Self-build projects – not for the faint-hearted

Buying land and building your dream home may seem like a good idea. It actually works out well for some people. However, the dream of building your own home can quickly turn into a nightmare with some wishing they had chosen a different route to home ownership.

A house under construction (PHOTO: COURTESY) On paper, the advantages appear to be clear: More influence on the product, the pace of construction and reduced costs.

In practice, though, it pays to take a step back and assess the project and plan each and every detail necessary to execute it successfully. First, the choice of land will likely be informed by the price and location.

But consideration should also be given to how the site will look like in future as well as how attractive and sustainable the neighbourhood will be. Where plots are sold with individual titles, it is impossible to control the environment, what may be built in the immediate locality and how such additional developments will affect your plot. If possible, go for a plot that is part of a managed development, where leaseholds are sold together with a set of rules and regulations.

This will ensure that your house will be located within a sustainable environment, which will have a positive impact on the long-term value of your investment. In addition, you will enjoy the benefits of having like-minded neighbours.

Professional input for design and build will include a surveyor, an architect, structural engineer, quantity surveyor, electrical and mechanical engineers and, unless you have sufficient experience, a project manager.

The latter is your key to success as it is him who will gather the information and co-ordinate the activities during the design and construction stages. You will have to put complete trust in your project manager and it is essential that there be good chemistry between the two of you.

Once all the design work has been completed, you will be ready to tender the construction. Identify, interview and check out three or four suitable contractors and satisfy yourself that the one you choose has the necessary experience and capacity to do the job.

This includes having sufficient funds to finance the construction work month after month because you must never make any payments in advance. The quantity surveyor will measure and value the work done at the end of each month and only then should you pay the contractor for the value of work done in that month less a retention sum.

The retention percentage is agreed at the start of the contract, though you should aim for 10 per cent and no less than five per cent. Retention funds are released after a period of time – usually between three and six months – following completion of the construction and only when you are completely satisfied with the work.

In some circumstances, the money retained can be used to pay a third party – if, for instance, your contractor is unable or unwilling to repair any defects under warranty. In view of this, self-build projects in Kenya are not for the faint-hearted.

Sometimes, nearly 10 years after being launched, the projects are still not complete. Some, after weighing the many challenges and potential difficulties, may decide that they would be better off focusing on their own businesses and careers, so that they can make enough money to buy a house “off the shelf”.

— The writer is the Managing Director of Superior Homes Kenya Limited.


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I hope that you are all keeping safe and as we all hope that the current Covid pandemic is contained and the economy opens up again, you may wish to consider a house move. With 550 houses on 150 acres and an average of less than 4 houses per acre, Greenpark is one of the safest communities in Kenya. Fresh air, wide open spaces and a steady breeze from the nearby Lukenya Hills all help to reduce the risk of any contamination. Our show homes are open 7 days and you are most welcome to visit so long as you respect all social distancing rules. Stay safe Ian Henderson, Managing Director