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Friday, May 22, 2009

Building your dream home in Mexico

The step-by-step process of building a home.
by Bill Spradling


First step is to meet with your builder and solidify your dream house, how many bedrooms and baths you need, if you will be year round residents, winter residents, or if the house is primarily a rental. This plays an important part in the construction budget. The style of architecture and quality of finishes, i.e. cabinetry, countertop surfaces, tile, plumbing fixtures, etc., are also important in figuring the cost of a home.

It is important to discuss the property location in relation to the water, where the front entrance will be, etc., to design the home with the environment in mind. You have to consider wind direction in relation to the seasons. For example, the strong winds in San Felipe are mainly from the north in the winter, with summer breezes from the southeast the rest of the year. This plays a part in figuring cross-ventilation and how to minimize the northern exposure to living areas during the winter.

You then walk the property to see where the views are in relation to the house; where do you want your kitchen window to face? In Rosarito Beach or Ensenada you may want your kitchen or master bedroom to face the ocean or the Sea of Cortez in Puerto PeƱasco. Topography is an important factor, as well as the location of any natural washes that may be on the property.

Next you make a basic floor plan on a CAD program to give things dimension. It is easy to imagine a home, but having it on paper gives an idea of room size and functionality. It’s important to consider your lifestyle to achieve the maximum architectural “bang for your buck”. This is the point where people’s dreams become reality, for size as well as budget. Now you can get an approximate construction budget because you have the information needed. Too many times, people are told they can have a house for $XX/sq ft but are not told about the quality of materials or construction. You can’t make an informed decision without knowing the real price. There should be a line-item breakdown of the cost, quantity and quality of finish of cabinetry, doors, windows, plumbing fixtures, lighting and air conditioning, with specifications that you can understand. If you have a budget for fixtures, it gives you the ability to upgrade or reduce the costs of any items in question. Within the cost breakdown, you should be told how much is for the actual fixture and how much for the installation materials.

Pitfalls
The major pitfall for extranjeros / foreigners building in Mexico is the lack of specificity in contracts and specifications. In Mexico, to be admissible in court, all contracts have to be in Spanish or translated to Spanish by a registered translator, which can be expensive. However, any business contract should be in both Spanish and English for your protection. The contract should include information on the company’s name, address, person of legal responsibility, and tax registration. It should also include the builder’s responsibility for paying the building permits and labor taxes and that at the end of the project the builder will deliver a “letter of liberation” from the Mexican government, showing that all of the labor taxes have been paid. If this is not specified and the builder does not pay them, then you will be held ultimately responsible, with no way to collect from the builder. Never make the final payment until you see the letter.

The contract should include a payment schedule tied to the verifiable progress of construction, not a time schedule. It should also include a clause that the price of construction is finite unless there are mutually agreed-upon changes to the signed building plans documented in a signed change order as an addendum to the contract. The change order should show the cost of the change as well as the difference in the final price of the contract. This shows the rising costs incurred in the total contract. There should never be any changes made to the building without a change order being in place to alleviate the possibility of a misunderstanding or miscommunication. It’s easy to agree to a suggestion until you learn how much it is going to cost.

Some builders will say that rising costs of materials necessitate a rise in the contract cost. Unless it is specified in the contract, this is not an obligation.