Building Homes in PR

I have seen a few posts from people who have built a house or will build a house on the island.  Rey, I know you have a beautiful lot that you posted a photo of.  And a few others, whose names escape me at the moment, have mentioned building.  I am wondering how challenging that would be if you are not a Spanish speaker?  I would assume that you would have to rent somewhere there during the building process, rather than being away during the building process.  Otherwise you never know what you might end up with!  I assume that it would be much less expensive to buy a house that is already built, since houses are so much much less expensive now, due to the economic downturn.  But maybe property itself would also be less expensive, so you could get a good deal on a lot too.  But how much does it cost to build there?  I am guessing that it costs more to build there than on mainland?  With the economic downturn, do you think it could also affect the cost of the building process?  Either they need to make more on each house so they charge more, or they need the work so would do for less?   For those that built, what is the average cost per square foot to build a house.  I am just wondering it it is even feasible to consider that option?  I would love to have a mid-century modern one story house.  How hard would it be to find a good and honest builder, that could build a proper and safe house, that does not skyrocket in costs as the building process goes on?  I know that happens everywhere, but am thinking that it could be much more likely to happen to a white, "gringo" woman that doesn't speak Spanish?

It is typically more expensive to buy a lot and then build. But you end up with a new house not a 40 year old house build to someone else standards and that is probably not up to code.

There are places that will show you a plan and build you the house then give you the keys, mostly low concern but your choices are a little limited as to changes.
Some contractors do speak English, many don't but there are contractors that deal mostly with modern styles and those speak enough English.

You also have the option of hiring and Engineer to draft the plans the way you want and land engineers and other specialist to deal with the type of foundation needed for hilly lands.

I typically recommend boots on the ground, you don't want to find out that the wall was moved a foot because someone screwup or that the light switches are in the wrong place. Keep an eye make sure it is done to your needs.

Typical cost is around 65 per square feet. But I seen 45. The toilets, lamps, doors and windows selected can make a huge difference usually upward.

Anybody else have a different advice or cost?

Another option for building is where you go to some company and buy a kit. You select one of their floor plans, they will sell you a kit with sand, windows, doors, concrete, concrete blocks, screws, etc and drop it at the lot. You get a contractor and its crew to build it.

Some people do not trust the contractor and they buy the materials directly from the different places to ensure the contractor is not buying cheaper materials or price gouging them.

Either one means the materials need be protected so they are not damaged or stolen.

Newbie contractor are always running out of material and asking for more money.

A typical house gets build in 9 to 12 months, they don't work when it rains or it is too hot, they start very early in the morning before the sun is up to avoid the heat and probably quit by 2 or 3.

Thanks so much Rey!  You are a fountain of information!  I notice that in a lot of the houses, the windows are smaller than you notice in the newer homes in the states.  I would like really large windows or even a wall of windows, but am wondering if that is very impractical in PR?   I would guess they would need to be hurricane safe, which would be costly.  Also, maybe it would get really hot with large window?  Any feelings about that?

Impractical at ground level unless they are very thick. The windows now days are small slants that are security windows and you open them via a crank to minimal or maximum air flow.

Typical US windows open to one side or up, making it easy to break or in the case of the side may open in the wrong direction so no air enters the house.

PR windows expect direct hit by the wind but they can also leak when the wind is blowing the rain horizontal.a lot of times the outside has a lip to cut down the chances of rain entering while the window is partially open.

US window locks are easy to snap and then you just lift it and enter. Solid glass lets the sun in but it is a wall that stops the air and only safer to use in a second or third floor.

Some houses are never broken into but be aware.

adlin20 and melendesky are good sources for information about construction and contractors.

Building costs on PR are about 80% of what they are on the mainland,  However, this is in some ways comparing apples to oranges.  Most houses on the mainland are "stick built" while in PR they are most commonly concrete.  While the materials cost for the construction are higher in PR, the time to construct a concrete house is much reduced, saving you labor costs.  It took me quite a while to find the comparison tables -- if I saved them to my computer I'll post a link to them.  As I recall, someone posted his costs to build a few months ago -- about $70/sq ft. if memory serves.  Rey is right that appliance and fittings drive the cost up.  Industry averages are published for six levels of homes, from bare bones, cheapest appliances and fittings to the highest end custom-built accouterments.

I've owned too many old houses at this point to want to spend time pulling wire, repairing leaky pipes, replacing shingles, and all of the myriad other headaches that come from owning a home "with character".

I've still got 3-5 years before retirement, so I've been taking my time, finding the right place.  We are now in the slow process of negotiations on our fourth property.  The other three fell through at various stages.  Only one of those three had a house on it (a beautiful 3200 sq ft, 5 bed, 3 bath overlooking the sea). 

Our plan will be to rent in the area while construction is accomplished.  I've got a rough design of the structure I want, as well as the mechanicals (water, electricity, HVAC).  A rental in the area would allow me to keep an eye on the construction, though having spent time on a number of job sites, I can tell you that the last thing a general contractor wants is an owner constantly butting in.  And as the owner, you will want to avoid change orders if at all possible -- they cause all kinds of headaches, and are terribly expensive!

Builders are indeed an open question, and I'm disappointed to see that the "references" section of this forum is under-utilized, especially with regard to references for those in the skilled trades.  I've got a line on a construction company that looks good from their website, but I haven't met with them -- that would be premature.  Once I've bought the property, then I start the search for a builder.  By the way, you concern about being taken is common in the industry, regardless of gender.  It is common for an outsider wanting to build in an area to employ the services of a local, known to all of the builders.  In the trades, this local is known as a "beard".

