By Prudence Minayo
With the introduction of off-planning housing, a section of Kenyans got a chance of becoming homeowners without the hustle of dealing with contractors, suppliers and other nitty gritties involved in building. Hence, most real estate agencies promising off plan housing especially for low income earners boomed. Enter Suraya Properties, a real estate firm owned by the Muraya’s that offered clients unbeatable deals.
WoK chronicles the once behemoth that was Suraya Property Group and its eventual fall.
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Peter and Susan Muraya
Spearheading this development was husband and wife duo, Peter and Susan Muraya. Each of them had prior experience running their own businesses. Susan was an experienced fashion designer behind Kenya Fashion Week whose clientele included Kenya Airways. On the other hand, Peter, an architectural graduate from the University of Nairobi (UoN), tried his hands in a number of business ventures that quickly collapsed. In the 90s, he had a three-floor club called Zig Zag Zog.
Peter’s background and education
He was born in Kahaini area in Murang’a county. His father was an officer in charge of Kenya Prison Industries. He was brought up in a family of three brothers and four sisters. Peter attended Kamiti Nursery School followed by Magecha Full Primary School in Kandara. Magecha was very different from his previous school.
“When I reported to the local school, I was chased away for wearing shoes while everyone else walked barefoot. As a result, jiggers had a party feasting on my soft feet. Thankfully, we had some local antiseptic, the bitter juice of ndongu (solanum) plant,” Peter recalled in an interview with The Standard.
He was then transferred to Nairobi Primary School but would still spend the holidays working at his family’s farm in Murang’a. For his O and A levels, he attended Lenana School where he was an avid rugby player.
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He entered into the world of business when he began transporting people’s coffee using his father’s pick up. By the time he was being admitted to the UoN, he had started transporting French beans to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. In 1987, he graduated from the premier institution with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture.
At first, his father wanted to use his connections to help him secure formal employment. However, he was uninterested having gotten used to doing his own work.
When he met his mother-in-law, his decision was further cemented. She worked as a protocol officer at the office of the president and still ran some side jobs.
Teaming with his brother, he formed an architectural firm called Emms Architects. In 1992, he ventured out on his own and founded Plence Architect. With his savings, Peter also got into a number of businesses, some of which failed.
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First, he opened a furniture store in Kibera which was followed by a showroom in Westlands. The latter collapsed due to prohibitive rentals.
He then ventured into the transportation business. He bought a lorry which ferried goods to the Great Lake region. The business also died after some people dismantled the lorry and sold its parts. The vehicle disappeared somewhere in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This was followed by the opening of Zig Zag club which boasted two impressive dance floors. The business enjoyed relative success and he even managed to bring international musicians to perform, including Coolio and Franco. He still ended up losing a lot of money and the business led to the auctioning of two of their houses. It turned out to be a very challenging time for Peter and his then young family.
In 2002, he made yet another decision that would affect his finances. In order to show support for his friend Uhuru Kenyatta (who was KANU chairman), he volunteered to run for the Kandara Parliamentary seat. This was in the hopes that Uhuru would win the presidential election. They both lost and a huge part of his family’s fortune was also blown.
The experience taught him that people’s problems couldn’t be solved through politics. He found out many just wanted handouts and were not interested in future developments. After the election, he got a lot of job offers from friends who had gotten into the government but turned them down. He wanted to discover his calling. A friend urged him to read Rich Dad Poor Dad.
The ever enterprising Muraya knew real estate was his passion. He could draw up designs but lacked the land to develop. When friends found out he wanted to go into property development, they felt he had lost it. It was only his wife, Sue, who believed in him. At the time, it was a business majorly controlled by Asians and he decided to break the monopoly.
To venture into the business, he partnered with others. He took out a Sh15 million loan with his house as collateral and a friend who had sold some flats poured Sh12 million into the venture.
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Their first project was Castle Rock Gardens in Milimani. They were accused by the National Environmental Management Authority of building on a riparian reserve.
The businessman then traversed across Kiambu looking for people with spare land. He wanted them to enter an agreement where they would give land and Muraya’s team would build. They would then share the proceeds which some thought was an insane proposition. One person gave them a chance and that’s how the Rosslyn Heights pilot project was born.
Suraya is what would make the couple infamous. The business propelled them into the limelight with Peter Muraya being called to speak in various programs including Movers and Shakers on Citizen TV. The company received a lot of publicity through the media and became a trusted entity.
Trouble began in 2019 when several of their clients began to complain of unfulfilled promises and moved to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI). Others complained that their houses were not constructed yet they had paid for it. For some, it was the fact that the houses were poorly constructed and had numerous problems.
In an interview published by the Daily Nation, a customer named Laurie bitterly complained that after spending more than a million (most of which was a loan), they delivered a place with no street lights, a swimming pool which she best described as a mosquito breeding pond, and there was no sewer treatment plant. The residents also realized that the developer had left them with a Sh1 million water bill. By this time Laurie had spent at least Sh2.8 million, she still had issues with getting a lease from Suraya and had no proof of ownership. To top it all, she had also invested millions in their other properties with nothing to show for.
Another buyer named Muchiri Maina also spent more than Sh2 million on a project called The Falls of Riverside. The apartments were in a prime location and went for Sh14.5 million, which he thought was a good deal. He did his research and realized people had good things to say about Suraya. Agreeing with his wife, they began making cash payments for the property whose construction was to begin in November 2015 and end in 2017. He realized that something was wrong when by late 2016 construction had not started. He reached out to Peter wanting a refund. Peter told him he would regret his decision once the units were ready but Maina had made the decision to get his money back. They agreed on a payment plan after which he was given the first cheque of Sh900,000. Afterwards, there was nothing else and his efforts to follow up were met with a brick wall.
In 2019, a bank put up their Sh384 million luxury residential houses in the upmarket Lavington for auction for failing to settle a loan.
These are just two among many other complainants against the developers. On his part, Mr. Muraya said the company had fallen into hard economic times. Among its troubles was the fall of Chase and Imperial bank which were big on real estate investments. He also blamed other buyers for stalling on their payments even as most launched complaints with the DCI.
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