Technology enthusiasts have predicted doom for agents in various towns who earn from Kenyans searching for property.
They argue that in a few years to come, technological advancement will make it needless for anyone to pay to be shown a vacant house or land to let. Mr Andrew Gacharah, 29, and Mr Barringtone Omondi, 28, who run property listing sites in Nakuru and Kisumu respectively, say the future is particularly bleak for the traditional housing agents.
Mr Gacharah, one of the three creators of property listing site 2ishi.com, said that unless the agents adopt modern means of advertising their property, they risk becoming obsolete.
And Mr Omondi, who runs nyumbapoint.com, said property clients are showing an increased desire to use alternative means such as social media while searching for what to buy.
However agents Mr Juma Okello, 70, and Mr Kennedy Obongo, 39, who are property agents based in Kisumu, said technology will in fact boost their business rather than drive them out.
Labelled a necessary evil by those in search of property, the traditional agents are a cadre of traders that Kenyans love to hate because of their business models.
So fed up is Kisumu resident Mr Laban Amudogo, he now says he will physically look for a vacant house whenever need arises, however laborious that may be.
He said he lost Sh1,200 to two agents in a span of two weeks in 2012, an experience that made him vow never to pay for being shown a house again.
“In the first instance, I lost Sh500 to a Kondele agent who lied that a certain house was free. It later emerged that someone had already taken it as I prepared to pay for it. The agent had pocketed his money nonetheless,” Mr Amudogo said.
“On the second incident, I paid Sh700 to another agent who took me to a house which I liked but later came to learn that he wanted me to live with someone I didn’t know. He didn’t disclose in advance that I was going to share the self-contained house with someone else and pay half the rent.”
In response to the trickery allegations, Mr Okello who has been an agent for the last 15 years said a few crooks have given the job a bad name.
Mr Okello charges Sh1,000 as viewing fees for a house whose rent is between Sh1,000 and Sh10,000; Sh1,500 for a rental costing between Sh11,000 and Sh20,000. For a house whose rent is above Sh20,000, he charges Sh2,000.
Mr Obongo, who plies his trade a few metres away from Mr Okello along the Kisumu-Busia road, said rogue agents have made potential clients keep off.
“Some rogue agents in Kisumu really give us a bad name. They con people in the pretext of helping them get houses and tarnish our job’s reputation; and trust means the world for us,” said Mr Abongo who charges Sh500 to show a client three available houses within a specified price range.
But Mr Omondi, whose five-month-old website targets those looking for property in Kisumu, said it is not just trust issues that should worry the go-betweens.
“In the next five to 10 years, agents will not be useful at all. It is a matter of time before their business die a natural death because no one is using them,” he said.
Mr Gacharah, who has overseen the creation of the 2ishi.com site and an Android app for property searchers, said Kenyans still bank on the old modes of finding property but technology will reign supreme with time.
The web developer said the site he runs with his cousin and a friend can create room for property agents to herald the shift to e-searching.
“We welcome all property agents to 2ishi on condition that they are genuine. The more listings we have on 2ishi the more variety of listings our users can choose from,” he says.