Real Estate Developer Ken Sharpe Explores West Prop Zimbabwe’s Holistic Development Vision

Zimbabwe’s real estate tycoon Ken Sharpe shares insights into West Prop’s journey and its transformative vision for Zimbabwe’s real estate landscape, as he discusses latest news, upcoming projects, and highlights his holistic development approach.

Interview with Ken Sharpe, CEO and Chairman of the Board at West Prop Zimbabwe

Ken Sharpe, CEO and Chairman of the Board at West Prop Zimbabwe

Can you provide a brief historical background of West Property Zimbabwe?

Let’s rewind to 2007 and 2008 when my Ukrainian partner, Alexander Sheremet, and I decided to significantly venture into the property realm. Before that, my investments were focused on standalone properties, not only in Zimbabwe but also across the region and internationally on a personal basis. This led us to the decision to establish a property business. At that time, Houses for Africa, an existing company with a 15-year presence in the market, caught our attention. They had experience in middle-income home developments, land bank subdivision, and the process of transforming raw, unzoned land into developed properties.

Recognizing a larger opportunity, we decided to take over the company and integrate a substantial land bank acquired from our partners. This led to a partnership with the city of Harare in one of the first triple P’s (Public-Private Partnership). In 2008 and 2009, an agreement was signed for three locations, with the Mbudzi People’s Market being our initial collaborative project. This thriving market today, boasting several hundred shops, was established with the city putting in the land and us contributing US$5 million in capital to construct a roof-covered market resembling a shopping mall, complete with small lock-up stores.

Our second project in the PPP, which is breaking ground this May, is the Luxury Hills Estate on the former Warren Hills Golf Club, a renowned golf course where Nick Price learned to play golf. Covering 127 hectares, it is a significant development. Additionally, a third piece of land is earmarked for future city development expansion of the CBD. Through our partnership, the city invited us to undertake government projects, such as building roads in exchange for more land, leading to the ownership of a substantial land bank, just under 1000 acres of Harare city capital.

With the realization that we possessed a considerable land bank, we made the strategic decision to manage controlled development as a master planner, retaining most of the land. Our role is identified as a leading master planner in Harare, focusing on rezoning the land into appropriate uses and rolling it out as developed products. From 2018 until today, over the last five years, we have been actively servicing the land, implementing infrastructure services, including roads, water, and sewer connections, and designing the city for future development. Taking a long-term view, I draw on my experience as a serial entrepreneur with a background of 100 companies. My major focus shifted to real estate, particularly in realizing the vision of West Prop.

Our plan is multi-generational, extending beyond my lifetime. Despite having dropped out of high school at 17, I was invited to study a three-year program at Harvard Business School and during my time there, I developed a strategy statement and roadmap extending to 2050. This timeline extends 26 years from today which is the estimated time to finish fully developing our extensive land bank, requiring approximately a billion bricks. The “billion brick vision” is displayed digitally at our sites, currently at 62 million bricks, or 6.2% of the goal achieved.

Our role is that of a responsible developer, considering all stakeholders. We have coined the “Live-Work-Shop-Play” concept for our developments, creating smart cities with secure gated residential communities, shopping malls, offices, and social/sporting/recreational facilities. Our three nodes in the city of Harare, two in the north and one in the west, exemplify our commitment to building holistic and sustainable communities.

Can you elaborate on West Prop’s competitive advantage? With the extensive development in the industry over the years, what sets you apart?

Our competitive advantage lies in our size. Our vision is to become the leading property developer of exceptional, customer-centric properties, and we currently hold the leadership position in Zimbabwe in this regard.

We differentiate ourselves by not merely selling homes but also offering a lifestyle that people are eager to embrace within our communities. The real value add comes from the sense of community and unique offerings we provide.

While others may construct buildings, we believe ours are superior, exemplified by our latest project, Block Three at Millennium Heights. This four-floor building with 112 units is a testament to modern design, featuring glass balconies—a first in Harare. It is also the first building in Zimbabwe with full planters for trees and shrubs, emphasizing its green profile. The structure is entirely solar-powered, with options for residents to purchase solar power directly. Furthermore, it boasts reticulated gas to all units, with underground bulk gas storage, ensuring a neat and efficient setup. It is also the inaugural building in the northern suburbs to incorporate a KONE lift, imported from Germany, adding a touch of sophistication.

Moving forward, Block Four, aptly nicknamed ED Block, marks another milestone. Breaking ground two months ago, it is a six-floor building, even more environmentally friendly than its predecessor. This continuous commitment to increasing in height and quality sets us apart from our competitors. The recent state event, attended by 400 people and graced by the President of Zimbabwe, underscores its significance.

Another key differentiator is our land size. Unlike many developers working with smaller plots, we focus on developments exceeding 100 hectares. This substantial land size allows us to create holistic lifestyle communities, putting us far ahead of average developers. Additionally, the scarcity of locations within city limits with land banks exceeding 100 hectares further enhances our competitive edge. Most competitors would need to venture outside the city for such expansive projects, but we are fortunate to have these opportunities within the city limits.

Can you provide your general assessment of the real estate market in Zimbabwe? It is often described as a growing market. From your perspective, what trends do you observe, and what do you foresee for the future?

Up until last year, we maintained a cautious optimism, but now we are actively and confidently optimistic. Our optimism stems from the successful execution of our growth plans, driven by a high-performance culture at West Prop. We are firm believers in goal-setting and utilize the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) method, developed by one of key first investors of Google. This framework focuses on annual objectives, quarterly key results, monthly KPIs, and even daily check-ins.

Our sales plan for this year is set at US$50 million. A year ago, achieving this target seemed daunting, but in November, we reached US$4.2 million in sales. This achievement reinforces our belief that the US$50 million goal is attainable. Personally, I am always looking ahead, not just at the present or the next few years, but at least the next 26 years in terms of our strategy, and even beyond that to 2070 and the next 50 years. This forward-thinking approach allows us to navigate through current environmental challenges with confidence, as we have a long-term perspective on Zimbabwe’s trajectory as a country.

Can you tell us about the types of properties you develop and your target market?

Certainly, we specialize in the development of high-end properties, focusing on the top tier of the market. Unlike some opportunities in high-density suburbs, we are not primarily interested in that segment. When we initially acquired the company, it was oriented towards middle-income and smaller low-income properties. We even explored the low-income model, where development costs were around US$10 per square meter for servicing land, and selling prices ranged between US$15 and US$20. However, the landscape has evolved significantly since then, with costs in that segment now reaching as high as US$100 per square meter, making it a profitable venture.

Our focus, however, has shifted towards uplifting Zimbabwe, aligning with the President’s vision of achieving an upper-middle-income society by 2030. We contribute to this vision by offering higher quality products. This commitment is reflected in our exclusive and luxury high-end target market, with our products tailored to cater to their preferences.

Can you provide more details on the types of properties you develop, such as townhouses or penthouses?

When I mention “high-end,” it is crucial to note that it is affordable high-end. Starting with Block One and Millennium Heights, and now with three blocks in total, we began by selling studio apartments for US$25,000. Over the years, the value has tripled, with Block Two priced at around US$35,000, Block Three at US$50,000, and ED Block at approximately US$75,000 today. This translates to significant returns for investors, with properties appreciating in value. For instance, someone who initially bought a US$25,000 studio apartment is now witnessing its capital growth increase, and at the same time they can generate rental income of almost 100% per year reaching US$70 to US$80 a day on platforms like Airbnb. Investors are experiencing double-digit growth on their yields, coupled with high capital appreciation.

Our product range includes studios, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units, with the latter functioning as penthouses. These properties are situated in the upscale suburb of Borrowdale in Harare’s northern suburbs. In addition to the high-rise units, we have townhouses, clusters, and standalone homes in the final phase of Pokugara. This development called PRET2, comprising 70 units, has nearly sold out, with 43 under construction. Our brand ambassador, the renowned Jah Prayzah, is also currently building his home in Pokugara Lifestyle Estate.

Beyond the residential component, we are breaking ground on our first 5,000-square-meter office building and a flagship shopping mall known as the Mall of Zimbabwe, which is part of a $500 million US dollar investment in the entire Millennium City which combines all the elements of Live-Work-Shop-Play in one lifestyle community. Our partners in the shopping mall, Exemplar, a public company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, are 50% stakeholders in this venture. This comprehensive development, a culmination of about 12 years of planning, includes the residential units, offices, and the prominent Mall of Zimbabwe, positioned at the corner of the land. This project encapsulates the essence of our holistic development approach.

Is the Mall of Zimbabwe the first of its kind, the first large-scale mall in the country?

It is indeed the first covered large mall in Zimbabwe, classified as a Super Regional Mall. This designation means it goes beyond attracting not only local residents but also draws clientele from the entire city and even other cities, making it an intercity Mall. Upon completion, it has the potential to be the third or fourth biggest in Africa. We are genuinely excited about this long-awaited project. However, our current excitement is actually on another development known as The Hills Luxury Lifestyle Estate, situated about four kilometers west of the CBD on the golf course where Nick Price learned to play. This project, with a budget of US$280 million, is particularly noteworthy.

Within this development, we are constructing the first ultra-luxury five-star private branded residences, accompanied by a five-star luxury hotel brand. It marks a significant milestone as the first private branded residences in Sub-Saharan Africa, outpacing our South African neighbors in introducing this concept. The project is poised to break ground in May, and we are currently preparing marketing materials, conducting a soft launch in Washington next week during my visit. Subsequently, we plan to initiate marketing in April, with official sales starting in May. Our goal is to secure pre-sales well before the official launch.

Considering your upcoming trip to the US and your aim to attract investment from the Zimbabwean diaspora, are you also looking at other markets such as the UK and Europe? Can you elaborate on your international strategy?

