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Kenyan banks shrink home loans after interest rate capping

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- So many houses are being built in Kenya’s capital Nairobi and other parts of the East African nation, but Kenyans are not taking up mortgages to buy them as banks tighten their purses following introduction of interest caps.

New data from the Central Bank of Kenya show on Wednesday that uptake of home loans fell for the first time in a decade last year even as property developers stepped up construction of houses that include maisonettes, bungalows and apartments.

As of December 2016, there were 24,085 mortgage loans in the market, down from 24,458 in 2015, a decrease of 1.5 percent due to tighter credit standards by commercial banks.

Kenya had 7,275 mortgage accounts in 2006, and they have been growing steadily to hit 24,458 in 2015.

However, last year, uptake fell for the first time in many years with the apex bank blaming it on the introduction of rate caps.

"Commercial banks have introduced tighter credit standards so the actual mortgage disbursements have been lower than the increased demand.

"Most commercial banks have also shown preference to offer short-term loans as compared to long tenure mortgage loans," said the apex bank.

This is despite the fact that there is increased demand for mortgage loans due to perceived affordability after the introduction of interest capping law in September 2016.

There is also increased appetite for mortgages as more borrowers perceive that they can qualify for higher amounts.

Following the capping of interest rates, mortgage charges stood at an average of 13.5 percent and ranged between 11 percent and 18 percent as compared to 19 percent average with a range of 12 percent to 23 percent in 2015.

The majority of those who took up the home loans preferred those with fixed charges, according to the regulator.

About 62.1 percent of mortgage loans were on variable interest rates basis compared to 89.3 percent in 2015.

"There seems to have been more uptake of fixed rate mortgages by home owners after the introduction of interest capping law," noted the bank.

The average mortgage loan size, however, increased from 80,582 U.S. dollars in 2015 to 88,349 dollars in 2016 due to rise in property prices.

The value of mortgage loan assets outstanding rose from 1.9 billion dollars in December 2015 to 2 billion dollars in December 2016, representing a growth of 8.1 percent due to rise in house prices.

However, even as the value of loans rose, the outstanding value of non-performing mortgages loans nearly doubled from 114 million dollars in 2015 to 213 million dollars in December 2016 reflecting poor performance.

"The non-performing loans (NPL) was 10 percent which was above the industry NPLs to gross loans ratio of 7 percent," said the central bank.

Besides tighter controls, banks listed low level of income, high incidental costs (legal fee, valuation fee and stamp duty), high interest rate, lengthy process and high house prices as other obstacles keeping Kenyans away from mortgages.

Prices of houses that include bungalows and maisonettes rose during the period to average between 64,000 dollars and over 130,000 dollars respectively.

The prices have risen ten-fold since 2000, blocking thousands of potential buyers from the market, according to an April report by the World Bank.

While the central bank puts decline of home loans in 2016 at 1.5 percent, World Bank economists noted that mortgage lending dropped by two thirds following the introduction of interest rate cap last year, pushing the market to a 15-year low.

"I applied for a mortgage loan last December but to date my application is yet to go through.

"I was keen on taking advantage of the low rates following the capping of charges but it is clear to me the bank may not approve it," said Collins Musyoki, a media worker in Nairobi.

But as the mortgage market shrank, Kenya experienced a real estate boom in 2016 as developers sustained construction of residential and commercial buildings amid rising rent and property prices.

In the capital Nairobi, according to the county government, the value of residential units approved for construction went up by about 8 percent, an indication of property developers’ increased appetite.

The county government approved plans for houses valued at over 2 billion dollars, up from 1.5 billion dollars in the previous year.

"Even with drop in mortgage loans because of banks tighter control, construction of houses will not stop because property developers are renting some of the units initially meant for sale.

"Besides, people are building their own houses to save costs and at their own pace.

"The real estate sector would continue to grow," said Antony Kuyo, a consultant with Avent Properties in Nairobi.


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