Cheap Homes

Cheap Homes Costa Rica

A Heavy Dose of Reality & What to Look For

Fact or Fiction?

As you shall see here price is most certainly not even close to being everything in Costa Rica.

Okay you arrived at our site here looking for a cheap home  since 20% of our visitors or 365 people over the past month have been searching for exactly that same dream in our Paradise hence this page is dedicated for you to get answers to your search. 

Please bare with me but before we get to the bottom of this we need to get a couple things sorted out so that we are talking the same language before we go into what a home should cost in Costa Rica.

Cheap to me means low quality with little concern for long service life.  Now you may have a different definition so lets clear this up.  I do suspect you don’t actually want what I have just described to you.  To me when I think cheap it means something that does not work well and often includes lots of phony plastic things in your home that will easily break or look real low class as the home ages.  Also something cheaply made often breaks, does not work at all or requires constant fixing and maintenance.   Now sadly that does not necessarily mean it was cheap to purchase as I am about to demonstrate to you some realities to construction in Costa Rica.  Somehow I have this devious suspicion that what I just described is not exactly what you were thinking of when you went on your search that lead you here to us.   What we do here at Techos Siglo XXI could not be further from the picture I just painted of Cheap Homes in Costa Rica.

How be if we change your search criteria to one for: economical yet high quality, low maintenance homes, would that be a more acceptable term that we could agree to use to establish an understanding for what we are offering and what I think you are likely really searching for.  With that said many people get the completely wrong idea as to what economical and good value is in the Costa Rican market so here I shall give you the benefit of my 13 years here to explain just what that should and can be versus the really bad deals I see on a regular basis.  Needless to say there is lots of examples of what is not economical nor high quality so please bare with me while I give you some details from behind the scenes as we walk around Costa Rica in my shoes.

At any rate in the end our mission is simple “we only build homes that we would sell to our mothers.”  If you choose to stick around and really dig in to get an education on Costarican Home Buying 101 our site contains more free information than any other site in Costa Rica, that I can indeed guarantee you without reservation.

With the number of visitors we get looking here it is hardly my wild imagination that this subject is of high concern and/or rather puzzling at very least for those that visit our site and country.  I would also add to that, that without question there exists more than a healthy serving of BS applied to this subject from participants within the home construction and selling market.  Hence this page is dedicated to addressing the basic issues behind construction costs that will lend some clarity to this BIG question and problems that exist.  I hope I can be of help to you in your search for answers.

We shall continue on with my tales to give you actual examples of what goes on….

While having a very intense conversation with two clients this week, one from Texas and another from Phoenix, both grilled me for an answer to their simple question,

“how can construction costs possibly add up to

$120 ft2 or $1,291 m2 in Costa Rica?”

My answer was simple to both,

“They can’t and they don’t in the real world unless you are building the Taj Majal!”

Both advised me that they had experienced builders/developers quoting both of them $120 ft2.  Both expressed suspicion that with labour costs per hour at 1/5 the USA rates (roughly the same in Canada by the way) that they were being gouged!  Both could not see how it could be that a home ends up at this cost in the hands of the consumer.  Neither thought such resembled cheap homes in Costa Rica.  Also both of these clients had way above average consumer knowledge by the way and are technically competent  as well as experienced in building a home in the states.

The Phoenix client informed me he can have a good quality home built there for around $80 ft2 at much higher standards than he saw in his developer’s homes hence why he was looking to us.  Then just this morning another client from Michigan chimed in and informed me that he could also get the same done there.   So let’s see no change in costs over a large area of USA territory in two drastically different markets.  But it get’s far worse, lets look at what you could end up with after spending your hard earned cash.  Note for those who want much more than this appetizer on this page I explain in far greater detail in our Videos page under the menu button above as well as our page containing our 286 page ebook “How Not to Get Ripped Off.”

1. Examples of North American Standards Construction:

In my last newsletter (request to be added to our list to read such)  I showed in great detail the kind of junk that one  developer was pawning off on their victim while commanding $120 ft2 and having the audacity to claim to the client and on their website that USA equal standards would run $400 ft2.  In reality the home under construction that I inspected would be red tagged in Canada while they figured out how to fix major deficiencies, not to mention it’s abject design stupidity.  The above statements from client experiences as to housing costs sort of blows a massive hole in what is nothing less than marketing BS that was so liberally applied by this sleazy developer.  No I am not attempting to be polite but when you fill your website with lies and half truths then I feel no compulsion to be so.  Here goes some empirical proof that aside from being liars they have absolutely no idea how to actually build homes or what American Standards actually are.


