1. When you want to pick a designer/architect, don’t ask for complete works alone. Ask for their raw designs too. See, in life there are hard truths; most of us dream bigger than our budgets or bigger than what we intend to spend (which is a good thing if handled carefully). Truth, is that, most outcomes of construction projects (at least on the outer look) are in at least 95% of cases dependent on the developer. Let’s give you an example in real life outside the construction industry. Many people when they want to buy say a double cab pickup…first go to show rooms of brand-new double cabs to massage their egos but when approached for a sale, the iconic ‘I will get back to you’ phrase is unleashed. The sales people will ask for your business card and put you in their data base, but any experienced sales person will know that what you really can afford/or willing to spend on is a fully loaded 8-year-old mtumba from Singapore or Thailand at a fraction of the price but with the same ‘new’ number plate. Only difference is that you will be visiting your mechanic every month to replace old parts. Same applies to construction, everyone has different standards and budgets. Be true to exactly what you want. If you notice there is an architect who exerts him/herself more during design, if they charge more than the ‘street designers’ please pony up the dough and get some TLC or just get cheap plans from a quack. Kila nyani na starehe zake. When a consultant names their price, they have calculated how it will give a balance between giving you value and taking care of expenses of running your project vision.
  2. Be realistic about budget. Here at our office, we wake up in the morning to do only building design and construction related activities. When you ask us the iconic ‘how much’ question and when we estimate what your contractor would charge, then a loose keyboard warrior says ‘that’s too expensive’ and you decide to believe their nonsense…. please enjoy yourself. That’s like going to see a doctor when you evidently have a severe obesity problem and the trained and experienced medical doctor tells you to go easy on ice cream, milkshakes, frog huts, Long Island Iced Teas, Margaritas and extra sweetened Pina Coladas…. but then you tell the doctor that you read in ‘Sports Illustrated’ magazine that Michael Phelps the Olympic swimmer eats 22 eggs, 2 giant pizzas, a liter of ice cream and 3 liters of energy drinks and coca cola everyday every day and why shouldn’t you… all the best with those clogged arteries, E.D., clogged drain pipes, leaking sockets and termite eaten door frames.
  3. Plan EVERYTHING at the beginning. This is one of Kenya’s construction cancer- ‘walking by faith and not by sight’. In order of engagement;
    1. Architect
    2. Interior designer
    3. Structural, civil, plumbing, electrical, ICT, security design engineer
    4. Quantity surveyor
    5. Landscape architect
    6. (If your land slopes for more than 1 meter difference- Topographical surveyor).

It is IMPOSSIBLE to visualize a building without the input of the architect and interior designer first. We have mentioned before; class 25 concrete in Runda and in Mihang’o is the same cost, what differs is the interiors of the building. We can’t even start telling you the birds of ng’ethe we have seen because of not allowing for interiors at the beginning. These days we are very strict about it and our projects are running way more smoothly. In short, it is not possible to achieve maximum effect and optimum design from the structural and Plumbing electrical engineer without an interior designer’s input. Secondly on a slopy site, a topography plan is critical for the architect to design, and for the QS to give adequate quantities of moving and holding earth/mchanga that at times can be 10-15% of the project cost in some sites. Let he and she with ears listen.

  1. Consider renting instead of buying/constructing your own building: This is a controversial topic but when talking pure economics (not feelings/emotions/peer pressure/social pressure/ pressure from traditions/hearsay/locker-room talk/ salon gossip), owning your own house is an economic luxury (compared to other financially ‘sounder’ construction options at your disposal). If you want to know it is, take the current value of the house you own, now go to any of the popular property sale sites and pick any block of flats in lower bracket of middle-income earners. Now take the selling price and divide by the projected monthly rent. You will find you are arriving at 0.9-1.2% per month of your initial investment. Now take the value of your house (land+construction+your time+consultants etc.), ask any neighbor the approximate rent they are getting on a similar unit in your neighborhood. Now divide the value of your house versus your projected monthly rent. It is impossible to get anything beyond 0.3%-0.5%. So rent a similar house to the one you live in and use the remaining 0.5-0.6% of your earnings to pick a loan for another project.

Economically speaking, there is also the risk of low occupancy (theoretically in having your own house as an investment). Many 10,000 rental units in umoja are less likely to be vacant (in one sitting) than one 5-bedroom house in say Isinya/Katani. Since cashflow Is King, you will be your bankers’ pet and you can expect more T.L.C. from them. (TLC is tender loving care). Thirdly, the most expensive/ rentals with highest returns in rental real estate in Kenya in cost per square foot/ cost per square meter is in ‘ghettos’ and downtown commercial spaces. The cheapest is in the leafy suburbs of Karen, Runda et all.

The magical part of this debate is that most of you won’t listen, and by doing so, and take this with a light touch; Hasira ya mkizi, furaha ya mvuvi. (The ‘anger of the cuttlefish’ is the ‘joy of the fisherman’). If you know you know.

  1. Be safe. In the wake of the Covid19 pandemic, let us observe regulations and standards given to us by government and health authorities. Let us practice social distancing and as much as possible postpone most if not all of construction activities on site. This will call for clients and consultants having consultative meetings with developers/ clients and contractors so as to see whether they can accommodate for slower and safer pace of work, or a halt of works altogether. We request developers to be mindful of construction activities on site as those workers are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, grandparents; just like the ones you have in your family. With the current curfew, let us start work early and release all workers in good time to adhere to the government directives. This is a call for us all to bring out our best of the true human spirit. If we pull together, we shall overcome this pandemic.