By Jeremy Gitonga
In a recent media interview, Unity Homes Executive Director John Latham revealed that the Covid pandemic has triggered a rush for affordable houses forcing the Tatu City-based developer to complete 40 units per month to meet demand.
One of the unintended consequences of the Corona pandemic is the influence it is exerting on emerging house designs and the tick list for potential homeowners.
For urban dwellers especially, the virus has underscored the true value of a house. Whether a privately-owned home in a prestigious address or a rental in a less famous location, Corona has brought to the fore the fact that a house is not just a place to sleep and wait on the following day. Rather, it is a potential haven for unprecedented eventualities like what the pandemic has thrust upon the world.
Comfort in your own home is important. Corona has served lessons on the importance of investments that can make drawn-out situations like lockdowns manageable: running water, reliable electricity, good furniture, well stocked kitchen, entertainment platforms etc. Tales of tensions and conflicts provoked by Corona-enforced companionship within spartan homes aside, the virus has reminded us that feathering your nest with the self-love of modest luxury is not extravagance.
Three key considerations have put homes at the heart of the containment measures against the pandemic. The first is space. Restrictions on assembly and movement are essentially meant to limit the number of people within a given area. The reason why authorities have insisted on people staying at home is to minimise interactions and to decongest shared spaces.
The second point is privacy. Homes are assumed to be restricted environments where owners/occupants largely have a say of who to let in or out. If a family does not wish to entertain visitors for instance, the assumption is that it can easily shut the gate or the door. Privacy is heightened in Covid situation when need for self-isolation arises. It also means the fewer the homes within your locality, the better.
Safety is the third consideration. Whether referring to freedom from physical harm or health concerns around cleanliness and sanitation, a home is ideally a fortress of sorts. To support this expectation, the home should possess the necessary amenities and structures. Therefore, finer knowledge of who your neighbours are and features such as ventilation, air quality, acoustics and natural lighting grow in importance.
These considerations are rising to prominence in home buyers and renters’ priority list. Trends in housing sector point out to a growing desire for houses that have plenty of space. Demand for spacious single-family homes or apartments with few units is growing. Clients are now taking special note of the total square meters in a given property and not just for the size-sake. For apartments, the less the better.
Covid has also promoted the Work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon. With traditional offices shutting down and employees required to work from home, finding working space in homes has become a necessity. This has meant converting/modifying rooms where possible. For new buyers or renters, insistence on house with a dedicated private room or a library is not a fussy fad but a practical need.
Working from home means more time spent in one location. Being in the same space continuously and for long risk maladies such as the Tight Building Syndrome (TBS) and the Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). Conscientious buyers are therefore looking out for gyms, outdoor spaces and wellness facilities within a controlled area that are good antidotes for indoor lethargy.
Open and semi-open spaces such as balconies that ideally give view to natural landscapes are also in vogue. These are known to offer relief to mental fatigue and ennui common with long indoor hours. Covid restrictions on entertainment spots have also spurred interest in private backyards that can host family events such as birthday parties or family get-togethers.
For lovers of space, less congestion, fresh air and greenery for home environment, Kiambu, Kajiado and Machakos counties are attractive options. Unlike Nairobi, they have the land to host new, spacious developments within ideal serenity. Land – and therefore homes – are also comparatively cheaper than in the city. Besides, with indications suggesting working from home will outlive the pandemic, the importance of a favourable distance from the office when looking for a house has been eroded.
Investments such as Kijani Ridge and Unity homes in Tatu City, the Northlands City, Cytonn’s Alma and Tilisi in Kiambu County, Safaricom’s Blue Bells and Greatwall Gardens in Machakos and Kings Serenity in Kajiado counties respectively and other developments stand to benefit from buyers and renters refined tastes honed by the Covid experience. Tatu City for instance, has reportedly seen a marked rise in the uptake of its properties by potential buyers attracted by its superior infrastructure and more than a third of its 5,000 acres dedicated to green and open space.
Self-contained mega housing developments that also cater for amenities such as schools, shops, banking services, sports spots with plenty of open spaces will also attract more takers post-Covid. These will especially be alluring when complemented by reliable fibre connections, good roads, plenty of open spaces and security. But such developments must also be careful not to nurture the same large populations and high-density occupation that potential clients are escaping from Nairobi.
Whether for personal residence or as to-let investment, the future of smart money in the housing sector will be in properties that reflect sensitives to the health, lifestyle and structural features emerging out of Covid and related exigencies. For developers, tweaking the architecture of their property profiles to factor this reality is not only a sales pitch but a necessity that will potentially influence the uptake of their investments.
The author is the Managing Director, Maven Design & Build Ltd, a Kenyan-based construction consultancy. He can be reached on [email protected]