A 2011 World Bank survey found that only about one-tenth of Kenya's population earned enough to support a mortgage. However, that situation may be changing, with more affordable apartment units on the outskirts of Nairobi selling out even before the start of construction.
Anthony Wamburu, a 35-year-old technology enthusiast, is in the market for his first property.
Wamburu has been saving for a while now, and has his eye on an apartment — valued at $50,000 — in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. The units are dubbed "starter homes" by Suraya properties, the firm behind the venture.
"They are not very expensive for somebody like me who is looking to start a family quite soon,” he said. “And also I like the way it comes with different benefits. It comes with a gym. It also comes with a swimming pool, so I would not have to get gym membership somewhere else. So a starter home would be quite perfect for me."
Begun four years ago, Suraya Properties has built starter homes in the Kenyan capital and its outskirts with a view toward tapping into the low- and middle-income market. Most of their units range between $10,000 and $80,000.
The company was started to supply affordable homes to first-time home buyers, said CEO Peter Muraya, but a market was uncovered that he had not anticipated.
"Surprisingly, we have found that there's a lot of people heading to retirement who have looked at it differently and they are thinking, 'We [were] going to maybe the countryside retirement home' but they want a place in town where they can be coming and where it's their own," Muraya said.
The new apartment complexes in Thika and Syokimau are still under construction, but already are sold out.
Still, homeownership remains beyond the reach of most Kenyans. The Mortgage Company, a Kenyan real estate firm, estimates that only a fifth of Kenyans can afford a home priced at $10,000.
Part of the problem is the high interest rates charged by Kenyan banks.
"You're talking about borrowing at [rates of] eighteen, nineteen, twenty and even in some cases higher than that,” said economic analyst Aly Khan Satchu. “It's very expensive to borrow money from the bank and until we see significantly lower rates, I think we'll continue to see poor mortgage penetration because it's just too expensive."
Another real estate company, Hass Consult, says only 30,000 Kenyans hold mortgages, a tiny fraction of the country's 42 million people.