Scammers have learned how to exploit the housing demand in Kenya and target Nairobi which is home to a population of about 4.4 million.
The shortage of proper and affordable housing has created an enormous number of desperate people clamouring for the few affordable houses avalable - hence becoming easy targets for unscrupulous agents.
The Covid-19 pandemic made a lot of Kenyans to move houses and seek more affordable homes as an adjustment to the cash crunch. A few Kenyans also took the opportunity to upgrade their residences since land lords were more willing to negotiate.Pipeline Estate in Embakasi Nairobi.
Too Good to be True
One of the most popular house hunting scams is where the houses advertised are said to be in a prime location but the rent doesn't not correlate.
"Bedsitter in Lavington at Ksh5,000. No Agent," a shabby black-and-white poster stuck to an electricity pole could read.
If you come across a listing ad that looks too close to perfect, house hunters should do some research before committing their money.
These scammers often take advantage of first-time renters who have no clue or past experience.
Online content creator Chebet Ronoh was a victim of this con, having been persuaded by an ad for a 1-bedroom house along Thika Super Highway going for Ksh15,000. After sending Ksh12,000 to book the house, the agent disappeared.
Conniving agents sometimes pretend to be letting property that does not actually belong to them or have no authority to represent the owners.
They will pretend to follow all the legal procedures to avoid raising eyebrows and sometimes could make tenants sign fake lease agreements.
Kiss 100 FM presenter Nick Ndenda, who fell victim to a similar scam, found out that the house had already paid for, had another occupant.
On the day he was supposed to move in, the security guard broke the news that all houses were booked, leaving the presenter stranded with all his belongings heaped up in a pick up outside the gate.
Some scammers urge desperate house hunters to make payments upfront and disappear with the money.
The fraudsters usually convince a potential tenant that the house is on high demand and requires payment of a certain amount to reserve the unit
John Mbati, a content creator at Kenyans.co.ke, recalls how he was conned after being convinced to pay rent deposit for his prospective house before moving in.
The agent asked the journalist to send Ksh15,000 for him to refund a person who had supposedly already booked the same rental unit.
"I realised that they were scamming me the next day when the guy asked me to send him money because he was stuck in traffic. He wanted Ksh2,000 to pay a motorist whom he claimed rammed into his car at Roysambu while on the way to show me the house in Kahawa West," he recalled.
"I received a call from a person who insisted that the caretaker was conning me and gave me a police officer's number. The alleged police turned out to be an imposter after I reported at the DCI. The fake officer also wanted to siphon more money from me," Mbati added.
Off-plan housing scams are high-risk schemes where potential homeowners are convinced to invest in houses that are yet to be built.
The victims pay premiums over a number of years or months as the properties are being developed.
However, the real estate industry in Kenya is dogged by stories of victims who have lost millions after property developers failed to deliver on their end.File photo of lavish houses in Nyali, MombasaFile
While some housing agents offer convenience by helping clients to find houses easier, others have turned the service into a scam.
The take advantage of clients who can't find their way around certain areas. The claim to have good knowledge of the location and are in touch with landlords that are in need of tenants.
The viewing fee is meant to facilitate them to help you find the perfect house. However, some use the opportunity to study the tenants and determine whether they are gullible enough to fall for more elaborate con schemes, after which they introduced the victim to their accomplices.
The next time you go house hunting, be sure to notice the red flags to avoid losing money to conmen.
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