Ah, the allure of building a home in Costa Rica: A dream home. Custom finishes. Your personal touch, in every last detail.
However you imagine your life in Costa Rica, chances are good that home and hearth and front and center. Because, while home is where the heart is, the heart is also rooted in home; that’s why we call it a home, and not a house, after all!
All this to say, I know that “home” is an important concept. It grounds us. It comforts us. It is our true north. And it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make, when you finally decide to call Costa Rica “home.”
And all that to say, I also understand why you’re considering building a home in Costa Rica. That’s what I did, too. More than a dozen times, no less! I have personal and professional experience, in everything from finding that “just right” building site (it may not be what you think) to hiring reliable professionals to estimating out the costs.
And I thought it was time I shared.
Before You Build: Finding “Home” and Purchasing a Lot
Before you even consider building a home in Costa Rica, you’ll come up against two me-firsts: One, choosing where you’ll call home, and two, finding the ideal building site.
The first is the more complicated. Finding your Costa Rican home is about more than choosing a neighborhood or even a house: For such a small country, Costa Rica’s geography is diverse, its climates many, and its neighborhoods distinct. While there’s no one formula to choosing where is right for you, here are a few considerations:
- Weather: The beach is hot and the mountains can be borderline cold (60ºF / 15.5ºF at night feels a little different without heat!). Somewhere between the two, though, you’ll find your just-right happy spot.
- Lifestyle: Perhaps the biggest factor in the bunch, lifestyle is all about you. If you want to surf every day and stroll the sand at sunset, then you won’t be heading for the Central Valley. Likewise…
- Phase of Life: Very few people can live “just anywhere” with no concern for phase-of-life considerations. And by this, we mean that if you have school-age children, you’ll probably throw private schools, extracurricular options, and kid-friendly community into the consideration mix. Likewise, if you require regular medical care, you’ll want to be closer to major medical facilities.
- Amenities: Some people prefer to be within a short drive of all things restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and nightlife. Others would like their closest neighbor to be acres away.
Of course, there are many, many more factors to take into account, but my point is this: Before you pick a random spot on the map, consider how you live. Don’t know how to align your lifestyle with Costa Rica’s location options? Get in touch and I’d be happy to walk you through the options.
Once you’ve decided on the general where, it’s time to find the specific where – your building site. Again, this one’s not as simple as you may think: Your lot purchase will have a significant impact on the costs of building a home in Costa Rica.
Beyond the obvious – a property’s purchase price will reflect its location, views, and other important qualities – a lot’s topography can change your life. I know that sounds dramatic, but as an example, a steep lot could easily require six figures in retaining walls and other construction. It’s the kind of number big enough to determine how and what kind of home you can build.
(Want to window-shop or even take the first step? Browse the kinds of lots available in Tamarindo, Langosta, Flamingo and other areas of Guanacaste!)
Bottom line: Take the time to find a town or place that fits your lifestyle. Then, search obsessively for your “perfect” lot: not too difficult to build, not on a steep mountainside, not too far from any utilities you might require. Again, if you need help mapping your needs to Costa Rica’s options, please get in touch!
Building a Home in Costa Rica: The First Steps
Before you wade into the thick of building a home in Costa Rica, you’ll need two things:
- Boundary Survey: This survey maps your property’s boundaries, which ensures you don’t build onto your neighbor’s land. Chances are, you’ll receive a boundary survey when you purchase your lot.
- Topographical Survey: While this isn’t a legal requirement, I wouldn’t recommend building a home in Costa Rica without this. A topographical survey is used to map and define different elevations within your lot, so you, your architect, and builder can understand the type of construction you can build (and where on your lot to build it).
From personal experience, I can tell that it’s very important to have both surveys before you even start thinking about building and getting plans.
Choosing an Architect
The next step in this exciting journey – because yes, we’re deep into the fun and dreamy part now! – is to choose your architect.
I’d even go so far as to say that this is the most important step, tied with choosing a great builder. So, here’s what I can say: There is no one “perfect” architect in Costa Rica. Yes, I highly recommend asking for personal recommendations – from friends, from acquaintances and, of course, from your real estate agent! – and getting references, but it’s more than that.
