A well trimmed bougainvillea hedge separates the houses, expensive cars dot the driveways and neighbours exist in peace and harmony, waving at each other as they go about their business, or so the advertisement would have you believe.
But in real life, people happen, bad neighbours happen and the nuisance of paying handsomely to have your garbage collected and streets patrolled becomes a stark reality. A reality that many new home owners in gated communities are not happy to contend with.
As security and privacy become paramount for home-seekers, gated communities have become one of the most popular style of housing development in the Nairobi and it’s environs.
Though the convenience they offer remains unmatched, gated estates also pose intricate challenges when it comes to maintenance of resources and amenities
Home buyers are now coming to terms with the high service charges that contradict their efforts to escape the weighty responsibility of paying rent. When the development is up and handed over to the buyers, services such as security, water, common areas electricity, cleaning and waste management also need to be catered for.
BONE OF CONTENTION
Ideally, property owners or residents should be the ones forming or hiring property managers — an arrangement that would allow them to peg the service charges based on the real costs of providing the shared amenities and share surpluses that may accrue from efficient
Sue Muraya, the developer of Suraya Homes explains that in her companies developments, the home owners form committees and eventually take over the running of their estate so that they can manage these services.
“In most of our developments, these charges are passed on to home owners, but some homeowners always feel that the inclusion of these charges in property prices is exorbitant. Of course, that is expected in a community of people with different characters,” says Ms Muraya.
Service charge has become a bone of contention among home owners. There is a always a sense of entitlement especially after one has bought the house but core services have to be paid to ensure the cleanliness, safety and normalcy within the gated community.
“For developments where we don’t have second phases, we usually hand the houses over to the buyers and encourage them to have their own committees to run the estate. There are instances where these home owners have outsourced the management of these estates,” she said.
There are those home owners who become upset by these fees which are levied long after the houses have been acquired from developers.
In Nairobi, for example, the monthly service fee for residential house can range from about Sh1,500 to Sh100,000 depending on the range of services offered and the location of the estate.
Gated communities offer services such as cleaning, landscaping, security and general maintenance. There are also those estates that boast of club houses, gyms and swimming pools and all this result in an increased cost of maintenance.
Eric Khisa, a real estate agent says that the amount to be paid by house owners for the service charge basically depends on the range of services provided and the locality of the estate.
“When you live in high-end apartments and villas in the suburbs, the service charge has to be high because of the perceived prestige in the locality. It’s something one has to consider when buying the house or even renting it,” Khisa said.
The service charge fees also affect home owners renting out their units as they are forced to include it in the rental asking price.
Stephen Mutoro, the Chief Executive of Consumers Federation of Kenya said that service charges are sensitive issues that mainly originate from insufficient laws and consumer ignorance. Most people will go ahead and sign contracts committing to pay opaque fees without scrutinising them.
“It’s better for the buyers to sit down with either their developer, management company or committee and agree on the right amount as service charge. They should also factor in inflation and also demand for an audit of these funds to ensure that people do not profit from it. It’s not supposed to be businesses but a way of ensuring the sanity of the gated community,” Mutoro argues.
The lack of audit in some of these management companies has caused disagreements amongst residents thus challenging the ideal of a peaceful harmonious community.
Ms Muraya says that in some cases, there are those home owners who feel that they have the right to access to various facilities while riding on others who pay the charges and this results into acrimony within a community where status is a serious consideration.
“This bad behavior is common among many Kenyans who want free services. It creates bad blood between members of the community especially when it’s a committee running the management of the estate. Society is diverse and we always encounter such people,” she said.
The challenges faced in gated communities can be easily addressed through collective efforts. The prestige and exclusivity associated with such communities means the home owners need come together so as to maintain the high quality and neighbourly harmony synonymous with a gated community.
In most of our developments, these charges are passed on to home owners, but some homeowners always feel that the inclusion of these charges in property prices are exhorbitant. Of course that expected in a community of people with different characters.
Members should sign an agreement to ensure that the rules and regulation are followed for accountability. It is also important that consequences for non-compliance are spelt out clearly for all residents and such consequences must be reinforced at all times.
This will minimise conflicts in the estates and provide a mechanism for addressing any disagreements that may arise.
Harun Nyamboki, Lukenya’s Moke Gardens developer says that service charges are not one-offs and should be a critical factor to consider when buying a house
“There are instances where buyers feel shortchanged by the service charges due to what they feel are the exorbitant rates but they should always demand for accountability of this money,” Nyamboki said.
Nyamboki said that with today’s commuter lifestyles, home owners place a premium on convenience and proximity to facilities and without a working management company, these lifestyle will be a farce.
“In a gated community, you aren’t just sold a house but a lifestyle too. By providing a nursery school, gym and swimming pool, shopping mall and medical clinic among other services at the commercial centre, convenience is brought to the resident’s doorstep.
Lowering the charges
On the flipside, these services need to be maintained and a premium has to be set in order to offer continuity in service provision. A buyer to any gated community should understand this,” he says.
There are cases where home owners have fallen prey to profiteer developers who set exorbitant service charges in the densely populated gated communities thus pocketing millions of shillings in the process.
Ms Muraya says that the more the residents in a gated community, the lower the charges should be because of economies of scale.
“There are those services that even the management committee cannot set prices on and these include water and electricity. But things to do with internet, cleaning services and security is a matter subject to discussions and agreements amongst the home owners thereby choosing what cost suits them,” Ms Muraya said.
The Kenya housing landscape has changed and there is a lot of value in gated communities. For those that are well managed, they have been quite essential in spurring growths as they offer the greatest return on investment.
“When you have a first phase of a gated community doing well, it means that the second and subsequent phases will attract great return on investments for even the first phase,” Ms Muraya says.
“For example, we are still involved in managing the Four Ways Junction estate along Kiambu road because we are now constructing the second phase. This means that we have managed to liaise with the owners of the first phase to create a seamless management team which has ensured the gated community model functions,” she says.
“The buyers in phase two will now enjoy the social harmony within this communities, with a functioning management system. This will also means that the buyers in the first phase, who have invested in the second phase have a greater return on investment just because of a functioning gated community system.”
The dilemma many in the gated communities will always have is whether to form owners management companies or outsource the management of the estate to professional real estate companies.
Depending on the choice, each comes with its own merit and demerits. Its however important to choose one from the onset and lay down the regulations which everyone in the estate should follow.