How long does it take to get the building act together in Costa Rica?

That is one fine question that holds no definite answers at all!

Here is a dose of reality that you should consider when this big question comes into the plans of your new dream home.  Many people on our list have considerably long term plans as far as their home building project is concerned but as you near in on supposedly the lift off date you should mentally plan on a year in design and permitting phase.

Technically if all goes well this is a 90 to 120 day gestation period for your home to come to be ready to enter the construction phase.

But …  OH don’t you just love the famous but!

Reality is after two years of working on construction schedules and logistics I have come to the conclusion that you just can’t depend on perfect here in the tropics.

Twice in the past year we have had two different projects go into what I would call a huge gestation period when things just did not go according to plan at all and unless you walk on water you have no idea when starting such a project what curves will get thrown your way nor can you know until the rubber meets the pavement as we go through the processes that lead up to building permits in the hand.


This first happened in the deep south near Ohachal/ Coronado where the owners thought they were ready but when we got into the legals of their lot we found that they actually did not have a title.  They just came down last month to actually sign for a lot they thought actually existed for quite some time when in reality it was a figment of the developers imagination.  Now in various instances around the country this has lead to disaster when the  project was basically run by cons and fraudsters where owners never actually became such.  This story has a much more pleasant ending since the property is in the process of legal transfer as I write about this.  However the point of my advice here is this, the clients thought they were ready to go but even after the home was designed we started turning over stones and found we had a design but no actual legal title hence months of waiting for the developer to clean up their act and get their paperwork in order.


This example is what brought about this newsletter since it just came to light whereas  we thought everything was nicely in the works yet quickly changed into a learning example when Friday I got an email from the owners of what was to be our next build.  Out of the blue I found out that this as the next build is most dubious.  Here we were much more advanced in the process with approved plans from all the governing bodies in hand including the famous “water letter” but as the final ribbon we had to go to the Municipality of Nicoya to ask for a certificate of land use.  This was the only remaining requirement prior to submitting for permits.

We all got completely blindsided when the Muni refused to issue such because a huge piece of property going back some 30 years has been called into question as to legal status hence all titles in a large area something like 1100 has or 440 acres of prime beach front area is in essence frozen until they figure it out.  It appears the Muni is in CYA mode or has extensive overreach of authority or simply what I call exercising their Godlike attitude that often comes from ALL MUNICIPALITIES EVERYWHERE!

Hence we are ready to go but when are these legal road blocks going to be cleared?  Who the hell knows.  Yes this is a tadd bizarre but I have found it better to prepare for bizarre here rather than to be dreaming in la la land.  As I trust you can appreciate that makes schedule planing more than just a tad dicey to put it mildly.  Hence why I suggest to anyone, start your design and permitting process long before your scheduled lift off date so as to leave room for the good old fashioned FU factor as I call them.

Example #3

Also if you have bought property in a project getting an early start will shake out any fundamental problems with the developer.  I have walked away from clients when it came to light that in all honesty their developer was a bigger pain in the ass than their project was worth.  Sorry but my attitude is to walk away if and when I smell a bad developer using my complicated formula that says the reward for bullshit is always more bullshit.  These problem developers are all nice a smiley and agreeable until they get your money then the gloves come off and they can be an absolute nightmare to deal with during construction.  Yes you may well not appreciate my attitude but reality is a developer can cause me immeasurable grief, frustration and time lost when they come to the table with a combative attitude.  This is especially so if they are also building hence I am viewed as competition to their own building efforts even though typically what they build and what I build are a far cry from actually competing against one another.

Hence if you find yourself in that position it is far better to have time to regroup when things out of the blue come and bite you and/or me in the butt.  This also brings about a procedural question as to what you should find first your builder or your lot as one can drastically affect the other.  One client was pissed at me for simply saying forget it I am not interested in making your problematic developer my problem especially when for the most part if you start with good lead time you have the ability to move onto Plan B without getting upset when Plan A leads to surprise events.  In this particular case his attitude was not warranted as these problems came to light in short order as in about two weeks from the first date as I call them.  That is also most typical as I have found that if we cannot work with a client and/or developer or choose not to do so this incompatibility comes to light in short order, like 2 -3 weeks.  Hence it is hardly a monumental affair when neither party has  a huge time commitment into the project.  Needless to say if you have budgeted ample time to the process loosing a few weeks does not exactly warrant an emergency status to the situation.

Also things that may look innocent like building in a new project with no track record can substantially slow down the process when all those involved in the kitchen are getting up to speed or familiarized with a project Eg. ICE, AyA etc.  That is exactly what happened in Platanillo that even though we got started well after the projected start date the developer’s logistics were barely ready to go.  In fact we had already started prior to actually have any water on the lot in which to fill the septic tank or make concrete etc etc. hence our septic tank floated out of the ground on us one afternoon in a downpour since we were not able to fill a critical requirement, fill the tank as soon as it goes into the ground.  The developer had received months of notice that the build was coming yet he still was not ready when we moved on site.  This was not a case of what I call outright sabotage, such as I have seen in other cases, just a case of a new project getting their act together and not running on “manana time.”

Hence to summarize getting an early start in the process will drastically affect shaking out problems that will then lead to the lowering of your frustration and/or disappointment  levels as well as helping me in retaining my sanity.



About Trevor

I have lived in Costa Rica for 19 years and have been active in real estate development over that period and construction in general. I am a qualified Journeyman carpenter and cabinetmaker from Canada. My current focus project is building custom green homes and housing packages all built out of SIPs or Structural Insulated Panels.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

47,178 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments