On top of Rebero, one the many hills in the City of Kigali, is Mountain View Estate, established three years ago by a property investment firm, Region Holdings.
Up there, one gets a full and clear view of the entire city and the suburbs in the low lying valleys.
The air is fresh and the neighborhood serene—providing the perfect environment for a dream home.
A Kenyan associate professor (who was uncomfortable to be named), is one of the proud home owners of a beautiful four bed room-one storey mansion in the estate of about 20 units.
The decision to own a home in a foreign country is one that many would frown upon but in Rwanda, more and more foreigners are choosing to settle here permanently. It is testimony of how the country’s profile has become attractive in the past two decades, analysts say.
“It’s a safe city [in a safe country]” says City of Kigali (CoK) Mayor, Fidele Ndayisaba.
In interview with The Sunday Times, the Kenyan said he has spent eight years in Rwanda and that it’s no longer just a work place to him, but now home.
The estate has about five other foreigners living harmoniously with nationals , creating a cosmopolitan neighborhood in an equally cosmopolitan city.
They came as workers, to do a job and possibly return to their home countries only to fall in love with a county which now is a ‘home away from home.’
Other notable foreign home owners there include a Nigerian couple and a Ugandan lecturer and both say they are happy to have a home in Rwanda. There’s also a semi-finished building whose works are ongoing and which Bayern Okinyi Ojing, the project supervisor said will be completed in the next two months.
Okinyi says the house is owned by another non Rwandan who currently works and stays in USA. She too, like other foreigners has chosen to establish a home in Rwanda.
Kefa Angwenyi, a Kenyan architect and Managing Director of Region Holdings says he also bought a house in Rwanda where he has settled with his family.
Access to Finance
Against the common belief that foreigners have more cash than locals as to afford buying houses with cash, The Sunday Times gathers that some of the expatriates are actually also beneficiaries of local financing services from local banks.
One of the foreign home owners said he bought the property using a bank mortgage from Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) that will be repaid in ten years.
Beatrice Chege, KCB’s Head of Mortgage Finance told Sunday Times that it’s true her bank has financed a number of foreigners to buy or construct homes and other properties in Rwanda.
“We are a regional bank and our product is open to all East Africans,” she said.
However, Chege adds that the bank also finances East Africans in Diaspora who want to own homes in Rwanda and that though the product is mainly tailored for Rwandan Diaspora, people of other nationalities who have interest in Rwanda have also benefited from the financing.
“Since 2011, we have worked with over 25 non-Rwandans from Kenya, Nigeria, Canada, Congo, USA, Uganda and Burundi; people just have an interest in Rwanda, which is a good thing” revealed Chege.
Apart from KCB, Bank of Kigali, Rwanda’s biggest lender also says they have a number of non-Rwandans who have taken out mortgages from the bank though no specific figures could be availed.
But not all banks are offering mortgage plans to foreigners.
For instance, an inside source with I&M Bank, who spoke off the record, said the bank’s official policy regarding the subject is “No, unless they’re married to a Rwandan”.
That’s mainly because mortgages are long-term loans of up to twenty years yet most foreigners don’t spend that long in the country without moving. As a result, many foreigners who can’t access funding to buy homes end up using their own cash.
For instance, in an upcoming housing project of over forty units to be developed by Region Holdings, in Gaculiro, an uptown residential area, the project investors reveal that about 40 per cent of those who have booked stakes are non Rwandans.
According to those who talked both on and off the record, it’s a question of whether to continuously fork-out hundreds of thousands of francs every month for a decent house in Kigali or use the would-be rent fees to finance a mortgage and ultimately own the property. Many prefer the later.
Angwenyi explains that living alone in Kigali can cost one as much as Rwf150, 000 as monthly rent and with a family and the need for more space and a decent place, the cost shoots to Rwf400, 000 onwards.
“So four years ago, I decided to invest in my own home,” said Angwenyi.
Meanwhile, the Professor points out that Rwanda’s structural reforms in the past couple of years have also made it easier for people to process and own property. For instance, he notes that while it takes years to process a land title in other countries, in Rwanda it took him just three weeks to finish what he described as ‘fast and transparent process,’ to get the title for his property.
Furthermore: “Rwandans make foreigners emotionally comfortable and socially acceptable; it’s this cosmopolitan feature that makes Kigali so livable”.
This comfort is seen in camaraderie events that residents in the Hill View Estate organize once in two months.
“We have goat roasting which is hosted on a rotational basis among residents every two months, it creates a sense of community and an environment of friendliness,” said the professor. The next goat roasting fete will be hosted at his house in December to usher in Christmas.