Ever been homeless? Probably not. Neither have I…until last week. Almost.
It all started the day after Sallah in Abuja. I got a call from my neighbor that the house we were renting had been sold and the new owner has given us only 5 days to move out.
Who does that?
Being a typical Nigerian, I shrugged off the threat.
“Don’t mind him,” I said, “he can’t do that.”
Little did I know that would be the beginning of a very long and frustrating battle that would lead me to near-homelessness.
I rushed back to Kaduna and found that the new owner had already begun removing the interlocks in the house. He wasn’t playing around.
We tried to fight it at first but quickly realized we didn’t have any papers to show that we were even legally residing there. All our transactions were made with cash because we felt the landlord was ‘helping us’.
No receipts. No contracts. —- #1
The new owner, let’s call him Meanie (for obvious reasons), would come every day and strip off something from the house, trying to squeeze us out in the process. I began looking for accommodation immediately.
The first week passed. I couldn’t get a suitable place within my budget or area of preference.
Meanie couldn’t demolish the house with us inside. Or so I thought. So I stayed.
The second week came around with Meanie cutting off our water and power supplies.
By week three, I was overly stressed and frustrated. I needed to move out ASAP.
Out of desperation, I eventually settled for a place within my budget but a bit far away from my office.
I was in such a hurry that I didn’t verify if the house had water and power. I simply assumed since it was a newly constructed house and the agent said everything was intact, I trusted him.
“NEPA just took light. They will pump the water when light comes back,” he said.
I made a full payment plus commission. —- #2
The following day I ran into a neighbour while moving in and she told me the area hadn’t seen light in 4 days and there’s no borehole or water board in the house.
It took another week before I could convince the landlady to refund my money. (I had to lie that I go posted to another city. I’m not proud of it but I did what I did).
When I got my refund and resumed house hunting, one agent showed me a house already rented to someone else with the promise that the tenant was moving out within the next few days. He demanded I pay him a deposit to secure it.
I didn’t. Turns out it was a lie. —- #3
Whew! Dodged a bullet there.
In the process of house hunting, I would say I consulted with over 15 agents in 3 weeks and all except ONE were shady. Many tried to rip me off more than once.
By the end of the 3rd week, Meanie swore he would remove the roof. If we wanted, we could stay without a roof for a few days before he comes back.
In this raining season? Some people sha!
With one day to eviction, I was still looking for an apartment to rent.
I hadn’t particularly planned for this emergency but I had an emergency fund. —#4
Prior to last year, if I had money, it was in cash either at home or in the bank. Spending it was easy. Probably why it was hard to really save.
But since I started taking my personal finance seriously, I started putting money into savings and investment platforms such as Cowrywise and mutual funds that are not particularly easy to access. —- #5
If I hadn’t done so I would have tapped into the savings to get a fancier (probably larger too) two-bedroom apartment which deep down I know I didn’t need yet. A fancy apartment is not really my money dial —- #6
To cut to the story short, on eviction day I found a clean apartment slightly above my budget (the price I have to pay to enjoy security and peace of mind).
Although my emergency fund took a huge hit, I still have my investments intact.
“Okay, Ahmed. Very Touching. Why Should I Care?”
If you’re wondering why I’m sharing this personal story with you, it’s not because I want you to scold me for my stupid mistakes (actually you should).
My hope is that you (or someone you know) can learn from my experience. I don’t claim to have all the answers but this is a good place to start.
You don’t have to go through every experience to learn the lesson. Learn from others and build on that.
No one told me agents will try to scam me over and over again.
So, Here Are The Lessons.
#1. ALWAYS have important agreements on paper. Get and keep receipts of all important transactions. Where necessary, have a contract drawn up. Sounds like common sense, I know. But trust me, it’s easy to simply overlook it and trust the other party.
#2. Trust but verify. You will meet nice people who will want to cheat you. Before moving into any house, talk to neighbors who have nothing to gain from the transaction.
#3. If you conduct business online, try to verify as many details as you can either by asking around or doing a little research. Read reviews.
#4 – Build an emergency fund when everything seems to be going fine. Then define what your emergencies are. Write them out. When life does its thing and sends emergencies your way, you know you are covered. Do not tap into the fund with the promise of replenishing it later. You probably won’t.
#6 – Recognize nice-to-have things that look like needs. I didn’t need a fancy two-bedroom apartment with a large sitting room. I needed a self-contained apartment.
I hope you find this useful someday.
PS: You don’t need to wait until you have N100k to start building your emergency fund. You can start with as little as N1,000. All it takes is commitment and consistency.