February 14, 2008

Warning! Warning! Warning! Red Alert!

home construction, La Ceiba, HondurasHouse construction

I receive the comment below yesterday on the Kilos and pounds, meters and feet article. My heart literally pounded. I clicked over to respond and then thought, "No, this needs to go on the front page!"

ginger said...

hey lg i found your blog a few months ago and i love it! i visited honduras a little over a year ago with my husband so i love to hear your advice in case i ever go back. I had a question, we are wanted to start building a house there pretty soon and i just wanted to know did you find hondurans to build your house or did you get a company from the us to build it? we will be building it from up here and we wanted to know if you have any suggestions or references. my husbands family lives in Tocoa, not to far from ceiba but we wanted to build in ceiba.


If you never listen to another word that I say, please listen to this:

Do not try to build a house in Honduras from another country.

home construction, La Ceiba, HondurasNot ever. Not if you have the best contractor in the world. Not even if your father-in-law is going to build it. The only circumstance in which you should consider this is if you are a millionaire and can afford to build another house after you do get down here.

I've obviously failed miserably if anyone would think of sending money down here to have a house built. I've peppered my blog with vague references to construction problems and dishonorable people but I guess I haven't been clear enough.

Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong if you aren't here to check on the construction every day, and I do mean every single day, no matter how long it takes. Not only do you need to be here, but you need to know something about reading plans and construction or hire someone who does.

If you aren't here, corners will be cut, work will be shoddy, your materials will be stolen, and you'll be overcharged, or out and out robbed of your money. Probably two or more of those things will happen, but at a minimum, best case, you won't get what you expect.

home construction, La Ceiba, HondurasDo you expect your roof to keep out the rain? Then you need to be here and make sure that it does before you pay for it. Don't want your window frames to have a gap wide enough to put your hand through at the edge? Don't think that the water pipes should be on the outside of the walls? Believe that all of your electrical outlets and wall switches should be connected to something? Ditto, ditto, ditto.

Do you have those unreasonable gringo fondnesses for electric grounding, PVC pipe glue, level floors, and toilets that actually will flush something? Need to be here.

Here are some real life examples:

One Honduran friend of ours tried to build a house from the U.S. Over the time of construction, she paid the entire amount the house was supposed to cost but when she got here, all she had was walls and most of them were in the wrong place. She had no floor, no roof, no doors, no windows. She sued the thieving contractor to no avail.

Another Honduran friend (note that I say Honduran just to specify that it isn't only unsuspecting gringos that these things happen to) left US$30,000 with her contractor uncle to buy materials and start on construction. When they arrived a few months later, they found that the uncle had stolen their money and was nowhere to be found. The little work he had done, they had to pay to have torn down because it was so shoddy.

Other gringo friends had a good, trusted friend to build their house. Mistakes were made, it wasn't getting finished, it was costing too much. Through a lucky fluke, they found out that the friend was building his own house with their money, their materials, and the labor that they were paying for. Oh, and they were here in Honduras the whole time.

home construction, La Ceiba, HondurasNo doubt someone will comment on this article with a story about how they built from afar with no problems. Sure, it might happen, maybe once in a blue moon, but trust me, Ginger, don't expect to be one of the lucky ones. Not in La Ceiba.

Now as far as finding someone to build your house, you should do the same thing that you would do in the U.S. Get bids, interview contractors, get references, look at their prior work, AND, most importantly, talk to their prior customers.

I always recommend using an architect. They aren't near as expensive as they are in the U.S. The money you spend on an architect will be well worth it in the long run and he will know who are the more reliable contractors, how to deal with them, and how things should be done. But check out the architects' references just like you would do the contractors.

Learn how to read the construction progress reports (hopefully you will get them) and learn how to keep your own accounting records of the money that you spend. Make sure that you have contracts for everyone you hire and that the amount and conditions of payment are spelled out, in Spanish, because English contracts are not legal in Honduras.

If you receive a bid much lower than the others, don't take it. All that means is that the person made a mistake in their estimate. They will either ask for more money or will quit as soon as they realize that they won't make a profit and will leave you high and dry. That is the only guarantee that you'll get in Honduras.

It's not easy to build a house anywhere and most people who have done it have their horror stories. In Honduras, however, if things go very wrong, there is no one here to protect you. In general, people do not worry about their reputation. They know that you are probably not ever going to build another house, so future business from you is not an issue. There is no Better Business Bureau. The laws and the courts will not protect you.

Right now you are probably thinking that I'm exaggerating, that I'm too cynical or too demanding. Yup. That's what two of the people I referred to above thought as well.

I don't want to hear "You were right!" from anyone else.

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