Our House Build
The good the bad and the ugly!
Building a home in Costa Rica, or anywhere you're not a permanent resident, isn't easy. Frankly it's an exercise in caution. You need to make sure you can trust the people you deal with from purchase to renovation/build to Property Management. When choosing this team ask for references and contact them to verify that the contractor or property manager actually built or managed the properties they refer to. There are some, who will tell you they built something or manage something when they actually don't. Don't take someone's word for anything. Make sure you have a reputable lawyer in the country you build that can read through or create contracts and communicate with the build team, if needed. I'd recommend bringing in an accountant referred by your lawyer as well so there is someone on site that manages payroll and expenses and keeps everyone on budget.
OUR STORY: We rushed in blindly and learned, after many mistakes, to check references, be patient and be on site as much as possible (ideally all the time). If you can't be on site, hire someone (not one of the builders) to be on site daily to make sure things are proceeding as expected and on budget.
Buying and building in Puerto Viejo is completely doable but be cautious, careful and informed. The beauty of PV is that there aren't a lot of rules or regulations. The difficulty with PV is there aren't a lot of rules or regulations in place. ANYONE can sell real estate (no licence required) and anyone can claim to be a builder (anyone). Our personal responsibility is to vet the people who are selling us a home or land (talk to references, ask about their experience with the buying process) AND to vet people who are recommended to you as builders or handy people (talk to references, ask to tour homes they claim to have built, confirm they have actually built them).
Our mistake was to let ourselves be rushed into something we weren't ready for and had no experience in and to trust without question. I feel like an idiot now because we know better but let our guard drop in this instance which nearly ruined us. Budgets were imaginary and never adhered to, costs were estimated with no experience and the home cost us three times what we were quoted.
We did it all, we made some huge mistakes, didn't do our research, blindly trusted and paid a huge price personally. We take responsibility for the fact that we didn't know what we were doing and we made many mistakes along the way. The build was a huge strain on our relationship, during our initial build our Bodega was broken into and we lost hundreds of dollars in small appliances and decor items! The whole process was a huge strain on our bank account, we went WAY over budget (to the point of having to sell our home in Toronto) and we went into personal debt in order to save our dream beach home. We persisted, we didn't give up (did we even have a choice?) we learned to pivot as we needed to, we learned to juggle finances until we finally got it done!
We fired our first "builders". We made friends and lost some in Puerto Viejo during this time. In total we hired 3 sets of builders/contractors to complete our home. The only reason we didn't continue with our 2nd local builder was that he wasn't available when we wanted to finish the house so we hired another. Now we have contact and solid relationships with vetted architects, lawyers, real estate agents, contractors and property managers who we trust. They are professional and run legitimate businesses, with references you can contact and home tours of their latest builds. Don't waste your time with yahoos who make promises and tell a good story (talk directly to the people who own the homes and don't believe "contractors" that claim they built a home when they point to it as they drive by - anyone can tell you they built our home, and many do take credit when actually they had very little to do with it, if any, involvement at all).
Key things to do when purchasing and looking for builders in Puerto Viejo:
1. Check References, really check them, get contact information from the person claiming they built a home in PV and speak to the owners directly. Don't take someones word for it when they take you for a drive by and point to it and say"we built that". It's always best to speak to the owners directly and ask them questions. Ask how many homes they have sold/built and get at least 3 references from that list.
2. Ask to tour homes contractors say they built because things can look amazing on photos but not so great in person (crooked & cracked tiles, badly finished flooring, badly finished wood or metal features etc. etc.). There are many people who "build" homes in Puerto Viejo. Many of them aren't educated and/or lack the actual experience to build a home. Anyone can claim to be a builder. It's up to you to do your due diligence to make sure you aren't being lead on or lied to.
3. Real Estate is an unregulated, uncontrolled, often unlicensed frontier in Puerto Viejo. It's really important to check that the individual or agency you are dealing with works closely with a reputable lawyer and has had experience selling property in the area. Again, check references, speak to people who have purchased directly from your real estate person. Ask about their experience with them and if they'd recommend them. Was the process, professional, easy, done legally with all the advice and paperwork explained to you and done. It's quite convoluted in CR and knowing your rights as a foreign investor is really important.
4. Talk to us. We have a large network of people who have been through the buying and building or renovating experience in Puerto Viejo. We are all happy & eager to share our preferred vendor lists with you so you don't have to waste the valuable time and money we wasted (you should still check all references and visit some of the homes they have built!). Our references include reputable real estate agencies, architects, contractors, builders, handy men/women, lawyers and accountants who work in the Puerto Viejo area.
We are happy to give you a tour of our beach house and tell you our story over a glass of wine or a cup of tea! Just contact us. We do this because we believe that Puerto Viejo is a beautiful and wonderful place to live and we have all agreed that it's super important to offer guidance to our new neighbours to help make their experiences great. Building is never easy anywhere in the World but our group of concerned local businesses, home builders, home renovators, foreign investors with a dream and Costa Rican professionals will help you make it the best experience possible.
VACATION RENTAL: When we aren't in town we are happy to share our home with travellers from around the World! This helps us maintain and cover costs when we aren't living at our house. Plus we love that our guests enjoy the house as much as we do. Good Property Management is key. With good Management your home will be maintained (a constant in the jungle or on the sea). And your Management will manage your home for you. Booking, Cleaning, Maintenance, Accounting and working alongthe owner. Our friends at RISE are a Real Estate Company and Property Management firm we highly recommend.
We realized our dream of a home on the beach! Finally achieving one of our life long goals. Over the past 12 years visiting Puerto Viejo we've taken the time to grow and nurture a strong community of local entrepreneurs, neighbours and supportive friends in the area. We feel so welcome every time we arrive at Casa Luna Beach House. There is always a friendly wave and a hello, dinner or coffees with friends in the area. We feel at home and at peace. Pura Vida!