Like many Kenyans, Ms. Caroline Waithera’s ultimate dream was owning a home. After buying a piece of land in Ruai, Nairobi County, last year, she discovered that the Sh3 million she had saved to build her dream home was insufficient.
“I wanted a three-bedroom master en-suite house,” she says. “I had put aside Sh3 million to cater for the entire process. However, all the contractors I approached gave me quotations that were way above the amount I had estimated.”
Discouraged, she thought of building without the help of a contractor but the budget still shot past her Sh3 million life savings.
It was just as she was on the verge of despair that Ms. Waithera was introduced to Mr. Farrowson Murithi, a real estate player who came to her rescue at the last minute. Mr. Murithi is the managing director of Pacific Reality, a construction and project management firm based in Ruai in Kasarani.
“He told me that I could get my three-bedroom master en-suite house with a dining room and separate laundry room for Sh1.6 million. At first, I did not believe it was possible to build your house cheaply, especially given the classy finishes I wanted. I was tempted to dismiss the firm as a sham and only committed myself after seeing several other projects it had carried out on a similar budget,” Ms. Waithera narrates.
Speaking at her new home, Ms. Waithera says she moved in 12 weeks after the construction began.
Ms. Waithera’s story is similar to that of Mr. Antony Githinji, a Kasarani-based businessman, and farmer who also sought help from the company. “I was mulling over purchasing a house in the area for Sh3.5 million but Pacific Reality managed to build it for me for Sh1.9 million instead. They also took care of the perimeter wall and utilities like electricity, water, and a septic system. Overall, I found the entire process extremely efficient,” he says.
Speaking at the company’s office in Ruai Town, Mr Murithi insists that building a house need not cost an arm and a leg. “Most project costs quickly balloon out of control due to poor planning and builders not being informed about the current trends in the construction industry. However, with proper organisation, consultation with experts and close supervision, clients can avoid burning their fingers,” the CEO says.
And going by market trends, the firm seems to keep building costs relatively lower. For instance, it has built three-bedroom bungalows and storied maisonettes for Sh1.6 million and Sh2.6 million respectively. A spot-check by DN2 revealed that similar houses for sale in the same area go for a minimum of Sh4.5 million and Sh5.7 million respectively. The firm can also build smaller houses for as little as Sh900,000.
What can a client learn from Pacific Reality to enable them/ bring down the costs of construction? Which things should be considered or avoided in order to build your house cheaply?
DOING IT ALONE
According to Mr. Murithi, the most important thing is engaging professionals in every aspect of your building. Unless you are a seasoned developer, he strongly advises against managing the process on your own or, like many people do, leaving the construction site under the supervision of a relative.
Many people avoid construction firms in an effort to cut costs, but they end up losing money due to pilferage and shoddy work. “If you decide to build on your own but you don’t know what you are doing, there are chances that you’ll end up paying a contractor more money to fix your mistakes,” says Mr. Murithi.
He says people who put their relatives in charge at construction sites have been known to lose up to 40 percent of the total construction costs due to pilferage, while construction companies charge only 5 percent of the total construction cost (see related story on pg 4).
A major advantage of using a registered firm is that such companies shoulder a significant proportion of the risks and liability. “We usually go through the building budget with the client before the construction starts. If we agree, for instance, that a three-bedroom, single-storey maisonette will cost Sh2.7 million and then send the client an invoice for Sh3.5 million, he/she has the right to seek legal redress and be compensated for the excess money used. On the other hand, if you put a relative in charge of a construction site, the building costs may run off the charts and you will have nowhere to seek redress since you shoulder all the risks,” explains Mr. Murithi.
Dealing with a reputable construction firm not only saves you money but also saves time because you do not have to make frequent visits to the construction site. “Many of our clients live abroad and cannot afford to travel home frequently just to check on a project. We handle all the logistics and only send them photos regularly,” the MD says.
Another trick that a builder can use to save money is sourcing for materials on their own, as opposed to giving the responsibility to those manning the construction site such as the foreman and fundis.
“The reason I decided to start building budget homes as a business,” Mr. Murithi says, “is because I once owned a hardware store and would see foremen brazenly scamming their bosses.
He says the foremen would collude with hardware store owners to deceive the home-builders by marking up the prices of supplies and backing them up with fake receipts.
“At Pacific Reality, we bypass hardware retailers and source for building materials directly from the suppliers at the lowest prices,” he reveals.
Sending the construction workers to get materials for you can also prove extra costly as these people have a tendency of looking for the cheapest materials in order to save money, thereby compromising the quality of buildings.
Mr. Murithi gives the example of a builder who sends his foreman to look for construction blocks at a nearby quarry. Upon arriving at the quarry, the foreman learns that the stones come in four grades, ranging from grade A to D according to quality. Since all the stones look alike at a glance, the foreman buys blocks of inferior quality so that he can pocket some of the cash. But then, during the construction, nearly half of the Grade D stones end up chipping away or breaking easily, rendering them unfit for construction.
“In as much as you are trying to cut costs, never compromise on quality as it only turns out to be more expensive in the long run,” warns Mr. Murithi, who has spent his entire adult life in the construction industry. He suggests that project owners go for Grade A construction stones, whose wastage rate is less than 1 percent.” )
When buying construction materials, beware of cheap bargains. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, he says, using sand as an example. Mr Murithi says a 21-tonne lorry-full of sand usually goes for Sh21,000, but a supplier might come to you saying he can sell you the same amount of sand for, say Sh18,000. If this happens, he cautions, beware, because such lorries usually have false bottoms that unscrupulous suppliers exploit. And because of the false bottom, you end up receiving only 14 tonnes of sand instead of the 21 tonnes you think you have received.
Another cost-saving measure is renting or re-using certain building materials instead of buying new ones for every project. For instance, timber posts and trappers that are usually used to provide support during construction can be rented from construction firms and re-used several times before becoming unusable.
Being in touch with modern trends and using new building technology is also cost-effective, Mr. Murithi says, adding that his firm recently started using hollow interlocking blocks, a technology borrowed from Thailand. Although the blocks are relatively expensive, the company still manages to make considerable savings since the blocks require little cement to hold them together, and require less labor. Thanks to the adoption of this technology, a project that the company had set out to undertake for Sh9 million shillings ended up costing Sh5.2 million.
Then there is the issue of labor. If you pay your workers a flat rate daily, they can deliberately work slowly to extend the construction period so that they can be on the job for a while longer.
To avoid such a scenario, Mr. Murithi advises, you should work out a system that allows you to pay the workers according to the amount of work they do.
But perhaps what contributes most to exaggerated construction costs is pilferage and outright theft by construction site workers.
Mr Robert Kamau, a developer with several apartments spread across Kiambu County, knows the agony this causes only too well.
“It took me a long time to discover that the workers were stealing materials such as bricks, cement, and even wheelbarrows,” he told DN2.
To stem the practice, Mr. Kamau later decided to recruit two or three other workers to spy on their colleagues and report back to him. In return, he would secretly pay his “spies” an extra Sh100 a day.
“The strategy has seen me save millions of shillings by helping me get rid of deceitful foremen and fundis,” he says.
Acknowledging that such thieving is rampant at construction sites around the country, Mr. Murithi notes that it is not only criminal and immoral but also compromises quality as workers end up using substandard materials.
“To prevent pilferage, our firm employs construction managers who are always present at the construction sites. The construction managers are compelled to periodically write and submit reports indicating how each and every material delivered at the site is used,” Mr. Murithi says.
Some homeowners have a tendency of suggesting changes when the building is already under construction. Always be on the lookout for any changes to the original plan as you will be responsible for the extra costs.
If you can, avoid building during the rainy season. Mr. Murithi says building between April and June is very stressful for builders because, thanks to the heavy rains, roads networks tend to get flooded, making it difficult to transport of materials. This also increases the costs and is time-consuming.
Do you really need all those angles, sidewalls and pillars? Talk to with your architect to determine whether a few structural changes to the original plan can help you save some money.
Mr. Amos Ndirangu, a Nairobi-based architect, explains that the more complicated the design of your home is, the higher the construction costs.
To begin with, Mr. Ndirangu suggests that you limit the number of corners your house has, especially on the exterior walls. This is because corners take extra materials and require more labour to build.
Another change in design that can save you money is limiting the inclination of your roof. A steep roof, though attractive, translates to a larger surface area, thereby requiring more roofing material.
But as much as it is advisable to engage professionals, there are things you can do by your self to save money. For instance, you can do the painting or landscaping by yourself.
“Although we have a professional landscaper in our team, we usually ask clients who are looking to cut costs to do the landscaping themselves,” Mr. Murithi says.