think men are very analytical and that makes them very sceptical when it comes to investing.
"This guy kept saying, ‘Let me wait until it gets to first floor then I can make up my mind whether to continue or ask for my money back’. Now that the building is done, his narrative has changed to, ‘Oh! I don’t like how close it is to these other buildings’,” says Ms Muthoni.
She says the inability to save and accumulate money in “bits and pieces” is a limiting factor for men.
“If a house is going for Sh3.5 million, you are required to pay a 20 per cent deposit (Sh700,000) for a start and the rest in instalments during the construction period. Men don’t like such arrangements. They want to have the whole amount, pay it, and forget about that investment, unlike women, who are willing to accumulate money in small chunks,” she explains.
“I remember when I told my brother about this off-plan investment, he replied that it was a good idea but went on to ask, ‘Can they give me more time?’ By that I think he wanted to know whether they could give him more time to save, such that when he had accumulated the whole amount, he could take it to them instead to having to put in something little every month,” she offers.
“When I introduced the idea to my male friends, they had nothing but praise for it, some were very happy that I had shared the idea with them, but when it came to the actual execution of the project, they showed no commitment,” says Ms Muthoni.
However, Naomi Gitau believes that the problem with young men is not money, but misplaced priorities.
“When a man wants to buy a nice car, he will do anything to get it. You see, some men would rather buy a Sh1.5 million car than a house. They just have their priorities upside down,” says the 29-year-old marketer.
But their friend Christine Muvea, 30, believes men’s perception of time is what works against most of them when it comes to investing.
“At times men think they are immortal and their priorities can really shock you,” she says. “They know that they will have to invest at some point but they think they have their entire life to do it. So you can’t really tell them to cut down on spending, for example, on alcohol so that they can invest.”
LIVING FOR THE MOMENT
Mr Busolo agrees, saying that unlike women, men tend to live for the moment, and they have little patience.
“Only those who have been taught the culture of saving and investing will start doing it when they’re young,” he says, adding that a young man’s lifestyle is determined by the amount of money he earns and his responsibilities.
“If he is earning, say, Sh30,000 and below, a young man would feel that that is too little to invest because he wants to have fun at that age.
"But if he got married at, say, the age of 25, then he starts realising that life is not just about him. So that attachment to someone makes it easier for him to look at life from a more futuristic point of view,” says Mr Busolo.
“Although there are equal opportunities for both sexes, women, given the belief that they are life givers, tend to multiply whatever opportunity comes their way several fold, even better than men,” says Mr Busolo.
He adds that that is why women seem to be doing better by simply taking the opportunities available more seriously than men.
He cited the need to fit in and the fear of being seen as broke by peers as the reason young men would rather spend their money on booze fests on weekends rather than save for an investment such as a house.
Challenges, sacrifices and lessons learnt
The four women who bought apartments say although the thought of owning a house after two years was both exciting and daunting, embracing the idea as a group helped keep them focused. Still, it was not an easy journey.
For instance, Rincy Maina, to whom the idea was introduced by Ms Muthoni, says she jumped at the opportunity and paid the 20 per cent deposit. But then the headache was how to raise the balance.
“I had to sacrifice a lot: holidays, entertainment, new shoes and clothes every now and then,” says Ms Maina, 29.
In a good month she could raise between Sh50,000 and Sh120,000, but that meant she had to put in extra hours at work. She even put on hold her studies for a master's degree to be able to raise the necessary cash.
One of the major challenges they grappled with was conflicting interests. With bills to pay and a job that required capital to run, Ms Muthoni says, it was hard striking a balance.
“I looked at it this way: if I don’t pay up, I will have a heavy burden come the following month,” she says, adding that sometimes she was forced to borrow money from friends and family to run her business after paying the monthly instalment.
The four also sacrificed their social lives. Things like going out with friends and expensive holidays were not possible. Still, Ms Maina says, apart from getting them out of their comfort zones, the project has motivated them to work extra hard.
CHANGING GENDER ROLES
In the African setting, the man, not the woman, is expected to save in order to build a house for his future family. But from the foregoing, it appears that roles are changing and women are not sitting back waiting for a man to build them a house.
Ms Muvea lays the blame squarely on society.
“Today’s society is not raising boys to be responsible husbands in future. They are not brought up believing that it’s their duty to provide food and shelter for their family.
"So you are not going to just sit there and wait for someone to do it in future because clearly, young men are not being modelled to do that,” she argues.
Mr Busolo concurs, saying young men need to wake up to the fact that their roles are being taken over by women and concentrate on building themselves as well.
Ms Maina, for her part, puts it down to aggressiveness. “I think nowadays women are more aggressive than men. We shared the investment idea with all our friends, both male and female, but only the female friends agreed to get on board,” she says.
To drive this point home, Ms Muvea gives the example of a group they formed so that they could pool resources and buy a piece of land as a case in point.
“Without giving any reason, all our male friends started backing out, one after the other. All the men left but the girls stayed put, contributed and bought the piece of land.”
So what did they have in mind when they decided to invest in the apartments?
“I wanted the house to make money for me, perhaps by renting it out or selling it for a profit in future. But I also contemplated living in it and putting the money I have been using to pay rent to a different use, perhaps even getting another one and becoming a landlady with time,” says Ms Muthoni, a graphics designer, who together with Ms Muvea and Ms Maina, run Market Bridge Ltd, a branding and printing company, .
Her sentiments are shared by her friends, but Ms Muvea adds an interesting twist: “For me it’s about security. If I could go to a bank and get a loan using my house as collateral, I could do so much.”
To which Mr Busolo responds: “It is high time men assumed the responsibilities that come with being a man. It is hard for a man to join a woman’s empire and expect everything to move along smoothly because naturally, women tend to be a bit selfish with their wealth.”
According to the four women, there is never going to be an appropriate time to do things; it is up to every individual to make the time appropriate, and it begins with just one step.
Other lessons they have picked up along the way have to do with the courage to embrace an opportunity when presented with one. Their advice to young people is clear: make hay while the sun shines.