Finding the right construction company has always been
fraught with worry and tension
An undertaking that is already difficult and charged with a myriad of doubts and problems in North America takes on a mammoth-sized challenge in sunny and tourist-filled San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.
Why So Much Difficulty?
For one, there is a wide range of experience in the various tradesmen available here in San Juan del Sur and nearby areas. Some home builders have very little work experience. Some are time-tested, full-fledged construction companies. Some are capable and experienced independent home builders or contractors.
It’s not easy to tell them apart at first glance, since the entry barrier to calling yourself a “home builder” is fairly low here.
Secondly, opinions and recommendations abound. An endless stream of them. Local Facebook groups are full of advice on which company or individual contractor you should use to build your home – but sadly, most often recommendations end in someone’s cousin, a friend from school who does carpentry jobs on the side, a plumber who happens to know a little bit about plaster.
Everyone knows a guy who can help. No one sticks around when the job doesn’t go as expected.
Even more reason to make sure that the builder or construction company you hire is both experienced enough and has the necessary availability to complete your project.
What it Looks Like When You Strike Gold
When you’ve found a good home builder, you’ll feel like you’re in good hands. You won’t waste sleep wondering if your project is going to exceed your budget or whether the subcontractor is going to show up on time tomorrow. It will feel safe.
A good home-building company will:
- Be willing to sign a contract that protects both you and them
- Not have a long list of client complaints on their social media pages
- Find the time to help you secure permits, and help you get through the process
- Can provide you with good references from previous clients
- Communicate clearly and quickly
- Be able to provide a dependable and skilled set of workers
- Show complete, good quality and long-lasting previous work
- Be able to answer your questions directly and fully
- Care about the materials used in building your home
When you’re in the middle of choosing a home builder, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the possible pitfalls and potentially poor outcomes. Let’s narrow down our list to what we consider the most important points.
Narrowing Down Our Priorities
…and the most important things to look for in a construction company
Many people who come here from North America want to build a home that has all the familiar comforts they are used to. This is understandable. To achieve this, you will have to contend with a price point that reflects a North American standard.
Many budgeting misunderstandings take root in us wanting the enjoyment of the things that we are accustomed to, but wanting it at a very unrealistic price. Workers still need to be paid, materials purchased, and the quality of the work has no choice but to decrease with an improbable budget.
This doesn’t mean that you need to pay upwards of a million to build a home in Nicaragua. Per square foot, you can expect the price to start at just over $100 and go up from there, depending on the quality of finishes and materials.
When you take the time to discuss your budget before commencing work, you have a much better chance of avoiding any confusion further on. Don’t be afraid to make it perfectly clear to your builder how much money you are willing to part with.
That being said, it’s also possible to build a home for less, with more basic finishes and features. This style of build is lovingly referred to as a ‘local build’ in Nicaragua. If you are on a tight budget, the right construction company will be willing to work with you to find a balance between staying within your financial comfort zone, and building a home that adequately meets your needs.
Discuss your budget with the builder from the start. Make sure there are no ambiguities and you have made your bottom line clear. If you intention is to stay on a tight budget, figure out from the beginning what you are willing to compromise on in order to achieve this.
Customer Service, AKA Communication
When you hire a construction company, you enter into a relationship with the builder or company. Albeit temporary, it’s still a partnership and without proper communication, it can end on a sour note.
Make sure the contractor or builder you choose is open to conversation, to discussing anything you have concerns about, before the start of your project. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even the ones that seem silly or you feel have obvious answers. Ask anyway.
Their openness and ability to listen to your concerns will tell you more about them than anything else.
Plenty of times, we have heard from clients who wish they would have made their concerns clear at the onset. It’s hard to backtrack once a project is underway and money has been spent. It’s much easier to state your desires before the ground has been broken or your old bathroom has been torn apart to be freshly renovated.
More than any other complaint, this is the one we hear about most frequently.
Imagine this: you sign off on your home build that is scheduled to last 6-8 months.
13 months in and you’ve heard more excuses that you know what to do with. The weather is bad, materials haven’t arrived, the construction company has other projects on the go, and so on. This adds stress and time to your home build, and can result in significant financial pressure.
This leads us to…
Yes, there can be delays in construction, in just about any flavour known to man. And yes, it can happen with the best builders. But when you are on the receiving end of a long list of excuses that never seems to end, you have to ask yourself if it’s bad luck, or bad planning on the part of the company you’ve committed to.
We have watched people wait over a year for very small homes to be finished, turning a small project into an unreasonably expensive problem. Delays like this are what gets talked about after a project’s completion, and not in a positive way.
A good construction team is able to set a schedule that they can uphold to a reasonable extent. Experience is enough to teach you how long a project should take and how to account for delays. Do your best to hire a company who is straightforward about the time it will take to complete your project.
Full Range of Services
Amongst the easiest ways to ensure that your build or renovation goes smoothly is to hire a company that can handle all steps of the building process.
This doesn’t mean that they need to have a full staff of electricians, plumbers, or carpenters. It does mean that the construction company will be able and willing to facilitate, organize and manage the various subcontractors necessary in your build.
You don’t want to find yourself trying to find your own plumber when the toilet and sink need to be installed.
A company with comprehensive knowledge of the entire building process will also be better equipped to handle any problems that may appear along your journey.
Current Housing Market in San Juan del Sur and Nearby Areas
After a solid period of growth in the Latin American real estate market during COVID, real estate purchases and new builds have cooled off somewhat, including in San Juan del Sur and surrounding areas.
As many people relocated to Latin America between 2020-2021, the real estate market went through a massive increase in real estate sales. Families sold their existing properties in North America and Europe and used the cash to buy property here, and in other Latin American countries. Low-interest rates during the COVID period also made it possible for many people to refinance existing properties and use the cash to build or purchase homes here.
Now that interest rates on mortgage renewals have risen around the world and inflation is a growing problem, there is less foreign investor cash to flood into the Latin American real estate market. Interest rates in foreign markets have a direct impact on the Nicaraguan real estate market, as most investors’ available cash for purchasing property here is affected by their real estate assets outside of the country.
Nicaragua’s mortgage rates are significantly higher than in North America and Europe and comprise only a small portion of total home purchases. Real estate here is essentially a cash market.
Tying it All Together
Choose carefully. Yes, you can get more for your money here in Nicaragua. Yes, it’s entirely doable to find a home builder who checks off all your requirements. We know, because we’ve worked hard to build a home-building company that exceeds expectations.
Take your time and discuss your concerns with the company you are about to hire as if your wallet and sanity depend on it. Because they just might.