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Ok, so now you have a piece of land and you want to build your dream home in Costa Rica.. Hopefully you made your homework and considered some of the pointers we offered on our previous post. What’s next now?
Of course you have ideas in your head, but sit down and take them in, organize your thoughts, prioritize, and establish what your expectations are. We’ll recommend below some really cool tools to help you do this efficiently.
One thing that nowadays many people make a mistake is that they start the wrong way. You have a lot, you want a home, and next thing you know people are out looking for a builder. There’s something missing here, people…. what about your design? You first need to find an architect in Costa Rica to help you with your design. The project will have overall different stages, but spend enough time and attention on getting your design to your satisfaction. Do your homework when selecting your architect; make sure that he is well experienced in the type of project you want (or projects bigger and more challenging than yours), and that he has a good track record of being able to get homes built. Today people are very impressed with stunning renderings but make sure that your architect’s portfolio is not merely renderings….. ask to see the real thing.
Also, don’t make the most common mistake people do: don’t start asking everybody what the cost per square foot is… this is the most misleading piece of information. Today cost per foot is a relative number. Homes have so many different elements about content, design, setting, location, materials, technology systems, etc., that today the famous cost per foot becomes a number that is so heavily massaged one way and another that it becomes irrelevant.
You must establish a target budget that you think you can work with. Look at other homes being built around you, analyze them and ask around how much they cost to build. Base yourself on finished cost and refer that to the content and design of the home, but don’t do the reverse math and don’t go for the cost per foot.
On our next post we’ll give you some cool pointers about what services and systems you can use to organize your ideas, so that you may better guide your architect properly in getting your dream home done.
Commonly, many people come to Costa Rica a first or second time on vacation, and decide they really like the natural setting, the beautiful beaches, and the warm climate and then they begin to consider owning some land and a vacation home.
Although everyone will always have some different personal criteria for selecting a location, and that will vary from person to person, there are always some basic general criteria that everybody should look for when selecting or evaluating land in Costa Rica. To mention a few of these:
- Availability of potable water
- Environmental permitting
- Electricity and communications
- Natural setting and trees
- Soil type and slope conditions
1) Availability of Potable Water
Don’t necessarily assume you will find potable water everywhere. Even on places that look like a development, you need to do your homework and verify that this is the case. Check the sources of where the water comes from, is it from AyA (public service) or is it a well? This is one of the most important details you need to make sure is good, since if you do not have potable water you will not be able to get a legal construction permit. For many years it was commonplace to find rudimentary wells dug out to provide water for a farm, and then a seller may say the property has a well to give you water. Only properly permitted and certified wells count as proper potable water supply for a property and for construction. The only institution that can provide these well permits is MINAET, so if you get shown any other kind of documentation things are probably wrong.
2) Environmental Permitting
If you are buying a piece of property from any kind of development, gated community, etc. or anything other than farmland, whoever developed the piece of land to cut into lots, install infrastructure, etc., must have had to go through the process of getting the environmental permits (Viabilidad Ambiental) for the project. Sadly, it is far too common to see property being sold everywhere on projects that did not have their environmental issues in order, and therefore did things illegaly. If you do buy from this type of source it is pretty sure that you will find a rocky road being able to get your own construction permits and even if you do somehow it is likely that the location will never be as enjoyable as they made you think. The only institution that issues the “Viabilidad Ambiental” is the SETENA. Make sure that you are shown proper paperwork that shows that the development you are buying from received its “viabilidad ambiental” for the entire piece of land, and that it is strictly issuing a permit to subdivide into properties for sale.
3) Electricity and Communications
This one is pretty obvious but many people overlook these criteria. Power is pretty easy to check out; unless you are buying a very large piece of farmland, you will have some neighbors close to you. If they have power meters and power lines going into their homes, you will be able to do the same. Communications are another story. You need to ask around and find out how and what kind of services properties around you are being able to get. Some locations don’t have availability for landline phones, and if that is not available then your possibilities of getting internet service are also reduced. Many locations offer cable TV service, and with that they may offer internet also, but this will vary greatly from place to place. Ask around, find out who the providers are, and it is good to make sure you will be able to get these essential services to your place.
4) Natural setting and trees
Do not assume that you will be able to do pretty much anything with the land you buy. It is likely that (depending on location) you may find some type of restrictions as to what area you can build on, etc. If you are buying farmland, make sure you don’t buy property that has official forests on it, since you will not be able to get much done there. If you are buying developed land, then it is likely that ground will already be cleared for you and then you can do pretty much anything, but always check first. Don’t assume anything. One important issue is that if you need to cut down any trees to build your home, you need to go through the proper steps to get a tree cutting permit first. For this you will need to hire a forestry engineer to perform a detailed GPS-based tree inventory of your site and to then handle the permit application before the official institution, MINAET which eventually will provide permit to cut specific trees that you requested. NEVER cut down trees without a permit, you can end up in very muddy waters if you do.
5) Soil type and slope conditions
Since buyers pay top dollar for great views, it is very common to find developments in locations going up the hills in very challenging places. Be careful to select a piece of property that you can easily see is cut from solid ground. Many developments end up “manufacturing” lots via retaining walls, fills, etc., just so they may squeeze out a few extra lots in their development. Don’t buy these properties, since what will happen if your land gives way? A good engineer may design your home to be sturdy and stable, but if the foundations are sitting on questionable conditions then nothing will be certain.
