Owning a home is everyone's dream, regardless of one's geographical location or race. In developing countries like Ghana, where inequalities are high and the housing deficit remains wide, it is considered a great achievement to live in one's own home, be it a willed property, a family home, or a self-acquired apartment.
Growing up, our parents often encouraged us to study hard in school, get a good job, buy a nice car, and build our own houses. This makes owning a home one of the major standards of measurement for a successful life.
This metric has, for decades, put enormous pressure on everyone as they toil to own a home.
Nonetheless, the factors for homeownership have changed with time. It is not much about feeling successful in life any longer, but simply an economic decision.
People are pursuing homeownership to avoid the ever-skyrocketing rental charges, especially in urban centres. Besides, newly built homes are comfortable and attractive.
The working middle-class Ghanaians are concerned about the possibility of losing one's jobs and not being able to pay the neck-breaking rent, leaving behind a legacy or properties for their children to inherit, and the joy of owning their space and saving themselves from the cyclical stress from landlords or landladies.
There is also the argument about whether to build or buy your own home. I think all the pros and cons depend on the individual's capacity. Usually, making an outright payment depends on the type of job one does and the income you earn.
Apart from that, our families living abroad mostly stand in a better position to pay outright for a house largely because of higher earnings and exchange rate advantage.
Only a few people in good corporate entities and private folks can likely meet the requirements for a mortgage home in Ghana. The rest, however, have no choice but to resort to going through the stress of building from scratch, which can take years to complete.
The Housing Deficit
The housing deficit in Ghana currently exceeds 1.8 million according to government records. This is a reduction of about 33% from 2.8 million (2010) to 1.8 million (2021), according to the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS).
Despite the upward trends or the gains made over the years, there is still a yawning gap to be filled. The current daily minimum wage in Ghana in 2023 stands at Gh¢14.88 as of January 2023, making it difficult for the average Ghanaian to be able to rent a decent place of abode, talk less of affording to buy an average home or build one.
Mortgage or Housing Financing
In Ghana today, individuals in the middle-income bracket or public sector workers receive monthly incomes of between GH¢1,619 ($140.78) to GH¢22,925 ($1,993.47).
Unfortunately, the highest average is more than 14 times the average salary of workers on the payroll at the bottom (Ghana 2022 Earnings, Inequality in the Public Sector, January 2023).
This means only a few workers fall within the highest average earners bracket, leaving the remaining with the lowest payroll at the bottom.
However, such meagre salaries are usually inadequate in securing home mortgage loans taking into consideration the cost of living, the average household size, and the number of dependents.
Other issues such as the high rate of inflation, high interest rates, and demand for huge down payments (often about 20%) make home mortgages expensive and unattractive for the majority of people.
Building Your Own Home
Building a home from scratch can even be a complicated task for the ordinary worker who may not have any clue on how to commence, the right materials to use, and the correct professionals to engage, among others.
The average person may fall on referrals from friends to be able to contract an architect and artisans to work on their project. Some benefits of building your own home include the fact that it affords you an opportunity to move into the property before the full completion of the project, and that saves you rental money.
Additionally, building your own home is cheaper eventually than buying a property directly from a real estate company or a developer.
More so, you can fully customize your new home to suit your specific needs and style, including determining the required number of rooms, land size, layout, interior design, and garden space.
You can manage your expenses and resources to ensure you stay within the required budget. Moreover, less maintenance is required in the beginning because everything will obviously be brand new and in perfect condition.
There are several hurdles that one would have to go through before and after putting up a building.
First off, one major issue that may bedevil any new builder in Ghana is the inconvenience of location. The city is choked and has no space for new developments.
Therefore, one would have no option but to move to the outskirts of town or to less useful parts of the city, away from schools, shopping centres or malls, health facilities, and other social amenities like water, and good roads.
Conversely, imagine the stress that the ordinary working class goes through in a week, from Monday to Friday.
These individuals only have Saturday and Sunday to rest and yet, one must avoid resting to monitor workers at your building site, help or pay for materials to be conveyed to the site, provide the casual workers' meals or tips sometimes, and check every single detail of the project.
Another challenge is the stress of dealing with land guards due to land ownership challenges in Ghana, and paying for digging fees [Illegal payments] for the youth of the area. Landguards can stress you to the point where you can abandon the project if you are not strong-hearted.
