The Fifteen Critical Questions You Should Ask

An educated buyer is a happy owner. The answers to the questions below should be an important part of your property selection process. There are no "right" or "wrong" answers, but we’ve found that the things people take for granted or assume are standards in North America, may not be in Nicaragua.

Much of the world outside North America and Europe are the land of "Buyer Beware." Be sure you know the answers to the following questions and make a conscious decision about what levels of creature comforts are mandatory and which may be optional.

1. Is there year around access to the area and what is the drive time from the airport? Not all roads are accessible year around in the region. Maintenance and proximity to service are very important. The key factor is the time to reach the destination not the miles.

2. Is there building requirement? What kind of construction and design standards are in place and enforceable? Zoning is almost inexistent in Latin America. If you want to live in a community and have neighbors, be sure that there is a requirement that property owners build a home in order to avoid living in a “ghost town.” Know what deed restrictions are in place or you may be unpleasantly surprised by a neighbor whose tastes are radically different than yours.

3. Does the current infrastructure include high speed Internet, fiber optic network, underground electricity, paved streets, sidewalks and storms drainage systems? Do not take for granted paved roads, street lights or state of the art telecommunications. If these are not in place, they might never be. Rarely, if ever does, the government or utility company provides these services. If “it’s coming” verify that the developer has the funds to meet his promises. Buy what you see when it comes to infrastructure and amenities! Be sure that the prices are indicative of existing reality.

4. How will you build your home from thousands of miles away? Who can oversee the construction of the home, and what is included? Look for projects that show homes as examples of what you will actually receive. What are the written specifications? Who is going to validate these specs as the home is constructed? Have they wired property for 220v water heaters and air-conditioners, are there hot water lines to the sinks and showers? Are lights, fans, faucets and fixtures included in the price? Are appliances and AC units included? Is there a dryer vent or a water line to the fridge? How about the telephone and cable TV wires? All of these things we assume as North Americans. Verify and assume nothing.

5. Is the Development Company financially solid and do they have a record of success? Is financing available for Property Ownership? Buying a property in a foreign country is like getting married. You should know well who you are marrying. Hopefully the developer will be around for many years and, if so, you want to be sure you are comfortable with the long term association. In addition because financing is rare in the region, the developer should provide a form of financing as a buyer’s option.

6. What about safety and security access? 24/7 security should be provided at any public entrance with cooperating backup from local and national police.

7. What about health care? How far is it to major medical care? How long in dry season, how long in rainy season? Major medical care is critical. Most major Latin American cities have state-of-the-art hospitals. In fact, in many cases these facilities can eclipse regional US hospitals with newer more modern equipment approved for use by the Europeans but not yet passed by the FDA. Be sure to visit the medical facilities as part of your due diligence process. Remember too, it is not how many miles to a major medical facility, but how many minutes by car in both the wet and dry seasons that really counts.

8. Are there amenities under construction for use by owners and visitors? “Buy what you see” should be the basis for 90% of your due diligence evaluation. Funding for promised infrastructure, amenities and services should be verified. But knowing and agreeing with the vision of a project is important too. Be sure that the developer’s long term plans align with your goals and desires as a homeowner in that project.

9. What kind of title guarantee can be provided and how the title relates to coastal laws regulations? If you can’t get title insurance, you should seriously reconsider the purchase. There are no legitimate reasons you should not be able to get this protection from a major company like First American or Stewart.

10. Are there state-of-the-art telecommunications or fiber optics for fast and reliable worldwide communications? In a time where we take internet and phone service for granted, understand the reality of telecommunications infrastructure. How is the phone service provided? Can you get the bandwidth on the internet you need? Is the service flexible and expandable to grow with the future needs?

11. Is there enough fresh water and water pressure? Water pressure must be planned for and paid for. Either the developer has planned and paid for this part of the infrastructure or the lot owner will bear this cost with the addition of storage tanks and pressurizing systems. If you are considering an existing home or condominium, turn on all the faucets, inside and out, the showers, and then flush the toilets. Is there sufficient pressure?

12. Is the house plumbed with hot water? Not a silly question. Look under the sinks to see if there is hot and cold service. In many cases, a splitter is used from the cold service to provide water to both faucets. If you are having a home built, be sure to triple check the plans for a hot and cold service to all bathrooms and fixtures.

13. Is there a central sewer system? If not, property owners will be responsible for paying for and installing septic systems. If septic is the provided solution, request to see a copy of a “perk test.” Many soils of Latin America are heavy clay. Lot owners may be forced to install expensive systems to meet environmental codes.

14. What about the Home Owner’s Association? Are the fees high enough to cover maintenance of existing and planned infrastructure? Yes, high enough. You should worry about low fees. Fees that are set too low equate to expected surprise assessments in the future and/or a drastic rise in HOA fees when the true costs of maintenance are carried by property owners.

15. What about green belts, common areas and sustainability programs? If public spaces are important to you, be sure they exist in the master plan. Remember too that there needs to be a plan and sufficient resources for the care and maintenance of these areas. Does the developer have a positive relationship with the local communities and authorities? Does the developer have programs to educate and improve the socio-economic conditions of the local community and the environment?