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At SARCO Architects Costa Rica we have a wealth of experience providing service to an international clientele. Our clients have ranged from different areas in the USA and Canada to several countries in Europe and this has given us very broad knowledge about the very different cultural backgrounds of our clients. 

At the same time, we have seen many things that our clients have done at one point or another and that had negative results on their projects. We were there to correct the course, but over the years we have collected this list of the Top Ten Things Not To Do When Building in Costa Rica.

1 Fail to understand the design process

It necessary for you to understand what the design process involves, and what are steps your design team will perform as the project moves forward. It`s a big mistake to ask for changes to the layout and plan design once the project moves into construction drawings work.

The right time to consider variations on the design is in the architectural design phase, and once you approve it, stick to it. 

2 Going back and forth on your decisions during the plans process

Many elements of cross-team coordination are lost, as considerations taken in the process are lost in the constant back-and-forth of design variations. This causes delays for your project and can bring extra charges by your design team for the constant redoing of work.

A single change can be a significant hurdle for the project, now imagine if you make a change, the design team proceeds as you request, and then you change your mind and ask to go back? Members of the design team become confused, lose interest in the project and is quite frustrating. 

3 Don´t change your project brief close to the end of the design process

The start any your project is to provide your design team with your project brief, where you describe what you want in the project and your goals. The whole project evolves from there.

If you are unsure about the type of project you want to do, establish this clearly from the start, and ask your design team to provide preliminary studies to give you an idea of the potential result of each alternative, so you can make a decision.

4 Don´t start asking everyone´s opinion on the project

Its fairly normal and understandable that you want to show your project around and ask for some opinions about the design, etc. Be sensible and think about who you are asking an opinion from. 

While an opinion from somebody somehow experienced in building a home, or from a friend that has gone through the process before may be valuable,  asking for opinions from just anybody is actually very negative and counterproductive. 

5 Don`t make substantial changes during construction

It´s quite simple: changes during construction become very expensive. It`s one thing to change the brand of kitchen cabinets you want or the finish of fixtures you decide to buy, but it´s another thing entirely to decide to change the layout of the kitchen, or even worse to decide you now want that kitchen somewhere else.

Independently of how good the builder is, a project full of changes will have delays, very significant extra costs and an original budget impossible to control. 

6 Fail to understand the process of orders and shop drawings

The factories typically have a very closed policy on time for delivery and this is based on the date of the order being placed with the final approved shop drawings.

What do you think happens if you change the design of the items AFTER the order has been placed with a previous set of approved drawings? Typically, the factory simply cancels the previous order and places a new one with the revised drawings, and basically takes the order back to last on the list for production.

Bottom line, check carefully the shop drawings, make sure they fit what you want, and then be firm on the approval. It`s always best to give things the proper attention at the right time and avoid changes.

7 Don`t make constant comparisons to your home country

Inevitably, as international customers you originate from locations where very likely there will be many things that work better, are more efficient, and make more sense than you will find in Costa Rica. Constantly comparing our local reality to your home country will not do any good, it will actually constantly bring frustration and sometimes anger to you.

If you have decided to own property in Costa Rica it is because there are things about the country that you really like. 

8 Don´t give direct instructions to workers

A construction project like many other activities involves a chain of command. This is not simply to respect who is the boss, but good building professionals know the best ways to provide instruction and guidance to workers doing the job.

When you have any observations about your project, talk to your building professional and let them do their job, instead of trying to step into the process yourself.

9 Don`t generalize about the cost per meter number

We often get the typical question: “How much does it cost to build a home in Cosa Rica?” The sad part is this question is so broad and general that it is impossible to respond. Each home design will have elements that make it different than the next. Site conditions, project location, finishes, systems, electronics, structure, etc., all elements that drive costs one way or another.

10 Don`t assume it`s worth it to purchase items in the U.S yourself

Costa Rica has a tax system that places import taxes on goods. Tax rates vary depending on the item category and vary from 0% to around 35% on some items. Since local prices tend to be higher than in the US lots of people jump to the conclusion that they could buy things back home and save some money.

This sometimes not a great idea, since you won`t have a local warranty, there won`t be local technical support available, items could be damaged in shipping, etc. 

It´s always best to try to purchase everything locally, even if that means stepping one step down on product type to make it fit your budget. 

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