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Building a house

Is it a good idea to buy property now and build in two or three years from now in Costa Rica? Or should we rent for a while and buy a house already built?

i believe it is a good idea to at least buy the land and build rather than buy something already built although building hassles are to be met. I just purchased some land and I am having several builders quote me costs. The average price per m2 is around $600 for an average house, nothing fancy. Land can go from $50/m2 on up depending on the city or region. My 3500 m2 lot  in Palmares cost $35/m2, overlooking the city. I think I got me a good deal.

We bought land in 2010 and did the dozer work in 2011.  We are on a hillside (killer view) so we planted the types of plants and grasses to prevent sloughing and erosion.  We built in 2013.  Our experience was about $100 per square foot or $962 per square meter.

If you have previously been to Costa Rica and traveled throughout the country while performing your due diligence, making sure the area is for you, buy the land... but suggest that you rent in the area first.

If it is in a 'development' make sure that utilities are already there as there are many projects in the country that will never be completed. If you are on a strict budget, consider purchasing a completed home as there are thousands of homes selling for less than they cost to build.

There are many beautiful areas here to choose from, so don't rush into it.

We thank you for your ideas.  We do want to rent first and find the area we want for sure.  We like the higher elevation and Lake Arenal.  Maybe 2-4 acres (or 2-5 H) , just some space. We want internet an cell coverage - so we still have lots to research.
We have built four houses in the USA but if we could find a nice home - two bed/two bath and a few other things, that would be great.
Another question...
Should the home have a security system?
We love to get an apt for a while and meet some people before we move.  First hand information is the best.  I'm ready to go and rent when we sell our home now but my husband wants to wait to move another year or two for finance reasons.
Still learning!
Robin and Joel

Building in the US will not prepare you for building here... :o ...as things do not always go as expected.

Internet in the Arenal area is 'spotty ...' so you have to know of an exact location where it is 'OK' but probably neither reliable nor  fast..

I would advise you to have a noisy, security system installed, especially if you have no neighbors. Understand though, you will probably not have a response from a security company.
If finances are are concern, wait...as there are expenses involved with moving here and applying for residency.

We get many people that come here for a month to three months at a time and rent one of the furnished houses.  We had five couples do that this year and one couple took out a five year lease on one house with the option to renew for another five.  Another couple have purchased an acreage in Phase 2 and will be building next year.  We built a year and a half ago and love the lifestyle here.  Have a look at Altos de Antigua
Cheers .... Terry

MauroN :

i believe it is a good idea to at least buy the land and build rather than buy something already built although building hassles are to be met. I just purchased some land and I am having several builders quote me costs. The average price per m2 is around $600 for an average house, nothing fancy. Land can go from $50/m2 on up depending on the city or region. My 3500 m2 lot  in Palmares cost $35/m2, overlooking the city. I think I got me a good deal.

MauroN if you actually get that price ($600 m2), complete with electricity and plumbing, ceramic etc you are doing great. Or is that just the price of the outer structure?

We have a friend looking to build in the San Ramon area so if you wouldn't mind please share who you found to build for $600sq meter, privately or here...

We recently built a small house for someone else on one of the lots we have in San Ramon and the cost was around $725 a square meter using SIP panels.  We had a very hard time finding anyone to build for this price. That included ceramic tile, counters, plumbing and electricity and everything except wood trim and paint.

Labor is what costs and labor over-runs are what run up the bill especially if you build with cement block.

joelrobin :

Is it a good idea to buy property now and build in two or three years from now in Costa Rica? Or should we rent for a while and buy a house already built?

It really depends on if you can find a house you like and that is well built in the area you like and if you can afford it. If you find a great house in a great location go for it.

However one advantage to building on your own lot is that you can customize the house how you like it and be there to make sure it is built according to specs that you want. Even if you know nothing about building you can learn the basics and be there to ask "is that the best material for this?" "Is there a better option of materials here?" "how much more would it cost to make [x) better quality?" etc.

