TIPS FOR YOUR PROJECTS
Advice before you buy a property in Cozumel
Be sure that the house you desire can be built on that property you have your eyes on. It doesn't matter where it is located there are construction regulations for city planning called "Plan Director de Desarrollo Urbano". One ordinance of this group of regulations, called "coeficiente de ocupacion del suelo" or "COS" indicates the amount of square meters you can build on that property. The most generous part of this ordinance indicates you can occupy only 70% of the property. This means that if the property you are interested has a surface of 200 square meters, you will only be able to build up to a 140 square meter house (1506 sq. ft.). The other 30% should be left as uncovered area (car port, garden, patio, etc.). Another ordinance indicates a 50% or even 40% occupancy depending on the zone where the property is located. So, if you are planning to build a big house, make sure the property is large enough in size to build your home.
Another important ordinance is the one that controls the density of construction called "Coeficiente de utilizacion del suelo" or "CUS". This determines the amount of total square meters you are allowed to build on that property. Again, depending on the location of the property, you are indicated to build up to 2, 1.5, 1.3 or 1.2 times the size of your property. Let's say again that you are interested in that nice 200 square meter property, and the "CUS" in that area indicates you can only build up to 2 times the surface of that property. This means your house could not exceed a total of 400 square meters (4305 sq. ft.). Now, do not get confused: "COS" is the surface of the property to be used or occupied. "CUS" is the total of square meters you can build on that property. You can always build a two or three level house but if you are thinking about a nice, large one level Mexican ranch style home, that is another story..
Be aware that what you have for granted in your homeland, might become a big problem in Mexico. Please be sure that the property that you intend to buy has the possibility of being connected to the electric power line. It is not enough just to take a glance at the wires hanging on top of the property. They might not have enough voltage to service your home, and maybe less after all the air conditioning, washer-dryer and appliances you will install. Or, on the contrary, the lines you see hanging there might be only high voltage lines.... then be prepared to buy an electric transformer to lower the voltage for your home. This could mean as much as another $5,000 or $6,000 investment. And who knows, the lines could be hanging so near your property that when you build that nice second level, your main balcony is only 2 inches away from that high-tension line. I bet your sales agent told you the electric company would change the wires next month...(ever heard of "Mexican time"?) Many streets on the island are practically new and were never considered in the sewer and water program many years ago. Do you have the possibility to connect to the water and sewer line and how is this proven to you? Please be sure the nearest line is not one or two blocks away. .. or else be prepared for additional, costly expenses of having to dig a 300 to 400 ft. trench with jackhammers, install piping and connect to the city line. The point is, make sure you have asked the right questions and researched the answer completely.
An environmental law named "Programa de Ordenamiento Ecologico Territorial" shortly called the "POET" was approved on May 21st, 2002. This law establishes environmental restrictions on several protected areas of the island, specifically the Center, South, and East part of it and all beach areas. So, if someone says you can build a CONDOMIUM on the East side of the Island BE AWARE! If you are planning to buy an oceanfront or a jungle lot, first consult what type of restrictions you need to meet before building. An environmental study prepared by a Biologist or an Environmental Consultant is always required in the restricted areas. Remember: The project must be approved first by the Environmental Department in order to get the permit from the Local Building Department. The POET protects endangered vegetation species such as mangroves, certain palm trees and several jungle bushes. It also protects the natural water bed from contamination as well as an indiscriminate cutting of the jungle. When a developer tries to sell you acres of jungle land telling you that you can develop huge gardens or golf courses like the existing in Puerto Aventuras, BE AWARE! . It would seem much wiser to pay $400 pesos for consultation with an expert in the field, than to withdraw $80 thousand dollars for useless property.
Buying Property on the East Coast of the Island - If you are looking for isolated property and you have been offered a good deal for those beautiful beachfront lots on the East Side of the Island of Cozumel, be aware that all our East Coast is an environmentally high-protected area. PLEASE: Don't fall in the hands of scammers that say you can build condominiums and large beach homes there. According to the POET, which is the density, surface occupation and height restrictive ordinance, along all the East Coast you can build only one "ecological cabin" per hectare with the following restrictions:
Materials: 70% of the raw materials used on construction must be of natural resources (local or imported) such as wood, clay, stone, in its natural state.
