Kenya Real Estate: Kavit Shah Presents 400 Acre Master-Planned and Mixed-Use Development Tilisi

Kavit Shah shares his assessment of the real estate sector in Kenya and presents Tilisi, a 400 acre master-planned and mixed-use development located in Limuru, just 30 kms from Nairobi CBD. The development comprises residential properties, a logistics park, as well as areas for schools, shopping malls, recreational centers and medical centers. He also discusses competitive advantages, upcoming projects and talks about Tilisi’s philosophy.

Interview with Kavit Shah, Co-CEO of Tilisi Developments PLC

Kavit Shah, Co-CEO of Tilisi Developments PLC

What is your assessment of the real estate sector, especially in light of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the current trends in Kenya?

Before the pandemic, a lot of real estate was under construction. When the pandemic happened, a lot of them continued construction, but a lot of them also stalled construction because they were not sure about the economy and what the situation was going to be. As a result, a lot of people have continued, but people are also struggling to get sales and fund their developments because a lot of the developments are funded through sales. Land prices in general have come down in most areas. Sometimes buyers can get a good deal in the middle-income market; however, there has been a soar in higher-end housing because housing environments and home environments became more important because of the pandemic. People wanted to live better, to actually have space, to have nice greenery around them and gardens. Kenya has seen an increase in high-end residential properties. The big players are still in real estate for the long term. Not many projects have launched in the last year. People who are doing this as a side business are going to be exiting because it is harder and harder to make money in real estate now in Kenya.

Tilisi is said to be a “15 minutes neighborhood”. What does this phrase mean?

It means that anything you want is 15 minutes away, whether that is a 15-minute walk or a 15-minute drive. With Tilisi, because we have a mixed-use development within 400 acres and we are going to be providing all the facilities and amenities that anyone would want within the 400 acres, you can get anything within a 15-minute walk. For example, we have around 110 acres of our Tilisi Logistics Park so we are going to have a big population of people who are going to be working there. We also have many residential options available. We have the more affordable housing site called Maisha starting from about $40,000 for a two-bedroom apartment going up to Tilisi Views which goes up to about $350,000 for the most expensive villa. We have various options between those two price ranges. We also have areas for schools, shopping malls, recreational centers and medical centers. Eventually, you are going to be able to walk your child to school or you are going to be able to just walk down and buy your groceries or drive down and go to the medical center if you need to.

What are your competitive advantages? What makes Tilisi stand out compared to the surrounding projects?

We have many residential options available. We have the more affordable housing site called Maisha starting from about $40,000 for a two-bedroom apartment going up to Tilisi Views which goes up to about $350,000 for the most expensive villa.

First is the internal infrastructure within Tilisi and also the external infrastructure around Tilisi. Internally, we have good quality roads, bore holes to provide water, and we are going to be doing our substations to provide power. We have three manned entrances and gate structures. We have a jogging track, walking paths, ICT, and security around the compound. All this infrastructure is already in place so if somebody comes and invests in Tilisi, all that is already done. It is a plug-and-play for a developer. For somebody who lives or works there, the efficiencies which come with good quality infrastructure are obvious. There are not going to be massive traffic jams within Tilisi. Everything is well planned. There is enough space for turning of trucks. For the residents there are recreational areas. Everything is controlled and planned. You are not going to buy a villa and not know what is coming up next to you because everything is clearly zoned. Regarding external infrastructure, there is a lot that has been going on within the last few years around Tilisi. The Nairobi-Nakuru Highway is well underway. It has been under construction for about three years and it is projected to be completed next year. The progress being made is quite good. That really opens up accessibility to Tilisi, to other sides of Nairobi, and to other sides of the country. For example, Westlands is only 27 kilometers away so when the road is done, it will take 20 to 25 minutes to get to Westlands. In addition, there is the JKIA Expressway. This is a toll road all the way from Mlolongo near the airport to James Gichuru as the first phase. Getting to the airport is going to take 40 to 45 minutes maximum. There are also plans for the commuter rail to open up, but there has not been much progress on that in the last couple years. Once that does open up, there is going to be a railway just outside Tilisi to the CBD, the airport, and other places which makes us a prime location. Apart from the infrastructure, the environment of Tilisi is in a very green and quiet neighborhood in Limuru. The weather is quite different from that of Nairobi. It is much cooler, it is at a higher altitude, and the environments are lush and green. Another area where we have a competitive advantage is our size. We are 400 acres which might sound big, but we are not massive. It is a manageable project. Everything is within walking distance. Tilisi should be fully operational in about 10 to 12 years, which is a big advantage over some of the other projects which are going to be decades of work.

Currently, the demand has soared in your Logistics Park. Can you give more details on this project?

