On April 18, I attended the 21st edition of the Kenya Homes Expo. I was attending the trade show for the seventh time since my campus days. I went to the trade fair with Ben, a friend from high school. He had no plans of visiting each stand. Ben was window shopping for a house he might buy when he turns 30. He was particularly keen on location, prices and payment terms that are available to any young Kenyan professional. Since he was not going to stay there the whole day, we visited a number of realtors who were selling properties situated in various parts of the city and surrounding counties. Ben left at around noon. Between noon and 5 pm, I went up and down the expansive exhibition venue – KICC’s Tsavo ballroom and Lenana and Aberdares Halls.

WP_20150418_009

The Banks and Mortgages

During the time I spent at the event, I decided to visit the stands run by the various banks that were present. These include the National Bank of Kenya, Commercial Bank of Africa, Barclays Bank of Kenya, Housing Finance, Kenya Commercial Bank (Mortgages) and Jamii Bora Bank.

Housing Finance’s stand was strategically located in the far left corner of the Tsavo ballroom. Here I interacted with James who was guiding visitors through the asset financing matters. I also interacted briefly with Roselyn who was helping various visitors with questions on buying property that was listed in a document that was available at the stand.

WP_20150418_005

Housing Finance stand at the Kenya Homes Expo

Through interacting with James and Roselyn, I learned that Housing Finance provides financing for different segments in the market. For house buyers, the financial institution offers mortgages. For property developers seeking to put up larger property developments, Housing Finance can advance funding through either loan (debt) or equity financing. These are facilitated by the bank’s project finance department. Unfortunately, the project finance arm was not represented at the stand.

At the Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) stand, I met Peter Kamunyu, a mortgage manager at the bank. I learned that as far as a property is concerned, CBA Bank offers a number of financing options for different people with different needs. For instance, the bank finances up to 80% of home construction for someone who would like to build their own home. The bank also has current mortgage products for home purchasers, including the 105% mortgage financing. When I inquired about fixed mortgage rates, Peter told me that fixed mortgages are available subject to review after a given period.

It is at the Kenya Commercial Bank (Mortgages) stand where I spent quite a lot of time engaging Rodgers Mulama, a mortgage advisor at KCB. The discussion began with the myths that most of us have about mortgages. For instance, is there any fine print in the mortgage agreement? Rodgers and his colleague made it clear that after the bank accepts to offer you a mortgage, you will be given a period of time to go through the agreement before signing. It is advised that you also consult your lawyer as you go through the agreement in order to fully comprehend what it entails. According to them, the terms of the mortgage agreement are usually explicitly indicated.

Regarding the interest rates, banks are required to divulge the costs associated with credit or loans — taking up and repaying a mortgage. As for the computation of the amount you will be required to repay, a prudent borrower may visit the bank and go through the calculations with a mortgage advisor. It is here that Rodgers and his team highlighted the importance of strict financial discipline. For instance, despite interest rates varying, you will be notified by the bank in advance about the revised interest rates. He cited that it is financial indiscipline that lands many people in trouble as far as mortgage defaults are concerned.

Property Developers

I also visited two stands run by property developers. At the Tamarind Properties Ltd stand, I met Joe Mungai. He’s been a property developer for a few years and still going strong. In his experience as a developer, he cited inadequate infrastructure as a hurdle in property development. He is hopeful that the county governments shall provide infrastructure such as access roads, water, and sewer lines in order to make property development at the county level sustainable. As far as borrowing is concerned Joe was hopeful that the banking sector will be able to lower their interest rates – both for the developer and the mortgage borrower in order for the whole sector to prosper.

At the Lordship Africa stand, we interacted with Wendy. Lordship Africa is the property developers behind the Karen Hills project, a ‘premium residential community’. It comprised of serviced one-acre parcels of land that were being sold at approximately Kshs 55 million. The establishment has its origins in Eastern Europe and they also have plans of setting up new property developments in Nairobi. In Upper Hill, for example, they are planning to set up an office and healthcare development scheduled to be completed in 2018. Along Bishop Road, the developer has plans to set up a high-end hotel and residences complex that is scheduled for completion in 2017.

Solar Water Heating Products

At the expo, I visited two stands where exhibitors were showcasing various solar solutions. Energood (EA) Ltd is a member company of Amiran. Most of us know Amiran as the guys behind greenhouses and other farming solutions. Energood is the branch that supplies Chromagen solar water heaters. They supply and install solar water heaters of varying capacities across the country. Chromagen is an Israeli brand.

