Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa is gradually becoming a grotesque shadow of its former self as Swahili houses are being replaced with skyscrapers. Swahili architecture is now being pushed into extinction as property developers scramble for the limited space available, pushing up land prices in the town. Property developers of repute in the coast say the trend is irreversible as builders turn to house types that the market demands at the moment.

Mwenda Thuranira, the chief executive of MySpace Property, a real estate firm that also organises an annual homes expo at the coast, says that it’s becoming difficult to get the Swahili houses, say a 4-bedroom, which are going for as much as Sh15 million. “The prices of Swahili houses have been rising in the recent past. Getting one at less than Sh15 million is a pipe dream now,” he said.

Ownership of old Swahili houses is changing fast, with some opting for outright sale while most prefer joint ventures in redeveloping the space as most of the houses are communally owned. Joint venture arrangements are emerging effortlessly as most owners naturally prefer residing within Mombasa Island to settling in the suburbs like Kisauni, Likoni, Changamwe or Mikindani.

Partnerships give original owners the privilege of getting a percentage of the proceeds from the developed houses besides accommodation. “Such an arrangement is negotiable and might range from 75:25 to 60:40 per cent developer-owner deal,” he said.

Thuranira, now an authority on coastal property market after years of operating from the region, says the joint ventures are highly technical deals that involve a lot of legalities. Such are putting off potential investors from proceeding. “This is a deal that requires so many legalities between the developer and the owner making so many investors shy away from such an arrangement,” he said.

Developers are seen jostling for space in the town’s periphery in areas like Mwembe Tayari, Mwembe Kuku, Sidiria, Sparki and Makupa for their strategic locations. Awareness of this fact by home owners in this areas has made them raise the asking prices. “I cannot dispose my house at less than Sh15 million because am informed that this is a strategic place where business thrives,” said Mama Mwinyimkuu, 78, an owner at Sidiria. The other option for such owners is to partner with investors and share in the spoils.