When investing in an off-plan project, you are essentially buying into a plan.

I recently encountered a very interesting gentleman in my office. Mr. Ouma, an international trade expert explained to me that he was looking to invest in the ever growing Kenyan property market but he’d been through a very nasty experience in trying to penetrate.

In January of 2016, he had decided to engage the services of a real estate developer who was then working on an off-plan project on Hatheru road, Lavington. The apartment block was slated to have 80 three bed units with each going for a discounted (as is expected for off plan property) price of 13.5 million shillings. In that market, and with a projected construction period of up to 18 months, this was going to surely be a worthwhile investment for Paul. Having paid the 10% deposit that the developer was asking and signed the requisite sales agreement detailing the financial incentives and structure of payment, my friend started his countdown!

Three years down the line, the project has stalled. Needless to say, Paul’s a frustrated man.


WHAT IS OFF-PLAN

In recounting Mr. Ouma’s experience, let’s together tackle this monster with the view of demystifying a concept, which for the most part has availed people willing to delve deeper, with an opportunity to become home owners with considerably lower stress levels.

Off-plan property is a property before a structure has been constructed upon it; basically you are buying a plan! Pre-constructions are usually marketed to early adopters as developments so that the purchaser can secure much better finance terms of payment at discounted prices. Property investors and home buyers like to purchase property in this way in the hope of making substantial capital gains and owning homes at below market value, making them accessible to people who would otherwise not be in a position to raise the total value immediately.

In Lavington, a ready three bed apartment typically goes for upwards of 18 million shillings. Had the developer in Paul’s case been able to complete the project in the anticipated time, there would have been a 5 million gain on his investment.

So, what went wrong?

DUE DILIGENCE.

Develop a property due diligence check-list.

Before committing yourself to buying off the plan property in Kenya, you need to remember the following rules:

Adopt an attitude of healthy skepticism towards the property developers that you engage. In recent days, we have seen very many developers with sufficient marketing budgets defraud unsuspecting Kenyans of their hard earned cash. Not every company with an AD in the media is genuine!The general rule of thumb is to carefully check the credentials of all the parties involved – the developer, who is your point of contact and ideally the one responsible for safeguarding your investment should be first on that list.

The contractor is responsible for the final product, what other projects have they completed? Ask to see them in order to determine the quality of works.

To reduce the level of price fluctuations exposure involved in property investments, think about investing in prime locations. Before going forward with this sort of undertaking you need to have done thorough research of the market in an effort to understand the total plus rent value of similar properties in the market that you are looking to invest in. Never rely on the developer for this information.

Properties that are constructed in high growth areas gain a lot of interest from all the stakeholders involved and therefore tend to be given priority. For example, a bank will be willing to enter into a joint venture with both the developer and the contractor in order to fast-track construction of such a project in order to get returns within a reasonable time after commencement. This guarantees that all parties involved work at set timelines and you getting safety in the knowledge that your investment is assured.

Always ask the developer to avail all requisite documents pertaining to the off-plan project that they are selling you. Start by doing spot-check on the directors of the Development company by asking to see company registration certificates and a copy of the CR12 which lists all the directors.

Secondly, you need to determine the land ownership and any encumbrances on the land title. A copy of the land title will help you carry out a search with the National Lands Commission. If the project is a JV (Joint venture), then the developer should provide you with all signed agreements with all the 3rd parties involved.

For good measure, consider:

-The project vendor’s Certified PIN and ID copies

-Property details (description of the project complete with the plan and photos)

-Site plan / Layout location map

-A copy of updated RIM (Registry index map) or what is commonly referred to as a “MUTATION”

-Company lawyers details (contact person, location and address)

-Draft sales agreement

-Project financing model

BUYER REPRESENTATION

In a market heavily characterized by less than trustworthy players, safeguard your capital by engaging a trusty property buyer representative.

After protracted discussions, Paul came to the conclusion that he is indeed not an authority in the property market field and that he had relied heavily on his own limited knowledge of the working of the sector. This was his first mistake!
In its very nature, property investment for most people is a long term commitment, one that requires a substantial investment and should therefore be handled with utmost care. Every precaution should be taken to safeguard this investment.
There exits people in the market who are willing to sign-post all the right routes to take in order to achieve your goals, at a fee of course.

Engage the services of a buyer representative. This will typically be a seasoned industry professional that will get a grasp of your needs as the home buyer, find you a variety of property in your range, take your for visits and finally give you sound advice when it comes time for you to make your move.

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