You can of course design your own floor plan and etc which to me was a big advantage as well as choosing our faucets, stove, floors and shower tiles etc. etc.

I also believe IF you find a good reasonable priced builder in your area you can save money over buying one pre-built but that depends on where you build and who in your area might be wanting to dump a property to move back to the US or something... So as to price it may be cheaper to build or may not be, depending on many factors. I've seen some good deals on houses but wonder how well they are built. You'd just have to look at them and check them out.

One option is to build with SIP panels and then it is easy to add a room on so you can start with a smaller house then add on later if you have money coming in later somehow... Also SIP panels are lightweight so pretty earthquake proof and labor is low priced because they go up quickly.

Hello everyone,
I have been reading these posts about building homes in Costa Rica.
If anyone is interested in some assistance, I am a retired general contractor from USA.
I have worked in construction for 44 years. I have experience in conventional framing,             SIP ( structural insulated panels) and also 9 years construction of restaurants.
Being a General Contractor for several years and also being a Construction Superintendent, I have the knowledge in heating, plumbing, framing, structural design and electrical.
I was a general contractor, in Colorado, building homes in the mountains.
So I have experience building homes on a hillside. So if anyone has any construction questions, needs assistance, please feel free to ask any questions.

Nice to know about you. where are you in Costa Rica? Being a gringo, wouldn't you be charging "gringo" prices? How familiar are you about obtained building permits, what comes before what. How about insurances during construction. I understand an architect has to Ok'd the construction along the way. Same for electricians, etc.I am planning on building my first house on my own lot (with enough area for future dwellings).

Coloradomike :

Hello everyone,
I have been reading these posts about building homes in Costa Rica.
If anyone is interested in some assistance, I am a retired general contractor from USA.
I have worked in construction for 44 years. I have experience in conventional framing,             SIP ( structural insulated panels) and also 9 years construction of restaurants.
Being a General Contractor for several years and also being a Construction Superintendent, I have the knowledge in heating, plumbing, framing, structural design and electrical.
I was a general contractor, in Colorado, building homes in the mountains.
So I have experience building homes on a hillside. So if anyone has any construction questions, needs assistance, please feel free to ask any questions.

Are you looking for work of this type here or are you retired and just offering free advice?

Do you know about Tico methods of plumbing and things like that?

For example most Ticos use plastic pipes, not metal. In some areas if you lay metal water pipes or put electric cable in metal pipes underground someone MAY come in the night and steal them! I seriously doubt that would happen where we are. But I've heard of it happening in other parts of Costa Rica.

One builder I fired for various reasons wanted to put an electrical box on my little farm that was the type you would use for a huge gringo house with a pool, washer/dryer, central a.c., etc etc even though he knew we were building a SMALL house with none of the above. My (Tico and American) neighbors warned me: IF he puts that in, it will be stolen! It's not that there's a lot of this kind of theft here, but this was such a huge expensive electric meter box that it would have served as an INVITATION: "Please Steal Me! I'm worth a lot of money!" It would have stood out from all the others. Not a good idea imho. I made him return it for one that would be like everyone else's.

I'm just pointing out that many construction-related things are done differently in Ticolandia than in the USA. And in many cases it's best to do things "the way they do" because they have their reasons and because doing otherwise may target you as a "rich gringo". What serves well enough in Escazu may not work in rural San Ramon.

On the other hand, many things are universal, like structural design, and that info is valuable to anyone.

I posted above what it cost to build a North American style house her that met ALL regulations.