Last November, I was invited to the US by the Atlantic Council to speak at a conference where I shared our billion brick vision. This garnered significant interest from people wanting to understand the motivation behind such a grand initiative in Zimbabwe. During the event, I was interviewed by Larry Madowo from CNN International and I also had the opportunity to engage with members of the Zimbabwean diaspora who expressed a keen interest in learning more about investment opportunities back home. The Zimbabwean Ambassador to the United States even acknowledged our efforts, symbolically pinning the Zimbabwean flag on the lapel of my suit and urging the private sector to take the lead in strengthening US-Zimbabwe relations.

Following this, discussions with the ambassador and his team led to the planning of a roadshow aimed at promoting Zimbabwe as an attractive investment destination. We are collaborating with another US investor, JW Oliver, who is currently expanding his business in Zimbabwe, with plans to create 20,000 jobs. His significant venture, known as ZimWorX, is a business employing 1,000 people currently in Zimbabwe. We are excited about this collaboration, and together, we will host an event on the 28th of February in Washington to showcase investment opportunities in Zimbabwe.

We believe it is crucial to move beyond political constraints and focus on economic development to uplift the country. With approximately 400,000 Zimbabweans residing in the US, and a significant number in the UK and South Africa, tapping into the diaspora market presents immense potential. If we can attract even 1% of the 4,000,000 total Zimbabwean diasporans, that is 4,000 potential clients, and if each of those purchases one property, it could amount to between 10 and 20 billion US dollars, enough to fuel our entire billion brick vision.

As part of our strategy, we are planning roadshows not only in the US but also in the UK and South Africa. This marks the beginning of our concerted efforts to engage with the diaspora community and leverage their support for Zimbabwe’s economic growth.

What is your vision for the medium term, the next few years, in terms of what you aim to achieve with West Prop Zimbabwe, especially considering your commitment to boosting the economy?

This question gets me excited because I am all about living in the future. In the next three years, I envision Millennium Heights completing over 50% of its development, with residents enjoying the vibrant community we have crafted. Picture a gym, a restaurant, and the first phase of 500 finished units with co-working spaces, a fantastic gym, pool and entertainment facilities. It all connects seamlessly to the park, leading into Pokugara Residential Estate, which is nearing complete sell-out with just a few residual and secondary sales. The Mall of Zimbabwe will either be finished or close to completion, alongside our completed and fully tenanted first 5,000-square-meter office building. This node will epitomize a thriving lifestyle community, embodying the envisioned ecosystem.

Moving on to the Warren Hills project, The Hills Luxury Lifestyle Estate, we anticipate the completion and opening of the golf course in early 2026. Phase One units, including villas, townhouses, flats, and retirement flats (a new venture for us), will be finished, with an eye toward initiating phase two. In three years, the sporting and recreational facilities will be a reality, contributing to the manifestation of our holistic vision.

Now, the most thrilling part for me is Pomona City, a project not widely known yet. Breaking the news for the first time, we are launching a US$4 billion city in November, introducing high-rise buildings, a paradigm shift for Zimbabwe. I have long envisioned bringing a touch of Dubai to Zimbabwe, and that vision is now taking shape. By the end of the year, will have started work on phase two, having already sold out phase one, a community of 750 stands with around 600 already sold. This city will redefine urban living with a comprehensive smart city concept. In three years, phase two will be well underway, marking a significant step toward our ambitious vision.

In a more personal context, reflecting on your journey, why did you choose this sector? What is your philosophy underlying all your endeavors?

It is all about a sense of purpose for me. It is a cause bigger than myself or mere profits. It is about putting Zimbabwe back on the map for all the right reasons. Externally, it is about showcasing that our nation is capable of exceptional achievements, that we can aspire to be a first-world country, and that we can create thriving lifestyle communities that entice our fellow citizens abroad to return, bringing back their skills, expertise, and investment to support our nation. Over the past 25 years, especially under Robert Mugabe’s rule and the subsequent economic decline, we witnessed a significant brain drain, with millions leaving the country. We are literally constructing the future for them, and that sense of purpose fills me with hope for what lies ahead.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it is about the people of Zimbabwe. I often emphasize that our nation’s greatest wealth lies not in our resources or minerals, but in our people. They are our most valuable asset, and I am dedicated to investing and believing in them. With 61% of our population under the age of 25, we are looking at a generation of young adults who are just beginning their lives. In 25 years, they won’t even be 50 yet, and in 50 years, they will be reaching maturity. This is the market we are building for tomorrow, and it is this message of hope that I strive to convey. I often say, I am not selling real estate; I am selling hope, hope in the future. If you can envision it and work towards it, that vision becomes your reality. So, my mission is to instill a sense of national pride, dignity, and the assurance that our country has the potential to be truly great one day. This message is what motivates me and keeps me awake at night, driven by the belief in Zimbabwe’s bright future.


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