Building overseas can be stressful. Heck, building in the U.S. or Canada can be stressful. I was reminded about this process as I pulled together the pieces and parts for my past article about Chris Barrick building his house in Mexico.
They say a marriage that survives building a house is a good one. So now compound the pressure by doing it a couple thousand miles away, possibly in a language you don’t speak, and throw in various cultural aspects and factors. Now you have a recipe for a pressure cooker, or with good information, a great fun-filled adventure.
Many people do build homes overseas, and you can too. It’s not for the faint-hearted, for sure, but with the right attitude, patience, and perseverance, the results can be stunning. Remember, things that cost a fortune in North America, like handcrafted items, piece work, and details that take a lot of time are some of the least expensive parts of the process overseas. Things that are cheap up north may not be abroad. It’s a mixed bag, but with careful planning and foresight, you can build your dream home overseas.
Doing something right the first time is key. That takes proper planning. In a home, this means getting the design and engineering done by qualified professionals and individuals. In every country that I know of, you must have a local architect and engineer to get permits and certifications. You don’t have to rely 100% on them, however, and you probably shouldn’t. A hybrid approach is usually best.
In many cases, the local designers won’t have a good idea of what you like from a design standpoint. Case and point are kitchens in Latin America. Whereas most people in North America do their own cooking, the wealthy (of which you will be by local standards) would have a maid in the kitchen doing all the cooking. Because of that, kitchens are walled off, small, and not particularly nice.
My wife and I looked at 5 or 6 houses to rent before she found one with a nice enough kitchen, sufficient counter space, and convenient cabinets. The open/great room concept that includes the kitchen, dining room, and living room, popular in North America, is a cultural misfit in Latin America. Many architects will simply find it hard to believe that you actually desire this and will draw it “their” way instead.
Also, if you plan to rent out your home, create an owner's lock-up. A large closet is fine, but if possible, make sure that you create a process for airflow so clothes don’t get moldy. Some people add a small dehumidifier and drain system to keep the air dry, but not necessarily cool. Depending on what you want to keep, plan accordingly.
This next point is key. You must take charge of the process. Bring ideas and floor plans with you if you plan to build a custom home. There are tons of books on the market showing pictures and floor plans for homes of all sizes and types. Starting there and generating your adapted ideas is a winner.