Magic flying ridge Truss
Magic flying ridge Truss

Here is where the “master builder” has installed two ridge trusses that meet at roughly a 35′ angle.  Well folks this is impossible unless you live in one of those very rare gravity free zones.  This post you see they have positioned under this impossible joint is right in the middle of the living room and entry into the second bedroom in a half million dollar home.  This truss as it is, is useless, nothing but dead weight when there is not a support under this joint to carry the weight.  This would never pass a structural inspection let alone a real live earthquake.  Just love all those bolts sticking out of the truss too, nice cosmetic feature.

Low Grade PVC tubes no Vents
Low Grade PVC tubes no Vents

This is a perfect example of a Cheap Home in Costa Rica, Rigid PVC water line in a house of this value in a country that has a habit of shaking around from time to time is nothing short of nuts.  Beside the water line you will also see a sink drain using sanitario grade sewer line that is just plain crap as it is sooo thin that it would never pass a code in any first world country.  They also neglected to put in vent lines, have the sewer lines installed at 1% slope instead of 2% as code would dictate.  They also run the tubes into registers out in the garden and force all the sewer to take a 90′ turn, excellent idea if you like getting in up to your elbows in shit when this backs up!  Is this the builder you want to build you a half million dollar home to placebo “American Standards?”

Another large developer down in Ojachal charges $109 + $28 to $45 for a finishing package putting their highest package at an astronomical cost of $154 or $1,657 m2.   I have not inspected their current quality standards but it sucked when I saw it over ten years ago.   Now they may have advanced for horrible to mediocre.  Whoop de do!

Take note I have never ever seen a lousy builder metamorphosize into a great one.   Plus as a rule of thumb the larger a builder gets the worse the final product is.  However it is still not impossible but highly unlikely considering my experience with the owner of this particular company that has numerous environmental offenses reported against them to MINAE.

I inspected another Canadian builder’s work up in Samara who was charging a mere $100 ft2 to build out of concrete panels (YUCK) while using inferior PVC water lines and the low grade crap sewer lines that would not pass code anywhere else in the first world and most certainly not in Vancouver where he supposedly came from.  See my e-book to see what I mean.

Now these examples bring about one ugly reality with regards to expats who are in the building industry in Costa Rica.  Every one of them says they build to American Standards yet when I inspect their products every time I have seen grave offenses that would have them red ticketed when inspected anywhere in North America.  I simply ask how does that make it a American Standards especially when they are commanding a 50% higher price than a made in USA price????  Then to add to that they often bring design styles from Minnesota and plop them down in a tropical environment yet fail to see the folly in such.  You cannot have a great home that is not designed specific to the environment it shall reside in.

Typically the more expensive the home the more likely it is built with A/C yet they do little to nothing about insulating or designing for such.  You cannot A/C a concrete box and have anything less than horrific expenses at $.25 kwh.  Your power bill will be higher than a mortgage payment when you are trying to cool down what is basically a pizza oven.  You could never get away with this anywhere in North America.  All homes must pass minimum energy efficiency standards yet here they cannot even spell such let alone believe that it is imperative as it is responsible.  If your builder breaks these laws do you think it will make for a Cheap Home in Costa Rica?  Not bloody likely!

To exemplify this prevalent insanity the one client from Texas that started this whole discussion is currently renting a $600,000 home near Coco Beach which would put its cost at a minimum of $200 ft2.  Yet it has a central air system with most no opening windows or those that were are now screwed shut.  It has no return air system plus the windows are screwed shut.   I would like to ask the genius that did this, how is it that you can blow cold air into a sealed box?  They also cannot get access to the filters because they are hidden in the floor cavity but why should that concern you much with 147 species of mold in this country?  When they first moved in every time they touched the stove it shocked them.  The list of faults is way to long to belabor the point here any further just lets look at real value versus cost.  This same couple has lived in six different countries over the past 12 years and report this home as the worst of them all at $200+ ft2.  Ya right!  I would bet the realtor that owns this piece of crap tells all her clients this home is built to American Standards!  What a load of crap!  This is one of the most perfect examples I can possibly give you of one horribly expensive yet Cheap Home in Costa Rica.

So that begs the big question, how exactly is it that quality goes way down, labour costs go down yet the price goes up? 

From the consumer’s perspective does that not make for really interesting math?

This is just a small sampling of 6 builders in Costa Rica that all fail miserably in delivering a value proposition for their clients.  Am I being too harsh when you are considering a six figure investment and your future comfort, expenses and piece of mind?  Some may think I am too critical, but I really doubt I am considering the many horrors I have personally witnessed.  If you think I am too harsh in my criticism I guess we will never have anything to discuss then will we, if you suggest I should be polite about blatant rip offs!

