This might just be one of the most commonly asked questions we get from friends, family, and fellow travelers passing through. And, look, we get it! In some ways it seems like this far fetched, seemingly impossible feat (to buy and build abroad, that is).
The good news is that we’re here to tell you that it’s really not.
Here are the top tips we have in the process:
We did NOT buy local, as our land was already owned by a forge in real estate company. This was because we didn’t have the information we’re about to share with you now, AND we fell in love with this particular piece of land.
The thing with buying local is that you will not only get a better deal, but you will also be putting the money directly in a local’s pocket instead of a foreign buyer. All you need to do is ask around if anyone has an land for sale, because most families have HUGE lots they’re willing to sell little slices of here and there.
Electric, Water, Accessibility
These are three extremely important things to consider if you find a piece of land you love. Ask where you’ll be running electricity from, and the cost.
Ask if there’s well access on the land, and be prepared for a BIG cost (about $25k). And then check about the road access. Is it a shared road? If so, who do you share with? Do you have to buy an easement from your neighbor so you can access your land?
You’ll also want to check out your phone service in the area. If you’re like us, and you work online, then it’s good to know what the service is like. Our place has NO service, so we had to put in our own 50 ft Wifi tower. These are costs you’ll want to be aware of before committing.
Lawyer and Title
DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING WITHOUT A LAWYER TO LOOK OVER EVERYTHING! This will ensure everything goes smoothly, and is well worth the small fee. You’ll specifically want the lawyer to look over the title to make sure it’s “clean,” and easily transferrable to you.
You’ll also want to make sure that EVERYONE on the land title (because oftentimes an entire family, or groups of siblings own one piece) has signed over their rights to the land, because even if just ONE person hasn’t, then it won’t fully be in your name.
When you think about the cost of the land, make sure to consider the cost of electric (or solar), water (wells), and road accessibility. Sometimes once you factor these things in, you’ve added another $100k onto your property price.
As you prepare to build, PLEASE make sure that you have a GENEROUS buffer, as your construction will inevitably go way over budget (this tends to happen on construction sites in EVERY county, as far as I know).
As an example, our construction costs ended up being TWICE AS MUCH as our original budget. Now, we also happened to work with a con artist of a contractor (obviously we didn’t know that at the time), so hopefully your project won’t be quite as extreme with the overage. Either way, it’s important to have that generous buffer in, and know that things ALWAYS come up as you continue on.
When you think about construction, make sure to include a budget for landscaping, if that’s something you choose to add. This is often NOT included in your contractor’s price, unless otherwise agreed upon.
Lastly, you’ll want to factor in caretaking and maintenance. If you don’t plan on living there year around (or even if you do), you’ll want a trustworthy caretaker to watch over your place for you. And maintenance will be constant, regardless of the quality of your build.
Architecture and Design
If you chose to work with an architect, it’s important to make sure that they not only have a great aesthetic, but they also have an understanding of Nicaragua and functionality. We worked with an architect who spent a lot of time in Nicaragua (and who speaks Spanish, which you’ll need), but it was his first time BUILDING in the country. This led to issues about accessibility of certain materials, and practicality of his designs with the weather and severe elements (like the salt water of living ON the ocean).
Make sure that their drawings and concepts aren’t just pretty, but that they actually WORK, and withhold the experience of living off raw land within nature. You’ll want to check on things like: natural light, air flow, natural temperature without AC or fans, and waterproof structures.
One of our biggest regrets was working with a gringo contractor. He had sort of brainwashed us into thinking that he could do things that locals couldn’t, by providing “North American standards.” When, the truth is, all he did was take a lot of our money and NOT deliver quality products.
Once we replaced him with a variety of local teams, we had a MUCH better experience. Not only was the quality of their work better, but (understandably) their understanding of the best materials, and resourcefulness was something a foreigner can’t offer.
Once you finish building, you might think: Great, I’m done! And, yeah, you are. But just kind of. Think of it as being done with the first phase.
The next phases will be about maintenance. And, especially if you’re living on or close to the ocean, there will be a lot. Buying a raw piece of land means you’re living in the elements, and the elements (plus the birds, insects, bats, and every other critter out there) will eat your house alive if you leave it untended.
Hire a local person you trust to watch over your place while you’re away. Even if you choose to stay there full-time, and just want help on the property, a caretaker is a great option for additional help with the plants and home.
The key here is hiring someone you TRUST, as you want to make sure you’re leaving your home in good hands. Remember, if you leave it untended, the jungle will take over. Even if no one is living in it for stretches at a time, make sure it’s being cleaned and maintained. Although this is an additional cost, it will cost you LESS than BIG maintenance jobs due to neglect.
The process of buying land was only a 10 day process for us from start to finish. That was the easy part! Design and construction was unquestionably an incredible stressful time, but that was due in part to the people we chose to work with and the budget exploding.
Hopefully with these tips and insights, you can learn from our mistakes and enter into this new phase seamlessly. Enjoy your new home in Nicaragua!