In the 1990s, having a home in the village was such a strong social statement. Indeed, those who lived and worked in Nairobi and other major cities and towns across East Africa lived for that moment when they would construct a house next to their parents’.
But experts in the real estate sector now say that they have noticed a paradigm shift as far as this old-age tradition is concerned, especially when it comes to millennial East Africans (aged 18 to 33).
Described by a recent Pew Research Center report as exceptionally tolerant, optimistic about their economic future, and connected to friends, family, and colleagues on the “new platforms of the digital era” — from Facebook to Twitter, millennials, everywhere you go in this world are said to be rewriting the rules of living.
And it will therefore come as little wonder that they are no longer interested in building homes in the village for the holidays, something their parents found very fashionable.
To begin with, is it true that millennials are not buildings homes in the village where they come from? And if this observation is true, where are they putting their money? Thirdly, what has brought about this paradigm shift?
On a random Saturday, Property Reality Company (PRC), a leading real estate firm, held a fanfare-filled ceremony in Kikopey, Nakuru County for a project named Kikopey Ridge Phase One, where investors of 300 quarter acre units were issued with title deeds.
One very notable thing about the event is that a majority of people who bought into this project were young people, a good number of them millennial. Nationmedia sought answers to these questions from them on sidelines of this event.
We met the trio of Penninah Wanjiku, a nurse based in Nairobi; Nimrode Manyara, a businessman; and Phylis Wambui, a customer care administrator with a Nairobi-based pharmaceutical company. The three save together and invest as a group. They told Nationmedia that the bucket list of activities they have to do is long but does not include building a house in the village.
“It doesn’t make sense economically to build a house in the village that you will use maybe once in a year or never. That is like throwing away money,” says Wanjiku.
Her friend Phylis agreed with her saying that such a move will only make social and cultural sense in that one will be satisfying the expectations of villagers, who expect their son or daughter to build a home there.
“I would rather build a home for my mother with additional few rooms for use when I come home, but to build a home for myself is a big no,” says Wambui, echoing the sentiments of her two friends.
The three agree that they would reconsider building a home in their maternal villages if they came from a place near the Capital City, their workplace, like Kiambu County, one of the city’s neighbours, which is commonly referred to as Nairobi’s ‘bedroom’ area, and for those in Uganda, a village in Nansana Wakiso District, very close to Kampala.
Concerning their game-plan with the newly acquired piece of land, the three say they are looking at something income-generating, such as a holiday home or a camping site that would provide a nice getaway for city dwellers looking for a cool place to relax and get away from the bustling city life.
“We are actually disappointed to see some old people here today. We were hoping for more young people who can see far and have extra-ordinary ideas, not people who want to settle down with family in such a prime area for holiday and recreation. We hope they have the same ideas we do,” says Wanjiku.
The chunk of land, known as Kikopey Ridge, where Wanjiku and her friends bought a piece of land overlooks Lake Elementaita and on the tail end touches the Sleeping Warrior, a double ridge hill ripe for hiking, as evidenced by a group of young people who pulled over close to the event in a bus and went on a hiking expedition.
“We do our homework well. We have bought pieces of land elsewhere and we are looking at something that can make money for us while we are in Nairobi. In the next two years, we are hoping that this place will be buzzing with activity,” says Manyara.
In typical millennial fashion, Wambui brushed off the idea of building a family home and settling down so many miles away from the city in Kikopey, Naivasha, saying, “I don’t want to settle. I need to travel and see the world and to do that I need money. I have a long bucket list, which I must have ticked on so many boxes by the time I am 50. They say you settle down when you die, until then I will be on the move.”
Saroya Milimoh, who was all smiles as she received her title deed together with her uncle Tonny Muriuki, dismissed the idea of building a home in the village saying that not unless her village was located along a beach, she would not dare give it a thought.
Saroya Milimoh was all smiles as she received her title deed alongside her uncle, Tonny Muriuki. They dismissed the idea of building a home in their ancestral village.
Her assertion perhaps provides a vivid picture of what the young people have in mind when it comes to housing and where they would want to spend their lives.
“I would rather have something simple to sleep in when I come home but I would not go in a 100 per cent,” said Ms Milimoh, who is happily married.
On his part, Mr Muriuki who is married with children and has a home in Nairobi, but none in the village, says he doesn’t fancy the idea of building a home in the backyard.
“I go there quite often to see my parents. The thing is the time I spend there is limited and putting a home up there to me would appear like keeping resources idle instead of channelling the same where you are likely to get maximum benefits,” he said, adding that the fact that he has lived most of his life in Nairobi means he has limited attachment to the village.
For Muriuki and his niece, they are putting their money where their mouths are as concerns their latest acquisitions.
Milimoh said that she is giving herself options by purchasing pieces of land and building houses in different locations, adding that she hopes to rent the houses out when she is not using them.
Her sentiments are shared by Muriuki who also want to put up a holiday home at his piece of land in Kikopey.
Doreen Mutiga and Pauline Kasuki did not leave their selfie stick behind when they came to collect their title deeds, perhaps the clearest indication of where they fall in terms of age group.
Listening to them speak, there is no better way to best describe them than a dynamic duo headed far when it comes to investing in real estate.
For example, they started saving via a savings and credit co-operative (Sacco) while in college, a move that enabled them to buy their first property one year after graduating from college in 2010.
Investing for future
They shared that the two properties in Kikopey, one for each, is their fourth in line and they are not done yet.
For them, Kasuki says, the need to safeguard their children’s future and the fact that women from the communities where they come from do not inherit land fuels their desire to buy land.
“My brothers wouldn’t want to see me being given land, so even if I wanted to build a home there, I probably don’t stand a chance,” says Mutiga, adding that due to increase in population, land is continuously becoming scarce and this could be yet another reason many people her age are no longer interested in building homes in their parents’ backyards.
Brian Gacari, founder and CEO of PRC, says the major reason young people are shunning the idea of building a home back in the village is simply because they are looking for a relaxed place that meets their current desires such as hiking and swimming, just to name a few, which are very urban.
He says a majority of the investors who have bought into the Kikopey Ridge project are not interested in settling down with family but instead, want to put up cottages, lounges, weekend homes, luxury tents and camping sites.
“Buyers of phase two will find it even more practical for this kind of venture as the pieces of land form a semi-circle around the Sleeping Warrior, creating a fantastic view of the hills and breathtaking view of the lake,” he said.
Kikopey Ridge, where Wambui and her friends bought a piece of land, overlooks Lake Elementaita (in the background) and on the tail end touches the Sleeping Warrior.
Dismas Busolo, a Nairobi-based behaviourist and sociologist, gives some insights into this interesting trend. The sociologist acknowledged that a paradigm shift is happening, giving intermarriages and marrying across the religious divide as some of the factors that are fuelling this trend.
“Long time ago, people used to marry right across the valley, build a house and settle down in the village with their children. Even if they relocated to Nairobi, they would still find it necessary to maintain a house in the village,” says Busolo.
He opines that with urbanisation and people marrying across various social divides, it only makes sense for them to settle down at a place where it is convenient and comfortable for them.
Also, the exposure and the desire for finer things in life among the young people are largely contributing to this changing trend, says Busolo.
“Due to economic growth and advancement in technology, people are getting used to a certain lifestyle that is so different from what we had before. So telling them to build a house in the village is akin to asking them to abandon a lifestyle they are accustomed to and cannot live without,” offers Busolo.
“Going to Nairobi and making a life out of the city back then used to be a great achievement that when you came back everyone used to admire you. Now that almost half the village has relocated to urban centres, there is no one there to glorify you and so the ties are breaking leading to this trend,” adds the behaviour expert.
Yet another factor that could be responsible for this paradigm shift is the expansion of social boundaries. That people are going out and meeting friends from other parts of the country, Busolo says, means they can set up their own rural homes away from the maternal village.
While one of the major benefits of having a home back in the village is that it will save you a lot of social embarrassments when you retreat back for festivities such as the upcoming Christmas celebrations, Busolo says in case things go south in the city, you will not only have a fall back plan but also a launching pad to restart your life.
As a young person himself, Gacari believes that the trend set by youngsters is a good thing in that one can make money from their house, and still use it when they need to relax and enjoy their free time. He predicts that in the next two generations, the concept of building a home in the backyard will be a thing of the past.
Adapted from the Daily Nation