Where will my next House be?
By Caleb Mutali
How to Choose a Neighbourhood
When one decides to buy a house, one feels real excitement only associated with childhood memories such as when you would join the school trip to the agricultural show or when circus comes to town. However, stress and frustration begins to set in thanks to the sheer volume of decisions one has to make. What area do you want? What kind of house? What features matter most? Are you a big yard person or do you prefer a low maintenance patio? Are you a big city person or are you looking for a change to areas such as Athi River that speak of the country next to the city? What is the relationship between your dream house and the neighbourhood it sits in? Well, here is a simple analogy. If houses are like spouses, a neighbourhood is like the extended family. But while you can have a good marriage and still dread holidays with the in-laws, you can never love a house if you do not like your neighbourhood. Why is this? It would be like have your grumpy in-laws as the gate-keepers to your home. So, what are these oft-ignored but important pointers that we need to look out for as we shop around for which gated environment to buy into?
City or Country?
Member of investment clubs and a budding socialite? If you are in love with the culture and energy of a city, you know you want to live in one. If you want lots of land and quiet nights, you are looking in small towns, suburbs and the country. If you cannot stand late-night noise, you will probably want to steer clear of the college area or an area with a lively bar scene.
Do you have children or are you planning to have children anytime soon? If you have kids, you’re thinking about where you can find the best schools and resources for families. Parents know that the first thing to do when looking at a neighbourhood is to research the school system. Even if you are single, living in an area with a much sought-after school system raises your property value. If you have kids, you will probably also want to live close to parks, community centres and shopping malls because it is therein we find the recreational facilities the children will want to relate to over the weekend. Churches with vibrant youth programme like a basketball team make for great neighbourhoods that make for safe but inexpensive distractions for youth.
What type of home do you want? Are you interested in a single-family home or an apartment, townhouse or buying into a chamastrategy to deliver housing?
How far are you willing to commute? Do you plan to drive, walk or take mass transit to work? Do you have a car or would you be willing to get one? How predictable is the public system and how safe is it as you transit between your gate and the bus stop? Do you want to be able to go places on foot? Would you like to be within walking distance of shops, restaurants and bars? Or would you be willing to drive to nearby businesses?
Old or New Neighbourhoods
Do you want to be in a historic neighbourhood or a new development? Historic neighbourhoods already have character, but often require lots of repair work and are governed by community associations with strict standards. This means your new home can be boring and predictable; probably something similar to the house your parents raised you in. Newer developments have more modern features, but are typically far from the city centre. Sounds familiar… the Mlolongos and Ngongs.
Choosing a Floor Plan That Works For Family
Many home builders give serious thought to how the rooms and other parts of the house will look like once the structure is built. This can take several approaches as to how it is done. Others buy generic house plans from the street, while others just want their houses to look like the Joneses next door. The best way to go about this is actually a consultative process with the key partners in the project. These would include your spouse, the architect and other important persons for the project success.
We all agree that savings is a Herculean commitment that is dreaded by many but is prudent for one’s financial independence. Especially, when a goal is set as a step towards scaling the hierarchy of needs in which housing is critical to savings.
When embarking on a plan to build your home which can be done anywhere, there is a strong temptation that actually materializes for off-shelf readymade architectural building plans.
A floor plan is a simple line drawing showing rooms from the birds’ view. Walls, doorways, and windows are often drawn to scale. Floor plans show the size and perimeter of a new residence as well as all interior living spaces.
Many Kenyans have taken to buying readymade building plans from the streets and non-registered builders. Some developers prefer the houses to be like one they saw in a coffee table magazine at the local salon and do not take into consideration their lifestyle and special needs when choosing floor plans.
A floor plan determines privacy, comfort and functionality in a home. There are key areas worthwhile in considering a house plan:
Double Volume versus Intimacy:
- Living rooms with huge ceilings are not ideal if you are to encourage a welcoming feel to your home. Keeping ceilings low fosters intimacy and warmth. For most Kenyan families, living room is the focal point and not the fireplace nor the outside view. So if the room’s layout begins with the television LCD monitor’s placement, one should plan how to avoid glare on the television screen which distorts view without having to close curtains thus block the outside view.
