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November 18, 2018

Banks' Effort To Create Housing Index Plausible

The banking fraternity met at Safari Park Hotel over the last two days to listen to findings of a research carried out by the Kenya Bankers Association on how the sector can better function in the national economy.

Bankers and other participants listened to presentations on how to better gauge the risk of lending to the agriculture sector, assess the needs of the credit markets and so on.

However, perhaps the most significant game-changer at the convention was the presentation of a model on how to measure and track the price changes in Kenya's booming housing market.

The model for a housing index will fill a gaping void where wild speculation, sleight of hand or fly-by-night tactics have been the norm in determining values of houses in Kenya.

Real estate firms like Knight Frank, Lloyd Masika and HassConsult, among others, have traditionally not shared data on the transactions they have been involved, meaning we cannot form one true picture of what is going on in the housing market.

A visit to the development control department at the Nairobi county headquarters to establish who is building what and for how much is an exercise in patience and dedication. You will most likely be handed thick volumes of minutes of the county's meetings through which you have to find the town planning committee's monthly meetings to get details of what was approved.

In short, this country lacks a central reference point when it comes to tracking the developments in the housing sector.

Jared Osoro, who directs research at KBA, presented a model that can provide the country with a housing index for use by banks, insurance companies, real estate developers and buyers.

The index will make use of data gathered from KBA member banks to capture the valuations of properties; old and new.

Features such as amenities, nearness to the highway, security, size and so on, will also be captured to see what weight each carries in determining the valuations of different houses.

Houses in Karen, for example, may show certain valuations because of the prestigious address while those on Ngong Road could reflect the zoning regime that allows for multi-dweller (flats or maisonettes) developments, which are high-density.

The index should also tell the user why prices are changing in one direction or the other. Some prestigious addresses could see a fall in demand if perhaps crowding and insecurity checks in and vice versa.

Others could see a rise in prices because of affluent people moving into the neighbourhoods, a phenomenon known as gentrification. This is something that is happening in previously low-end neighbourhoods of New York and Washington DC in the United States, such as Brooklyn.

The proposed housing index model will be subjected to appraisal from economists, bankers, developers and so on before it can be polished into a final product.

It is expected to be released on a quarterly basis, likely starting in this third quarter of the year.

Up till now, only HassConsult, a realtor, has attempted to come up with an index based on its own clientele, showing what sellers quote for sale of their houses.

Many developed countries have housing indices, as this forms one of the most crucial sectors in any economy.

In the United States, the S&P/Case Shiller Index tracks changes in house prices in major cities in the country while in the UK, mortgage providers have their own index.

The Kenyan index is proposed to use Hedonistic regression to estimate demand. It will work by taking many factors that may influence a person to buy a home such as location, size, amenities, security and so on and try to establish how much of an influence each has.

With time, banks or developers may determine that perhaps a combination of good location and security beats a combination of larger size and amenities.

According to director of mortgage at KCB Group Sam Muturi, "we need to have statistics of what is happening in the market." He says one should know where demand is and of what kind, but the country lacks such data.

A standardised housing index could see developers shift from some locations to concentrate on others where they anticipate a good combination of influences would lead to better prices.

It would also be an important reference tool for policy makers and lobbyists who can point out to reasons why either better roads, security and amenities should be installed in an area to spur housing development.

Certainly, it would serve as an economic indicator that allows allied sectors such as cement makers, contractors and so on to plan ahead by looking at the price trends and housing demand.

Mbugua is a financial communications consultant and comments on topical issues.

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