How real estate tech has cured diaspora Kenyans’ pain


Diaspora Kenyans always want to make investments in real estate back at home. However, they are unable to make quick decisions on various properties in which they can invest as they don’t have the time to travel all the way to verify the authenticity of what they are investing in. This leads to delayed investment or some entirely stopping making the investment.

“It has been a difficult decision to jet to Nairobi from the US just to view a house because the people in Nairobi we send to check property on our behalf are dishonest,” says Moses Kariuki, a resident of Seattle, US.

This setback is however being addressed through technology such as Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR) and Augmented Reality (AR).

“With this technology I can choose from several houses where to invest from the comfort of my bedroom,” says Mr Kariuki.

These technologies were initially designed for the entertainment industry, but they are now being adopted in real estate, benefitting both the sellers and buyers of assets.  

The technologies are helping diaspora investors to have a feel of the property they want to buy as if they are where the asset is located. For instance, a potential buyer is now able to view both the interior and exterior parts of an apartment before making the decision on whether or not to purchase it.

Situma Siepete, operations director at Hotlist Group Ltd, which specialises in virtual reality and tours development, says the concepts present “a perfect blend for digital marketing for real estate and hotels, among other properties”.

He notes that virtual reality is perhaps the most used compared to the other two due to its cost and versatility.

“Imagine a scenario where before a property developer break ground, you can walk into the completed project designed using 3D renderers, make any minor tweaks, liaise with quantity surveyors to refine cost, structural engineers can test the integrity of the buildings and buyers can buy the property when still in the off-plan phase. That’s the beauty of these concepts,” says Mr Siepete.

On Purple Dot website, VR plugins have been installed to give customers an immersive 360 degrees view of the interior of Serene Park’s four bedroom ultra-modern villas that stand on 3,600 square feet.

The property, located on Mombasa–Machakos Road junction, Machakos County, gives you the entire view of clubhouses, fitness centres, swimming pools and the expansive gated community ideal for home owners or investors targeting big returns, all on your smartphone.

“You can move from the utility area, enter the living room, view the kitchen and dining, check guest bedrooms and decide whether you love the master bedroom,” says Anthony Onyango, who lives in Newcastle, Australia.

But to get the best out of such experiences, experts says you will need a blend of all three technologies, and get a feeling of what technologists call Extended Reality (XR).

“It is the best way to go in marketing for real estates. The concept creates a new experience for the user,” says Brian Afande, managing director of BlackRhino VR, an XR agency based in Nairobi.

Several Kenyans in diaspora have described the painful ways in which they have lost their hard-earned millions in their endeavour to own property in various areas proximal to the capital.

 “This city is littered with painful stories of people in diaspora who have been conned dealing with the construction and real estate industry. Some have been robbed by quack consultants and contractors, others have been swindled by their relatives,” says Nashin Okowa, chair of the Association of Construction Managers of Kenya.

But by giving diaspora end-users the ability to experience their own property in the future, make the necessary design and architecture changes beforehand, developers and contractors can budget accordingly to potentially reduce almost all material wastage at construction sites resulting in exceptional savings.

According to Simon Bromfield, Africa lead and Channel Manager at American multinational construction software company Autodesk, the combination of full immersion, spatial awareness, and depth of interactivity enables a far more creative, efficient, and connected process for making things that go beyond end-users’ visualisation.

“It offers a fundamental shift in the way people build – from conceptual design to production, operations and maintenance – into the entire construction process. In Kenya, these innovations are a welcome addition to the construction industry, where high costs, wastage of materials and lengthy construction timelines, are among key challenges faced,” he expounds.

During the design process, he explains, VR could give designers living abroad the ability to understand better the outcome of the design before anything is built.

“On the construction site, contractors and engineers can use AR devices such as a tablet or a smartphone to see the digital model overlaid onto the physical site, walk around and identify issues in the built environment, and add comments, and automatically localize to the digital model.”

During the maintenance process, with VR you can remotely monitor dangerous or inconveniently located systems from a safe environment. It provides the ability to control and analyse without having to be in the same physical space.

But for Julian Lim, a tech researcher, the ultimate value of technology in the property sector for those living in the diaspora can be achieved through combining blockchain and XR.

“These novel technologies pair quite well. First, it allows the decentralisation of virtual reality content without sacrificing its protection,” he states.

By using blockchain, he adds, it becomes possible to create a full-fledged virtual world, filled by its users’ creations and working on the rules created by its users, without intervention from the platform’s developers.

“It allows users to create a world that truly lives on its own and allows users to experience it without any risks,” Says Mr Lim.

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