It was the late Paul Samuelson, the first American to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences who said: “Investing should be more like watching paint dry or watching grass grow. If you want excitement, take $800 and go to Las Vegas.”
The same could be true for constructing a house. Getting land, especially in urban set-ups like Nairobi is never easy. Buying genuine land and turning it into a dream home is even more demanding.
According to Mugo Mutembei, the CEO of Bristem Developers, the next three important things to do after acquiring land should be to plan, plan and plan again.
He adds that bankruptcy, abandoned structures and court cases are sure packets of misfortunes for anybody who tries to cut corners to own a house overnight.
“That is very common. If you go to areas which are developing, you will find so many uncompleted structures. That means the owners did not plan from day one. In fact, they were not aware of what they were entering into,” says Mr Mutembei.
In such cases, the search for rent-free life turns into a debt trap with an amplified risk of losing out the very land to financiers such as banks.
According to Land price index by Hass Consult, a real estate agency firm, land prices have maintained an upward trajectory, making it extremely important to plan in order to avoid losing money.
For instance, an acre of land in Donholm now averages Sh70.6 million and Sh60.9 million in Langata. In Parklands, one will require Sh414.4 million for an acre while the same size will cost Sh559.7 million in Upper hill, Sh408 million in Westlands and Sh143.7 million in Muthaiga.
Since such enormous figures may leave one with weaker financial muscles to construct houses on their own, one may opt for getting a loan for development. In an economy of depressed credit to private sector, getting the loan requires more than just having the land.
For banks to be convinced, one should present a title deed, the drawing for the dream house, bill of quantity and approved drawings from county government. In addition, one should have identified a contractor who is registered by National Construction Authority (NCA).
“Without these crucial evidence, banks may never get interested. So if you just plan blindly to rely on loan, you may be in for a shock,” cautions Mr Mutembei.
This means that one has to gather the right team of professionals to consult and bring on board. This will include the architect, engineer, quantity surveyor and the contractor. In addition, a lawyer will be critical.
Have an honest conversation with the quantity surveyor and explain the kind of house you have in mind and the amount of money they are willing to spend.
An architect will help design the dream house while a structural engineer will be handy in doing drawings especially if it is a storey house. This may involve the architect taking a tour of the land. With the two drawings now, Mr Mutembei says that one should move to a quantity surveyor (QS). The QS will quantify the expected work and see whether it fits the budget.
“A QS will itemise everything which will be done during construction. That means agreeing on almost everything including iron sheets, doors, windows and tiles to give you exact cost,” he explains.
Experts caution that it may be useless to book a date with an architect before thinking about a tentative budget for the house. Buying designs along the road, as it is common, may be the genesis of a failed construction.
“You need to have a tentative budget and then the vision of your house. That’s when experts come in to advise you on the kind of architecture to match your budget,” says Mr Mutembei.
One then moves to county government for approval then register the project with NCA since urban set ups are designed.
According to Nathan Kureba, the chairman of the Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors (Boraqs) Kenya, leaving professionals like architects out of the picture is part of the reason why people end up building on riparian lands, only for them to be forced to bring down their houses.
“Many people buy drawings along the road then try to plant them on any piece of land, without seeking advice. Before putting up that massive investment to rescue you from rent, keep professionals in the picture,” he says.
However, many people are put off by the fees required by different professionals. However, Mr Kureba says that the service fee is controlled, just like that of other professional services.
“There is infiltration of quacks and they may charge very low fees. But in the end, the chances of ending up living in house whose design is not what you wanted are very high,” he adds.
An architect in Kenya should charge a minimum fee of six per cent of a project’s construction cost should they execute all services during a construction of a new project.
Rehabilitations and renovations to existing projects are charged higher, at 10 per cent of the construction cost. David Chola, a lead architect at Adroit Architecture says there are clients who may change the design along the way to reduce the cost of the project but for as long the architect has already completed his work, the regulations dictate that they charge six per cent based on original design.
Another important thing to consider is the location of the land. This has a lot to do with the serene environment that one may have visualised. Again, it has everything to do with the kind of structure that one will eventually end up constructing, even if the budget is not a limiting factor.
Established estates like Runda have associations that control developments. For instance, you may not be allowed to construct over the weekend.
In some cases, the associations have a say on the kind of finishing to give your house or the materials to use, so as not to compromise on the estate’s glory.
This means that buying materials or entering into agreements with parties such as contractors with no understanding of the zoning and building regulations governing the location of the land may prove costly.
In unlucky situations, Mr Mutembei says, one may have to drop their initial architectural design or apply for the land’s change of use to accommodate the design.
Cost of land use
Some parcels of land are classified by county governments as agricultural and this may call for application for change of use license before constructing a house. This is another unforeseen cost because you have to advertise your intention in two or three newspapers and wait for at least 14 days to see if there will be no complains. Only after this can one then make the application to county government.
“It is important to ensure you are aware of certain restrictions operating in the area you have bought land. If the plot coverage extends to riparian land, definitely you need a professional advice on which part of the plot to keep off,” advises Mr Kureba.
Since construction may be lengthy and usually involving money and many parties, services of a lawyer may prove crucial. Disputes with contractors, designers, or even suppliers of materials may all require a legal mind to avoid stalling the project.
While assembling this team of professionals and seeking approvals may add to the already burdensome task of meeting construction materials, Mr Mutembei says that it is not a reason enough to cut corners.
“Anything cheap is very expensive at the end of the day. Doing constructing is a journey. If your budget cannot match your vision, you go back to the drawing board,” he says.