Building vs. Buying: When to Buy vs. When to Build

Build or Buy a House in Costa Rica title photo

What’s the difference between a house and a home? In my experience, home is where the heart is but also, our hearts are rooted in home! It’s both a beautiful symbiosis and an incredibly important consideration, as you move forward in your research on whether to build or buy a house in Costa Rica.

So, what do I mean by that? Well, at its most simple, this decision of whether to build or buy comes down to you: When you walk into that “perfect” house – you know the one, it ticks all your checklist boxes – can you picture it as your home? If not (but almost), can you envision the changes and/or renovations required to make a home? Or is your vision of “home” so exact that you’d settle for nothing less than creating it from scratch? 

As I said, that’s a simplification. But it’s a true one. I’ve lived in many places and built many homes over the years (including over a dozen here in Costa Rica). And I’ve learned that “home” is important. It helps to ground us, especially when we move somewhere new. It creates comfort in a place where we feel safe and calm. And it is our true north – that one place that we can always retreat to. 

In fact, I may go so far as to say that finding “home” is perhaps the most important factor in your long-term success and staying power in Costa Rica. Because, while a house can check off wishlist boxes – number of bedrooms/bathrooms, location, amenities, proximity to schools/hospitals/fil-in-the-blank – only a home can provide the warmth, security, and sense of place that can ground you, even when you’re far from wherever you used to call home. 

“Should I Build or Buy a House in Costa Rica?”

Should I Build or Buy a House in Costa Rica

This really is a great question! Because, if you’re planning on living here, either part- or full-time, I know that you’re looking for that element of home. The question is, can you buy an existing house or do you need to build “home” from the ground up? 

The Build or Buy Litmus Test

Bear with me because this isn’t a perfect hack. But, before you move forward in your research, your answer may be as simple as a question for your realtor: 

“Can you find me a house that ticks all my boxes?”

In many cases, the answer is yes. Here in Guanacaste, where I currently serve my clients, we have a well-developed real estate offering, with a wide array of price ranges, home types, amenities, and so many other factors. 

But the truth is, the more specific your wishlist, the more challenging it is to tick off those boxes. So, my advice is always to start here: Talk with your realtor about your wishlist and have a frank discussion: Are your home type (condo, townhome, single-family home), configuration (bedrooms/bathrooms), architectural style (Spanish Colonial vs. modern contemporary, for example), location (including proximity to specific amenities), amenities (ocean views, infinity pool, etc.), a reasonable ask for our market? 

In other words, does your real estate agent believe they can provide a list of houses to visit that meet your stated needs? 

Here’s where that litmus test comes into play: If the answer is no – if, for example, you’re seeking a 5-bedroom, modern architectural gem with serious acreage (say, 5+ acres), ocean views, a cheese cave, and a wine cellar, no more than 5 minutes to your kids’ school – then the question of whether to build or buy a house in Costa Rica may already have an answer.

But first, do be sure to consider how many checkboxes are non-negotiable needs vs. wishlist wants. Because, in all honestly, building in Costa Rica has its pros and cons, so before you decide it’s your only option, you want to be sure.

If you determine that your wishlist is incompatible with current market offerings, you have your answer: you can join me and other intrepid homeowners in building your dream home in Costa Rica! 

But if your real estate agent is confident that your dream home may already be out there, then it’s time to move to the next step…

Before You Decide, See What’s Available

Before You Decide, See What’s Available

If you’re in the majority of buyers for whom your dream home may already exist, then I’d recommend scheduling appointments to see, in person, as many as appeal to you. 

This is where that “feeling of home” really comes into play: A house may be perfect on paper, but that doesn’t always mean it’ll feel like home. Case in point: I’m the broker and owner of Blue Water Properties of Costa Rica and ultimately, even I decided to build my dream home!

