The Lake Chapala area has become an increasingly popular retirement destination in the last 2 years. With a recent shortage of resale homes, more and more expats are now considering the option of purchasing land and building. For some, this is a great idea. For others, it can become a living nightmare.
So what are the pros and cons to building in a foreign country?
Is it really worth the risk and bother?
And how is it different from building “up north”?
Can be a good investment: Building a house Lakeside can be a good investment IF you are good at watching your expenses. Demand is very strong right now from the growing retirement bubble of 'baby boomers' so if you have been searching unsuccessfully for the right home, or haven’t managed to be first in line to buy the home you wanted, now might be the time to take the plunge and build.
Customization: Getting the exact floor plan and quality construction that you want is probably the strongest argument for building a house. You can hire an architect to design your perfect home, then take “hands on control” and find a capable builder to construct your dream place to live. Your new home will have all the features that you want and need for your perfect lifestyle.
You have a brand new home!! : Just like a brand new car, you are the first to set foot in your new place. You set it up, decorate it, make it your own!
Modernization: Building new means that you can choose the latest in building materials, designs, techniques, plumbing, lighting, electrical systems, and more. You can include enough of everything for your needs, such as electrical breakers and plugs, water pumps and filtration.
No Repairs! Yay!: If everything was done right the first time, you should live repair-free for many years to come.
Is it Covered? : Many local builders will offer a 6 months to 1 year warranty against structural defects. Make sure to discuss warranty provisions when you hire your contractor and to have it all in writing.
Supervision on site is required: Unlike up north where you can hire a good contractor and just walk away and return when it's time to move in, here in Mexico is a absolute necessity to oversee the construction on a daily basis. Murphy's Law rules apply here: “If there is anything that can go wrong it will go wrong”. Take hands on control and visit the construction site daily to ensure progress is made according to plans.
Language barrier: Depending on the contractor you hire, Spanish might be a necessity. Not all contractors are fluent in English and the ones who are generally charge more. There are lots of new words to learn as well as building concepts that are very different than wood frame homes in the north. When visiting the construction site and your English speaking contractor is not there, you will need to deal with workers who do not speak English and sign language will only take you so far.
Metric dilemma: I mention this for both U.S. citizens and Canadians who are not fully metricized. From the time you buy the lot through the time you design and build, you will be informed of everything in the metric system, not the imperial system of measurement. If you are not fully fluent with the metric system it could lead to problems.
Manana factor: Many contractors and workers are committed to their job and to showing up for work on time (except, perhaps, when they had a Fiesta (celebration) the night before ). Delivery of supplies, however, including the correct materials and equipment, is out of your workers’ control. This can delay and complicate construction endlessly, and drive the homeowner crazy. Relax. No one ever said this would be easy.
Have you hired well?? : Like most places in the world, there are great contractors and not so good ones. Do your homework before you hire! Get references from many happy customers first, preview examples of their work, ask many questions. If you have found a good, honest contractor, he will have a good crew and the whole process will get easier from there.
IMSS: This stands for Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (medical care system) and it is required that the contractor pay to the government the required amount for each of their workers. “So what”, you say? “How does this affect me?” Well, there have been some horror stories in the past about contractors not paying this and the workers or government coming back to the home owner trying to collect. Be careful. As the contractor for receipts to confirm the bills are paid.
Are we there yet? : Building in Mexico can take anywhere from 8 months to 2 or even 3 years! This may be a little slower than throwing up a wood frame house north of the border, but it is well worth time it takes to construct a quality home.
Are you prepared to rent? : While your home is being constructed you need some place to live. This will mean finding accommodations for up to 2 years. With soaring rental amounts at Lakeside, this can add significantly to your budget.
Mind your pesos! : Just like anywhere in the world, it’s smart to set up a budget for building new construction. Feeling weak in front of a beautiful floor tile at Home Depot and constantly changing your mind about what and how you want things done, can quickly drive up the cost of your project. Don't forget other things like landscaping, paying for plants and trees, perimeter walls and security, hook up costs for plumbing, electricity, telephone, etc. These all have to be accounted for at the end.
Ehido Land: Although this item should have been check marked off when you purchased the lot, this is a reminder to be careful about buying native Indian land in Mexico. Do not fall into the trap of buying a large piece of land for an outstanding price, and possibly paying someone who claims to be the owner(s) a large sum in advance. Work with a Realtor who knows the area that you want to live in. Make sure there is a Deed (proof of ownership for resale) for the parcel of land that you are interested in, that can be checked by a lawyer and/or Notario to ensure accuracy and rights to sell the land to you.
So ask yourself, “Is building right for you?” Are you made of the right stuff to go through the experience and are you willing to spend up to 2 years of your life building your perfect home? Only you can answer that. Building in Mexico is a viable option but not for the faint of heart.
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Thanks for reading!