Electricity: Alternative energy sources such as wind or solar systems for electricity must be proposed and submitted to the Environmental Department.
Water: Rainwater must be collected and stored to serve the installations in the ecological cabin. Wells for water sources cannot be drilled, as the ground water table is part of the city reservoir.
Sewer: Wastewater treatment plants must be installed. No septic tanks allowed.
So, if you wish to buy property and build, always be aware before you buy. Ask questions, and only until you have checked and certified the given information is true, will you safely be able to enjoy your investment.
BE AWARE AND BE CAREFUL
Be aware that in Mexico, as in all countries, you may find swindlers of all types. Some may even be highly recommend by real estate agents who have made a great many promises. Others may be your same compatriots taking advantage of their language and race affinity with you. They may promise you all sorts of things that may not be true, such as "they will hook up electricity to your property next week." Be aware, and Be careful!
KNOW BEFORE YOU BUILD
If you wish to build and are looking for a builder, these are things you should know or should ask about. Even if you think you have found the perfect builder, take these steps to protect yourself.
VISIT HIS OFFICE OR WAREHOUSE
By visiting his office or warehouse, you will be able to see how serious his business is. It is easier for a one-two person company to flee with your money than an established company with 5-10 employees, machinery and equipment. Do not be impressed by the 20-30 masonry workers he boasts about. Construction workers are nomadic people and they often work for different companies and on different work sites. When you are in his office, look around and ask yourself this question: Does he have sufficient financial backing? Is the office a leased space or does he own the property?
ASK FOR HIS UNIVERSIY TITLE
An Architect (Arquitecto) or Engineer (Ingeniero) are titles that National or State Universities provide and are called "Titulo Universitario" (College Degree). They show that the person has completed their training and has the knowledge to design, build and do the necessary calculations for all types of projects. If the builder you met is not able to show his Title, it could mean the highest grade he achieved is Junior High School. Believe me, this is an everyday fact in Mexico. Any professional is proud to show his University Title as it represents his effort to achieve an intellectual and social status. Do not be impressed by the dozens of beautiful Diplomas he has hanging behind his desk. A Diploma is a short course related to a certain field but has no comparison with the value of a College Degree. It is very likely, if he posses a University Title you will find it hanging on the wall behind his desk.
ASK FOR HIS LICENSE TO PRACTICE
Having an Engineering University Title (Architect or Engineer) will show you that a person has the training and knowledge to design and build, but it does not mean he has the legal permission to practice. In Mexico, a "Cedula Profesional" is provided by the Secretary of Public Education (Secretaria de Educacion Publica), which is the highest authority of all the universities of the country. It is given only to those professionals that are worthy to possess a LICENCE TO PRACTICE. It could be that your ideal builder does not possess a Cedula Profesional because the authorities have never given him one or worse: they took his License to Practice away from him and you might not know it.
ASK FOR HIS MUNICIPAL EXPERT REGISTRATION
The Municipal Government provides "Registro Municipal" to a professional expert known as a "Perito" or "DRO". It is given to those professionals that have achieved experience and who stand out in the field in this particular town, and they are the only ones that can authorize your project in order to obtain your building permit. If your blueprints are not signed, authorized and stamped by a "Perito", the building department will not accept them. Currently there are only twenty registered "Peritos" on Cozumel, so if your builder is not a "Perito", he will have to hire one, and he will add that extra charge to your costs.
Tell your Builder you will Expect to see Receipst for Workers Taxes, These taxes are Social Security, Infonavit and 5% labour-employer share that are to be paid when hiring construction workers. For your protection, make certain the builder knows you understand about these taxes, and you will want to see the receipts. Once a building is finished, the government can ask the homeowner, not the builder, to prove these taxes were paid. After a certain length of time, if payment is not proven, the government has the right to seize the property to force the owner to pay the taxes.
