Reuben Kimani shares on how he started a thriving land investment firm that bets on affordability and service excellence

Reuben Kimani, CEO, Username Investments Ltd

“Our journey can be traced back to 2013 when we started operations as three directors. Bundled with a lot of passion and interest in real estate, we first started the company as a side hustle,” begins Reuben Kimani, the Chief Executive Officer, Username Investment Limited during an interview with StartUp Magazine team.

The CEO and two other directors; Joseph Gitonga, Head of Sales and Marketing and Julius Karanja, Head of Finance and Customer Experience, were all employed at the time of starting the company. He quit two years later to fully focus on the business. A year later, two other directors followed suit.

They started rolling out small projects with a bigger vision of scaling up operations. They believed that with growth, many people would benefit from the venture including the government.

Real estate is capital intensive. So they had little capital to pull the straps, mostly borrowed from friends, relatives and an unsecured loan.

“From the moment I quit employment I realized that the journey would be crazy and needed a lot of sacrifices. I was accustomed to a six figure monthly salary and lots of other benefits. So I had to sacrifice all this for a monthly salary of Kshs 25,000 when we begun,” shares Mr. Kimani

Username Investments was started from a small office at Veteran House in CBD with only one employee and the three directors. With time, as operations grew, there was immense need for a bigger office space. The company later relocated to The Mirage at Westlands, which is the current Head Office and a CBD Office at International Life House. “The rent is tenfold that of our previous office, but we are now comfortable,” he points out.

Our intentions

“At the outset we realized that there was a huge gap in the sector. In particular, there was lack of affordable properties. Most young people were willing to buy properties but they could not afford. Statistics indicate that over 50 percent of our population is under the age of 25. We wanted to invest in this generation so that we could empower their future. If you realize most of our projects are under half a million shillings, adds Mr. Kimani.

The firm also realized that many people buy property for investments. So it undertook research and invested in properties that have high potential for growth.

“We first began operations with a small project in Ngong. So far we have done 25 projects and the 26th one is on the rollout in Nakuru County.”

With a view on the millennial market, they had to shift focus and make their products as exciting as ever.  “We have a very flexible plan where you can book a property with as little as Kshs 30,000. Then the rest you pay in 12 equal installments. In addition, we grade the access roads, put a perimeter fence, an estate gate and make sure that water and electricity is available. We also provide individual plot fencing services at request.”

With this in mind, the firm is on course of building A tradition of trust. “We also process title deeds within three to six months after buying the property. Out of the 25 projects, we have already issued title deeds for 21 projects. We also allow for refunds upon request in case someone would wish to be refunded their money after buying a property,” he assures.

Username Investment Limited was awarded The 2018 Best Land and InvestmentCompany at The 26th Kenya Homes Expo, something which the CEO says are the fruits of the firm’s employees.

The firm has so far serviced over issued over 5,000 title deeds and formed a client base of over 6,000 clients and we encourage more people to buy properties as they are affordable.

Challenges

According to Mr. Kimani, real estate is full of challenges with the biggest being fraud. In 2016, Kshs 60 billion worth of fraud was reported to the government.  We were conned Kshs 5 million in 2016 but we were lucky to recover the money.

“The other challenge is getting the requisite capital. Real estate is capital intensive. Banks could not finance us back then. Now they can.”

Age barrier has also been a challenge. “We are young guys and huge properties are mostly owned by elderly people. Most of them rule us out until we tag along our middle aged lawyer or we pay upfront after the agreement. That is when they can trust us.”

“There is also a time we bought land and paid a deposit for it after the agreement. We then started selling it and the owner then doubled the price even before we concluded the buyout. There is no way we could have stopped the project because we did not want to compromise our name. So we bought it at twice the price, ate a humble pie but with some good lessons to boot. It was a loss.”

“Right now we do a lot of due diligence before we buy any property. There are also a lot of disputes in the sector but we solve them diplomatically,” he concludes.

Lessons

  • I am a Telecommunication Engineer by profession and I have taught myself everything about real estate in the course of the business.
  • Any challenge can be solved. The moment you solve a problem that someone hasn’t solve it elevates you.
  • We have a commitment to serve our customers with dignity. We realize that everyone wants a good life. So when they come here with their money to buy a property, we are helping them to realize their dreams and wouldn’t want to compromise that.
  • I am passionate about the youth agenda. I advise young people to be open minded. For instance you might have done a certain course in college but opportunities arise in a different profession, you have to realign yourself and capitalize on it. It is good to follow our passion but we have to live practically.
  • When you are young you have the time to test the waters, not only in life but career wise. You have rooms to make mistakes and learn from them. Never ever give up. If we could have given up, Username Investment Limited would be no more.

 

 

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