Part 3: I am in the Diaspora, where should I build/buy my home?
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Part 3: I am in the Diaspora, where should I build/buy my home?

This article is part of our Diaspora series. It is the third instalment. In the previous instalments, we looked at the options that are available to you if you are living in the diaspora when it comes to building or buying a home. You can choose to build or buy a home in your country of residency, buy or build a home in urban Zimbabwe or go the old-school route by building a rural home first. Each one of these options has its pros and cons.

The purpose of this article is to look at the advantages and drawbacks of building or buying a house back in one of Zimbabwe’s urban areas while you are still living in your new country of residency. Of course, if you can afford it, you can always build or buy houses in each of these locations but most people do not have that kind of money, hence the purpose of these articles.

Most Zimbabweans who are in the Diaspora spent their childhood in one of Zimbabwe’s many suburbs and this is the life they are used to. I find that those who grew up in towns and cities have a hard time adjusting when it comes to moving to rural areas. The inability to adjust is even more pronounced when you have lived abroad. So I would strongly encourage anyone who is in the diaspora to prioritise getting a house in urban Zimbabwe first if for some reason they are unable or don’t want to stay in their new adopted country.

The advantages of getting a house in urban Zimbabwe

  • You actually own the house and piece of land upon which it sits/or will sit. Thanks to Zimbabwe’s colonial and post-colonial past, land in rural areas doesn’t actually belong to you - it is either communal land or you get to lease it from the government. In urban areas tenure is more stable and you actually get title deeds.
  • This means your house and stand is actually worth more if it’s in an urban area. It’s not just a matter of tenure though. Factors such as being close to the city and higher demand means the value of your house is higher.
  • It’s easier to get a mortgage if you are in the diaspora, provided you emigrated formally and have a payslip or proof of income. Most major banks including Steward Bank, CBZ, FBC and NBS have active housing projects aimed at the diaspora in various suburbs. You can just pick your desired suburb and voila.
  • This means you don’t have to fork out cash and worry about the complex steps you have to fulfil in order to get a quality house. This also means you no longer have to deal with untrustworthy relatives, suppliers and building contractors.
  • As I hinted at above, it’s a life you are familiar with if you are one of those people who grew up in urban Zimbabwe. You will not have to adjust to the “pain” of living in a rural area. If you are like me and grew up in rural Zimbabwe instead, owning a house in an urban area like Harare is the dream and it’s much easier to adjust there.
  • The house can provide an alternative source of income for you. COVID has highlighted the importance of having plan B and C when it comes to having an income. A lot of people have had to reinvent themselves. A house in urban Zimbabwe where there is a housing shortage will provide you with a passive source of income. In the event where you don’t need the money, your dependents to whom you were remitting money can just collect rent there instead and make a living out of it - freeing you up and allowing you to save.
  • An urban house can provide you with much-needed collateral in case you need to borrow money for a project back home. Once you have a house you can unlock Zimbabwe’s elusive credit market. You can for example borrow money to install a solar system or drill a borehole among other things - you will not have to pay for every project out of pocket. Also, banks are quite keen to lend to diasporans who can prove their creditworthiness and there is no better way to do this than with a deed to a house.
  • You can have relatives and friends house-sit for you instead of having to pay someone to look after your house. You will have to be careful of course as some will abuse your trust and trash your new house.
  • Urban areas are very accessible and are near communication infrastructures such as internet fibre and power grids, unlike some rural areas.
  • With growing anti-immigration sentiment in most developed countries, you will have a place to land should the unfortunate happen and you find yourself back in Zimbabwe after perhaps being deported.
  • Building or buying a house back in Zimbabwe is much cheaper compared to doing it in most developed countries. You can build several homes in middle-density suburbs like Madokero and Mabvazuva with the money you would need to buy a condo in London for example.

Again there are probably more advantages to building back home in Zimbabwe but the aim of this article was never to provide you with an exhaustive list. I rather wanted you to know how to get started on the process. Now what could be the drawbacks:

  • You will have to rely on third parties who are far away back home. It’s not a problem if you are in, say South Africa where you can just sacrifice a week and come to check progress in person but if you are in Canada or Australia you will have to place faith in these third parties. Thankfully, if you go through banks, the process becomes easier, professional and more predictable than if you relied on relatives and friends who might not be completely trustworthy.
  • Land barons have made it tricky to build in Zimbabwe, your nice completed house might be razed to the ground if you skimp on procedure or try to take a shortcut/cheaper route. This again is avoidable if you rely on banks and experts as outlined above but it will mean you spending more
  • Some people are of the opinion that Zimbabwean houses are overpriced given their actual worth, built quality and location. This would depend on individual cases but again this is true. As already pointed out above, you might spend more money than you end up getting if you end up selling the house you build or buy.
  • Building in towns means having to follow more rules and adhere to set building standards - this will add up to costs. You can build or buy a rural home for a fraction of the cost you spend building your urban house.