US mortgages vs. Zambian ones

I was almost shocked to death when I moved to the US and heard that people take 30 year mortgages.  What?!  I could not imagine being in debt for just one item for so many years.  Why?  Well, because at that time Zambians did not generally have access to loans.  We just built our houses slowly over the course of many years.  We would save a bit monthly and then build one stage, take a break while saving some more and repeat the whole process.

The biggest loan I ever took was a five year one to buy a piece of property.  I knew I would not default, but still found it to be a burden.  Even after moving to the US where I had all the credit I could ever dream of at my fingertips, the fear of taking it was too much.  I, like millions of my fellow countrymen, built my house slowly.  It took me at least ten years to bring it to a standard where I could say “The house is now finished”.  In spite of this, some relatives had been comfortably living in it for at least eight years.  All we need for habitable shelter in Zambia is 4 walls, a roof, one secure door leading outside, clean water (from a tap/well) and a loo (indoors/outdoors, no difference).

Every year when I go home, I am amazed as how much people are building.  It does not matter whether the person has the lowest income or not, the culture is that one should have at least “one room”.  We have basically no social security and majority have no pensions, so we have to make sure that we are not homeless at any point.

I believe here in the States, the normal thing is for one to have a down payment, get a mortgage and ‘buy’ a house immediately.  For me, ‘owning’ the house immediately is fine but the issue of having the loan for decades is something I can’t wrap my head around.  Also, what about that interest?  It scares me.  We are told that houses appreciate, but hmmm… I am still scared even with a secure job.  I guess it’s just my background that makes it difficult for me to accept.  Different economies, different home acquiring strategies.



8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tiny
    Nov 24, 2018 @ 14:13:09

    I have seen how much is being built in various countries in Africa, little by little. And I like that mentality. it works well as long as there’s room to buy land and build, but when cities grow, there will not be room for individual houses close to the center and high rise buildings have to be built by someone. I think that in the future more of those buildings will be condo homes rather than offices and commercial space – then people will either need to save first to afford a home or take a mortgage loan from the Bank.


    • Zambian Lady
      Nov 27, 2018 @ 16:56:17

      You raise an important point about sprawling cities. This is happening already in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, and the subsequent traffic jams are a major problem. However, only a few people have started building multi-storey buildings. Unfortunately, not more people can do so since credit is difficult to get. I tried to build some double-storey apartments, but the costs were just too much so I changed to single storey. The fees I paid for an electrical engineer and other experts whose input was needed before starting the build, were just too much and actually were enough to build a small one bedroom house. The other thing I took into consideration was the small pool of people able to afford what I wanted to build. My not being based in Zambia did not help either. I think we are still a long way from having affordable multi-storey apartment buildings unless the government steps in. They did so in 70s/80s but haven’t do so again in a large scale.


      • Tiny
        Dec 05, 2018 @ 16:44:23

        I would love to go back to Lusaka and see how the city looks now. The last time I visited was sometime before 2000…so it must have changed a lot. Good luck with your building project!

      • Zambian Lady
        Dec 06, 2018 @ 21:10:22

        2000?!!! Lusaka was still a village then – she is now a real city :).

  2. anotherday2paradise
    Nov 20, 2018 @ 14:35:06

    Thankfully, apart from when we were first married and paid it off as quickly as possible, we’ve not needed a mortgage on any of our houses. I would hate to be in debt for such a long period of time. It would feel like the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over my head. 😦


  3. heidi ruckriegel
    Nov 20, 2018 @ 10:34:42

    People kid themselves that they own a home when, in fact, the bank owns it. If house prices go down (as they have), they’re in serious trouble. Yet there are houses standing empty… it’s crazy.


    • Zambian Lady
      Nov 27, 2018 @ 17:35:25

      I can only imagine how rough it is when property prices depreciate and you still owe the bank. I hope, though, that we don’t go through the 2008 problems, property wise.


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