Others include how to convey materials like sand, stones, iron rods, water, and other items such as roofing sheets, doors, tiles, and cables, and how to secure these items.
The vehicles which convey these items can break down and leave your items mid-way. There are high rates of theft on these relatively new sites, and the items could be stolen if not properly secured.
Inflated fees and the cost of materials are another set of challenges. These artisans take advantage of the ordinary owners of such properties who have little or no knowledge of construction and inflate their fees and the cost of the materials and sometimes overcharge if you don't engage the right Quantity Surveyors/Engineers to provide you with the quantities.
One other major hurdle is how to obtain land title certificates. These legalities can also be stressful when you don't engage the appropriate people.
The landowners would usually hand over only the indentures to you. It, however, behoves the new landowner to continue with the rest of the documentation by going ahead to register the land.
After the project has been completed and ready to accommodate the owner, you may have to deal with the issue of how to connect water and electricity to your new home.
This can take weeks and, if you're not lucky, months and even years, especially in the case of water. According to the water and electricity companies, some areas are not mapped for their services to be deployed there.
This means that you have the option of connecting to an alternative energy source, be it solar or a generator.
For water, you have the option of a borehole, and whichever options you choose for both water and power, will cost you an arm and a leg. Buying water weekly is equally expensive, but you may not have an option if you want to move into your new home.
Access to a Good School
One is spoiled for choice when it comes to access to good schools in the cities as compared to the options in a less developed town or community.
This leaves settlers in new areas with few options when it comes to good schools, thus making parents who value quality education take their wards to distant places where they can find good schools. This isn't only stressful due to the daily commute to and from school, but it also increases costs.
Staying in Long Traffic
Living on the outskirts of the town comes with staying in unbearable gridlock to and fro from work, whether you're driving your car or boarding Ghana's unreliable public transport system known locally as ‘trotro'.
Your daily commute may become longer and more difficult. It gives the children a lot of stress as they have to wake up early and get ready for school.
It is expensive and risky because parents would have no option but to engage personal drivers to pick the kids up after school. These drivers, depending on the distance, can charge not less than ¢50 a day.
Access to the Internet and Calls
With the advent of technology, one cannot help but have access to the internet either to continue with the day's work or for entertainment.
The kids also sometimes need the internet to do their assignments at home. Unfortunately, some new areas struggle to get stable connectivity to make calls as well as get internet access.
Access routes to the houses are mostly in a bad state, making it difficult to ply the road with the slightest rainfall. It also speeds up the maintenance routine of vehicles due to the frequent damage caused to these cars.
Settlers of these areas sometimes contribute to fixing the roads themselves by buying laterite/gravel in large quantities and engaging casual workers or labourers to fix the roads.
Access to Shopping Centres, Market
Groceries and other household items can be highly expensive in these areas due to scarcity. It could also be the cost of transporting these items from bigger market centres by these shop owners to their respective shops.
New settlers ought to strategize to buy their groceries and other items in bulk periodically from the bigger shopping centres to save cost.
Security and Theft
Although security is not even assured in the well-developed areas, security in the new areas is very porous and fragile.
You really would have to relate well with your neighbours and the boys in the neighbourhood so as not to attract any anger from them. Give the boys tips periodically to be in their good books.
The above issues, however, are not to dissuade anyone from building or owning their home but to bring to light these pertinent issues and help prepare the minds of individuals who are now building and those who are about to make the decision to build.
Nevertheless, some people who have been able to build may become sad, excited, or emotional when moving to a new area.
Others may be indecisive or fear the unknown. Many others may be reluctant since you have become so familiar with staying in your current location, and thus, thinking about moving to a new place can be frightening.
Consequently, I think the answer to this is our “inclination”. Wherever you go, be work or your way of life, you have to decide that you will make the most of it and not look backwards.
There will be challenges as enumerated above, but if you complain and yearn for what you had in your previous “cage”, you will be miserable.
If you enjoy your new home, new experiences, friends, food, and surroundings, you will be content. It's really up to you because you control your life and your perception. So make your best bet.
The Author, Felix Ekow Eshun, is a Banker and Supply Chain Professional. He is also an entrepreneur and holds a Master of Science (MSC) in Supply Chain Management and a Bachelor of Science Degree (BSc) in Banking and Finance. He blogs at myekoweshun.wordpress.com. Email: felixekoweshun@gyamfi-bediako