Building in Baja: A Practical Guide to Building your Dream Home in La Paz, BCS



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By Jim and Rebecca MacDonald

A hilltop home with panoramic ocean views.

A quiet bungalow just steps from the beach.

A remote, eco-friendly home powered by solar panels and rainwater.

Whatever your vision of a dream home looks like, chances are you can build it here in Baja. While there are definite differences in construction style and approval requirements, the process of building a home in Mexico is not that much different from building in the US or Canada. Some things that will help make your project a success include: the right location, a reputable builder, and a detailed plan.

Choosing the right location to build your dream home is the first step. Following are three options to consider, depending on your lifestyle needs.

Build in a Master Planned Community

Building any new home involves a lot of detailed planning and research. Choosing a lot in a master planned community can help take away some of the guesswork. For example, most planned communities have already subdivided the lots and have drawings of what the community will look like when it’s finished. Utilities and other services are usually obtained by the developer, saving you the trouble of finding out whether your lot has access to electricity, water, Internet service and so forth. Amenities like a community pool, clubhouse, and security may also be included.

Master planned communities may also offer a number of pre-planned models and floorplans, again making decisions easier. Others may allow you to build your own custom home, but require that you adhere to specific architectural and construction guidelines. This ensures the community retains its unique character. There may even be specific builders who are approved to build within the community, giving you additional confidence in the process.

If the community is a “privada,” or private community with restricted access, there will likely be a homeowner’s association (HOA) with rules and fees designed to keep the community secure and well-maintained. Read the bylaws and talk to the developer before you purchase your lot. If you can, try to meet some of the people who have already purchased and built homes in the community to learn what it’s like to build and live there.

Build on Your Own Private Lot

Looking for a home site with more flexibility and fewer restrictions? Building on your own private lot gives you the opportunity to build your dream home exactly as you envision it. Your real estate agent can help you choose a lot that’s right for the home you want to build, and the right builder can help you create a design that takes into account your lot’s elevation, slope, drainage, wind, and any protected species. Other things to consider: does the lot have access to local utility services? If not, can your lot be added to their service? Is there a clear title? Are there any zoning or environmental requirements that will affect what you can build? Your real estate agent can help you with that process, and will work with a real estate attorney and a notario to ensure you have clear and legal ownership of your lot.

Build “Off the Grid”

If your dream home involves solar panels, rain barrels and a garden full of produce, perhaps a more remote, eco-friendly option is right for you. While many areas along the coast are protected, there are several spots in Baja California Sur where it is possible to build your off-grid home with ocean views. If your chosen location doesn’t include electric service, you’ll likely use solar panels to power your home. There are several solar companies in Baja, and a good solar system with battery storage can run $8,000 to $10,000 US. You may also be able to arrange for water delivery to your home. The typical water truck carries 10,000 liters, so you’ll want to make sure your cistern (local water storage) is at least that size. Factor into your plan the costs of building a home in a remote location, including getting materials and construction crews out to your site. You may also want to consider hiring a full-time caretaker to watch your property (especially in remote areas) while you build.

Finding the Right Builder

As with any home building process, finding the right builder is critical to making sure the dream home you envision is the one that gets built. Before you begin construction, talk to several builders in the area and ask to see homes they have built. Be sure to ask for references, and ask lots of questions. An experienced builder will help you choose the right materials, design and construction for your home site. Most builders will ask for an initial deposit up front to begin construction, then additional payments scheduled as specific milestones in the build process are completed and approved.

How Long Will it Take?

The time it takes to build a new home depends on many factors, including the size and complexity of your home, your location, and how busy your builder is with other projects. The best way to be sure is to create a detailed plan and budget, and to try to stick to it. Your builder will need to submit your home plans to local authorities as well as to your HOA (if you are in a planned community) for approval. Once you have permits and approvals, construction may take anywhere from six to eighteen months, depending on your project. If you are not here during part or all of the construction, a good builder will provide plenty of photos and communicate often with you about the process.

How Much Will it Cost?

Again, this depends on your home’s design, location and construction requirements, such as HOA design approvals. A good rule of thumb is to build in 20-25% of your budget for unforeseen expenses, such as that upgraded granite you found that you simply must have!

Time to Get Started!

Building a home in Baja can be a fun, exciting process if you plan properly. Start by working with your local real estate agent to help you find your perfect home site. Find a trusted builder to execute your vision; your agent should be able to recommend at least one. With professional, local knowledge on your side, you will soon be on your way to building your dream home in Baja.

Jim and Rebecca MacDonald are real estate agents with Vista Properties and permanent residents living full time in La Paz, Baja California Sur. They offer a variety of buildable lots and home sites available for sale in communities throughout La Paz and the surrounding areas on their web site at www.vistapropertieslapaz.com.