Rey, crikey it never occured to me that windows are like that due to likely break ins.  Safety first, so that won't do!  Why live beachfront if you have small windows?  Darn!    And I need a one story house.

Lots of great information Warner!  Yes I think lots of people are willing to take advantage of anyone to make a buck.  More forgivable if you are just trying to feed your family. But unforgivable if you are a millionaire!  If you can find the info, it would be much appreciated to post it for others, if you can.  You had 3 deals fall thru and on the 4th.  Great persistence!  Can I ask what area you are looking in?

How do you ever secure building materials with a kit, or just in general?   So many things to think about!  Hopefully more people who took on the gargantuan task of building a house there will fill us in on the process, pitfalls, trials and tribulations!

I keep adding to my own post because  I think of new questions.  Sheesh!  For those that live in more rural areas, do you have roads, elecricity, plumbing, water, etc?  Or do you have to rely on wells, septic, generators or alternate sources of energy.  I ask because I saw a lot near water, but it was not hooked up to any services.  Too remote for me, but it got me wondering?

We built our retirement house last year. I can tell you the process is long and requires a lot of paperwork. A good engineer or contractor with the inside knowledge will be very helpful, specially if you decide to buid a house of your own design. The first step will be plans approved by ARPE, this is where a good contractor comes into play. We used a "delineante " (plan designer), he draw our plans based on my sketch, submitted to the engineer and got the government approval. Next came the site insurance, for this you will need to go to "El Fondo de Seguro del Estado" (workers comp). Next pay the municipal tax. Sounds complicated but in reality it was just time consuming.

PM me and I can give you more information. I will strongly recommend being on site if you don't have someone you trust on site. For the paperwork you either need to go in person or authorize someone to do this paperwork for you. Also, you want to do the insurance and all paperwork for permits yourself, if you have to fire your contractor at any point you do not want him to walk away with your permits.

Overall we love our house and it is built how we wanted. 

We spend around  $140K by the time all was done. We have a main structure of aproximate 45 x 35 and a guest room of 15 x 15 with a 9 x 9 bathroom.

Live2sparkle :

I keep adding to my own post because  I think of new questions.  Sheesh!  For those that live in more rural areas, do you have roads, elecricity, plumbing, water, etc?  Or do you have to rely on wells, septic, generators or alternate sources of energy.  I ask because I saw a lot near water, but it was not hooked up to any services.  Too remote for me, but it got me wondering?

You can get service to most locations in the island. BUT, do your homework because you may be required to pay to have a pole or water lines run to the property.  The seller should be able to tell you if there are utilities in the property and you can go to the utilities companies and verify that they do have it.

Good question regarding power and water.  One of the lots we considered had no such access.  It also had no easement.  In effect, it was landlocked.  The owners did secure an easement eventually, at which point we were willing to make an offer -- but as is common, the owners had a fantastical idea of what the property was worth.  Unimproved lots will have (or SHOULD have) access to utilities, but you will have to pay for the connection as part of the construction process. 

My understanding is that the construction permitting process is an absolute nightmare, compared to what we do on the mainland.  My plan is to have the construction company lead me through that, but I appreciate adlin's advice to make sure that the permits are mine, and not the construction company's.

I found the cost estimator, and will provide the link below.  The document points out the number of factors affecting overall cost, so you can either dream about the house you want and figure out what it will cost, or you can figure ways to get as much house as possible for your dollar.  Secondly, note that prices vary by locality, so there are  "Area Modification Factors".  The modification for Puerto Rico is -21% (p. 8).  Have fun! … review.pdf

Is -21 a good thing?
No time to read thru the document yet.

ReyP :

Is -21 a good thing?
No time to read thru the document yet.

Yes, it means that construction costs are 21% lower in PR than on the mainland.  Avg cost per square foot on the mainland is about $100, so expect to pay about $80 on the island.

Based on our experience, allow a 10-15% over your estimated budget. There is a big difference between construction materials, for example, we installed bay windows, that was over $3K difference from regular miami windows. Lots of builders quotes are based on " standard " materials , we saved a lot of money buying the materials ourselves.

If you are building a custom house, like we did, make sure you discuss the design with the builder and that he completely understands what you want. Most builders in the island build based on the same designs. It is not the same as in the states, a concrete house is a PITA having to re do, specialty plumbing and electricity since it goes in the floors and walls. Make sure you think on future additions, for example, if you are planning to add solar heating, make sure is added to the original plan, hard to add water lines to a concrete roof. I heard a quote from a builder and it is true "cement bonds but not the same as original".

Our experience with the paperwork was not as bad, yes it was a tedious process, just like any other procedure in the island. But, every agency we had to go was very helpful and took care of us in a timely manner. Like I mentioned before, a good contractor or engineer will be able to advise you and guide you thru the process.

The good thing is that at the end you will have a house designed to your satisfaction and needs.

Hi Adlin, I know this is an old post, but I'm looking to set up a couple face to face meetings a builders in the west side of the island. You had a good experience with your builder. Is he on the west side and would you please send me his contact information.
Thank you

Good Morning!  I am new to this forum and happy I found it!

We are building a new home near Jobos Beach.  The site engineering, Architectural and structural plans are complete and are in the process of obtaining the permits.  Our engineer has been great and very helpful.  I am now faced with finding a General contractor.  Being a General contractor myself, I am aware of the difficulties that this presents. I have been combing the web trying to find a list of contractors but the information is sketchy at best. 

Can anyone on this forum make any recommendations?

Hello Tim, I have a builder that I will be working with.
He is in the town of Aguada and he’s built some of the best looking homes in Aguada. Most near the beach. Just one caveat, he only speaks Spanish. 
Let me know if you still want his info.

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