Almost 20 years ago my parents bought some land in Accra. For 15 years the structure has been there, but it is only since my mum came that she has managed to decorate, and put a wall around it and well basically make it habitable. Its a huge house, 7 bedrooms, it could actually be used as a guesthouse. I could actually rent out my place and go live there, it looks very Hollywood (she has good taste, I can’t take that away from her), but I can barely maintain my 2 bedroom house and it gets kind of lonely even with my cousins living down the road so no, but I’m proud of what’s she’s done.
The reason it has taken so long to get the house up to scratch is this. My parents bought two plots of land. Or so they thought. It was only when they had constructed the house and about to put a wall up around the land that they found out that some of the land belonged to somebody else. My father had given money to his brother in-law to buy land. He in turn. Well only God knows what he did with the money but we find out that some dude has taken some of the second plot, so mum had to quickly go and register and secure what they had built on (he hadn’t done any of the paper work even though he had said he had done it), and then we spent a lot of years trying to negotiate with said dude to regain the lost plot of land. Almost 20 years later after being ripped off first by dude’s sister then by a dubious lawyer who had no experience in land law, she lost hope of watching her grandchildren playing on open land and put a wall around what we had legal right to.
She then had to rearrange what would have been the front of the house, removed the garage and cut down the plaintain tree so that we’d have some assemblence of space around the house.
If you got all the technicalities of what I just told you then that’s great. If you didn’t, well here’s the deal. This is Ghana, and when it comes to land all I can say is caveat emptor, buyer beware.
Nowadays, it is a lot easier to acquire land, that is to say if you can get any. Most of the land has been sold off and if you want a piece of land in Accra, you will probably get it about 2 hours out of town or well you might as well commute from Kumasi. But if you have the money, there are some service plots available. These are lands which have been bought up by land developers and resold on, but at least there would be no complicated paper issues to deal with. The only thing is you’re looking in the region of $15,000 – $50,000 per plot size and the cut is not as big as it used to be, I think if you’re lucky you’ll get 80″x100″, although still big if you’ve lived in London. The other way is to buy an estate house, with this you don’t have to deal with any dubious construction workers and bother with the price of cement.
If you were lucky and you bought an estate house about a decade ago, you could get a decent sized 3 bedroom for $20 – 30,000. Today if you want the same in a location fairly close to the centre of Accra then you’re looking at between $80 – 120,000. The only thing is if your the type who doesn’t like uniformity, then you’ll want to build your own. But it all depends on your purchasing power and time (I’ll get into that later).
Back when my parents were buying, there were a few estate developers such as Reginmmanuel and Manet, but mainly people bought lands from the chiefs. In Ghana, there is the main Tribal King, so in Accra there is the Ga Manshie, and in Kumasi there is Otumfuo (Asantehene) etc…then there are the district chiefs, who own the land. So if you want a piece of land, you go through the chief who owns that area. What happens is you buy a piece of land only to find out later on that it has been re-sold to three other people. (more in Accra then anywhere, in Kumasi, they usually really sell to their own so not so common, whereas in Accra, it are more ‘multicultural’ buyers). Later on court battles ensue, but the money has usually already been spent and well most of the time its just easier to go and get another land, quickly register the land and build a wall around it so nobody can touch it.
If you live abroad and you want to buy a land, remember this, money and family don’t mix. It is not just unscrupulous land owners that will be your only issue but also blood sucking family members. In fact it is when you rely on family to buy land for you that you know who really loves you and who thinks that you have taken out a second job as their personal father christmas. I am not categorising all family into this bracket but there are a lot of stories that I have heard which make me thank the lord that they are not part of my family else I would be inside on a murder charge by now. I had a friend at university, he was going to Ghana for the first time in a number of years. He was a mature student, who had managed to save enough money since he arrived in London to get himself through school and have a little extra to look after his relatives back home. He had also been sending regular payments to a cousin to buy land and build a house. The documents had been sent to him and he was getting regular pictures showing how far along the project was going. Foundation, structure put up, roof was about to go up, it was looking good.
When he landed in Ghana however, he found out that the pictures taken were not of his house, his cousin had been taking pictures of a building in the area, and then chopping the money. He got to Ghana to find out that they hadn’t even laid the foundation, but on the plus side, his cousin picked the guy up from the airport in a very nice car.
This is not an isolated case, there are many other similar cases. These relatives who haven’t got a clue where the money comes from but as long as it keeps on coming, they keep on chopping. In my parents case, the brother-in-law did do some work on the house, he said that he was about putting the roof on. That was until my grandfather died and my mum went to the funeral only to find out it was at window level.
Another reason why people like myself prefer to buy a house already built is because of the construction workers. People say that Ghanaians are hard working people. I say they are when they live in Europe or they are working for foreigners but when they are working for their fellow Ghana man, I say take it or leave it. Firstly, you have to be on their back, if you are not watching them, a 2 day job will take 2 weeks, because they will stretch out the job knowing they are being paid by the day. Cement is like gold dust here also, it is now 25ghs a bag and if you don’t go and buy it yourself you may find you have bought 50 bags even though less than half that amount was used for your property.
Then there are the unforeseens, there is always something that you haven’t budgeted for which just comes up. Something that has to be re-done because it wasn’t done properly. Then if your money runs out and you break for a while, you may end up having to patch up something that got spoilt by the sun or the rain. It’s not easy.
The reason mum got to where she has is because she was at the site every single day. Dad has taken over now, because he has the time for one and he loves being needed. Mum can be fiercely independent to her detriment and he thinks if you think you can do it all, then do it. But this time she took my advise and asked for his help and he is actually quite good at this project management thing. We waited 7 months for the carpenter to come and do the kitchen, it took him a week, they are now in Kumasi, and so is he (for a funeral) and he will make them come back to finish the work even if he has to load them in the back of his pick-up and drag them here. That’s another thing, these people appeal more to men than women. When a man says jump, they jump, but a woman, well it will take them a month to pick up a toe.
But with all the frustrations of building a house, there are some beautiful houses in Ghana. A house that would cost over a million pounds in the west may cost less than £100,000 here. So what can I say, there is nothing more I can say is that this is Ghana.