Cozumel is full of happy ending stories, but like everywhere else it holds some true nightmares, and those who wrongly trusted others are witness of my words. Horror stories have been told by nice people that have come to me to finish their homes after the "builder" they hired stopped construction, even after being paid all of the money. Some of these "scammers" were even referred by real estate agents or they have promised to build a better home for a lower price. The only thing many of them build are larger bank accounts for themselves. They leave owners with poorly constructed, half finished homes and problems that will cost a great deal on money to correct while they wait for the next victim. There is a saying in Mexico "Lo barato sale caro" which means "The cheap turns out expensive", or for better understanding: "Paying peanuts, receiving monkeys.." Don't fall for the lower price game. Pay what is fair and receive quality services. You deserve it.
Everyone asks how much should be paid for professional fees and how much does construction will cost. Here is useful information for those interested.
Each project is designed according to the clients needs, based on the premise that each person is a unique entity and different from the others, has his own taste and consequently, his own needs. A few meetings are necessary to determine number and size of bedrooms, location of specific areas, style, and so on. A professional designer's fee -Architect or Engineer- is 1% to 2% of construction cost. The percentage will depend on the experience and preparation of the professional.
Let us say your project will have an estimated cost of 150 thousand dollars, then the project -including design, structural calculations and building blueprints will have a cost of between 1,500 and 3,000 dollars. The cost is determined in the first meetings, never after the project is finished. As the difficulty of the design increases, the fees will also increase. For example, a design with a double height ceiling with an interior over hanged balcony and large spans between columns will cost more than a conventional distribution. A complete project shall always contain the following blueprints and information:
Floor Layouts. Including first, second or third floor if exists. Foundation Layout.
Structure Layout. Including first, second or third floor if exists.
Hydraulic Installation Layout.
Sanitary Installation Layout.
Electric Installation Layout.
Gas installation Layout.
Aerial view of project.
Location of project.
Construction details such as Staircase Ramp, Sanitary Drop Boxes, Septic Tanks (when needed) Foundation, Beams, Columns, Slabs.
Elevations. Showing heights, axis and dimensions of all Facades.
Sections. Showing heights, axis and dimensions of all interior details.
Structural Mathematic Calculation. This is an analytical and mathematical process that determines size, characteristic and dimension of the structural elements of the project. Remember that Concrete Structural Elements are not a guess and one cannot find them in charts. They are a result of a Calculation where the sums of loads are carried through mathematical formulas to obtain sections of beams and columns as well as their steel reinforcement.
Three dimension drawings are often part of an added cost. It will depend very much on the artist that creates them. Average cost would be 150 - 180 dollars for one very good quality presentation. If you receive an offer of a set of Blueprints for 0.5% -for example- of construction cost BE AWARE, a scam might be in process. Either you met a "wanna be" architect or you will not receive what is needed to submit for your building permit.
To obtain a building permit, blueprints with the above-mentioned specifications will be required. Also paperwork must be delivered along with 5 copies of the complete set of Blueprints. The following is the amount of requirements needed to submit for a Building Permit:
Application signed by owner and by Expert Construction Surveyor. (An Expert Construction Surveyor is a member of the Architect or Engineer Bar, experienced in the construction field and authorized by the Municipal Government to supervise the process of the Building Permit Paperwork. In Mexico he is called a "Perito Responsible", "Director Responsable de Obra" or simply "DRO". Without his signature and authorization it is useless to apply for a Building Permit).
5 Copies of blueprints signed by Expert Construction Surveyor.
When exceeding 2152 sq ft. A Construction Log Book signed by Expert Construction Surveyor and by owner.
Copy of receipt from the local Architects or Engineers bar of which the Expert Construction Surveyor is member.
Property Deeds (called "escrituras"), or Trust (called "Fideicomiso"), or Sales Contract (called "Contrato de Compraventa"), or Rental Contract (called "Contrato de Renta").
Copy of Land Tax receipt. (Present year, not last year's receipt).
Copy of Cedula Catastral. Issued by the Land Department.
Copy of the Water Bill or No Service Record issued by the Water Department.
