Can you put up a house with Shs50m?

Wednesday April 07 2021
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The size of your dreams and cash at hand determine what house you get. PHOTO/Abubaker Lubowa

By Deus Bugembe

It is everyone’s wish to own a home and possibly end the burden of paying rent. Homes come in all shapes but it all comes down to one’s financial muscle. The deeper the pockets, the grander the house and vice versa in most cases. In Uganda, some people construct houses for even up to a decade because it can be a costly venture not easily accomplished overnight. But after how long can one save money to build their dream home? And what if the money never adds up to what you need for that house you envisaged owning? Let us say one put together a sum of Shs50m after saving for a while and decided it is time to put up a house, how far would they go or what kind of house would they put up? It is the kind of question asked by many on social media but the answers are never clear. While some say it is possible to construct a decent house with that amount, there is a group with their own reservations.

Dennis Juuko is a real estate agent with ample experience in the construction industry. He thinks Shs50m can raise a house but it depends on the kind. “It all depends on the size one is looking at, location and the building material to be used,” he explains. According to Juuko, one has to be cost-conscious when choosing materials. “With that kind of money, you might have to leave out things such as roof tiles and aluminium windows because they are expensive,” he says.  It is about sticking to the basics and simple things because of  the  budget. He also insists that one must have a good architectural plan before  starting. A good architectural plan is vital in any building process as it caters for schedules, working drawings, elevations, and other factors which will all affect the budget. “You should have an architectural plan that fits well in the Shs50m planned expenditure,” he adds.  With only Shs50m at your disposal, one needs to reduce costs through effective utilisation of locally available building materials along with efficient skills and technologies without losing the strength and durability of the structure.

Juuko also advisesconsideration of the kind of terrain on which one is constructing. Some areas will need some work before getting ready for a structure. “It also depends where the house is. The topography of land matters a lot.  Is it flat, hilly or a low ground?” he questions. In most cases, flat land does not call for any work as it is ready for the structure which is not the case with hills, sloping or lowlands. The latter three will need some levelling or grading which calls for more expenses yet the plan is to keep within the limited budget. “Foundation has to be reinforced and bigger if it’s a low ground,” asserts Juuko.  With all factors constant, he thinks a Shs50m budget will get one a good studio house comprising a bedroom, pantry and bathroom.

With more than  six years’ experience, Emmanuel Ecodu has garnered knowledge of architectural design as well as the design decisions, assumptions, context, and other factors that together determine the final product. He agrees that shs 50m can get one a house. “It can get you a 50sq metre house. Each square metre can cover a million,” he says. His expertise suggests that the construction cost per square metre in Uganda is Shs1m which explains why Shs50m is just enough to set up a 50 square metre house. “That is approximately a two bedroomed house with all the finishing costs included,” he says.

Despite supporting the sh50m notion, Ecodu indicates that one would also have to settle for cheap material. “There has to be a compromise when it comes to building material and other accessories,” he adds.  This is also a warning to those who insist on operating below the standard Shs1m cost per square metre rate as they may incur more costs in the long run.

Wilbrod Muhanguzi, a civil engineer with Seyani International Co. Ltd breaks it down and concedes that Shs50m can build one a house. “Yes, for about Shs50m, one can get themselves a decent three bedroomed self-contained house, fully complete and finished,” he says.

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According to Muhanguzi,  such a house can have a merged open living area with a sitting room, a dining and kitchen area with each of these functional spaces flowing into the other. This saves money and space. It can also have two bedrooms and one self-contained master bedroom with a common restroom and store.

However it all has to start with a suitable plan and preparations. “In the hands of the right professionals, at the design stage, you are able to sit together, draft a plan which will be costed for you. This way, you are able to know the precise quantities before construction. With this in mind, one is able to budget for the construction works. When the plans have been approved by the relevant authorities, you are ready for the construction stage,” he explains. 

In cases where one lacks a steady and consistent flow of income, the building process can be carried out in phases namely the substructure/foundation work, superstructure and roofing, finishing and the external works can come last. “Every stage in construction has a completely different cost and you should be aware before you start construction,” he says.

Purchasing of the materials

It is advisable to buy construction materials with help from your contractor or engineer. For a smooth construction process, materials should be bought prior to the start of construction. To make it easy and if possible, they should be bought in bulk as it is cheaper. “If you purchase all the materials in phases, you end up spending more since it is easier to bargain when buying in bulk. Transport costs for the materials might also kick in due to multiple trips,” says Muhanguzi.

Muhanguzi cautions against going for the cheap ‘neighbourhood builder’ who ends up providing inconsistent numbers. They are very good at underquoting. If you ask them how many bricks they will need, they will say 10,000 well knowing that they need 30,000. Most will say that if they tell you what is exactly needed and you make calculations of how much money is needed for bricks alone, you will abandon the idea of building. There is also a notion that once you start building, you will look for the money to continue with the project,” he says.  This makes involvement of qualified personnel vital because planning is a very critical stage for one to successfully build their home. Therefore it is advisable to engage professionals to avoid setbacks midway the project.

Building phases

The Substructure/Foundation

The foundation step has to do with clearing the land, excavations, and setting up the foundation walls. The cost for this is dependent on the size of the house and the ground conditions. If the site has poor soils such as clay or sandy soils, it will need more engineering to stabilise the land before construction and this will hike the prices and cost of building. “Therefore, for our Shs50m budget, the land should have a firm ground on which the foundation walls are to be built,” he explains before adding that for a proper execution on the foundation, about Shs8m is needed. 

Superstructure

After working on the foundation, the construction of the walls is next and these can be constructed up to the ring beam. The beam is where the roofing of the house starts and at this stage, the building is almost complete. “For the roofing to fit in our budget, a simplified roofing style can be applied. However, the roofing sheets have to be of good quality to avoid future leaks and replacement thereby saving on the costs. A metal lath ceiling would also fit perfectly in this budget,” he suggests, giving an estimate of about Shs 22m for a proper execution on the superstructure and roofing.

Finishing

This is the last step in finishing the building process. It involves fitting of windows and doors, plastering of walls, applying paint and floor finishes. “For our budget, tiles would be on the high end. A basic steel float floor finish would suffice. It can also be easily tiled in the future after hacking. The finishes also involve the mechanical and electrical aspects,” explains Muwanguzi who emphasises that an expert should be hired to carry out these works. For a suitable execution on the finishes, he comes up with a figure of about Shs20m.

However, a number of factors could affect the cost of the entire building process and these include accessibility of the site and hiring a professional engineer according to Muwanguzi. “If the place is easily accessible, it reduces the costs because everything from the water to labour will be easily got and cheap unlike for areas that are not easily accessible, transportation of the materials becomes expensive and so does labour,” he says.

When it comes to hiring a professional engineer, chances are you will spend less as they know where to get the required materials that fit into the Shs 50m budget. The engineer will help you with all aspects of the construction stage from design, purchase of materials and the execution of the works. “They will know where to get good quality materials on the market at a cheaper price and also get you good cheap labour. Involving a professional also avoids extra unnecessary costs,” he says. At the end of the day, Shs 50m can get one a home or house and it’s down to getting the right people for the job to work within the budget.

Superstructure (Walling & Roofing)

After making the foundation, the construction of the walls is next and these can be constructed up to the ring beam. The beam is where the roofing of the house starts and at this stage the building is almost complete. “For the roofing to fit in our budget, a simplified roofing style can be applied. However, the roofing sheets have to be of good quality to avoid future leaks and replacement thereby saving on the costs. A metal lath ceiling would also fit perfectly in this budget,” he suggests and gives an estimate of about Shs 22m for a proper execution on the superstructure and roofing.

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