She was earning sh. 2,400 a month as a high school teacher and now Edith Kaumbuthu is a proud property developer. She shares with us how she stumled upon her new occupation.
By the time she used up all she thought would be enough to build her home, Edith Kaumbuthu had only completed the foundation. Discouraged, she decided to abandon her home ownership dream for a while.
Edith, 54, says the “peanuts” she earned during her days as a teacher propelled her to build her own house to cut down costs.
“I used to earn about Sh2,400 as a high school teacher in the 1990s and I was often left penniless after paying the bills. My husband was working as an accountant for the government and was not earning very much either,” Edith says.
“At the time, our three sons were of school-going age so you can imagine the cost of raising them. We needed to cut down on our expenses. I took to stitching the boys’ uniforms and knitting to make some extra cash but it was not much. We then decided to build our own house to stop paying rent,” she narrates.
With this resolve, Edith and her husband bought a plot in Kahawa Sukari, Kiambu County, in 1994 for Sh30,000 and kept it idle as they figured out how to go about building the house with no experience. One day, Edith was around Kasarani and spotted a house she liked and decided to knock on the gate and ask the owners how they went about building the house.
“He was very helpful and referred us to a contractor and architect. We engaged the architect in 1996 and decided I would supervise the project and I am glad I did,” Edith says about contractors who steal from their employers.
“After the money ran out, we didn’t even have Sh40 to buy the material needed to cover the foundation after completing it,” Edith says.
“When we went to inspect the site the next year, it was like a forest. It was around the time of El Nino. Even the foundation we had built was unidentifiable under the bush and I almost lost hope again but I asked my neighbor to help me clear the bush and I would pay him when I got money,” Edith narrates.
“He agreed to do so because he understood where I was coming from. He too had abandoned his project after the expenses spiraled out of control,” she says.
Little by little, Edith started to buy stones and other building materials to start building her three-bedroom house until the roof stage when all her money ran out again.
Edith says she and her husband had already given their landlord notice that they were leaving so they had to put up a temporary roof on their house, move in, and figure out how to complete it later.
“We only roofed the living room and kitchen so when we moved in, those are the only two rooms we lived in. We had to buy water every other day and since the floor was not tiled, we had to pour water on it every Saturday to contain the dust. There was also no electricity and my boys had to rely on the car battery to act as a power connection,” Edith says.
“Then in the morning, because the battery had been used up, the car wouldn’t start. We had to push the car to the hill and then let it go down in neutral. It was a trying time. I have never had high blood pressure, but the project almost pushed me there,” she narrates of the house was completed in 1999.
Despite the ups and downs Edith went through when building her first house, she says she felt very satisfied once it was complete and that gave her the confidence to build another house so she bought a plot nearby and started the process again.
“This time, I was wiser. During the first project there was quite a bit of wastage because I was not sure which suppliers had the best materials for the best price. I also realized some casual laborers can be a headache,” Edith says.
“There are some workers who lack intelligence of the hand — their work is poor. But I would rather deal with that than a person who lacks intelligence of the soul — the kind of person who will steal from you right before your eyes and not feel remorseful,” she narrates.
“It is very important to be hands-on in building. If workers are not stealing your materials, they are wasting it. There are times I would have to hide in the bush and check what the workers are doing. I would sometimes find them mixing cement then leaving it to waste,” she says.
“I would also see them take down a section and instead of saving the unused nails, they would say they need more bought. So I hired someone to specifically remove unused nails and take them to the site for reuse. There are also things like windows and gates which someone can waste a lot of money on if they buy them directly. It is best to buy materials and then let your workers build the gate and windows at your house. It can save you up to half the amount sometimes,” Edith says.
Edith says one of her lowest moments was when she was laying the foundation for the second house.
“More than 50 youths invaded our plot after they saw us preparing to lay the foundation. In fact, we had already marked the plot but they came in with jembes and did not say a word. They spread themselves across the plot,” Edith says.
“Being the only woman there, I decided to leave and return the following day with my husband but in the middle of the night I got a call from our neighbours complaining about our laborers working late into the night. I was shocked the men had decided to allocate themselves portions in total disregard of the markings we had done and they dug trenches haphazardly.,” Edith narrates.
“When my husband and I went to the site, we found the men had done a shoddy job and were demanding immediate payment. We ended up paying them for work we didn’t contract them to do and we had to redo the foundation.”
Edith completed the second project — a six-bedroom, all en-suite house with a gym, study and servant’s quarter in a year. She also did the landscaping of the quarter-acre plot herself.
“It all comes down to passion. I have an interest in building and that is what keeps me going. I have gained many followers in my property development journey. Many friends have built their own houses after seeing me build mine. I think if I started a church, I would be the kind with very many followers because there are results.”
When we ask how much she spent building the mansion, she says, “A developer can never tell you such details, but just know it did not cost as much as it looks. It is doable.”
Edith has built another three town houses which she has rented out. She says she would like to venture into building flats, and even a mini-city. “Why not, all things are possible.”
Edith has this to say to youths buying cars and thinking those are assets, “Invest in building your own house. It may look like a huge undertaking but look at me. I started with my savings as a teacher and put up my first house slowly and now I’m a developer. Don’t think too much about the whole project. Start where you are, start now. Even if you abandon the project for some time, it is not a perishable good, you can get back to it later.”
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