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Building? Ignore experts at your own peril

REAL ESTATE
By Graham Kajilwa | November 25th 2021

Construction worker holding hardhat [Courtesy]

A home is as personal as the owner. This might explain why some Kenyans prefer to construct their dream houses by themselves to cut costs.

To some, it may be out of injecting their wholesomeness into the project. For others, it is simply a way to save one more shilling.

It is not surprising to find an individual wearing all the hats of the financier of the project, structural engineer, contractor, foreman, architect, and interior designer.

While some projects have stood the test of time, built by individuals’ own experience – especially in the rural areas without the input of experts, professionals in the construction sector insist on the use of qualified experts.

This, they note is not just for consultation purposes but all through the journey. Perhaps you may ask yourself why you need a landscape architect? Can’t so and so who sells flowers and tree seedlings across the road offer the same?

Isn’t landscaping all about planting trees and flowers? Or why should I get an architect yet I have this house plan my friend shared and I know this foreman who is quite good and affordable?

Do I need an interior designer yet I know how and where my bed and my favourite couch are to be positioned in the house? Aren’t they just going to do a whole makeover which will cost more?

These are some of the questions experts in the construction industry are confronted with – sometimes face-to-face or telepathically. Yet they insist the use of professionals is as important as the project itself. Emma Miloyo, an architect, says one of the concerns by clients is that including professionals in the project will increase project costs.

“Professionals are important. If you were to have brain surgery, you will not pick anyone on the streets. You will go to a neurosurgeon and you will pay them because you know what it takes,” she said during a discussion on Spice FM, a sister radio station owned by The Standard Group.

Miloyo concurs that putting up a building is expensive. “Even the low-cost one is Sh1 million upwards to hundreds and hundreds of millions. There is no cheap building project,” she said. According to Miloyo, such a project should be in the right hands due to its implication on life.

“You spend 90 per cent of your time surrounded by those four walls. You are investing in something so important and professionals are not expensive,” she said noting that professionals save you money.

“Some people build with columns everywhere because their fundi told them yet they did not need those columns and an engineer would have told them there is a cheaper way to do it,” said Miloyo.

Tricks and hacks

Eunice Muhuri, a civil engineer turned contractor, says the list of professions to include in your project may even extend to a quantity surveyor. However, the fear that they cost more holds individuals back.

The concerns on cost, says Muhuri, arise more from first-time builders. These are the individuals who will ask how much the professional charges and question if it is really necessary.

Before she takes up any project, Ms Muhuri advises her clients to first engage an architect who will interpret their plan on paper and a structural engineer.

“These are the two people I insist on before I take on your construction. You may choose to get a quantity surveyor or not. Some people do not even dare to approach a quantity surveyor because they are scared of the costs,” she said.

She said getting these professionals isn’t a challenge as they can be linked.

An an architect can link one to a contractor or structural engineer whose work has been tested and certified by the National Construction Authority.

As such, one will avoid unqualified experts or quacks. And when it comes to laying out the interior décor of the house, Shiro Njeru, an interior designer says it does not have to be a full house makeover.

“I am big on budget. Your home does not have to be expensive to look expensive. There are many tricks and hacks to make your home look stunning,” she said.

How much will it cost? Is it a lot of money? These are some of the questions she faces from clients but Njeru says it does not necessarily have to be the case.

“Home décor is personal. Your home should be able to tell your story - who you are. A lot of misconception is that it is going to be a lot expensive to have an interior designer,” she said.

“A lot of people think that I have to empty my space and get new furniture. Sometimes we work with the same old furniture you have and at times, we upscale it. I have done an interior décor for a room for a low as Sh15,000.” And if you thought all a landscape architect does is plant flowers and trees and come occasionally to prune them into some iconic shapes, then you are wrong.

Ruth Wanjiku, a landscape architect and chairperson landscape architect chapter at the Architects Association of Kenya (AAK), says most people are not aware of what they do.

Those who know landscape architects, she notes, do not know where to get them.

“You can go to the roadside guy buy and plant but what I bring to the table is the best selection of plants for your site based on how your building is, so you need a landscape architect for that,” she said.

Wanjiku says a landscape architect will determine the best plant species based on the water requirement and site of the building.

“If you have pests, we look at what can you do to minimise mosquitoes or what can you do to increase aroma, birdlife and butterflies,” she said.

How much it costs, she says is determined by client demands. While it may seem that a small space may cost less, some clients may require a fountain for example in the area hence cost variations.

The professionals extend even to roofing. It is the reason why Mabati Rolling Mills has in-house engineers as explained by its Digital Communication Manager Rita Okello. Rita says the company works closely with the contractor to bring out what the architect put on paper.

“We have engineers within the organisation to ensure that design fits in the material that we have,” she said.

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