WP_20150418_015

Chromagen solar water heating unit at Energood stand

I also visited Solar Discounter where I met with Edward Earl, the company CEO. Their Nobel brand  solar water heaters are from Greece. The company has also been involved in a number of projects where they have successfully fitted solar panels. Edward hinted that they are the only suppliers of a solar generator which they are introducing into the Kenyan market.

Solar Discounter

Solar Discounter stand at BuildExpo Africa

Stone-coated Roofing Sheets

Stone-coated roofing tiles and sheets are becoming popular among developers and homeowners. For a few years now, I have been visiting the REXE Roofing Products Ltd stand. Victoria was up and about explaining the application of different products to the visitors. When I got a chance to interact with Victoria, I learned a lot about the brand. She went on to mention the growing number of projects completed and others that are ongoing. The company has supplied and fixed armour glass shingles in a number of residential houses, hotels and holiday homes across Kenya. They are experts in waterproofing and have a proven track record in carrying out these specialized works in commercial, hotel and residential buildings in Kenya.

I also visited the Deco Roofing Systems Ltd who supply and fix stone coated bitumen sheets, waterproofing works and stone coated roofing sheets. They are also contractors who have specialized in the installation of these products.

Precast and Prefab Housing

We have discussed prefabricated housing here before. Many people have also been asking a lot about them. At the Kenya Homes Expo, I had the pleasure of interacting with the Economic Housing Group (EHG) team led by Winnie Iyaya. They have been involved in a number of projects where they have set up residential houses and office complexes that are made out of timber. Okay, they did not carry the houses to KICC but they had a slideshow of their past and ongoing projects. You can get in touch with the team and you can visit some of their projects. We shall highlight some of them in our upcoming features and learn why some homeowners prefer to have houses that can be moved on a trailers. EHG has also mastered the art of making furniture.

WP_20150418_006

Economic Housing Group (K) Stand

The Chinese have also invested in modern precast housing solutions. The company, Boleyn Magic Wall Panel Ltd makes different panels and components for housing from concrete. The concrete is precast and pre-stressed. They had a demo next to their stand where visitors had a feel of a house made of these panels. It is here that I learnt that they have an ongoing project in Kitengela. The plant that produces these panels was opened last year in December.

WP_20150418_018

Boleyn Magic Wall Panel Ltd Stand at the Kenya Homes Expo

Decorative Glass and Shower Cubicles

Impala Glass Industries was also present, showcasing their glass finishes and shower cubicles in the Aberdares hall. Satya Prakash, the sales manager at Impala, explained to visitors how they can transform their spaces using glass – floors, ceilings and partitions. In my line of work, so far, I have not come across projects where glass is etched or designed in creative patterns similar to what Impala had on display. Satya explained that those were tailor-made for individual home owners. For example, some visitors present were interested in having glass floors in their living rooms. Other were inquiring on the possibilities of having custom patterns on the shower cubicles they were planning to order for their homes.

The Floor Finishes

At the heart of the Tsavo ballroom there was a stand run by Contract Carpeting. As their name implies, these are the carpet masters who have been in business for at least 40 years in Kenya. Yusuf was the exhibitor who took time to demonstrate the various ways that you can test the strength of a PVC floor tile. With a little pressure, he folded the corner of a sample tile, forming a dog-ear shape – the same way you fold the corner of a book. In a short time, the tile was restored to its original shape without any cracking along the edge. He explained that customers need to put in a lot of time and substantial amount of money in researching and selecting the best floor tiles.

WP_20150418_002

PVC Floor Finishes on display at Contract Carpeting stand

Contract Carpeting has different floor finishes for different uses. Yusuf took time to explain this by showing me the different carpet tiles that were neatly laid down at the stand. The business also supplies and installs high impact gym flooring and the artificial grass for outdoor applications. Floor finishes, according to Yusuf, should be more than just “how much does it cost?” Instead, you should invest in a product that will last for long. Contract Carpeting has a 10-year warranty for some of their tiles.

 

Lessons Learnt

Whether you are building, buying or just observing, trade fairs and exhibitions are venues where you can get good deals and establish business relationships with different players in the market. It is an opportunity for you to feel, smell, hear and experience some of the products that are in the market. You can also compare prices and services across similar service providers. In case you want to visit or see some of the past projects done by an exhibitor, you can have this arranged too. A number of exhibitors follow up with phone calls. Others do not. Some email while others do not. Ultimately, attending expos is an opportunity for you to appreciate the experience that construction is.