Buying property and building a house in Nicaragua requires patience and planning, as in every other place. Building in Central America introduces a few new challenges to investors and homebuyers. The Nicaragua property boom is just taking off, and so quality construction is still in its infancy. At this time only about 30% of the builders/architects are able to build at an acceptable quality level. I have seen a lot of disastrous construction projects, and I will share some advice I've learned from my own experiences building in Nicaragua.Finding a contractorFirst you need to decide if you want to hire a contractor or do it yourself. Being your own contractor is only recommended if you have construction experience and Spanish language proficiency. You will also need to hire a top-rated mano de obra, or crew chief, to find and manage the crew. A good mano de obra is usually already working for a good builder, but through local contacts you may be able to find one seeking work.My wife and I chose to be the contractors on our first home, Casa Angela. We learned some great lessons including how to choose the location of the house. Hint: do not build too close to a large river—which can expand too close to your house for comfort—or under a mango tree—which can break your roof tiles with falling fruit.In Nicaragua, construction can run from $40 per square foot to $80 per square foot, so you will need to decide what level of construction you want before proceeding to find a contractor. Make sure you check the builder's prior work and speak to his previous clients, then get several quotes and make a decision. Look at local success stories for good contacts. On our last project, we used Best Value Construction and the contractor who worked on the Marina Puesta del Sol resort, which allowed us to know the quality of work that we could expect.Choosing an architectYou will need to choose an architect whose style you like and works well with the contractor. I recommend paying more up front for architectural plans through the U.S., or through one of the few highly-qualified architects in Nicaragua. Be aware that plans created in the U.S. must be stamped by a Nicaraguan engineer. Using a U.S. architect also helps to ensure that the rooms will be the proper size and that all lights, light switches and plugs are properly placed. On our latest home we chose to use an architect from La Jolla, California, www.mullindm.com, as we trusted him and he was familiar with construction and materials available in Nicaragua.Nicaragua has unique, elegant and affordable architectural materials and some of the most beautiful woods in the world which many homebuilders should find appealing. For example, in our first home we used hand-carved soapstone sinks and shower heads, mahogany wood curtains, cocobolo dining set and cristobal wood cabinets. Don't overdo it, though. I have seen homes built with every possible type of native stone, and nothing really fit together.Writing a good contractOnce you have chosen a builder, you must write a bullet-proof contract that covers building permits, hook-ups and construction. It should have payment schedules based on progress with a final payment 6 months after completion. A trusted Nicaraguan attorney or a company like Best Value Construction can help you with the contract.Our second construction— a Century 21 office in Popoyo—was built on schedule, but the mano de obra was the cousin of the contractor, who had no experience. The quality suffered, and much of the wood and tile work did not hold up for long. Because we had a good contract, we were exempt from making the final 10 percent payment.The construction processYou will need to follow the progress of the construction either in country or out. If out of the country, make sure you receive photos—or, even better, video—on a weekly basis to verify when the progress payments should be made. This will allow you to stop construction and payments at any time if problems are not fixed.Good builders have good crews that they take to each site, anywhere in the country. In most cases, sleeping quarters are built and a cook is hired so that the crew can stay onsite eleven days straight followed by three days off. If you are building in a remote location, make sure that the builder has experience doing so.It is best for you to personally choose your construction materials and amenities. One of our homes is located in the beachfront development Gran Pacifica. We purchased here because of its proximity to Managua and because it was the only development that had completed infrastructure—including paved roads, fire hydrants, septic system and water—prior to building any homes. If you buy property in a gated community, make sure that you have confidence that the owners will follow through with their commitments and that any infrastructure will be completed in reasonable time if it is not already.We followed progress via photos and chose paint and tile via the internet and at their Managua office. I spent less than a few hours total on this home, and though construction was delayed when they decided to replace their first construction company, the house turned out wonderfully. Though you may encounter some difficulties, building in Nicaragua can be very rewarding with a good contract, professional architectural plans and clear communication.
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