To build or to buy a house?

Wednesday December 13 2017

The Nyakundi home. PHOTO | SYOMBUA NDAMBUKI

Mosagwe Nyakundi's home in Katani in Mavoko, Machakos County on December 10, 2017. PHOTO | SYOMBUA NDAMBUKI 

By NATION REPORTER
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Are you looking for a house but cannot decide whether to build or to buy? The debate on whether the pros and cons of each is endless. DN2 spoke to two couples, one that built and one that bought, who provide insights into the pros and cons of each.

Mosagwe Nyakundi, lives in Katani in Mavoko, Machakos County. In 2012, he bought a 1/8 acre plot and began building in 2013. Later that year, Nyakundi, 34, moved into his three-bedroom bungalow from his one-room house in Pipeline in Nairobi County.

What made you build rather than buy?
I wanted a home with a personal touch; building allows you to customise your home to your taste.

What was the total cost?
I paid Sh400,000 for the plot although its value has appreciated tremendously now, and around Sh2.5 million for the construction.

Was this within your estimated budget?
Interestingly, I did not have a predefined budget. I did not have Sh2.5 million so I refrained from setting a budget because it would have been discouraging just thinking of how much I needed.

Which parts of the building were more costly?
The roofing cost a little more than the other parts. And I had to get the money at once since it was not possible to do it in phases. The finishing and interior design also took a big chunk of cash.

How did you fund it? I used my personal income but for the roofing, I had to take a loan.

What is the value of the house today? About Sh5 million.

Which experts did you engage?
I first worked with a lawyer. I bought my plot and needed a lawyer to draft legal documents such as the sale agreement, a transfer form required by the Land Control Board and an addendum - in case I was unable to pay up as agreed. The lawyer also held the title until I finished paying for the land.

I also had an architect draw the house plan although I had a draft that we went through together. Then I had a physical planner who drafted a brief for change of use and planned for the amenities to be included in the compound such as a septic tank and drainage channels.

I also worked with casual labourers (between three and five) and a construction expert, commonly known as a fundi. An electrician and a plumber came in during the final stages of the construction.

Which legal processes were involved?
I did a search at the lands registry and bought a zoning map. The search showed details of the plot’s owner while the map highlighted the social amenities, accessibility, location of the plot and the local terrain. The search and the map cost Sh500 each. I also did a change of use from agricultural to residential by publishing a notice in the newspaper at a cost almost Sh5000.

As for the construction, I submitted my architectural designs for approval. I started at Mavoko, where they checked whether I had paid the land rates. I then went to the physical planning office in Machakos County where they checked the design details and the accompanying amenities.

I also went to the lands office in Machakos to confirm the location of my plot. I then finalised the process at the Athi River District office, where I was given the final approval. In Athi River I visited the public health office, where things like waste disposal, drainage channels and the presence of a septic were checked.

What challenges did you experience? I had to dedicate a lot of time supervising the work.

What sacrifices did you have to make?
First was commuting from Pipeline in Nairobi to the construction site daily, before or after work, to supervise the workers to ensure that the work was going according to plan. Other sacrifices revolved around finances. For instance, I had to minimise expenditure on weekend outings.

The other sacrifice was to avoid paying high amounts of money on rental houses. I believe that a rental is a rental, regardless of the neighbourhood or location. A rental house can never belong to you, irrespective of the rent. (How is this a sacrifice?)

What was your strategy and did it work?
I divided the construction into at least four phases and spent within my means. I built a skeleton structure within a year and moved in. From there I started working on the fourth phase, which was the finishing and interior décor. This strategy worked very well for me.

Have you had to do any maintenance? So far, no.

What are the main advantages of building over buying?
First is the financial freedom and ability to build to your specification. No one pushes you to finish building by a particular time, unlike buying, where you have to pay within a certain period. Second, you can make money using your compound. I can plant crops or rear animals for sale to get extra income. Finally, when you build, you own an asset that appreciates and you can pass it down generations.