Copy of Structural Mathematic Calculation signed by Structural Mathematic Surveyor and by Expert Construction Surveyor.
Copy of Environmental Permit -when required-
Copy of Federal Zone Permit -when required-
If owner is not present to sign paperwork then a Power of Attorney will be necessary to allow a third person to sign for him. The cost of the building permit will vary depending on the location of the lot, size and type of home, but an average cost to be taken in consideration would be approximately 60 cents of a dollar per square feet.
There are several issues that can impact in different ways the cost of construction. Location and Conditions of the property are two very important ones.
If the property is out of town, material distributors charge an extra fee for delivering to the job site, and also if there does not exist a bus transportation system out of town, working crews must be taken and brought every day. Workers demand a salary increase (minimum perhaps but increase at last) as they are forced to buy food from the different vendors that arrive to the sites out of town. They claim if they work in town, they could go home at lunchtime and eat, which does not represent an extra cost. It is not the same to transport materials and workers within the skirts of town than to do it to San Francisco Beach.
CONDITIONS OF PROPERTY
There are lots that need less investment than others, for instance, buying in a mangrove area increases construction costs maybe 40 or 50% as environmental studies need to be done as well as special environmental permits. Also a wastewater treatment plant is needed instead of a conventional septic tank or even better: instead of connecting to the city sewer line. As mangrove water is salty you might need to install an Inverse Osmosis water plant for potable water. If the property is far enough from the electric lines you might need to bring in the lines toward the property including poles and accessories. If the existing line is high tension you might need to buy a transformer to lower the voltage. This sometimes happens in town as well as out of it. The property could be deep enough to make you invest -let's say bury- your money in fill. Be aware of what you buy and when you buy it. Rainy season can flood the whole area so filling many times is necessary to bring your home above the street level.
STRAIGHT TO THE POINT AND TALKING ABOUT MONEY
Let's say your property is located in town and with no negative conditions. An AVERAGE CONSTRUCTION COST would be between 12,000.00 to 12,500.00 pesos per square meter, (60 to 63 dollars per square feet at 12.50 pesos per dollar exchange rate) of COVERED SURFACE which includes a totally finished house: foundation, structure, wall and ceiling finishing, tiling, carpentry on doors, closets, kitchen cabinetry, bathroom cabinetry, aluminium windows and slide doors, mosquito screens, air conditioning, fans, lamps, pumps, water heater, connection to the municipal sewer system, paint, door bell, door knobs. 100% finished and ready to move in.
The term "average construction cost" is referred as an approximate cost which could vary depending on the specifications of the desired project, for example type of lamps, faucets, finishing's, type of tile, etc..
By "covered surface" we understand as all surfaces covered by a roof. Swimming pools are considered as covered surfaces as they actually are inverted structures. So then, obviously gardening such as Palm trees, Bushes, Flowers, Grass, Soil, Walkways, Sidewalks, Tennis courts are not covered surfaces therefore represent an extra cost. Remember: Landscaping is determined according to size of land and characteristics of the landscaping itself such as grass, bushes, flowers, palm trees, coconuts etc..
Sidewalks are another issue. All sidewalks and street curbs in town are part of each Municipal Administration infrastructure projects however, you might not want to be willing to wait years till the sidewalk in front of your house is built or repaired by the Municipal Government. You might want to add this cost to your project as according our previous paragraph, it is not "covered surface".
In order to know exactly how much a specific home will cost, a set of blueprints containing all the details and dimensions are necessary to make a complete breakdown and calculate an accurate price. So if the person you have hired hands you one or two legal size sheets of paper saying it is your blueprint or one letter size sheet saying it is your estimate, do not trust him.
In Mexico as in other Countries, Construction field is not a market where you can bargain the price like when purchasing souvenirs. Material prices are established by the Global and National Economy Marketing and Labour fees by Unions. When you ask a builder to cut prices, you might unconsciously be asking to cut quality. By paying fair prices you will receive fair services and you will also be helping our local economy. Remember: the time when glass necklaces were exchanged for golden bracelets ended 200 years ago.