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Side hustle turns into fast growing real estate firm

When three men in their late twenties pulled together to set up a side hustle start-up eight years ago, none of them imagined they would one day be the leaders of a company that currently has a substantial share in the real estate sector in Kenya, besides a global presence.

The three brains registered Username Investment Limited, a company that was meant to carry out an array of businesses but in the year 2013, driven by their passion for real estate, they shifted their focus to property having identified a gap in the market.

Reuben Kimani, the chief executive officer; Joseph Gitonga, head of sales and marketing and Julius Karanja, head of finance and customer experience, all had a combined experience of information communication technology, engineering, banking, mortgage, real estate management and finance.

They settled on real estate investment after realising that young people earning between Sh30,000 and Sh100,000 a month could not afford property worth millions that were being offered in the market.

“We made a commitment to open up the previously inaccessible property market to young people aged between 20 and 45 years. In the past five years we have built a fast growing real-estate development and investment company whose desire is to provide the current and upcoming generations with a place they can call home,” says Mr Kimani.

Their capital was Sh2.5 million which they used to purchase a 42 plot property in Konza, Makueni County. The capital was from their savings and an unsecured loan of Sh1.8 million.

For many potential clients, the word ‘Username’ denotes an identity in online computing, a field miles apart from real estate business.

“In the technology domain, each username is specific and unique to each subscriber. That is why we opted for the name because we believe in providing services and solutions that are unique to each and every individual customer’s needs and aspirations especially when it comes to providing homes and issuing title deeds,” explains Mr Karanja.

The Kenyan real estate has been growing rapidly and it continues to experience competition among players in both residential and commercial properties. As the market continues to diversify, the low and medium income earners are preferring to invest in affordable land that has been made ready for immediate settlement.

To cope with the tough competition, the three entrepreneurs conduct extensive research to identify places with high potential for growth, such as upcoming infrastructure projects, highways, bypasses, railways, airports and cities.

“All our properties are value added with a perimeter fence, estate gate and internal access roads. We get boreholes drilled and electricity installed,” says Mr Gitonga.

“The price ranges from Sh199,000 to Sh795,000 inclusive of legal fees, stamp duty and title transfer fees with no hidden charges.”

To attract potential buyers, the company delivers title deeds within six months upon completion of payment. Its law and regulatory office oversees the documentation process when you are filling in an offer letter, sale agreement and title deed transfer form.

Based in three offices in the country — Westlands, Nairobi’s CBD and Nakuru — Username has now tapped on the global market, successfully enabling over 500 diaspora clients spread across the US, Europe, Asia, Middle East and the rest of Africa to acquire land.

Investors across the globe can therefore go to their website and book a plot(s) and make payments online.

With property in Ngong, Konza, Tinga, Kangundo Road, Naivasha, Nakuru, Ipolosat, Athi River the company has grown to employ over 50 people directly and over 500 indirectly.

“We have conceptualised and done over 35 projects, issued over 6,000 title deeds to clients and formed a client base of over 8,000 clients. Majority of these projects are already sold out and our clients have also begun construction,” says Mr Kimani.

But it has not all been an easy ride. In the earlier years, they faced a setback when a property they had acquired turned out to be fraudulent. This led to an instant loss of Sh5 million they had paid as deposit.

“This was all the money we had at that time and the business almost went down. Since we did not have cash after the loss, we picked up ourselves and thought hard of other ideas that would help us continue with the business,” says Mr Karanja.

“We struggled until we found a land owner who was willing to partner with us and that gave us a new lease of life.”

The existence of companies who do not deliver on their promises is another big challenge in the real estate industry. “This has made the public to lose trust in this sector. However, we continue to build long standing relationships on trust and strive to never compromise on ethics, values and reputation to achieve results,” the trio say.

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