A practical guide to building your dream home in La Paz, BCS
A beachfront villa overlooking the Sea of Cortez.
A hilltop home with panoramic ocean views.
A simple bungalow with a rooftop sunset deck.
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: a good local realtor, the right location, a reputable builder, and a detailed plan.
Local Knowledge is Key
Building your dream home in Baja starts with choosing the right location. How do you know which location is right for you? Start by working with an experienced, local real estate agent who is knowledgeable in the area where you want to live. They key to finding the right agent: local knowledge. Your agent should ideally live in the area where you want to buy, and will have lots of local knowledge about the properties for sale there, their history and inside details about the surrounding neighborhood.
There is a big difference between touring a property with an agent who is unfamiliar with the area, and one who lives nearby and is friendly with the neighbors. Your agent can tell you not just about the lots currently available for sale, but about other properties nearby that have recently sold and possibly even some properties that have yet to be listed for sale. They will be familiar with any building challenges for that particular neighborhood as well as any construction restrictions, the availability of water and electric services, Internet services, HOA rules, zoning rules, and other factors that can impact the building process and cost of your new home. If you’re lucky, they will also clue you into nearby amenities, shopping options, favorite local restaurants and more.
Where Should I Build?
There are several small, friendly communities just minutes from downtown La Paz that offer friendly, affordable living options. You can get more details on the different La Paz communities on our web site here. The El Centenario area and its communities are growing in popularity with expats due to its mix of spacious, affordable properties, quiet country living, friendly neighbors and convenience to major shopping. Unlike tourist hot spots such as Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta, El Centenario offers its residents a chance to live like a local without the high prices, noise and tourist distractions of more well-known destinations.
If you are looking in the El Centenario area, here are a few communities that are popular with expats:
- Lomas del Centenario: A community of homes in the hills above Highway 1 on the opposite side from La Paz bay. There are plenty of custom-built homes and lots available for sale here, and few restrictions on what you can build. Lots tend to be around 1/3 of an acre, and range anywhere from around $25,000 to $60,000 or more, depending on the view.
- Haciendas Palo Verde: El Centenario’s premier gated community features 24/7 guarded access, paved roads, buried utilities, and beautiful custom homes. The community is around 40% built out with homes, and the remaining lots are mostly resales by private owners. Lots are typically around 1/3 of an acre and range from $35,000 to over $70,000, depending on the location and view.
- Vista Colinas: This is a small enclave of single family homes with ocean views being built now just outside of Haciendas Palo Verde in El Centenario. The lots are smaller at around 1/6 of an acre, and are intended to be low maintenance, similar to condos, but with no shared walls or HOA costs. The neighborhood is fenced with a single access entry and paved internal road, and there are several different 2 and 3 bedroom floor plans available for construction. Finished prices for the homes, including the lot, start at $128,900.
- Ampliacion El Centenario (on either side of the highway): Here you can build on a flat lot and eliminate many of the costs and considerations of a beachfront or hillside lot. New construction 2 and 3 BR homes with rooftop decks with ocean views are available here for as low as $58,000. Lots can be purchased starting in the low $20,000s and up.
- El Comitan: A small beach community with sand roads located on the inner part of the Bay of La Paz. Unless you are purchasing a beachfront lot, you’ll likely need to build a 2 or 3-story home to take advantage of the views. Lots here range from $25,000 to more than $50,000 depending on the size and proximity to the water.
Of course, there are plenty of other options both closer into downtown La Paz, and further away from town and even off grid. Your agent will work with you to show you homes that fit your desired location and budget, or refer you to one who is knowledgeable with the area you are interested in seeing.
Which Lot Should I Choose?
Let’s be honest: most of us have a pretty good idea of what our dream home looks like. However, choosing the right lot for your dream home can be challenging. Your agent can help educate you about the advantages and challenges of a particular location. For example:
Beachfront Property: Do you dream of a beachfront property, where you can walk out your back yard onto the sand anytime you want? You can absolutely find that here in El Centenario. However, it’s important to note that a beachfront property will likely be more expensive than comparable lots with views further from the water. Beachfront homes also require more frequent upkeep and maintenance from the effects of the salt air. And, because all beaches in Mexico are public, new owners are sometimes surprised that anyone can come and use the beach in front of your property at any time, and even camp overnight. If noise and privacy are concerns, beachfront living may not be the best choice for you.
A Hillside Lot with Ocean Views: If you don’t want to be right on the beach, but still want those sweeping ocean views, purchasing a property a bit further up in the hills may be a great choice. Here, your choice of lot can have a big impact on your build budget. For example, depending on the slope of the lot, you may need to allocate 10-20% (or more) of your budget to a retaining wall to make sure your house stays securely in place. Your builder will also work with you to help you orient the house to take advantage of the views and account for airflow, natural water runoff, sun exposure and privacy considerations.
A Flat Lot Close to the Ocean: Building on a nice, flat lot close to the beach can be a great way to save money and still get a great view of the ocean. A flat building site means you will save you considerable costs on retaining walls. And, you can still get a great view by adding a second story or a rooftop sunset deck. Depending on the lot and location, a flat lot location gives you plenty of flexible options for the kind of home you can build. In El Centenario and El Comitan there are several areas where it is possible to build a home on a flat lot just steps from the beach, without paying the premium for beachfront property.
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 some homes they have built. A good local builder should have built homes in your chosen neighborhood and be familiar with the requirements for building there. Again, your agent should be able to refer you to a trusted builder who can help you understand the advantages and challenges of building on the lot you have chosen.
Be sure to ask for references and ask lots of questions. Some builders are also the architect, or can refer you to one to help you design your dream home. It’s not a good idea to hire an architect in the US or Canada who doesn’t understand the requirements or challenges of building in Baja. Some of the materials frequently used in the US or Canada are not easily available here. A local builder will help you choose the right design, orientation, and construction materials for your home site, based on the availability and cost of materials.
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 you have a reasonable timeline is to work with your builder 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 can 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?
Most builders will ask for an initial deposit up front to begin construction, with additional payments scheduled as specific milestones in the build process are completed and approved. Again, the total cost depends on your home’s design, location and construction requirements, such as HOA design approvals. A basic home on a flat lot typically starts around $80-90 USD/ft2, and a custom home on a hill can range from $100-120/ft2 or more depending on your choice of finishes, any changes you make along the way, and the lot slope. Your builder will work with you to design the home and give you a detailed budget. It’s a good rule of thumb to build in 10-20% of your budget for unforeseen expenses, such as that upgraded granite or tile 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.