To Build or Not to Build a House in Costa Rica
Updated: Oct 30
If you're one of those people who's sitting on the fence when it comes to deciding wether you should build or not a house in Costa Rica, the following blog and video interview might interest you, the following content offers a balanced an thoughtful perspective for your consideration. I was also interviewed live by Ives Malette (Pepito) on the same topic on his youtube channel. His channel is also full of interesting video interviews related to moving to Costa Rica. Check out the links at the end.
Should you rent, buy, or build? This is a question many expats ask themselves often before moving to Costa Rica. The answer can generate controversy at times, as some people will assure you there is one clear answer. However, this shouldn’t dissuade you from asking around; you just have to dissect their answers to truly gain knowledge from their personal experiences. This blog article will encourage you to reflect on whether you should at least consider the possibility of building a new home.
Here are some signs that you should build a home in Costa Rica.
1. When you’ve rented for at least a year
It is ideal to rent for some time before buying a home in Costa Rica. This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people actually buy or start building their homes without ever visiting the country before. You should rent for at least a year or two and in different areas, if possible, to dive into the culture and the language.
Don’t waste too much time looking at properties if you haven’t explored enough; forget about real estate and architecture. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s the best approach. Focus on enjoying the good and the bad things about Costa Rica. Then, designing and building a home will follow, if that is what your heart settles on.
You’ll also want to consider how your lifestyle will inevitably evolve into something entirely different from what you envisioned before you came here. One of the biggest mistakes before designing a house is not having a good design brief, which is the first step in designing and building a home successfully. The trick is that a good design brief accurately depicts the essence of your lifestyle; if your lifestyle is currently evolving, you won’t have an accurate design brief, so your design and build process won’t have a good outcome either.
I do not intend on giving you a definite answer but rather some food for thought if you’re still sitting on the fence.
2. When you want to have total control of your home
Let’s face it: there is nothing like designing and building a house exactly the way you want it. Control gives you a high level of satisfaction that renting or buying won’t match. Costa Rica’s real estate market is relatively smaller compared to countries like the U.S. or Canada. If you’re looking for a house that offers something specific, chances are that you won’t find one and you’ll settle for something generic. Fortunately, designing and building a custom home provides you the opportunity of working with professionals who specialize in delivering the home of your dreams.
I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories about people who went through hell when they chose to design and build their own house, but buying a house has its fair share of horror stories. Sure, buying eliminates most of the complexity out of the process and can be more hassle-free, but built houses can be problematic, too, especially when they cross the 25-year-old threshold.
Most of these homes won’t comply with the electrical code, so their insurance will be higher. In addition, water/vapor barriers were very unusual 25 years ago; therefore, it’s likely the concrete from its foundations and slabs have been soaking in water and vapor and it won’t hold up against an earthquake. Throughout my professional career, I performed plenty of renovation jobs, and you’d be surprised to hear about the issues we found in new and old houses. Due to poor construction practices in Costa Rica, many of these newly built “Starchitect” magazine-worth houses could have problems sooner than expected. Should you hire the right people, designing and building from scratch is an opportunity to ensure high quality and safety in a new home.
If this is the last house you plan on owning, it’s also time to consider what special equipment you’ll need down the line. You might go up and down the stairs like a gazelle today but think about when you’re in your 70s or 80s. You don’t even need to go that far; what if you break a leg surfing and you need to use a wheelchair for four months in your house? Therefore, your home should comply with the universal access code in case you become disabled.
Will you need an enclosed soundproof office to make video calls for work? How many people will do remote work or school in the house? Do you need a space with specific space requirements, such as a workshop or an art studio that requires natural light? I think you get the point; any person could have specific space requirements, and a home that provides for their needs might not be available on the market. If that is your case, you should consider designing and building your home.
3. When you want a cost-effective solution compared to a newly built house
Designing and building a new home is typically more cost-effective than buying a new one. When someone sells a house, they expect to make some profit out of the transaction. Large-scale, ready-to-move-in solutions tend to have better profit margins, but this rarely translates to inexpensive housing solutions for the customers. These homes are sold at market prices, for the most part. Newly built homes are not subject to the previously mentioned costs and therefore tend to be more cost-effective than buying a home.
Depending on the current state of the real estate market, you could find a good deal. You’ll need to consider the age of the building if doing so; the lifespan of a house and its depreciation might not outweigh the cost-effectiveness of a new house. The best thing you could do is hire a seasoned home inspector to look at the house you want to buy to make sure it complies with building codes, specifically the electrical code, the mechanical code (in CR the mechanical code refers to the plumbing system along with some complementary mechanical systems), and the seismic code.
There are some important safety concerns to be taken into account when buying an existing house. Keep in mind that Costa Rica is a seismic country, so earthquakes occur frequently, even if they are too subtle to notice. I have rarely seen tests conducted on the structure of an existing house in Costa Rica, and building a new home is an opportunity to make sure everything is executed to perfection.
Whether you decide to buy or build a home, you should perform research and never rush the decision process. If you’ve decided to design and build a home, we’re looking forward to hearing from you. Arkamos Architecture can offer you professional design and build services in Costa Rica. Book a free consultation with us.
Video Interview: https://youtu.be/uo83smjpCpA
About the Author
My name is Diego Méndez Arce, and I am a passionate, detail-oriented Costa Rican architect with over ten years of experience in the industry. I studied at the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica and The Technische Universität München in Germany. I founded Arkamos Architecture Costa Rica, a company that designs and builds homes. My team and I believe that good design feeds the human soul and has the power to improve people’s lives. We approach design and construction with a highly traceable and precise methodology to ensure that uniquely crafted residential projects are predictable in terms of scope, quality, time, and budget. I enjoy sharing my knowledge with those who are foreign to our real estate market. You can check out our blogs with different topics about design and construction in Costa Rica and its architecture here. If you have questions about how to approach the process of designing and building a house in Costa Rica, you may email me or book a virtual meeting for a free consultation here.