Why most Kenyans prefer to build their own homes

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020 07:06 | By

High cost of buying homes and poor land tenure system are the main reasons Kenyans construct own homes as opposed to purchasing ready ones, experts  say. 

Most Kenyans, according to the 2019 census report, prefer building own homes unlike in most developed economies where majority of the people buy ready homes.

The report, released last week, says only 2.8 per cent of Kenyan households living in own homes bought them while majority, 93.9 per cent, live in houses they constructed themselves with 3.3 per cent living in inherited dwellings.

Eric Muchunku, a consultant at UN Habitat, attributed the phenomenon to high cost of buying homes and the flexibility that comes with constructing own dwelling.

Operational costs

“The first thing that comes to my mind is cost. Houses built by commercial developers are still more expensive, probably because the developers transfer some costs and operational costs and taxes to the clients. Government incentives given to the developers do not trickle down to the home buyers,” he added.

Building your own house, he said, also allows one to construct at their own pace, in phases, depending on the amount of money you have at the time. It enables one to use low-cost labour including using relatives for unskilled work. 

While constructing own house enables one to customise the layout to the owner’s personal needs, the quality and structural integrity is usually lower than when using professional developers, notes Muchunku.

Architectural Association of Kenya Vice President, Wilson Mugambi blamed the situation on the country’s disorganised land tenure system and the high prices asked by property developers.

“The price asked by property developers is beyond the reach of majority of Kenyans, everything has been overpriced. Very few people are able to take a mortgage,” he said.  

“Developed countries have a very organised land tenure system. That’s what we need too. Our system is all based on speculation, we have an obsession with land ownership,” he added.

He observed that a majority of people living in the rural areas built own homes as opposed to buying,  a factor that could have contributed to the undesirable statistics. Kenya has over 12 million households with an average of four people per household, according to the 2019 census.

As a whole, most Kenyan households (61.3 per cent) live in own dwellings while 38.7 per cent live in rented or provided dwellings, most of which are roofed with iron sheets.

The 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census survey shows that 80.3 per cent of the households occupied dwelling units that had iron sheet as the main roofing material followed by concrete or cement at 8.2 per cent. The dominant material used for wall construction was mud or cow dung at 27.5 per cent followed by stone with lime or cement at 16.5 per cent. 

Concrete walls

Dwelling units with concrete walls accounted for 16.3 per cent of the total. The predominant floor material was concrete or cement accounting for 43.7 per cent followed by earth or sand floors at 30 per cent,” it adds.

In the last 10 years, Kenya’s population has grown by about 10 million people to reach 47.6 million up from 37.7 million in 2009. However, the population and housing census indicated that the overall population growth rate declined from 2.9 per cent in 2009 to 2.2 per cent in 2019 while the average household size declined from 4.2 people in 2009 to 3.9 people in 2019.

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