At the beginning of COVID, we were working on quite a few deals. Naturally, because of all the uncertainty and all the unknowns with the pandemic, people slowed down in their plans. So, a lot of deals went on hold. Around September or October, when people realized that this pandemic is here to stay and life must go on, all these deals came back on the table and we closed all of them. We have had some other deals on the table. The original plan for the Logistics Park was about 90 acres, of which about 75% was sold. We are working on and going to release new areas for the Logistics Park. We are expanding it by about 20 acres. In total, we are going to have approximately 110 acres of Logistics Park land.

Have you noticed a trend of people moving towards suburban living?

Because of the pandemic, people put more emphasis on their home environment. It became more important to have bigger, more open, greener spaces. Features like gardens became more desirable. Things like a home office or an extra room became more important because a lot of people were working from home. We found that people who traditionally were living in apartments in the city have actually looked at Tilisi as an option. Many of them have bought because for the same price as an apartment in the city you get a villa on your own piece of land, with your own garden, and in a bigger, cleaner environment.

Maisha has started construction and has over 50 bookings currently. What is the stage of development now? What is the advantage of this project and what makes it different?

Our selling proposal at Maisha is our affordability. A two-bedroom apartment starts at $40,000. Because the land at Tilisi is still reasonable in price compared to other parts of the city, we have allowed ourselves to not really densify it. It is only the ground floor plus four floors, for example, for Maisha Mapya. We have put in amenities like a swimming pool, a gym, basketball courts, and a clubhouse which people might not get in the city because the land is too expensive. A developer looking at places like Kileleshwa, Westlands, and similar locations will have to build very high because of the land price. Obviously, with height comes density and with density comes many other problems. So, we are offering a lower density offering at affordable prices with all these amenities.

Do you have other projects that you are working on at the moment?

At the moment at Tilisi, it is about making the residential sector come alive. In October 2021, we are handing over our first phase of Tilisi Views. Our first residents are going to move in. That is really exciting for us because we planned it for about a year and then construction has taken about two years. Also, earlier in the year we launched Phase Two of Tilisi Views because we found that we were doing quite well with Phase One. At the moment, we have about 75% sold of Phase One. We launched Phase Two and we already have about 30% bookings. That is our priority at the moment. We want to really focus on the residential and make it come alive. Also, we have extended our Logistics Park. We are continuing to get people to come and set up at Tilisi and showing them why it makes sense. Last year, we had the first business operating out of Tilisi Logistics Park which is really exciting. Those are our short term goals. Our medium term goals will be getting a school operating at Tilisi, getting a medical center, and a couple of years after that, having a retail center operating out of Tilisi.

Investors are not only looking at the cost of projects now, but they are also concerned about environmental issues in developments such as materials used to build projects, energy spent, etc. What is your approach regarding the environment and your projects?

We are clearly zoned so we are completely in control of our densities. We are completely in control of how much people can build, whether it is logistics or residential or anything else. We are a light industrial zone which means that we are in control of emissions and also noise levels. There is not going to be any heavy polluting industry coming into Tilisi. It is very light manufacturing or logistics and warehousing. Secondly, we are very conscious of the green environment. People can only build a certain amount of footprint area. There have to be areas dedicated to green spaces. Within our common areas, we have already planted more than 1,000 trees with more to come. We are trying to have an environment that is conducive to the environment. We are also working on a solid waste strategy and having recycling within Tilisi. We are also working on a power strategy where we are possibly going to be putting in solar power on the Logistics Park users’ roofs, recycling that, and feeding it back to the grid. We still have a lot of work to do on that. Regarding other policies, we encourage people to recycle their water, although it is not required. We also encourage people to look at green methods of construction and sustainability.

What is your inspiration? What drives you to do what you do? What is your philosophy in work and in life?

What drives me is the ability to make a mark and leave a mark. I really enjoy when I see things grow. That is one of the reasons why I am in development. It is really rewarding for me to see something develop from a greenfield site into a villa or an apartment building and have the whole master plan come to life. I find that very satisfying. We have put into place basic strategies and controls and guidelines to ensure that Tilisi keeps its value for years to come. These kinds of controls and guidelines include densities and very specific uses. We really want to create a project that people are going to be very proud to live in or work in or partly own.

What are the core philosophies of Tilisi?

One of the key philosophies of Tilisi, or even myself, is long term vision and long-term thinking. A lot of developers and a lot of developments in Nairobi are very focused on the short term and trying to maximize the gain they can make in that short term project. However, when you are looking at 400 acres or something large, for example, 186 villas at Tilisi Views or 600 apartments at Maisha, the thinking has to be shifted. You really have to think about what is sustainable and what is going to work long term and if people are going to be happy. For me, that is an important message. We want to think long term and not to maximize short term profits, but to think bigger.

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