First off with all of these builders using, as one client recently told me from his architect’s words, the tried and true methods of block and concrete.  My response was, yes tried and true just like the square wheel was however we somehow discovered that after knocking the corners off of that wheel that is seems to work quite a bit better.  First off if we always stuck with tried and true should we not still live in caves?  This stuck in a time warp attitude irritates the hell out of me with regards to Tico builders yet I can accept their not knowing better without ever having built a thing in the First World.

What royally pisses me off though is that all of the aforementioned examples came from so called builders of North American standards yet when they arrive on these shores everything they were taught, passed exams for, assuming they actually have ANY QUALIFICATIONS or were inspected for immediately became irrelevant after they landed here.  Those rules appear to no longer apply and they lower their standards and conscience to that of the Tico/Tropical standard of mediocrity then they have the audacity to state, “we build to North American Standards.”  Yah right, only if the inspector has a white cane!  Sorry folks BS is BS no point in sugar coating reality or deluding yourself.  At any rate onwards to what else is driving costs to be what they are…

2. Labour Cost Factors:

Using the typical methods I have seen here and no one ever questioning how things are done and why makes for one incredibly inefficient system of construction hence the 1/5 hourly labour cost goes right out the window when you move from a 90 day construction cycle to more in the range of a 300+ day cycle or 365 day as the largest of these builders claims.  Talk about painfully slow!   So now instead of a 20% cost factor you have 66%+ of the cost of labour going into a Tico methods home.  There is many processes involved in a home and dozens of ways of doing things however if you don’t use the best of tools and methods nor train employees in the application of both of these then wasted time and create work projects can skyrocket actual input costs while producing lousy to mediocre results that will bite you the home owner in the ass.  Not an if here, just a when.

Now add to that the lack of attention in breaking horribly bad habits the results are rather predictable.  A simple demonstration… Our Aroi Thai project (you can see in our video section) had 8 toilets for which every blessed tube was fully surrounded by concrete hence at least one man day would have to be spent chiseling out concrete to fit floor flanges to each of them.  Since I am a tad simple I have not yet figured out just how you can attach a toilet to a sewer line without using such.  So shall we say the process was rather predictable like A connects to B connects to C.   Yet none of the genius’ running the job stopped the process to instruct that a sleeve or piece of cardboard had to be put around these tubes prior to the pouring of the floor.  Now this is of course just one example but if you do this day in and day out eventually that rain drop causes a flood.  Just as stupid stunts like these make homes excessively expensive in labour costs and someone is going to pay for that, being you if you are buying the end product from such operators.   In essence the labour savings that should have been there are squandered away in inefficiency or lack of concern for correcting bad habits.  Is it your job to be an employment agency in Costa Rica?  What you can take to the bank is if you follow these methods you are not going to end up with a Cheap Home in Costa Rica!

3. Obscene Profit Margins:

However with all of this being said there is what I believe to be a far greater culprit at play that drives this pricing versus value disparity.  Greed fed by lack of competition that will gladly eat your lunch for you.  I have seen builders here that we estimate are running around a 100% markup from their costs to client end price.  No they would never tell you or be transparent as I know of no client I have dealt with that would not have one severe allergic reaction to seeing such numbers show up in their home costing.  In most markets if you get greedy with your profit margin there is dozens of others that will come eat your lunch for you.  I never ever saw any market in Canada that you could get away with such over charging for services.  For whatever bizarre reasons here this is not nearly as prevalent and home buyers accept this as inevitable or reasonable.  This leads to an inventory of overpriced homes that are hard as hell to sell on to others when value and performance are hard to find just as in the example of the cheap crap home up in Coco.

This situation is further aggravated with builders who build so few homes so inefficienntly that they are trying to make their entire living and cover all their overhead costs on the back of just a couple of clients per year.  It is not tough math if Jose builds two houses one of which is yours he is going to collect from you half of his costs.  When we build 12 homes as an example we need 1/12 of those fixed costs to come from you.

Whose math would you prefer?

To add insult to injury I have also seen many such builders who are rarely on site as I witnessed on one project that had 13 people living off of the project hence you might have expected close supervision of their first show home.   Someone has to pay for all those freeloaders and that can only be the foolish buyers?  Yet out of all of these characters involved no real builder to be found on site.  Hence who is there to catch mistakes and bad practices in the bud?  No one!  Do you think the Nica foreman is going to understand your expectations in a high quality home?  Lots of luck with that one, yes it will give you results just not one that is a Cheap Home in Costa Rica.

Let me clarify that I hardly think profit is a dirty word it is what makes the world go around however there is a point where profit moves from acceptable to usury and I definitely personally consider the norm of 50% to 100% profit as usury especially considering the actual quality of the end product that is typically delivered.  It was actually a mistake that lead us to showing a client our profit built into each house price but since then it has been shown that a reasonable profit shown transparently is anything but a deterrent from acquiring great clients.  This method has actually given us far more desirable clients to work with on a much more favourable relationship based on trust and respect.

