Building a Home: Tricks Contractors Use to Make Millions

A truck pictured on a highway in Kenya.
A truck pictured on a highway in Kenya.

Over the years, the construction industry in Kenya has been infiltrated by shrewd contractors and suppliers who have engineered various ways to milk as much money out of a project as possible.

Erecting a building, whether a home or commercial property, is not only a major investment but an expensive undertaking as well.

Speaking to, Kenny Rodgers Kutotto, the Project Manager at Urban Feat Company Limited, a development and service solutions-based real estate entity, highlighted various tactics he has encountered involving underhand methods used to shortchange project owners.

An excavator digs out earth from a construction site that caved-in.
An excavator digs out earth from a construction site that caved-in.

Key among the issues raised was the use of sub-standard or counterfeit building materials, (especially electricity cables, sockets) which can endanger the owner even in future & cause heavy losses. "Always ensure to source from approved dealers who offer guarantee/warranty," he advised.

Below are the issues raised touching on construction projects in Kenya: 

Adjusting a Lorry's Load Capacity

On October 6, a picture of an empty truck popularly referred to as 'tipa' went viral. Upon closer scrutiny, it became pretty clear why the photo was shared multiple times. 

Just like the shrewd tendency of potato vendors to move up the base of their buckets by placing a fake 'base', the truck was modified in the same manner.

This implies that as a project owner pays for a truck of sand or ballast based on the truck's load capacity, but only gets a portion of of the goods. This means that one would then end up having to make more purchases to cover for the deficit.

Expert says: to mitigate this, ensure the trucks are weighed if possible.

Materials pictured at a construction site.
Materials pictured at a construction site.

Swapping and Omitting Materials

Suppliers are aware that most project owners might not be able to spot the difference between various grades of selected construction materials such as metals, concrete mix among others.

Although a wide variety of metals can be used in construction, steel remains the most popular metal worldwide.

To save costs and ensure quality material, it is recommended that one buys directly from steel mills rather than the local welder, who will charge exorbitantly.

With a few pointers, patience and a firm resolve not to succumb to shortcuts, a first-time home-builder can also learn how to tell genuine merchants from those who are up to no good.

Charging Outside the Contract Bills

A contract bill is basically the principal guideline employed during construction. 

It is highly recommended to draw up such a document as shrewd contractors have found a way to create 'works' and tag huge costs on them.

Without these documents, you’ll be vulnerable to extra charges for the made-up works.

Downgrading the Construction Labor Force

Unless you have a personal relationship with the contractor, it is highly recommended that you formulate an efficient supervision strategy.

When it comes to canny contractors, they more often than not substitute skilled laborers, for the cheaper option of semi-skilled ones.

In the end, they are able to convert their low bids into disproportionately large profit margins. And consequently, the overall project workmanship ends up being extremely poor.

This is closely tied to the issue of ghost workers at  your construction site. Despite pouring billions into extensive ghost-busting audits, Kenya remains, by and large, a country of ghosts.

A thorough and frequent review of the workforce against payment schedule is highly advised.

Prolonging the Project Period

This is one of the most common tactics employed. By doing so, the project is likely to run up costs.

This mostly occurs when contractors attempt to pursue several projects at the same time. They might occasionally pull resources off your project to prioritize on other seemingly ‘better-paying’ jobs.

Some are known to blame subcontractors, the weather, an alleged out of stock material or even claim that they’ve been stretched thin by their personal problems.

A housing estate under construction.
A housing estate under construction.

Avoiding Quality Testing and Assurance

This especially applies to first time builders. A trip to the quarry to buy building stones can be as risky as brokers are always hunting for novices to milk.

Once the brokers at the quarry spot a buyer who looks inexperienced, they will approach with all sorts of deals and offers. 

Some of them will entice you with reject stones, which they will sell for as little as half the price of standard ones. Others will sell you  low-quality stones that might end up being unusable.

There are even people who will offer to transport your stones, only to speed up and take a diversion once the truck is fully loaded.

All in all, the tricks keep evolving which is why project owners are advised to gather as much information as possible from trusted experts prior to embarking on a project

One should strive to minimise transport costs as they tend to run up costs. You can do this by ordering in bulk and planning your construction such that most of the transportation is done during the dry season, since the cost tends to go up during the rainy season.

The best way to protect your construction project is proceeding with a solid team of licensed professions, plus a full-time construction project manager.

Kenny Rodgers Kutotto.
Kenny Rodgers Kutotto.
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