Every time I drive around greater Kampala, I see residential houses that are the size of shopping malls or midsized hotels.
There is one that was trending on social media recently that looked like a government administrative block. I will be honest; sometimes I admire some of these houses, especially ones where the architect didn’t just draw a box with either a flat or heaped roof. But I also wonder, what do people do with these houses? How many people live in these houses?
I recently met someone who is about to start constructing their home somewhere in greater Kampala. As we talked, I saw the architectural plan they had approved. It is a sizeable house. Knowing their children’s age, I wondered what they will do with the house when the children leave — like they will eventually do in under 10 years.
The person pointed to a door on the side of the house.
“The house has been designed in a way that can accommodate at least two different families,” the person told me.
“Each family can live here without sharing any spaces apart from the compound,” they added. “And at the same time, by just keeping this other door open, this house can be enjoyed by a single family,” they said. I was now attentive.
“When the children leave or when we are no longer able to sustain it, we can easily rent out one of the floors to a different family or turn it into accommodation for short stays,” they explained.
I was now hooked. This means that the house has more bathrooms than probably it should have. It also has two kitchens where one was sufficient, and an extra door. This obviously increases the cost of the house in the short term but it is a smart idea as it gives the owner future options without breaking and building again.
Many people in retirement, long after their children have left to start their own families and not so keen to always drop their children (the grandchildren of the retiree) struggle to live in a house that is too big for them. A house originally built for about eight people all of a sudden has three living in it.
The cost of maintaining the house remains the same – regular painting, electricity for security and such other things. Yet for most people, retirement also means reduction in income. All of a sudden a house that gave someone pride is a source of worry.
Renting a big house is not always easy. There is an increasing number of empty office buildings in Kampala (as every government agency moves into their own building) and, therefore, people who would have rented stand-alone houses as offices may be tempted to rent in these commercial office buildings.
So, as you dream of a big house, there is need for a sustainability plan for it especially during retirement. One way is to ensure the architectural design enables you to easily transform the house into something else while spending very little or nothing on those changes.
Selling for a small house could be an option but sometimes people may not want to leave the areas which they are accustomed to.
It could also be important where the house is actually built for those who have big compounds. Imagine if you had an acre or even a 100x100ft plot, building the house in the middle of the land means that you may not easily build other houses or even sell off part of the land when you no longer need the compound.
You may not even be able to hold events yet your land size may be big enough to host some functions like weddings at a fee. But if you didn’t plan this, it means you would have no income from the property.
Mixed use of the property is an income stream for many retirees. Rent- ing out one part and living in another could be a very good business model for retirees.
There is a guy who has a hotel somewhere in Bugoloobi. His residence is within his hotel complex. The residence, a small house, is accessible from the main compound though it has its own perimeter wall around it for privacy.
Apart from the parking lot for about three cars, the private residence doesn’t seem to have a compound and, on many evenings, he is seen in the hotel gardens with his wife enjoying tea. It is something that we could learn from him.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.