We have been asking around the island since April of last year, trying to narrow the list of builders. There are LOTS of stories about who to stay away from and what NOT to do. Things like, “don’t give anyone any money unless they need to start the next phase” and “don’t trust anyone to do what they say”. One gal even told us her friend had trusted someone to monitor their project while they returned to Canada. They later found out the person had taken pictures of someone else’s house and emailed them to her to get the next phase payments.
As Donald Sutherland says in Kelly’s Hero’s, “Always with the negative waves, Moriarty!”
On the flip side, there were 2 or 3 names that kept coming up who ARE trustworthy. But always with the caveat, “Expensive, but trustworthy”. The general consensus is that you end up paying the same if you monitor the project yourself, but it’s a matter of when it will get done, and how many builders you will go through before it’s complete.
We stay close with the positive folks, but we hear what the others are saying, too.
The other key here is how busy the builders are. When builders are busy, bid prices go up, just like everywhere on the planet. We’re looking for a builder that isn’t doing 7 other projects at the same time AND one that is truly interested in OUR project.
We selected two builders that are life-long San Pedranos and one from the US who’d made a name for himself on the island. We formally interviewed each of them, as formally as San Pedro allows! We had a list of questions:
- What are you working on right now and where is it?
- Can you give us a list of references for recently completed projects AND 10, 15 or 20 year old projects?
- How do you feel about us monitoring the project on a daily basis?
- How do you feel about using my own contract?
- If we started 2 weeks from now, when could you commit to having it done?
We kept the list short, and other things naturally come up in conversation. I like to let THEM talk. I learn a lot from letting them ramble to a certain extent. I also learn if I will be able to work with them long-term or not. I’m a relationship kind of guy, so I like learning about their family, what makes them tick and their interests outside of building.
Then the homework began. We drove around looking at several projects from each one and talked to customers who were recommended by the builder. We also talked to some references we found on our own. We’d meet someone at dinner and they’d mentioned they have a home here. A little digging and we found out who they worked with and the interview was on! We also just knocked on some doors or stopped and talked to people out in their yards. People are so friendly and just want to help other people who are like-minded.
We ruled out the US builder. Very expensive by his own admission, and his clients (surprisingly) weren’t raving fans – not bad mouthing, just not raving fans. We learned a lot from what was NOT said, too. We found it interesting that we got along better with the local builders right from the start.
The most highly recommended was Graniel’s Construction. His reputation for doing what he says and staying within budget was impressive. His is perhaps the largest company on the island and the busiest, too. He mentioned two or three projects under construction and a few more in the pipeline. His cabinet and wood shop supplies almost everyone on the island it seems. Several of his clients are raving fans and described him as more of a friend than a builder. It was obvious that relationships had been made!
Our other choice for builders is Omar Guerrero Construction. Omar is a Belize dart champion and a former mayor of San Pedro (late 80’s or early 90’s). He ran for councilor this time around – but his party lost to the powerfully entrenched incumbent around the first of March. Rumor has it, he may also be a former Comparsa dancer. (OK, that’s a rumor I just started, but I don’t think he’d mind!) Omar has a very loyal following as well. His reputation is that he finishes projects on time and likes to work only one project at a time. He also takes the time to travel with his clients to either the mainland (Spanish Lookout) or Mexico (Chetumal) to help get the best available materials.
Both contractors’ finished projects are impressive to say the least. Great bones, very nice tile work and beautiful cabinetry.
We gave the plans to Graniels and got the numbers back a week later. We then met with Marvin the next day to see where we could shrink the project – literally going back to the drawing board!!! We held off on giving them to Omar while we re-grouped.
Working with Marvin, we trimmed 1,040 ft of outdoor living space (on the roadside of building) and 312 ft of indoor space. We gave the revised plans back to Mr. Graniel. Sure glad we didn’t spring for that bottle of champagne – Ha Ha!
Some things that we learned:
- Good builders are easy to find on the island. It’s a small island and word travels fast – but DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
- With a good draftsman, an architect is not necessary, but a set of plans IS required to get a permit.
- All utilities aren’t available everywhere on the island – right, more homework! Backup water and power are a consideration.
- If you can you should put a well on your property. Even with bedrock down only 8-15 feet (seaside), there is potable water down there – but if nothing else, it can be used for landscaping, filling a pool or plumb it to showers and toilets.
And so, we wait.
To our surprise and delight, our real estate agent called us recently and told us that there is a buyer who wants our property. Great to know, but not looking to flip since it took us so long to find this one and location is EVERYTHING! Though it gives us a some much needed peace of mind!
Feel free to post a question or just stay tuned as we choose a builder! Thanks for reading and please keep those “positive waves” and prayers coming!