To buy or build a house?

You earn a decent living, probably in a solid relationship and what is left is to get a house you can call your own.

A home is usually the single largest investment that a person makes. And so the debate is, what is better — an established house or building from scratch?

Valens Mugabo says it is important to consult extensively before taking a decision.

“Sometimes people rush into decisions but it is always wise to talk to other people, especially those who have been there before,” he says.

Mugabo says he decided to go for construction for his four-bedroom house because he wanted to be in control of what his property would look like.

“I wanted my house in a certain way, which I couldn’t find in an already established one. I also thought it was cheaper than investing in an already constructed house,” he says.

Naila Mutoni, a customer care agent, says because of the tight schedules people have these days, buying a home could be the best option.

“Construction would require a lot of time for one to follow up. Buying a finished house can be expensive, but it saves time. If I was to get myself a house I would choose buying over constructing,” Mutoni says.

Charles Shyaka, a marketing agent, hopes to own a home soon, but he says the choice on whether to construct or buy will depend on his availability.

“Construction requires time but it is a choice I would prefer. I know it is also cheaper, at least the people I have talked to have confirmed this,” he says.

Hilary Muramira also believes construction is cheaper, but he says he would opt to buy if the house met all the standards he needs in a house.

He says buying a house has a number of advantages compared to construction.

“There is no need to buy land, no need to look for an architect, it saves time, and you can just move in the very next day.”

He also says that some people go for construction because they want their house a certain way, however, there are still uncertainties because things don’t always go as planned.

“I have a friend who opted for construction but a lot of material was stolen and he ended up spending more. He, however, emphasised that regardless of the gaps, construction is still cheaper than buying a house,” Muramira says.

With construction, the owner gets exactly what they want.  Courtesy

Weighing the pros and cons

Paul Rwigamba, the director of project and property management at Century Real Estate, says buying or constructing a house is about an individual’s choice, but it also depends on a lot of other factors.

Construction has its pros and cons; you have to follow up on a daily basis. You follow up on the engineers, the constructors, the plumbers to ensure that what you sign for is what you get, Rwigamba says.

“You need to be fully involved because, for example, if you release 100 bags of cement, you have to see where those bags go. If you let someone construct for you and not be engaged, you will not know what is happening. Even when you have contracted a good engineer you still need to be there as an individual otherwise one might end up spending more money,” he says.

Following up, Rwigamba says, has an advantage to it. It gives space to closely monitor and make changes where need be, hence, getting what you want exactly.

Rwigamba says with buying property, one major advantage is that one is relieved from the stress of following up, and also gets to move into the house when it’s ready.

He also says there is guarantee for a purchased house as long as one deals with a trusted developer to get a defect liability — a period of time after a construction project has been completed during which a contractor has the right to return to the site to remedy defects. This period lasts for 12 months.

Even though the process involves numerous steps — such as financing, viewing homes, making offers, home inspections and closing — the convenience of being able to move in right away is compelling enough for many people to choose an existing home over a build. This may be especially true for buyers on a tight schedule, such as those relocating for a new job or whose children will be starting at a new school.

With costs, Rwigamba says, though it has never been proven because one can never measure time or the stress that construction can take, someone can end up spending more time and money in construction.

A housing estate in Kigali. File photo 

“In my opinion, a developer can spend let’s say six months in construction but for an individual, even when you have the cash, it will take you more time because of the nitty-gritty.”

Victor Ombima, the principal architect at A&A Services Ltd, says the decision to build your own house gives you more freedom to dictate what you want and what meets your specific needs. A home buyer can rarely get a perfect match for all their needs even after years of searching.

He says those who prefer to build are also able to control the quality of their house right from the foundation to the roofing.

A homebuyer may only hope that the work that is not visible at completion was done properly. For instance, most houses will begin to show signs of failure after a year or two of construction (dampness on walls/floors, cracks and leakages may only become apparent after sometime, if the house was not properly built and the buyer of a house may not see these signs when the house is new).