What would you advise a person who hasn’t started the journey?
Well, I can tell them to start by owning a piece of land. There is nothing like a remote area. Places like Buruburu, Kayole and Donholm were once considered remote, but look at them now. The other thing is that before starting, talk to people who have done it, know what you want and what building entails. It is advisable to work with referrals.

You also have to be actively involved in the process. Do not sit back and wait for the workers or experts to do everything for you. In this process you cannot trust anyone. Lastly, people need to challenge themselves and be ambitious. Before you embark on the journey, have a long-term view. Your needs and the needs of your family evolve over time.

Finally, if you were to do it again, would you still build? Yes.

***

Building worked for us
Mr and Mrs Omurunga, both 47, live in Valley View Estate in Mlolongo, a gated community with more than 400 homes. Theirs is a three-bedroom bungalow with a living room and a kitchen. Here’s how they went about it.

What attracted you to this place? The location; it is close to the highway and, therefore, easily accessible.

Why did you buy instead of building? When we started looking for a house, we were open to either open. However, we realised that most of the affordable pieces of land were in remote locations.

We were also tired of paying rent and buying meant we would be able to stop paying rent and instead focus on paying for the house, unlike building, where you have to wait for years while still paying rent as you build.

What was the cost?
We bought this house for 2.5 million in 2006, but it is now worth Sh6 to Sh7 million. We also paid a 13 per cent interest to the bank and spent about Sh300,000 on renovations and customisation.

Do you think it was cheaper than building?
If we were to use the same materials as those by the contractors, we would have spent much less.

How did you finance it?
We got a mortgage. We reasoned that the money we were using to pay rent, combined with our earnings and any extra cash, was enough to pay for a mortgage rather than continue paying rent.

The most convenient thing about the mortgage is that we began to pay off only after moving into the house. Besides, the financier explained all the options to us, including what would happen if we were unable to pay and we thought it was worth the risk.

Were their hidden charges?
There were no hidden costs because we asked all the necessary questions and the experts we worked with were very professional and supportive.

Which experts did you work with?
We mostly worked with a financier for the mortgage, an insurance company, and a lawyer.

What challenges did you experience?
One was the substandard materials used in certain parts of the house. For instance, the kitchen cabinets so weak that they collapsed when we placed our utensils in them. The ceiling was also leaking, and some parts of the house had cracks.

The other major challenge was losing my job when we still had a balance of Sh500,000. We risked losing the house, but we finally managed to repay the debt.

How did you deal with these problems?
The developer had given us a one-year warranty covering maintenance costs and any issues arising and honoured this deal. However, I would advise anyone seeking to buy that renovation and repairs are part of the process. Any home buyer should set aside a reasonable amount of money for this purpose.

What are the main advantages of buying over building?
The most obvious is convenience. After booking your house, all you have to do is wait for the construction team to do their work, unlike building, where you have to buy the materials, hire experts and oversee the process. Besides, you can move into your house much sooner than if you build.

When building, you might have to wait for years for the house to be ready. When buying, you can move in even before you finish paying for the house. It’s like moving house, only that the house belongs to you.

What was your strategy and did it work?
We used several strategies, the most important of which was team work. When we first approached the bank for a mortgage, we did not qualify. But after we combined our payslips, we succeeded. Our teamwork enabled us to pay the mortgage in seven years instead of 15.

The secret was prioritising; we took any extra cash from side hustles and salary increments straight to the financier. In addition, we opened a retail shop whose proceeds catered for household needs, making it easier to focus on paying for the house with our salaries.

The final strategy was minimising expenditure. For instance, we stopped using our car and used public transport; we used the car only when it was absolutely necessary. That way, we saved money that would have been used on fuel.

What advice would you give someone considering buying a house? It is a risk, but so is everything else in life, so don’t be afraid to take this bold step. Finally, if you were to get a house again, would you still buy rather than build? All things being equal, yes.