by Scot Murray
- Like many of you, I took a break from work around the holidays, however thoughts of quality construction never quite seem to turn off. I was in Brooklyn, New York this Christmas at my sister’s house when I came across a fascinating wall-hanging in her living room. She framed a building schematic from 1878 of the thirty-four row houses that make up Warren Place in Cobble Hill (one of which she lives in). Originally conceived as “cottages for workingmen” (yesteryear’s affordable housing), these three-story, 15-foot-wide row houses were neatly arranged off a thin central promenade with a flower bed at the center. Behind each house in the plan is a narrow “cart way” leading to small individual private gardens. Pretty idyllic.
But what I found particularly interesting was on the backside of the building schematic – a lengthy list entitled “Condensed Specifications.” As any list of ‘quality’ would, it starts off with the foundation and walls, describing the foundation as “of cement concrete” and the walls “of good hard brick, the front faced with extra quality brick laid in red mortar… [with] outer foundation walls 16 inches, outside walls 12 inches [and] party walls 12 inches in the basement and 8 inches above.” Damp proofing is next attested to: “the basement bottom is of cement concrete 4 inches thick. All walls in contact with the earth are coated with asphalt, and this coating is carried through the walls two courses above the footings.” Internal plastering is then described as “of best three coat work,” followed by floors “of narrow tongued and grooved yellow pine.”
The list continues with equal specificity given to stoops, trimmings, fireplaces, basement timber, stairs, windows, doors, etc., as well as a final note informing would-be residents that the houses have been oriented east-west to maximize natural light.
Despite the fact that the specifications list we use is among the most comprehensive in Ghana, it frankly does not compare to this one from Brooklyn, 1878. Furnished with such specificity, a buyer would know what his money was buying, workmanship notwithstanding. And imagine if you were to approach a civil engineer for advice on the purchase. You would have everything right there on that condensed list for a thoughtful opinion on the design and intended quality of the building programme.
Before today’s fancy renderings, 3D walk-throughs and other such new age marketing experiences, buyers still bought and builders still built. The main difference is that off-plan buyers in the old days had nothing else to go on other than a contract, a specifications list and perhaps a thorough interrogation of the developer.
Here’s the takeaway. Customers need to focus on what’s most important – quality design, quality materials, and high-quality execution. Requesting developers to reveal with greater specificity exactly what goes into their homes, what makes their homes worthy of your investment, is something that used to happen in past that doesn’t happen as much today.
Let’s work to change this. From now on, we’re going to double the length of our specifications list so that our buyers will be far and away the best informed in Ghana. We hope that you recognize this change not as a burden which you must read through and endure, but as a further sign of our commitment to transparency and quality.
The other day I interviewed a potential new hire for our sales department who told me that in his opinion quality doesn’t really matter: “It’s price and size that are the key factors that buyers care about.” I completely disagree and this attitude is exactly what we’re trying to change. To that end, with our new lengthier specifications list and your appreciation and support, we look forward to making the old technology of quality construction the new technology that inspires us in 2018.
Also read our article "Is your house going to last for 100 years?" to learn more about the importance of quality construction.
Scot Murray is the Managing Director of Denya Developers. He and Ernest Hanson, the Managing Director of Beaufort Properties, write a column on the property market in Accra. You can contact them at +233268315111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.