But from experience, I can also say that so many buyers find their dream home, already built! That’s the beauty of our diverse inventory of Costa Rica homes for sale: there’s so much available, across such a diverse range of locations, architectural styles, configurations, and other filters, that your next home could be out there!

So, before you decide whether to build or buy a house in Costa Rica, be sure that you’ve at least dipped into, if not fully exhausted your list of ready-built options. 

And Now, Build vs. Buy: The Pros & Cons

Build vs. Buy Pros Cons Costa Rica

If you’ve made it here are still both options, then you’re probably wondering about the pros and cons of each. 

Since I’ve done both – and by that, I mean personally, many times over! – I know a lot about the potholes and perks of building and buying in paradise. Here’s a quick overview: 

The Pros & Cons of Buying a Home

When it comes to whether you’d prefer to build or buy a house in Costa Rica, I cannot understand the advantage of readiness. There’s almost nothing in the world like falling in love with a house on Monday and knowing it’s yours on Tuesday. 

Beyond that, here are a few of the pros and cons to buying an already-constructed home: 


  • It’s Already Built. I know, this one seems obvious! But in a world where construction can take 6-15+ months to build a home, knowing that you can move in next week is a major advantage. 
  • It’s a Known Quantity. When you purchase a built property, your home inspection will clue you into any potential issues or problems you’ll face; there should be no surprises!


  • Inventory is Limited. Especially if you have a long or challenging wishlist! And what’s available (especially for tougher checklists) often sells quickly.
  • And it’s a Seller’s Market: While Guanacaste has a very diverse property portfolio, we’re currently a seller’s market. what’s available often sells

The Pros & Cons of Building a Home

Honestly, I could talk about building for hours! But if I have to boil it down to just a few takeaways, know that building a home provides the unparalleled potential to design and curate the home of your dreams. There’s a reason I ultimately chose to build my own family home!


  • It’s Exactly What You Want: In my experience, this is the #1 tipping point. If you have specific needs or wishes, then building may be the only way to fulfill them.


  • There’s a Learning Curve: Building in a foreign country will be more challenging than building back home, if only because you’ll experience new processes, procedures, and wait times. 
  • It Can Take 6-15+ Months: Depending on current construction processing times (permits, professional assessments, etc.), your chosen materials, supply chain efficiency, and other factors, building a home in 2023 typically falls into the 9-15+ month range.
  • It’s Often More Expensive: Building costs are up around the globe, and Costa Rica is no exception. 

For a more in-depth discussion of the pros and cons of whether to build or buy a house in Costa Rica, please see my post at Blue Water Properties. You can also review all my past posts on building in Costa Rica, sourced from both my personal and professional experience!

Still Wondering Whether to Build or Buy a House in Costa Rica?

Still Wondering Whether to Build or Buy a House in Costa Rica

I get it. This is a major decision – one that requires meticulous research, discussion, review, and consideration. Luckily, that’s something I have more than a lot of experience with!

Hi, I’m Rebecca Clower. (My friends call me Becky.) In 2006, I did what you’re either preparing to do or have already done: I followed my heart and moved to Costa Rica. 

Over the years, I’ve built over a dozen homes here. I’ve given birth to my two boys and raised them here in Costa Rica. I’ve founded a wildly successful business. I’ve been on TV. I’ve given back to my community. I’ve taken on major positions of responsibility and authority. I am a dual citizen and have completely integrated into Costa Rica and my community. I’ve strengthened my Costa Rican roots.

Along the way, I’ve become both a self-made and professional expert on building in Costa Rica.  And so, for years, I’ve also made it my job to help other people make their own decisions – and successful builds, if that’s how it shakes out! Bottom line: I offer real, honest advice and expertise to my clients. 

I promise not to sugarcoat the hard truths or gloss over the tough parts. I will tell you the whole truth, the full truth, and even the hard truths. I hope that you’ll find the beautiful truths to outweigh them all. So, sign up for updates, download my free eBook, check out my relocation services, and then, please get in touch. Let’s get started!

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