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Building with Amateurs can be Costly


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Building with Amateurs can be costly

 

The following info was provided by Costa Rica Realtor Becky Clower

 

For those who plan to build your own home in Costa Rica, for those who thought that something like this could not happen to you, or those of you who wonder what your legal recourses are in Costa Rica, I dedicate this story of a retired couple from the USA building their retirement home in Costa Rica to you.

Costa Rica was a perfect place for retirement for Harold & Maude (all names have been changed), who braved 25 years of cold Buffalo, New York winters. Harold is an American and his wife Maude who is originally from Costa Rica, but left for the states when she was 21, were looking forward to coming back 'home'. Like many retirees, they both looked forward to living a slower paced, more affordable lifestyle in Costa Rica.

Their goal was simple: Buy a lot and build their modest dream home and live debt free. They accomplished buying a lot near Naranjo (Alajuela) with wonderful mountain and valley views. Their next step: To build their dream house, which has yet to be realized.

In their own words: Maude: "At the beginning I was very happy. Harold and I worked hard for 32 years in the United States to come back to Costa Rica to build a nice little home for us to retire in. I was looking forward to being back near all our family again."

Harold: "We put all our trust in an architect named Juan Chirripo (all names have been changed) who was a friend of the family. I really believed in him. I felt as though I was from here, spoke the language and had a good judge of character. He was the one for us. He was the one who did the plans for our house and also got bids to build the home. We had a total of three bids to build the house, and we decided to go with the least expensive bid, which happened to be with Juan's Construction Company." (Mistake #1)

 

"Once we had contracted with Juan for his architectural and building services, he required a down payment of 30% up front before the start of building. Harold and I deposited the money with Juan to get the project started."

"After three months, the plans and permits were approved. The foundation had been poured and the walls started to go up. It was a few weeks after most of the walls went up that my husband realized that some of the walls did not seem level."

"The concrete was also was slightly off in color (we found out later that too much water had been added to the concrete mix, which is very bad). Between that, and ultimately our gut feeling that something was just 'not right', forced us to seek answers. We wanted to be sure what was being built was to code."

"We contracted a private Engineer by the name Antonio Quebradas*, who had built other quality homes in the same development where our house was being built. Consequently, he had been one of the three bids we received at the beginning, but we chose not to go with his company due to the price being too high. This proved to be a very costly mistake."

"Antonio knew right away, that most of the support columns were dangerous and could not withstand the smallest of earthquakes. Of course, when we heard this, we panicked. He had asked us if Juan Chirripo did soil studies before building and we told him 'No'. He never asked us to do any. Nor did he ever suggest for us to do soil studies."

(Soil studies should be done before the building of any project. This should be recommended by any reputable engineer).

 

"When we presented this information to the builder, Juan Chirripo, he denied Antonio's story and said that 'nothing was wrong and that Antonio wanted the job and didn't get the job and was trying to sabotage his reputation of the builder to spite him.' Harold and I knew that was not the case. Antonio was a highly regarded engineer and builder and wouldn't do such a thing. He truly saw our despair and wanted to help us in any way he could."

"Antonio Quebradas had suggested to us to hire an independent company to do concrete testing to verify the mix and strength (support structure) and also the type of rebar used on the house. We did just that. Within days the company came out to perform testing on ten different samples throughout the home. A few days later, we received the results in writing, which were devastating. Out of the 10 samples that were tested, 9 were found to be unsatisfactory."

"The report recommended that the entire structure be demolished. Our partially built home had to come down. We had invested $60,000 for a house that was more than 50% paid for but less than 30% complete. Obviously Juan, nor the foreman, nor the workers were not skilled enough to so much as pour a solid foundation or walls for our home. Juan was responsible to oversee his workers and failed in all capacities. Juan, actually, barely ever showed up to the site. I was there with Harold almost every day."

 

"To add insult to injury, we found out that Juan Chirripo was not licensed. In fact, he had a 'friend' that was signing off on his plans. I had found this out when I went to the Colegio de Architectos y Ingenieros to file an official complaint."

 

"We had given Juan several opportunities to make good before I actually took the time to go down and file a written complaint. I told him that we wanted our money back and he stated that he didn't have the $60,000 that we had paid him. When I found out he wasn't licensed, I was told that his friend could lose his license and Juan could be barred from getting his (he was apparently a year away from getting his license).

 

I hired an attorney to represent us because we thought we may be out all the money we had put towards the building of the house. This was most of the retirement money we had, so we had to look at what our legal recourses were to get it back. We hired an attorney to represent us and ended up settling with Juan Chirripo out of court."

 

"Our agreement was to have him demolish the existing structure and start from scratch. Except, this time, we would have a private engineer overseeing his work and signing off on each phase. If he does not finish the house per our written agreement, he will have a lot to lose. His friend will lose his license and he will be most likely barred from getting his. This was the best solution for our situation."

 

The moral of the story according to Becky: "Do not think you are immune from having things such as these happen to you. Also, if possible, try not to involve family in business. Verify all licenses of engineers, architects, contractors, etc and don't be afraid to ask for many references. Hire an independent third party to oversee your project. While it is an added expense, it is piece of mind, especially if you are not familiar with building in Costa Rica."

"Finally, make sure you have an iron clad contract and you are paying in draws for the building that has gone on only. Building in paradise does not have to be like this. We hope that this story will educate others who plan to build on their own in Costa Rica. Harold & Maude still hope, after all this, to have their house done by next year that they envisioned having from the beginning."

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