“When building your own house it is easy to integrate sustainable systems that would reduce the running cost of the house after it has been completed,” he says.

Ombima notes that those who treasure fulfilment in the works of their hands, building their own home provides a sense of accomplishment and inner satisfaction of having participated in the building of their dream house. This sentimental value of the house may far supersede the actual cost of the house they build.

He, however, says that construction comes with constraints, noting that constructing a house requires extra dedication and commitment of the owner’s time, whereas a homebuyer has minimal hassle in the process of home acquisition.

Ombima goes on to explain that controlling the initial budget is much more difficult for those who decide to construct their own house, as compared to those who buy an already built unit. This is because the price of the completed house is fixed and any other associated costs can be easily determined even before buying the house.

“There are more risks of cost overruns in a construction project due to unforeseen situations during the construction period,” Ombima says.

The architect notes that it takes much more time for the house to be available for occupation if one decides to build rather than buy a ready to occupy unit.

“The entire process of building a house is more strenuous and stressful, especially if the owner is not well informed or properly guided by his team. In some extreme cases, the stress can be detrimental to the health of the project owner,” Ombima says.

Rwigamba notes a trend, however, that could require more people opting to buy rather than construct houses.

“By the look of things, in coming years, it will be expensive for one to construct a house. One will be required to have a certified engineer, architect, foreman which becomes costly,” he says.


There are more risks of cost overruns in a construction project due to unforeseen situations during the construction period. Courtesy photo
Factors to consider when buying or constructing

The positioning of the property matters a lot, says Rwigamba.

Other factors, he says, include lighting, view of the house, painting and the finishing, as they depend on a person’s preference.

Ombima says relevant information is important in order to make the right choice. For any property, the most important factor to consider is location.

Property values vary from one location to another, depending on how well the place is supplied with infrastructure and supportive services that enhance the dwelling experience of the residents.

The future value of the house that you buy is also worth considering, Ombima says.

“For instance, if you buy a house in an area that is increasingly becoming a high-end or vibrant residential neighbourhood; or near an area where supportive infrastructure such as tarmacked roads and utility lines are about to be built/installed, then that gives you a better deal for the future value of the house,” he says.

Since most people may prefer mortgage option when buying a house, needless to say, they must consider what they can afford given their household income and over the entire period of re-payment, Ombima adds.

Ombima cautions that when building your own house you should consider working with a professionally qualified team, or at least a qualified team leader, right from the inception of the project.

This will ensure proper planning and all paper work is done in compliance with all planning regulations and to acceptable standards.

“Like any other project, constructing a house must be done within the constraints of time, budget and scope (scope here refers to the pre-determined needs at the planning stage or in other words, a project brief),” Ombima says.

However, you should be prepared for unforeseen changes during construction and any such changes must be well managed as they are likely to affect the budget, he warns.

Ombima adds that extending the duration of the project may also affect the budget due to other factors, such as increase in prices of building material, cost of labour and other associated costs.

A bigger portion of the budget must be already available before you start to build. This way, you can sustain the project through the critical stages and avoid any delays in this critical path which sometime may be dictated by external factors such as the weather, approved project duration and inspection programme by local authorities.

The project owner must also consider their availability to supervise the work, or appoint someone to act on their behalf for the entire duration of the project, so that they are aware of the progress and all decisions being made along the way.

Would you rather buy or construct a home?

I would go for construction because then I can customise every single detail based on what I want in a home, which I can’t get in an already constructed house.

Moreen Sanyu, Administrator


It all depends on what one wants; in my opinion, I don’t think there is a better option because both ways have advantages and disadvantages. However, I would choose what is cheaper.

Ronnie Kibagajjo, Student


Building a house can be time consuming because it requires you to be fully involved. Buying a finished house on the other hand can be expensive but it is the choice I would prefer.

Topy Kayitare, Youth Leader


Constructing is better only that one ends up over spending; it also takes time to find the right people to work with on your project. I think I would go for buying, rather than constructing.

Felix Kayihura, Lawyer



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