When you are house hunting in Nairobi, the only person on your side is you. The caretaker will receive, at the very least, an ‘atta boy’ from his boss for admitting someone. The agent will get his or her commission. The landlord will be assured of rent at least for the next month. The advertiser will receive their fees for having the house up on their site. The only person who will be interested in finding you a home as opposed to a mere house is you. With this in mind, you should expect that there will be more than adequate window dressing. You should therefore learn to read between the lines. You should expect that some information will be kept from you. Below are four things that no one cares to tell you.
The house is too small
First, you are the only one who knows what you consider small and how much space you need. Even then, some houses are a joke. You will be shown a house the size of a shoebox and the agent will smile with all sorts of promises that the house is really more spacious than it looks. You will not find anything bigger for that price- you will be told. You will even get décor ideas and how to utilize space. Many words will be thrown at you except for the ones that really truly sum up the house- it is too damn small –for anyone.
There is no water
The caretaker is obviously not going to tell that you will have to lug 20L jericans up four flights of stairs every fortnight. They will not tell you that you will often have to buy water from the ‘mkokoteni’ guys around the hood. No, they will only give you days on which water is expected. The agent might be nice enough to warn you to keep some storage but other than that, you will hear nothing else. This is Nairobi, you will be left to figure it out for yourself when you have to go without a bath. Ever been sweaty in a house with an unflushed toilet and sink full of dirty dishes?
The rent is too much
Every neighborhood has a baseline when it comes to rent. Obviously the newer buildings and those with tiled floors will be on the higher side. The same applies to those with indoor running water in some neighborhoods. However, if you rock up on the day of house hunting without an idea of what the baseline is, there is a risk of getting conned. The caretaker or landlord might decide to make an extra 2,000 or more off you every month but you would never know. The agent will obviously not tell you that you are being overcharged. That information will be leverage for a higher commission.
This is not the house in the picture
While you look at possibilities on the internet, you will find the same picture used to advertise different places. This happens a lot in Nairobi. The picture might be of a house in Mombasa but it will be used to advertise a unit in Kikuyu, another one in Imara Daima and another one in Nyeri. When you visit the site and realize that it looks nothing like the picture, you will be informed that that particular unit was occupied but the one available is an exact replica.
Behind the Curtain
In place of the truth, agents and other real estate people will use words and phrases that they think carefully veils the truth. They will use buzzwords to blind you. However if you know to look further than the word, you should be fine.
This is common in real estate ads. In fact, it is almost always present. No one tells you that may mean right by the roadside. In some cases it may mean a few meters away from the road but this would still be inconvenient. This kind of convenience offers very little of the same.
Do you know what it is like to listen to matatus ply the route all night? Do you know what it is like to live in a house that is constantly coated in dust? Well, you will find out when you get a place that is right by the roadside. No one will tell you about the noise and the dust. You will hear about convenience and time saved that could have been used to walk to the stage.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you will see a house advertised in an ‘up and coming’ neighborhood. Upon investigation you will almost always find out that it is a neighborhood so far off the radar you have to notify immigration officials of your intention to go home every evening. Before the outskirts of Nairobi like Syokimau and Thika became popular, this was the phrase used to describe them.
This is another common word used in real estate ads. It is used to describe houses that are way too small for the amount advertised. A synonym for this may be ‘intimate’. In Kenya, it is rare for ads to include the square footage unless it is an ad for a commercial property. So, you are left to discover the disappointing size of the house when you visit. Some have taken to also advertising studio apartments. In most, as discovered, it turns out that these are just smaller than regular bedsitters. You will have space for nothing else but your mattress and slippers. If you are not careful, you will knock your evening meal off the cooker right into the toilet while still in bed.
This was not much of a thing before but it seems to be very popular now. If you see this then keep your expectations low especially if it is an advertisement for a bedsitter. Expect a corner with a sink and a half square metre of kitchen counter.
To reiterate, no one cares about you in this city. Nairobi is a city where the naïve get chewed and spat out before they recognize their own confusion. Have your own back. Be your own advocate.