Finding the “right” architect is really about finding the right architect for you. What I mean by that is, schedule some architect interviews. See who you connect well with. Who really listens to your concerns and priorities? And, perhaps most importantly, which architects share your aesthetic?
Once you have your shortlist, check those references. Go see a few of their homes, if possible. Do what you must to feel perfectly secure in your choice.
And Finally, Choosing Your Builder
Choosing your builder is a lot like choosing your architect: there are wrong choices but there’s no one-fits-all right choice.
This is about you. So, get those personal recommendations. (And only choose a builder who is highly regarded. Trust me on this one!) Interview your shortlist. Make personal connections. And always, ALWAYS go see the homes they’ve built. Talk to people who have been in those homes for a few years, and confirm how things are holding up. (Because, as we say in Costa Rica, lo barato sale caro – cheap turns out expensive.)
Bottom line: Your builder decision is an incredibly important one, and will influence your costs, your satisfaction, and the overall quality of your home. Choose wisely.
Costs of Building a Home in Costa Rica
It’s here! It’s here! The section you were really waiting on, right?
Let’s jump to it, then: When you’re building a home in Costa Rica, there is a huge variety of costs, usually calculated as project percentages (and they can crop up in the strangest of places). Here are the big ones:
- Building Site: One of your major costs, this cost is very dependent on your preferences. For example, small or sprawling? Ocean-view or in the middle of a mountainous nowhere? In an established community or totally independent?
- Lot Preparation: Again, site prep depends on your building lot: Is it flat? Sloped? On a mountainside? Are you building a cantilevered home? Because retaining walls can add $10K-$100K+ to your price tag.
- Build Cost: It’s very difficult to pinpoint the “price per square-footage” in Costa Rica. As a general rule, the cost to build is lower in Central Valley and higher at the beach. Another general rule: You’ll probably pay $70-$110 per sq. ft. in the Central Valley and $120-$180 per sq. ft. at the beach. Again, probably.
- Architect Fees: In Costa Rica, the Colegio de Arquitectos (College of Architects) is the governing board that sets fees for all of Costa Rica. By law, you’ll pay your architect around 10.5% of the total project cost – about 1.5% for design, 4% for your building plans, and 3% to 5% for site and supervision during the build. Notably, regarding the 5% site inspection: If your builder employs an engineer for site supervision, your architect will charge 3% for inspection and your builder will charge the remaining 2%. (In other words, the 10.5% total will remain the same, but you may split the percentage up differently.)
- Builder Fees: There are two ways you can pay your builder (and one is far more common). While you can ask for builders to bid a job, it’s much more common for them to bid as cost + contract, usually for a fee of 12-15%.
- Municipal Permits: When ready, your architect will file plans with the municipality, in order to process permits. The cost of these permits is pegged at 1% of your project cost. Side note: This step is much easier today than it was 15 years ago, thanks to many municipalities going digital. Now, your plans could be approved within 2-4 weeks of filing (depending on the municipality).
- Worker’s Compensation: As required by law, you must purchase a worker’s compensation policy through INS (local government insurance agency). This policy is also fixed at 1% of your project cost.
As your project progresses, there will be additional costs, for example for various engineers (structural, electrical, etc.) to review ongoing work.
This post (and its accompanying video) are the first in a series on building a home in Costa Rica. Stay tuned for more. Next up: Walking through my current build!
Building a Home in Costa Rica: What’s Your Dream?
Imagine building your dream home, condo, vacation home, or investment property – what is most important to you? Are you a part-time or full-time owner? What’s your timeframe? Where does your budget fall?
At Blue Water Properties, we’re more than a real estate team. We’re bilingual, bicultural, and seriously experienced. And we put you first.
So, please get in touch. We’re sticklers for responding within 24 hours. Yes, even if you’re reading this post into the wee hours; we’ll have more information to you on that dream, within the day! And we look forward to it!
At Blue Water Properties of Costa Rica, we’re proud to offer some of the best Costa Rica real estate. We have both condos and homes, land, and businesses for sale.