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A boys’ quarter or main house, which way first?

Sometimes homeowners embark on their dream house projects by starting with building a small house in one corner of the plot of land.

This small house is traditionally known as boys’ quarters though with gender sensitivity, such houses are being nowadays referred to as servants’ quarters.

I think they originated with colonial masters who lived in plush houses while the men who worked for them occupied the small houses. Colonial masters referred to old men who worked for them as boys and even dressed them in shorts as opposed to trousers hence the term boys’ quarters for the tiny unfashionable houses where these ‘boys’ lived.

These colonial masters and some of the aristocrats of the time lived on plots of land that were at least an acre and therefore had a lot of space to build houses where the workers stayed. For the uninitiated, an acre is the size of a standard soccer pitch or seven 50x100 feet plots of land (with access roads).

As Kampala evolved and the population skyrocketed, the plots of land became increasingly smaller. Today’s middle-class build on mainly 50x100 feet size plots. However, the allure for servants’ quarters never waned.

I have heard a lot of people say that they can’t share the same house with their maids — the maids they are happy to live their toddlers with; the maids who cook the food they eat but that is a story for another day.

Anyway, a lot of people still build these servants’ quarters or at least manage to squeeze them into their already tiny plots of land. At least that way, they emulate the living standards of the masters and aristocrats of decades ago.

The desire for servants’ quarters sometimes is a dilemma for homeowners. What should they start with? The main house or a servants’ quarter? There are merits and demerits.

A servants’ quarter could work as a store and provide temporary shelter for workers when one is building their main house.  It could also deter land grabbers who may want to build in your plot of land while feigning ignorance. And if you are one of those people who think that things can become bad, euphemism for losing a job, then you could move into it when you can no longer pay the landlord. 

If you are grappling with what to do first with your plot of land, unless you are a high-income earner, building a servants’ quarters first before the main house is a wrong idea. I will explain.

A complete servants’ quarter may cost the same amount of money as building a sizeable shell of the main house (bungalow). The main house any day will give your land more value than a servants’ quarter even when it is incomplete.

It would be easier to get a mortgage to complete it than when you only have a tiny servants’ quarters. You would earn a better return should you decide to sell.

Secondly, most Ugandans, especially in greater Kampala, are building on 50x100 feet size plots as I explained before; so, a traditional stand-alone servants’ quarter is increasingly becoming outdated due to lack of space and resources. What is in vogue today is a servants’ quarter that is attached to the main house. It reduces the cost of building a stand-alone servants’ quarters since some walls and the roof are shared.

Somebody I know once started building his dream home with a servants’ quarters and by the time he was done with it, he was more broke than a church mouse. To save on rent, he decided to move into the servants’ quarters with his family. The plan had been to build a servants’ quarters and then the main house. It is now more than 15 years and he has never started on the main house.

I think if he had built the main house first with the money he put into the servants’ quarters, he would have completed it by now. He would have found inspiration to do it. He is now very comfortable as he doesn’t pay rent.

I discussed it with him recently and he said once the children finish university, he will embark on it. I highly doubt unless he uses his NSSF’s savings, which might not even be enough. And with children done with university, what would he need the big house for, anyway?


The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.

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