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HomeBuying property11 smart steps for hiring a contractor in Costa Rica

11 smart steps for hiring a contractor in Costa Rica

If you have been shopping for a house in Costa Rica, you probably found out already that the perfect house does not exist. Unless you are looking to buy a brand-new condo, the houses you have seen are probably outdated, have structural damage or are not up to your standards for some other reason.

Although you’ll find plenty of houses and condos for sale in Costa Rica that have hot water throughout, more than one bathroom, granite countertops and other features that you are used to, they might be out of your budget.

Is it possible to remodel a house in Costa Rica within your budget and find the right contractor in Costa Rica? Remodeling can be stressful and intimidating, especially if you don’t speak the language, don’t know what building materials are available and have never remodeled a house before. What are the steps for hiring a contractor to do your remodel without running into all kinds of trouble?

It is not always possible to get a bid from a contractor for a remodeling job before you make an offer on a house for sale. You might have to get just one or two estimates to get a general idea of how to negotiate the price of the home with the seller. Discuss with your real estate agent how to tackle this issue before you negotiate a price that is too high, as you could end up spending too much money on the remodeling that you might never recover.

In Costa Rica we do not have a Better Business Bureau, and HomeAdvisor and Houzz do not include contractors in Costa Rica on their list of over 500,000 contractors.

In Costa Rica, most contractors do everything and do not specialize in certain areas. So it is not only a matter of just hiring a contractor who promises to deliver a good job, it is necessary to make sure to find a contractor in Costa Rica that will use the right subcontractors to get the job done to your standards and taste. For that reason, I propose 11 smart steps for hiring a contractor in Costa Rica:

1. Make a list of renovations

Before you purchase the home that you fell in love with, make a detailed list of renovations that you would like to accomplish.

2. Get a home inspection

Hire a home inspector to do not only a general homenspection but to dedicate a separate section of his report to your detailed list and determine if those renovations are possible without the risk of running into major problems.

3. Get recommendations

Ask your home inspector, your real estate agent, your lawyer and everyone you know for recommendations on contractors that have done renovations like those you are looking for. Ask around on Facebook.

Find out which contractor in Costa Rica is qualified to remodel a house to your standards. Not all contractors in Costa Rica will understand what you are looking for, as their standards may be different from yours.

4. Interview candidates

Meet face to face and interview the contractors that come with great recommendations. See which ones show up on time, determine if you can communicate well, and get a feel for whether you could get along well.

Ask how many projects they work on at the same time, how many employees they have, or whether they work with subcontractors for each specialty. Ask for a list of previous clients and financial references. This will give you a good idea of those you will be able to work with well and those you won’t.

5. Don’t change anything on your list

Stick to your original list of renovations, so that every contractor can come up with the same quote. Make sure your list carries all sizes and types of material, brand names, etc., so you won’t end up with different results.

6. Questions to ask

When you ask the contractors you think are best for the job to make a bid on your project, ask them to include the following:

  • Please itemize the bid as follows:
    1. — Demolition and hauling trash
    2. — Walls, floors & ceilings in concrete and drywall
    3. — Tiling
    4. — Plumbing
    5. — Electrical work
    6. — Painting
    7. — Materials used
  • Is the bid fixed or an estimate?
  • Who are your suppliers?
  • Can you give references and illustrate past remodeling jobs done?
  • Can I meet your foreman?
  • Depending on the size of the project: Would you get permits from the municipal engineering department for the remodel?

7. Dealing with extras

If, during the project, any changes, upgrades, additions or extras come up, treat them as a separate stage and budget them separately from the original contract.

8. When to start

Ask each contractor when they are able to start on your project and how long it will take to finish.

9. The down payment

Expect to pay 10 to 20 percent down to get started. If a contractor in Costa Rica asks for 50 percent down, see it as a red flag. Costa Rican contractors usually do not have any working capital and will work with your money. So it is important to make payments in stages and never pay more than necessary.

Oblige a contractor to always finish one stage before going to the next one. If you don’t, before you know it, you’ll be over your head and end up with unfinished projects everywhere when the money is spent. ALWAYS leave 10 to 20 percent to be paid to the contractor when the whole job is finished, for obvious reasons.

10. Make a decision on hiring a contractor in Costa Rica

You will see that most bids will come out totally different one from the other. Do NOT necessarily hire the contractor with the lowest bid. Make sure to follow up on the references given by each contractor. Call their clients and if possible review the work done in person if their clients will allow it. Double-check whether any shortcuts were taken on any of the bids.

11. Prepare a contract

Depending on the size of the remodeling project, ask your attorney to draw up a contract for hiring a contractor. Be as detailed as possible; include start and completion dates, the detailed projected cost offered in the bid, the payment schedule and details of the materials to be used.

Do not forget to include the requirement that the contractor you hire obtains lien releases (which protect you if he doesn’t pay his bills) from all subcontractors, suppliers, and tax and insurance authorities.

If you follow these 11 steps for hiring a contractor in Costa Rica, you should be able to finish your project without any major setbacks. I wish you a happy remodel.

Ivo Henfling is a Dutch national, a resident of Costa Rica since 1980 and a Costa Rican real estate broker for over 20 years. He is the founder of GoDutch Realty, which covers several locations in the Central Valley, including Escazú, Santa Ana, Atenas, Cariari and Grecia. Contact Ivo at (506) 2289-5125 / 8834-4515 or at


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