Building to rent out vs to live in? Here is what to consider

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Last updated on
April 7, 2022
Owning a rental property is not just about collecting rent at the beginning of every month; there’s a lot more into it.  

Have you ever wondered what the differences are in building a house to rent out vs building a home for yourself? Well, there are many aspects that are the same in both cases like location, market trends, amenities, neighbourhood. However, you need to carry out more research for building a rental unit to meet the diverse needs of possible tenants.

The rental market in Lusaka is buzzing with new houses popping up everywhere you turn. With this trend, many Zambian landlords try to enhance the looks of the home by installing expensive fixtures and add-ons, but they end up staying on the market for a long time because they result in higher rental prices than market averages.

However, a rental unit, when built correctly, can still be a lucrative way of getting few extra bucks every month. Such an income will help you in affording your home or moving into a dream neighbourhood. But, owning a rental property is not just about collecting rent at the beginning of every month; there’s a lot more into it.  

Here’s our take on what factors you should consider when building a house that you plan to rent out vs. building a home that you plan to live in. So, let’s dive in:


For rental unit, you need to look out for a neighbourhood that attracts tenants but for your own living try to look for well-established neighbourhood. To be successful in the real estate business, you need to do detailed research about market opportunities and shift gears at the right time. It would help if you vetted the neighbourhood thoroughly for its liveability and amenities.

Don’t select an area that has a high vacancy rate. Also, get a sense of local market value and try to determine the area’s selling prices. If possible, select a site with lower property taxes. A place is ideal for rental properties if it has a good number of institutions and amenities nearby.

Floor plans

For rental units, it’s best to go for open floor plans and keep it simple. Use open floor plans, minimal accessories, simple windows, and doors. Using common appliances, simple colours, and finishes will make your property eye-catching and require less repetitive maintenance.

For your own house, you need to modify the floor plan as per your lifestyle, entertainment facilities, and all your dream preferences. You can research and choose an architectural style that goes well with your budget and space requirements. You should focus on making your home function for your specific needs and lifestyle.


For rental units, try to minimise moving parts like doors and windows. It would be best to wisely choose moving parts like faucets, windows, doors, and hardware. All such moving parts have to be minimum or simple. This keeps overall building costs and long-term maintenance cost low

If you intend to build a house for your own living, you are open to selection. You can choose from awning windows to single-hung, from double-hung to slider and transom. You can pick colours to match doors and windows.  

Interior walls

For the interiors, experts recommend painted surfaces instead of permanent finishes. Painted surfaces are easy to fill and repaint if there’re scratches and spots. Choosing interior paint colours can be tricky, especially for a multifamily property. You can do some research to know the trendy colour choices at a given time. Try to go for simple and neutral colours; if in doubt, white interiors are always a timeless choice. This also gives your tenant freedom to repaint the house to their own taste if this is something you decide to allow in your lease agreement.

For a house you intend to live in, you can go absolutely crazy and choose all aspects of interior designs based on your personal taste and touch. You can go for painting, flooring, kitchen interiors, furniture and décor tailored specifically for you.    


The right kind of exteriors typically balances aesthetics and initial cost. For a rental property, it may be tempting to go with a design that is currently trendy and innovative but you risk it looking dated in a few years once a new trend comes around – so aim to go for a more timeless exterior look. You need an exterior material that is well-balanced with maintenance. So, thoroughly search for materials and finishes for your home that you intend to live in.  

Moreover, try to choose a style that would boost the curb appeal of your rental property. You can use different or unique colours to stand out among neighbours but don’t try to overdo or complicate things.


You want the roofing to stay at the bay of water issues and probable repair or replacement when you're a renter. The same stands true if you intend to live in the house you’re constructing. You need to evaluate your low-maintenance roofing options. Flat roofs are currently a low-cost roofing trend. You can read about how to build a flat roof that won’t leak.You can also go for roofing materials like slate, shake, or steel roof. In all such, water problems are much less likely, and replacement is far less likely.


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