Some folks move to Costa Rica thinking that they can save a lot of money by buying older homes and remodeling them. In many areas of North America, people buy, remodel and sell homes for profit. This can be done here, but it becomes more complicated with different construction methods and the Latino culture and language.
Most builders who have years of experience in Costa Rica will tell you that it will be easier to construct new homes from the ground up than to remodel older construction. Depending on the scope of the project, new construction can take less time to complete, and you’ll experience a heck of a lot less stress than with remodeling because there are so many expensive surprises with older homes.
Remodeling requires removing and replacing older building materials that were installed during a previous era when homes were built solid with a lot of cement and steel rebar reinforcement. During my 26+ years of living and working in Costa Rica, I have completed quite a bit of remodeling and I can tell you first hand that removing concrete floors, walls and ceilings can take weeks, not just a few days. Some folks think that because the labor is less expensive here, that any extra manual labor is not much of a financial concern. However, the labor is more expensive than it used to be and the social costs of workers risk and health insurance has become an expensive burden for contractors and owners alike.
Additionally, during the demolition process, electrical conduit and plumbing tubes are found inside the structures that are being removed, and they need to be relocated in the new structures that the owner wants to create. This involves chipping away at the concrete with jackhammers or by hand with chisels and hammers. Once the demolition has been completed and the required electric conduit, wiring and plumbing tubes have been relocated, the old demolished structures need to be covered and finished to the owner’s satisfaction. This involves plastering and painting entire walls and ceilings, as well as new floor coverings because concrete patches are not desirable for most buyers.
Another expensive surprise that people discover in older homes here is that most of them have lightweight roof structures and finish surfaces that leak. Replacing an entire roof structure and the finish covering is a big expense, and it’s nothing like replacing roof shingles on homes in North America. Here in Costa Rica, most older residential roofs consist of wood supports with thin metal laminates attached as the final roof covering. You will not find roof sheathing with a waterproofing underlayment under the metal laminates on older homes. Because the old Costa Rican builders were never planning on installing roof sheathing, underlayment or heavy roof finish products, they did not install sturdy roof structures that would support a lot of weight. Therefore, when a new homeowner wants to install an insulated and waterproof roof, they will need to replace the entire roof structure and install new roof supports to carry the weight of the new roof sheathing, underlayment and finish roof covering.
Some folks who are building or remodeling homes in Costa Rica are told by the local engineers and architects that their roof installation is up to code. The code they’re referring to is equivalent to how barns are built in North America. No roof sheathing or underlayment, just lightweight roof framing and a thin metal laminate roof covering.
Another important consideration in Costa Rica is that we are located between eight and twelve degrees north of the equator.
You can probably imagine how intense the ultraviolet rays of the sun are when you’re located this close to the equator. The roof of your home protects all the building materials and personal possessions under it. Therefore, you should spend as much money as it takes to install a well-insulated roof that will not leak.
So the bottom line is, that before you purchase an older home, with the idea of remodeling it up to the construction standards that you are accustomed to, do yourself a big favor and hire an experienced home inspector who will provide you with a detailed inspection report that will illustrate all the construction installations that you will need to replace or repair.
The writer, Tom Rosenberger has lived and worked in Costa Rica since 1993, inspecting homes and condominiums for people who want to purchase existing property. If you would like to schedule an inspection with, Tom, you can send him a message by clicking here.