SamRamon: this is one of the quotes I got ("llave en mano" or turn key)

2016    Construcción Mauricio Navarro casa de I nivel 120 M2 llave en mano

         M2 / unit               Costo por m2                     Costo de construcción              Acabados Finos
Casa I nivel    120    ₡             332,000.00                                                          ₡               38,180,000.00    
                   
                                                                                      Total                         ₡               38,180,000.00     
    Costo aproximado de la casa    100%                                                 ₡               38,180,000.00
    Costo de planos y dirección técnica    6.5%                                         ₡                  2,481,700.00
    Costo de Permisos Municipales    1%                                                         ₡                      381,800.00
    Costo Poliza de Riesgos del INS    0,4% de Mano de obra                 ₡                      534,520.00
    Costo de timbres del CFIA    0.0028%                                                       ₡                      103,086.00
              GASTOS TOTALES                                                                     ₡                41,681,106.00

Now,go figure what do they mean by "Acabados finos" (fine finishing). It could be anything from iron faucets to really nice faucets, etc. And that "costo aproximado" leaves room for more hidden costs. But that's one of the quotes I got, others are near the same price, others go over $720/m2. That is without the land.

Now if your friends are planing on building we could get together to see if we get a better price for the building of two houses, maybe.

An architect friend says that if I get a good "maestro de obra", my friend or an acquaintance of his will overview the construction. I've been shopping around for one, but I know that what I save in money I'll get it in headaches. Maybe at my age aspirin will do go to my blood stream as well.

Hi MauroN, that sounds like a very good deal. Is it pre-fab like Concrepal or something? But as you point out, it depends on what extras could be added, and the definition of "acabados finos".

If I were you I'd ask them to DEFINE that and also to tell me the "worst case scenario" of what extras COULD run me, before signing with them. Honestly that price seems unusually low per M2. But possibly real...

I looked at Concrepal and have heard some good reviews of them from Ticos I know who used them but their llave en mano designs are not to my liking. I'd have to design my own floor plan and that would add cost and even just their basic plans I feel were a bit high (though lower than some others). I looked at Maderas Kodiak too and felt they were over-priced plus I had trouble getting follow-ups from them to answer questions I had. (You'd think that a possible $30-40k job might warrant an email reply or call back but apparently not.) I found Concrepal very communicative at least.

I'm  a big fan of SIP panel building but some builders are charging way high prices for it so you have to shop around. I know that Panacor in San Jose sells the materials/ packages of pre-fab panels cut to your design, but they may need a bit more reinforcement in a windy area as their corner joints seem very flimsy in my opinion.

One thing about any pre-fab Tico designs I've seen is that they all lack windows and use too-small windows so this is something you may want to revise in their plans which may cost more (or may not). Some have almost no windows; no wonder they are said to be so hot.

Also be sure to put insulation under the metal roof if you use one. It may cost extra but it's totally worth it. Plenty of screens is a good idea too - especially a screen door in addition to the main door - if you want more breeze. This almost never is included with Tico designs but is necessary in my opinion. If you don't mind bugs keep the door open but when it gets dark you'll have flying cockroaches and all manner of bugs without screens, in most areas.

We were able to build for the above cost as mentioned with SIP panels and the builder did a great job on structure but not so great on details. Plumbing and ceramic and repello were all what I consider substandard. We had to build on a very limited budget and the owners we were building for were willing to accept less than "American standards" on some things so it worked out but I could not recommend the guys who did the windows, ceramic, plumbing etc. They seemed to take no pride in their work nor really know what they were doing. It turned out good but we had to fix stuff after they were "done".

samRamon, thanks for your comments. I am still shopping around with builders and constructors. The quote I posted is not with prefab material. is with block. Again, I am still shopping around, not in a hurry to build, trying to squeeze the budget as much as possible.

Hi! it really depends on the area and on what you are willing to build. For example, in Tamarindo it's better and cheaper to buy a new apartment/ house than buying the land and build it.

At this time many people who built large retirement homes are now trying to sell them "as the cost of electrical power has increased dramatically", and they cost a fortune to keep cool.  The standard built Tico constructed homes are actually "Pizza ovens", built with concrete walls and often metal or tile roofs.  These types of materials absorb the heat during the day.  We went with an Eco home made of MGO panels, which saves you a fortune on electrical power.
We wouldn't have done anything differently.

