A reader of this column recently asked me how she could easily build a house. She said she was a mother of two and didn’t have land yet but had made some money.
She wanted to use this money to buy land and build. She had Shs 30m, probably from savings or a pay-off. The money she mentioned wasn’t enough to buy a plot and build a decent three-bedroom house in my view.
However, it was enough for two 50x100 feet plots in some parts of greater Kampala like Kiwenda or Nakasajja. Here was my suggestion to her, which I think might work for others as well.
I advised her to buy a minimum of two plots and forget about building for a while. This is because if you start building with very little money, which won’t enable you at least roof the house, you lose money.
When you leave the site after building the foundation, you lose poles and tools (hoes, pangas, wheelbarrows etc) in most cases, which you may have used during the next phase.
I told her that once she finishes paying for the land, start buying materials every time you have as little as Shs 150,000 because it can get you sand (a trip delivered by a three-tonne truck or what we call Elf). And you can buy as much sand and deliver it whenever you have Shs 150,000 on you.
If you protect the sand from storm water, it will be there. People won’t steal it. She can do the same with aggregate (stones) and bricks. Once she has bought enough of it, she can start depositing money with a trustable hardware shop for cement, iron bars, and such other materials.
She can do the same with makers and suppliers of roofing materials. Here, she may lose some little money because such companies supply you materials at the prevailing rates when you are ready to pick them but then again it ensures you don’t have money on you.
Once you have money on you that is not solving an immediate need, there will always be something that requires you to spend it. For example, her children may want a big birthday cake or a trip to KFC. And, as a mother, she may be tempted to spend on that instead of buying chicken and frying it at home.
Depositing on such materials before you start building is important as it prepares you to start on the construction. This is because unless you are trading where you can buy merchandise in the morning and sell them in the afternoon at very big margins, whatever you use to build isn’t immediately paid back (if it is ever paid back actually).
So, most people who start building without saving money or buying materials in advance end up very broke or abandoning the sites.
Ugandan builders are very good at under-quoting (if they aren’t cheaters). If you ask them how many bricks they will need, they will say 5,000 well knowing that they need 30,000.
Most of them tell me that if they tell most people what exactly is needed and they make calculations of how much money is needed for bricks alone, such people abandon the idea of building or give the building job to those who quoted 5,000.
They further argue that once you start building, you will look for the money to continue with the project. That might be true because building is addictive and it is fulfilling to see your project coming up. However, that may bring unnecessary pressure and making wrong decisions.
I was told of somebody who borrowed money based on quotes of such builders and as the lenders were knocking on the door, the builders were also demanding for more materials.
The person died of high blood pressure before the houses were complete. True story.
Now what will she do with the second plot that I advised her to buy? Well, by the time she has finished depositing money on all these materials and the house is probably roofed, the other plot would have gained a lot in value.
She can now sell it and finish the house so that she enters a complete house instead of one that is partly done. But also if this model has worked for her, she can now use the same model again to build on the other plot or simply have a bigger compound.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.