For years, people have measured a home’s size based on the square footage of the home’s floor area. In North America, it is commonplace also to simply measure a home’s size based on the interior air conditioned space, which is even a worse way of doing it since it overlooks exterior or service areas.
Today, we design homes in a way to make them feel more spacious, providing tall ceilings, integrating spaces of one level onto another via open rooms to below, use expansive walls of glass to open up rooms to the outside, etc. These are all ways to make space look and feel even larger than it really is, and all are tools used by the best architects to enhance their designs and the enjoyment for the homeowners.
We should move away from a phase in home design where square footage was a status indicator. Great homes are volumetric studies, where spaces are LIVED not simply measured on a plan. Therefore, we must strive to educate our clients and owners of our homes to think in terms of cubic areas. Cubic feet are an experience, whereas square footage is simply an item on a sales sheet.
As architects, we must allow ourselves to serve as educators to people around us, and little by little we will put our grain of sand in to make this world a better place to live.
Need more information about this topic, click here!.
Once you have decided to consider Costa Rica as a strong possibility to have your dream vacation or retirement home, the next question is where? There are many locations, and an array of choices for all tastes and budgets.
Beach locations are of course the more popular choices, and you can have a huge array of choices from locations that have developments, gated communities, resort destinations (like Reserva Conchal, Los Sueños or Peninsula Papagayo), or independent property.
Guanacaste is the more popular choice, with a wide array of beaches, and all now much more easily accessible with the newly built and almost ready to open International Airport in Liberia, you have locations that you can drive to as close as 30 minutes or as far down as a couple hours away, all within the same peninsula. You have choices of popular beaches such as Tamarindo or Playas del Coco, or more secluded and private locations such as Avellanas, Sugar Beach, Ocotal, etc. Other recently popular destinations because they still are able to maintain their pristine character are Malpais and Santa Teresa.
There are also other choices for people looking at cooler environments, we have beautiful destinations up the mountains, with cool weather, gorgeous scenery and views down to the central valley. Also the are of Volcan Arenal, are also gaining popularity with locations with beautiful views to the Arenal lake and even the natural fireworks from the Arenal Volcano at nights.
Overall, there are many reasons why Costa Rica is an appealing destination for people thinking of vacation homes and/or retirement homes. What we advise is that you travel around, get to know the different locations, and narrow down your choices.
Happy travels !!
I recently had an enlightening conversation with one of our clients and I asked him: “How did you decide on Costa Rica?” and his response was very analytical and logical, and eye-opening for somebody that lives full-time in Costa Rica.
As a background and to contextualize his response, keep in mind that he is from Central Europe. His response below:
“I started thinking first about Italy, there are several beautiful places in Italy and areas that are very beautiful but only during certain times of the year. A home there would become usable only part of the year, since the rest of the year the climate and conditions would be almost the same as where I am from, therefore it would not become a full-year vacation home. I wanted somewhere that I know I could come and enjoy at ANY time of the year. Therefore, I decided to get an old-style earth globe, and draw an imaginary stripe of 10 degrees north and south of the Equator, to find a place that would have warm climates year-round…
The north and central africa and the middle east are out of the question for obvious reasons. I found myself looking at gorgeous places like Bali, but they are too far away, travel is not the best around to those places, and there would be significant language barriers also. Hawaii was an obvious choice, but it is too expensive, too american and too developed, I wanted somewhere more natural. Then it’s ocean all around, and then you hit central and south america. Colombia and Venezuela are also out for political reasons and travel is also quite long, the north of Brazil has almost no available locations to think about, their developed areas are more to the center of the country.
Then that leaves you with Central America. Easy plane rides to any location from different travel hubs in the USA, so getting there is a positive.
Guatemala has security problems, and their beach locations are not that famous. Honduras also not known for their beach locations and they are too close to Guatemala. El Salvador has gang problems, and also too close to Guatemala. Then you come to Nicaragua, there are places that are supposed to be beautiful, but you have Ortega, the Sandinistas and a whole array of problems there. Not the place where I want to own a home.
Then this leaves you with Panama and Costa Rica. Both have certain pros and cons, but evidently the pros steered me towards Costa Rica. Political stability, long-term democracy, clear laws for owning land by foreigners, beautiful places to visit, and an array of options to choose from when selecting a piece of land, from independent locations, to developed resorts. The people are friendly, communication is easier since a lot of them speak at least some english, and there are gorgeous places to own a home. This was definitely the choice”
This was overall a very interesting and thorough explanation, and heart-warming for a native Costa Rican to hear.
To learn more about how to build your dream home in Costa Rica, click here!
Hello and welcome to our new blog about building great homes. We hope to be providing you all with a very positive and interesting source of general information building your dream hime in Costa Rica.
We are the people at SARCO Design-Build, an architectural Design-Build firm based in San Jose, Costa Rica. Our firm is extensively experienced in the design and construction of high-end luxury homes for foreign and local clients, and we hope to bring the elements and knowledge of our experience to you all through this Blog.
We will be covering all types of topics from project tips, advice on getting your project started, smart design, energy efficiency, environmental responsible design, materials, tips on Costa Rica, etc.
This will be a new ground for us, feel free to pitch in and comment on our blog posts and we will do our best to get your questions answered properly.