We used SIP panels and our house is relatively cool as a result, but then we live in the mountains , not at the beach or other hot area.

I will say this though: I have several friends who built with concrete block and I've stayed in their homes and some are hot and some are not. It depends mostly on INSULATION and you need insulation especially under the roof.

The other factor is ventilation, you need plenty of it. We made a mistake and did not put in big enough screen windows so our house gets hot in the hottest part of the day. Still it is cooler than one friend who built with concrete but didn't put in enough insulation.

Our other friend (all live in the same area here in the mountains) used concrete block but put in a lot of insulation and ventilation and his house is cooler than ours.

My point is that while concrete block homes  can be a "pizza oven" they don't have to be. People who sell SIP panel construction seem to over-sell the "pizza oven" analogy. I do - so far - like the SIP's and would recommend them, but concrete block doesn't have to be an oven if you use enough ventilation/insulation, fans. screens, etc.

Rent for at least a year and examine the variety of climates we have here at different altitudes.
Never buy any property unless the deed is shown to you first, and a letter from the municipality indicating you can build on that land.  Make sure there are no leans on the lot, and never hire the sellers lawyer.  There are a lot of land scams down here.

I totally agree with Sanbuenaventuraman. Don't rush into buying. Rent for at least a year. Some say that more than 50% of those moving to Costa Rica leave within a year or two. As Kohlerias wrote, there are thousands of homes selling for less than they cost to build for 2 main reasons: 1. Some are desperate to leave and 2. Most Gringos pay inflated construction costs, the gringos prices, and they don't know it. A long time resident of Costa Rica wrote a book called The Costa Rica No One Talks About that describes the mindset and the reluctance of Ticos to charge Tico prices to Gringos. Getting several quotes from builders will give you a range of Gringo prices. If you know Spanish and get to know some Ticos, they will tell you what they pay and may even help you get a builder who will charge close to the Tico prices. This is what my husband did when we lived in Costa Rica in the late 1990 and early 2000.

beach1girl :

I totally agree with Sanbuenaventuraman. Don't rush into buying. Rent for at least a year. Some say that more than 50% of those moving to Costa Rica leave within a year or two. As Kohlerias wrote, there are thousands of homes selling for less than they cost to build for 2 main reasons: 1. Some are desperate to leave and 2. Most Gringos pay inflated construction costs, the gringos prices, and they don't know it. A long time resident of Costa Rica wrote a book called The Costa Rica No One Talks About that describes the mindset and the reluctance of Ticos to charge Tico prices to Gringos. Getting several quotes from builders will give you a range of Gringo prices. If you know Spanish and get to know some Ticos, they will tell you what they pay and may even help you get a builder who will charge close to the Tico prices. This is what my husband did when we lived in Costa Rica in the late 1990 and early 2000.

This is good advice.

We shopped around for several builders and in the end went with a Tico builder. We originally hired a gringo builder and he totally flaked out on us, tried to inflate the agreed price 35% before we even started the process!

The Tico builder was fair and did a great job of building the house but where you have to be very careful is hiring people to do the detail work like laying ceramic, putting in windows and doors and all those "finishing touches".

I am just being honest when I say that Ticos in general don't understand the American standards of building and especially our desire to have "fine" work like super level ceramic and doors that fit tight and windows that are tightly fit and so on. This is not a "racist" view but rather an observation of cultural attitudes. My Tico friends and long time honorary-Tico residents have pointed this out to me as well.

Ticos doing finishing work on a house or doing any kind of detail work generally do not see the importance that gringos assign to these finishing touches of a house.

So my advice is search for people to do this work by asking lots of gringos who did that type of work for them, and then look at samples of the work done. Then - although I hate being like this, but it's necessary - stand over them as they work and make sure they are doing a good job every step of the way. If not you may regret it!

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