San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Meet the Builders: Finding an Architect in Costa Rica

You’ve found the plot of land of your dreams in tropical paradise, and you want to build on it. You’ve likely got at least an idea of what you want in your head, maybe even the drawings, and now you need an architect to make this dream into a reality.

There are a few different ways to get the process of selecting an architect started. One option is to get a recommendation from a friend or family member who’s already dealt with an architect, said Erik Reise, an architect with CatHouse Studio in the western San José neighborhood of Rohrmoser (291-5911). Word-of-mouth advertising is common, Reise said, and is how he gets many of his clients. Or, you can get a complete list of all licensed and registered architects in the country from the Federated Association of Engineers and Architects (CFIA, 202-3940,

“This is usually the best option, since all architects have to be registered by the (association) to practice in Costa Rica,” said architect Vicky Adis of Adis Arquitectura in the western suburb of Escazú (288-0187). “Later, when you go to get the permits, they will require your blueprints to be signed by a registered architect.”

If one of your first contacts in Costa Rica is a real estate agent, you can obtain a list of architects with whom the agents regularly work. This can be a good option as the agents can usually give recommendations, Reise said.

“In our work, everything goes by recommendations, so really the worst thing is to have an angry client,” Adis agreed.

Once you’ve decided on an architect, the next step is negotiating fees. The CFIA sets minimum fees for architects’ services (see box), though some charge more.

Then come the blueprints.

“Getting the drawings and blueprints will take about four months,” Reise said. “Once you have those, you need to get all the necessary permits, which will take at least another six weeks. Then you can start the construction, which for, say, a 300-square-meter house will take at least 11 to 12 months.”

If the client brings his own drawings with him from his home country, a challenge can arise for the architect in translating them.

Ramón Pendones of architecture firm Ossenbach, Pendones y Bonilla in San José (253-6596, said one of the primary challenges for both architects and clients is speaking the same language regarding the building plans.

“Usually (foreigners) come down here with a (house) design that they had an architect back home draw up,” Pendones said.

“People can waste their money if they come down here with their (drawing) documents, because they need to be adapted and revised when they get here.”

“If they bring their own drawings, they will have to hire an architect to put them into Spanish and into meters as well,”Adis agreed.

The drawing, or in this case redrawing, of plans will cost a minimum fee set by the CFIA of at least 6% of the estimated value of the house. So, if your house has been valued at $100,000, you should expect to pay at least $6,000 for the additional drawings (see breakout box for a complete list of minimum fees the client must pay to the architect.)

Adis recommends looking into the environmental situation of the property before buying, stressing the importance of making sure you’ll be able to receive both water and electricity to the plot of land on which you want to build.

“I would advise that your architect talk with an environmental specialist for compliance.

SETENA (Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry) has a list of environmental specialists,” she said.

“I had a guy in Escazú who bought property without any water,” Adis added, explaining that it took him a good deal of time to resell.

Once the project is under way, the architect should visit the site at least once per month to monitor the project’s progress and make sure the construction meets the specifics of the design plans. How often the architect visits the site depends on the size of the project and what the need is, Adis said.

Minimum Architect Fees

The following architect fee information is set by the Federated Association of Engineers and Architects (CFIA). The percentages shown represent the minimum charged by the architect based on the estimated value of the house, which the client negotiates with the architect.

In total, the fees the client will have to pay to the architect can range from 10.5-18% of the value of the house.

Phase 1: Construction Plans and Permits

Preliminary Studies: 0.5%

Pre-project Design: 1-1.5%. The architect meets with client to discuss construction requirements.

Construction Plans and Technical

Specifications: 4%, including site plan, drainage, electrical design, sanitary design, etc.

Budgeting: 0.5% for overall budgeting; 1% for itemized budgeting.


Comments are closed.