A Little Timber:
- To ensure excellent movement and proper use of the floor space, one should decide what furniture they will use before choosing the layout of the room. Window size and placement are also fundamental considerations.
- For adequate privacy within a home the chosen plan should ensure interior is not on display whenever the front door is open. This can be achieved by opting for a formal living room or some form of vestibule adjacent to the front door. This will allow guests to immediately sit and feel comfortable while leaving the rest of your house private.
If you can’t take the heat, …
- Today’s kitchen is hailed as the social epicentre of a modern home. It plays host to activities from quick morning family breakfast to a meeting point for those private never-ending women conversations.
- How a kitchen should function is an extremely personal matter and a floor plan needs to be customized to reflect that. A kitchen might have the most beautiful cabinets, technologically advanced appliances and high-end finishes, but if the layout does not meet the needs of your lifestyle, the rest doesn’t matter.
- You should consider your cooking style to determine the appliances you are going to install in the kitchen. You also need to consider whether or not you want people in the kitchen when cooking or whether you would prefer guests looking over while you are cooking (American Style).
- The two elements determine the floor space size and whether or not to include an extra counter space to allow lounging in the kitchen with extra high bar stools. One of the most popular designs to make this possible and that has stood the test of time and is still as relevant today is the kitchen peninsula design.
- A metaphorical way of describing a freestanding cabinet surrounded by a sea of flooring, peninsula, as opposed to a cooking island, is where a cabinet or series of cabinets are only connected to the main body of the kitchen on one side. This series of cabinets replace the solid walls, creating storage space while at the same time defining the kitchen border. When it comes to floor planning of the kitchen, home owners tend to be seduced by beautiful fixtures at the expense of functionality. It is important to design the room so can fix a meal easily. The sink, stove and refrigerator should be in close proximity and in a triangular form so as to minimize movements while cooking and avoid crisscrossing the kitchen.
- A good kitchen should be large enough to accommodate two cooks. The sink should be surrounded by a 24-inch wide landing area to one side and at least an 18-inch wide landing area on other side. When designing cabinets try and figure out what each cabinet would store so as to design their appropriate sizes and shapes to avoid ending up with non-functional cabinets. Also plan where trash receptacle should go.
- This is normally overlooked during planning. One can chose to have the general lighting and lighting below the kitchen cabinets that will illuminate the working table. Lighting inside the cabinets is also ideal for functionality.
In the Inner Sanctum
- One of the most exciting private places to design is the master bedroom. One of the main things to have in mind when thinking about space sequencing for a master bedroom floor plan is how important it is for one person to be able to use the bathroom and get dressed or undressed without disturbing the other person.
- If there is ample space, one of the best inclusions is for the master bedroom with a walk-in closet. Even if it means sacrificing some space in the main part of the bedroom, having a walk in closet helps keep away those inevitable piles of clothes and saves the bedroom from clutter.
- To ensure less disruption, one should have an entrance leading to a corridor with the bath on one side and a walk in closet on the other. At the corridor’s end install another door that opens to the main bedroom area.
- Being able to close off both ends of this corridor allows one to bathe and dress without disturbing a sleeping partner.
- A master bedroom with curved vaulted ceilings and cross tie beams retains openness and gives a more intimate atmosphere. Master bedrooms should also be located far from main activity areas in the house and guest rooms should be not be placed above or below master en-suite as in the norm in multi-level floor plans.
- Pay attention to sound buffers. If it is inevitable to have the master next to high activity areas, building closets along walls adjoining walls of high activity areas helps to minimize noise. This can also be applied to other bedrooms.
- Most families who have young children like to have the private spaces of the house – bedrooms and bathrooms grouped in one area of the house while families with teenagers and young adults prefer to have bedrooms separated from each other.
- Physically challenged and small children need extra space to manoeuvres and extra wide hallways.
When Culture Matters…
- Muslims have extra rooms in their floor plans that act as their prayer room. These rooms have to face north to Mecca, therefore their position in the entire floor plan has to be taken into consideration.
- Women and men rooms tend not to interact as much therefore men spaces such as living room and the kitchen should be distanced in the floor plan.