Username Investments Ltd, CEO Reuben Kimani, talks to Barry Silah about his passion for property and how his firm is encouraging people to invest and develop land
How did you get involved with land business?
My colleagues and I worked for an ICT company for a while, but along the way, the hassle of accessing land became problematic. We all wanted to invest in property ventures for commercial purposes, but were put off by fraudsters and the high costs.
So ,we got together and charted a destiny for ourselves by quitting our jobs and starting Username Investments Limited four years ago. We aimed to add value for our customers with focus on land ownership. Some colleagues wondered if we could hack it because of our lack of experience and our ICT background, but so far, it has been great going.
What difference do you bring to the table as Username Investments?
We are keen on three elements, which have so far worked for us. We came in when property rates were prohibitive and we had to shift our model to target the affordable brackets. It was also critical for us that we invest in property with potential for development for our buyers to get capital gains in the long term. We also try to add value — fencing and grading of roads — so that buyers are happy to get in.
Land is a sensitive issue. How do you ensure clients trust you?
We create confidence in our clients by refunding cash where necessary, offering personalised services and encouraging feedback. All our dealings are above board and about 30 per cent of our customers are repeat ones. We have so far handled 18 projects and issued about 3,000 title deeds. We deliver titles four to six months after completion of payments.
What is the statistics on land occupancy in Kenya today?
A large percentage have no titles, which mean they are squatters. It is a big issue, which the government is really trying to address. Another factor is the rising population and rural-urban migration, so many end up as tenants.
Data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics show that we are doing 2.6 per cent growth in the population and over 100,000 move to urban settings each year, thus putting a strain on the land resource. This, coupled with a growing middle-class economy and effects of urbanisation means that land will continue to be expensive.
What is your client portfolio like?
Individual buyers come through often; the newly-minted employees and those in business are our best customers to date. However, we also get inquiries and actual buy-ins from the Diaspora — mostly UK, USA and UAE— because we keep our arrangements clean.
Involving a legal team and doing proper due diligence on individual properties have brought us hundreds of clients. The investment groups and saccos have also been key to our growth as they eye profitable ventures in areas such as Konza, Magadi, Ngong, Kajiado and Isinya.
What challenges have you faced?
Some people are still not sure of what to use their land for, which can be a bit risky. We offer advisory roles in that regard. Also difficult to hack is tracking down original ownership of land, which takes the firm quite a bit of time. There are instances where we have had to abandon transactions simply because there is poor clarity on crucial details.
There are at least 7,000 cases of land cases in court today and value lost out of such annually is about Sh60 billion. The other hurdle is owners being too pricey, which are a put off.
Are there opportunities in the sector?
Land is by far the single most valuable resource in our time; as long as people can put good use in that resource, then they stand a chance to gain. A key area is to sign a lease agreement after purchase or better yet develop the property and sell it at a profit. To boost housing developments, the counties must reduce land rates and encourage leasing.