Let me first preface my further comments with this, we really don’t care what the players in the Tico building industry charge as we do not set our prices based on what anyone else is doing.   We could care less as we did not set out to build the cheapest home in Costa Rica hence most certainly we are not entering a price war with anyone!  First off it is often a false comparison at best since the formula has a lot of moving parts that affect final costs so unless you are actually comparing apples against apples it is a pointless exercise.  This comparison is further exasperated from further evaluation since I have as yet to find someone who is providing similar quality to ourselves.  Go to our tab on New Home Standards to get full details as to exactly what this really means.  Our prices are set by our actual material costs, labour input and OUR reasonable profit margin which are all quite irrelevant with regards to how others would come up with their figures, as we have seen.

Here is a further example for you to use as a measuring stick to fair market pricing.  The typical new project in the Central Valley tends to average out around  $1,000 m2 or $93 ft2 home with land included noting that all of the above prices were construction costs only.  There of course is some cheaper projects as well as some massively more expensive in prestige projects where cost and price get divorced.  Keep in mind that land in the Central Valley is drastically more expensive per m2 than mountain/beach property as a rule with what has been a pretty steady growth curve over my 13 years of observing such.  As I have seen none of it would pass the North American Standard inspection either but then they are not trying to tell you that it does as compared to these six builders that are leading their clients down the garden path in claiming to do so but failing miserably at actually fulfilling that promise.  I call that lying what do you call it?

I hope that this article has helped you get a better understanding as to what is really going on with construction costs in Costa Rica.  Hopefully you now have a lot more tools to help you sort out fact from marketing BS or blatant lies and you can find yourself an economical home just not a Cheap Home in Costa Rica.  As you have seen when you add all of these factors together it is not much of a surprise when you end up with costly yet low quality homes coming out of the other end of the pipeline for the less than astute consumer that elects to accept such.

This is but a few of the brilliant results that can and do actually happen in our often bizarre version of Paradise but now you know what to look for or proceed onto learning more on our site here.

Trevor Chilton


Cheap Homes — 5 Comments

  1. The first thing that comes to mind when reading your paper is your sincerity and the care you take in design and construction.
    My need is simple;a small,one bedroom home with living area,kitchen,bathroom
    and a patio space.
    I want quality but I don’t have much money.
    How much should I expect to spend?
    Yo vivi a Espana 8 anos. Hablo espanol bastante bien para comunicar.
    Thank you for your help,
    James Ackley

    • James pardon me but my response will be in English as my Spanish writing skills are brutal. Sadly I spend more time studying construction than Spanish but I think our clients prefer that.
      Our price is normally around $60 m2 for in wall space but is 60% of that or $350 for covered terraces which are in all of our designs. We have found pretty much all of our clients who are escaping colder climates like my home province where it was -32′ C this morning want a home that embraces the ability to live outdoors much of your life as long as you can get out of the sun and rain. In fact our last home contracted is 60% outdoor space. The rest of that is basically a self fulfilling prophecy as per your final design. We have a number of small home designs already on file just be aware that when you get below 100m2 under roof your cost per meter actually goes up since you still have much of the same infrastructure to pay for just few meters have to do so. But for an example a 60m2 home in wall with 40m2 of terrace would run right around $53,000 + prof. fees and government fees.


  2. Hello Trevor.

    I was so glad to find your information online today. I am seeking to build a small home …one large bedroom and small kitchen and living area for myself and two children that will be moving to Costa Rica in the next year and a half – two years.
    I would very much like to see the plans that you have already created and to discuss costs. I would be considered financially challenged, but I am a person who works toward goals and achieves my dreams.
    I look forward to contact at your earliest convenience…. Please do email me at the address above. Have a wonderful day.


    • Tai,
      Thank you for your note.
      Generally you are looking at around $60 a m2 for in wall construction and 60% of that for under roof terraces which is a most common request of our clients for all locations around Costa Rica.

      Have you been here?

      Do you have a preferred location or general idea?


  3. Hello Trevor, I found your blog very interesting. I am retired and far from wealthy. Would like to move to Costa Rica within a 1 year. Please let me know the cost to build a 3 bedroom/2 bath home with approx. 2,000 SF living space plus a 2 car garage and a terrace (which I assume is like a lanai here in Florida). I have not yet considered what area we want, but I would like possibly on a mountain with a view, but relatively near driving distance to a town like Heredia, maybe. Here’s the thing, I’m on limited budget and not sure if I can do this with the cash I have at hand. Also, if you have some floor plans in this approx. square footage, I would love to take a look. Thanks, Charlie

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