The growing dream of the country home

57 percent of the respondents interviewed in Knight Frank survey said they were more inclined to live in the suburbs and 50 percent would buy a home in the country. PHOTO/BIRD

What you need to know:

Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, remote working opportunities and issues with urban planning are fuelling aspirations for rural home ownership as many Africans look to buy spacious, more eco-friendly homes in the countryside.

Until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, rural to urban migration was not only a major factor in the economic development of the continent but also presumed as a «given» for decades to come. However, a recent report suggests that migration between city and countryside is not just one-way. Improved livelihoods, a growing middle class and a number of  “push” and “pull”factors are seeing urban dwellers looking at “greener” pastures beyond city limits.

Two years into the pandemic, the tables have turned and many urban residents are now looking at the opportunities and lifestyle offered by rural homes, with a new report showing that more Africans than the international average are looking to buy more spacious homes away from increasingly crowded and expensive cities.

Rural regeneration, the growing need for social distancing as a first line of defense against pandemics and concerns over the impact of climate change, experts say, now have a big influence on the tastes and preferences of home-buyers across the continent.

According to Knight Frank’s latest Global Buyer Survey 2021, African buyers have expressed a strong desire for spacious and eco-friendly homes in suburbs and locations with access to healthcare and internet facilities in the countryside.

“The pandemic has supercharged demand for quality affordable homes in the suburbs as buyers look at the best of both worlds; space and greenery but easy access to services and amenities,” said Tarquin Gross, Head of Residential Agency, Knight Frank Kenya.

Data by Cities Alliance, a global partnership supporting cities to deliver sustainable development shows 80 percent of the residential areas in Sub-Saharan Africa developed over the past 25 years are informal and unplanned.

“Much of this urban expansion was disorderly, lacking adequate infrastructure, and with serious environmental concerns,” according to the Cities Alliance report.

While 57 percent of the 900 respondents interviewed in the Knight Frank’s survey said they would be more inclined to live in suburbs, 50 percent said would buy a new home in a rural or country estate; slightly higher than the rest of the world respondents (34 percent). More than three-quarters (71 percent) of respondents indicated that energy efficiency was very important to them compared to 42 percent globally.

Additionally, 29 percent of respondents across nine African countries including  Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe expressed preference for a greener home and willingness to pay more for it compared to 27 percent globally.

“This survey provides us with a timely glimpse on how investors and buyers are zeroing in on the sustainability agenda across Africa. We expect these findings will send a strong signal to developers on what buyers want, as the race to sustainability intensifies,” said Tilda Mwai, Senior Analyst at Knight Frank.

Real estate developers on the continent have also been looped in on the latest developments.

 “The pandemic and climate change have over the last two years, greatly shifted the perception of homes with buyers now incorporating work from home elements and green areas where they can get fresh quality air as key aspects they are looking for in affordable homes,” said Mizizi Africa Homes Chief Executive Officer, George Mburu.

Mburu told bird in a phone interview that the low cost housing developer with projects in the outskirts of Nairobi had started experiencing a surge in requests for spacious homes-with large windows and floor areas to accommodate home offices from both old customers and first time buyers towards the end of 2020.

“This social distance-driven fear partly prompted us to shift to modern flat roof home designs, not only to accommodate the new preferences but also to target young homeowners we believe will form a bigger percentage of real estate customers in the near future,” he explained.

While affirming that the trend is picking up across the continent, Mburu said Kenya is a forerunner, thanks to the rapid growth of its rural economy, buoyed by devolved government initiated over a decade ago.

Ever since Kenya set up county governments, a number of once-sleepy towns have been transformed.

“Most sleepy towns including those from the northern part of the country have significantly opened up with mega infrastructures now linking the towns to cross-border markets,” Mburu explained.

Key infrastructure development projects are helping to transform rural towns into cities. The multi-billion dollar Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor has transformed at least nine towns - Lamu, Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Moyale, Lodwar, Maralal, Wajir and Mandera - into new cities, in line with Kenya’s Vision 2030 plans to deliver a just and prosperous middle income country



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