EDITORIAL: Enforce law to tackle rogue property agents

A home for sale. Building a house is a time consuming venture.
A home for sale. We cannot afford to come up with laws that are never enforced. PHOTO/FILE
Early last month, news emerged that a Nairobi-based housing company shut down its offices – allegedly before starting construction of a multi-million project despite receiving payments from prospective homeowners.

Simple Homes Housing Co-operative Society Ltd famous for the “rent as you own” model of home ownership had lured Kenyans into its well-executed con game that required buyers to place a 25 per cent deposit of the house value which was about Sh250, 000 and then pay the balance in equal instalments for five to 40 years interest free.

The idea was to have individuals acquire homes off the plan, where a buyer pays for a house under construction and wait for its completion as he or she continues to pay the balance.

The sweet deal blinded prospective homeowners who did not care that Smart Homes did not have any physical office in the country and was operating using only a Facebook page and website.

After luring enough buyers, the company went under by shutting down its Facebook page and website, leaving investors high and dry.

Such incidents are increasingly becoming common in the local real estate sector and it is quite depressing to note that rogue agents are now running the show in the housing market despite the existence of an Estates Agent Act that stipulates who should practice estate agency.

The law states that no individual shall carry out the work of an estate agent unless they are registered by the Estate Agents Registration Board (EARB).

This law has been grossly violated considering that, out of the thousands of firms currently in operation, only 315 real-estate agents have been licensed to operate since the board was created in 1989.

The enforcement of this law appeared imminent in 2015 when then acting minister for land, housing and urban development Dr Fred Matiang’i announced that all real estate agents would be vetted and registered online by the EARB from September of that year to streamline the housing sector.

Rogue agents, Dr Matiang’i said, habitually market parcels of land in the midst of expansive open land in the middle of nowhere with the promise to provide roads, water and electricity, yet many of them do not have the authority to do so from the relevant bodies.

According to Dr Matiang’i, most of these “too good to be true” incidents end up becoming civil cases between the homebuyers and sellers, who are hard to trace since the contact details and phone numbers with the buyers or referrals are never enough to trace them.

Nearly two years down the line the proposal is yet to be effected. This is not only disappointing but also unacceptable.

We cannot afford to come up with very good regulations that are never implemented.

We therefore call upon the government to fast-track the enactment of the Matiang’i proposal compelling all housing development firms to register as members of EARB to help weed out rogue housing development firms.

Citizens, on the other hand, have a role to scrutinise developers’ past housing projects completion record – with every land subdivision and architectural drawing verified with the respective county and national government departments.

Buyers must be reminded of the old adage that if it is too good to be true, it probably is, and they should therefore do thorough due diligence investigation before committing their money on projects.