2 February 2013

Uganda: A Glimpse Into House-Hunting in Kampala

Photo: Precious Birungi/Newvision
Kampala has a deficit of 100,000 housing units according to finance minister.

I have gotten acquainted with Kampala's nooks and crannies; I have driven on the dusty roads of this beloved city in desperate search of a place to lay my head. Finding a house in Kampala is rather draining. If the house is not too small, then it is too far out, if the finishing is not shady, then the house is too expensive.

This was Maria Nalukenge's story when we met for this interview.

"The last house I rented had three bedrooms. It was located right by the road side in Bukoto and went for sh250,000. Now, that price is laughable because land and the housing sector have appreciated at a terrific speed," Nalukenge says.

However, not satisfied, we left and sought to find out what house hunting in Kampala, using brokers, really means.

The terms and conditions:

On our quest to accomplish this story, we gave Google SMS a shot so as to view a wide variety of houses. The instructions - type "Rent a house" mention the location of interest and text it to 6007 gave me leads to a number of brokers.

Now, you would think these are professional, decent, real estate agents, right? Wrong.

For starters, the young man I contacted didn't have the courtesy to call, he beeped. When we met, stating his fee was the first order of business.

"First you have to pay me sh30,000 as inspection fee before I show you around," he stated.

He said he was aware of a three-bed-roomed house at a good rate, but I had to first drive him to some place to collect the keys.

Going in circles:

Our first destination was on the out skirts of urbanization and organised homesteads. The second house he attempted to show me was locked, he bluntly asked us to peep through the windows.

At this point we decided it was a waste of time, paid him half his fee and drove back. A broker we met in Kansanga, probably didn't conceptualize what we wanted.

In one house, two doors could not open at the same time; one had to be closed so you could have enough space to open the other. In another instance, the builders were in the middle of digging up the floor, the broker claimed it would be ready over the weekend, a likely lie.

Another house was perfectly located, had great proportions, was enclosed in a fence, but the house itself was falling to pieces.

The repairs needed were more than we were willing to invest. So we drove off, with heads hang low; money spent, time wasted and nothing to consider.

In a survey done by New Vision, it was discovered that one can get a house anywhere in Kampala, depending on the location and price. One can get a house for rent at sh100,000 to sh500,000, depending on the size and location of the house among other factors.

It either gets better or worse as the price peaks or falls. Houses on the market are going for sh500,000 and above.

Erisa Bashy, a broker in Naguru, a Kampala suburb, says he charges sh20,000 and sh50,000 for a single and double room respectively as inspection fee.

He says the commission is negotiable. However, both commission and inspection fees are nonrefundable. This, therefore, means that a client is liable to incur losses if he/she does not appreciate the room.

He also adds that he charges 10% of the monthly rent as goodwill for a shop, kiosk or place of work.

The tide has changed:

According to Mohammed Sendawula, the director Kabaseke professional brokers in Kasubi, back then, a broker was not a businessman, but rather a mediator between the buyer and the seller.

This has however changed over time due to the economic and financial pressures.

"Inspection or search fee does not go beyond sh30,000, depending on the broker, type and location, among other factors, including the house you want. For instance a business house attracts a relatively higher fee compared to houses for residential purposes," he says.

"A brokerage or commission is paid after the client appreciates the house and is negotiable. However, in most cases I charge not less than sh40,000, depending on the location and size of the house," adds Sendawula.

Sendawula argues that the main challenges are the negative publicity their job has attracted. And he attributes this to lack of professionalism exercised by some brokers.

"A number of brokers are not registered, not licensed and operate under mango trees instead of well-established offices.

"Brokers of this kind have spoilt our job. They tend to overcharge and in most case defraud clients since they cannot be traced in case of any problems," he adds.

Recommended brokers like Henry may seem more credible. He is stationed in Ntinda. Judging from his Rav4 car in the parking lot, business is good. He asked for our price range and then proceeded to show us houses available.

However, the houses were way above our means.

He explained that anything below what he had shown was not neat enough. When we insisted on seeing more options, he delegated the duty to his colleague, who searched high and low to show us various available options. So we settled down to two houses on our top list.

According to Samuel Mabala, the commissioner for urban development in the ministry of lands, housing and urban development, people using brokers in the search for houses for rent need to ensure that the brokers they are using are licensed and registered under the Association of the Real Estate's Agency(AREA), besides knowing their correct location or workstation.

"The Government is aware of their activities and we are working on the policies that regulate them," he said.

He also advised that tenants need to always cross check with the landlord whenever they buy or rent a house or any property.

"By so doing, they are able to verify and know that the transaction is genuine and legally unquestionable," he observed.

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