I think its safe to say that building a house is a pretty big project. We’ve done it before but not quite like this! Last time, although it was a very big project for us at the time, it doesn’t even begin to compare to what we are preparing to do here. Not that we’re planning to build a great big, fancy house , but here in Panama there’s just so many things to consider, from actual building materials to labor laws, the installation of actual infrastructure (water & electricity), dealing with a different language and even getting a bank account established, we have so much to investigate and research not to mention tons of questions to ask (often in Spanish!). Our house building project in the States was a totally different experience but it has prepared us for many of the aspects of building and designing a home. I suspect much of the process will be familiar to us but much is already proving to be very new and different.
Some of the first steps we’ve taken in preparation for this big project are, first we have established a relationship with good attorney. This is a very important aspect for us in terms of dealing with employees, laborers and such. The laws here are, of course , very different than anything we ever experienced in the states when we built our home. The workers we had for our project did pretty much whatever Scott needed them to do, on any particular day. From gardening, to woodworking to hanging Halloween lights, there was no specific definition of what work they would do. We have learned from our attorney that there are very specific laws and rules to abide by when it comes to employees. The Panamanian government really tries to take care of all the laborers and hold the employers to very strict and very specific rules. When hiring a laborer, a list of duties is advisable so that the proper classification of type of employee can be determined. If the worker is hired to , for instance ,do gardening work, then you cant just decide to have him start doing construction. No, he’s hired to do gardening work only, and even if you don’t have a shovel available you are still required to pay him for what you hired him to do. If a laborer is hired to build a house and he shows up to work and finds that you have run out of materials, he still gets paid, you cant just say,”well, why don’t you go cut some weeds while we wait for the delivery?” Nope, if a laborer was hired to build a house that is all he will be required to do. One must also be very careful when terminating employees. Different employee types have different rules about how and If they can be terminated. A Type of worker, meaning construction, gardener, domestic help,etc, they all have different rules of how you can terminate employment. These are just a few of the labor laws Scott learned about at his meeting with our attorney. Whew, glad we’re doing our research upfront!
Also there are taxes that the employer is required to pay, that I don’t yet know the specifics about. Scott had a long meeting with our attorney and learned all this, I’m just kinda summarizing what I remember, which isn’t much, believe me! It’s a great thing that we found a good attorney to help us navigate all this because we wouldn’t want to get ourselves into any trouble. The other thing we’ve done is interview two local Architects to help us design the house. If I haven’t already mentioned our plans, it’s to first build a small Casita and a large workshop for Scott. We plan to move into the Casita and then, maybe a year from this January, we hope to begin construction on a larger house for us. We hope to get started on the casita asap. But, of course, there is much to get done before we can even start that. The architect here will be responsible for all the preliminary permits and fees to different city and government agencies in order to get official permission to begin construction. This is a bit complicated, (to me, anyways) and I’m glad it’s his job to get this part done for us.
We hired the architect that we felt would be best suited for us and our job. Scott is very happy to have hired a Spanish speaking guy because it gives him lot’s of opportunity to practice using the Spanish he’s been working so hard to learn. We will be having a meeting with him this week to see his first drawings for our casita. Scott and I have been working on designs for the main house with a program we have on our computer. We really love this stage of the project, the designing and dreaming is so much fun. We’ve taken the architect up to see the property and he’s very excited about the job and has many ideas. I can’t wait to hear all about it.
Another important preliminary aspect of our project is getting electricity up to the lot. This to me is a major deal and not something we ever had to think about living in the suburbs of Los Altos. All that electricity was just magically and conveniently there! I never imagined having to figure out how to get electricity to my home, the “gods of electricity” had already done all that! Apparently this is not the case here in Panama. Here, it’s our responsibility to figure out how to run all that stuff alllll the way up from the nearest power pole, to our lot. So we’ve already had one consultation with one electrician and are currently waiting to hear from our Realtor, Ulysis, (who has been incredibly helpful , he has many contacts and knows so much about building in our area specifically, he has told us not to hesitate to call him if he can help at all, sooooo nice!) he has the name and contact info of a second electrician so we can get another estimate. As far as getting the power to our lot, there are a couple options. Option one is to trench along the road up to our lot, which I’m told is about 600 meters (don’t know what that translates to, but I’ll say, its really FAR!) There may be a less expensive option which we are still looking into but at this point going up along the road is what we will plan for. Again…I can’t imagine having this to deal with in Los Altos!
Then…. we have the ROAD leading to our property! Yes, that’s right folks, it’s not paved and very rough going getting up to our lot. And as I said before, it’s about 600 meters that we will need to pave! This is something Scott is thinking of dealing with while the casita is being built. We plan to hire an actual contractor to build the actual “shell” of the house and then Scott wants to do all the interior finish work. But in the meantime, as they are building the house ,he hopes to find a few guys to hire himself to help him pour the concrete for the road. Again, this sounds just so difficult to me, but to Scott, not so hard….that’s my guy!
The last part of the preliminary planning that we’re researching right now is WATER. Again, no water gods to make it all ‘magically appear’! Scott has talked with a guy at a place where they sell all the tanks and filtration systems and whatnot. All in Spanish, mind you! We will need several tanks for water and septic and lot’s of things for the filtration system to make the water potable. This is amazing to me as well. Again…the water was always just THERE! Who knew we would have to figure out all this? Well, Scott knew, but I’m just in a constant state of ?????? Huh? Honestly, It’s great! I’m so excited and learning so much and as usual, looking at Scott with yet more and more Awe! The guy is just never intimidated by any project, he loves all this research and learning and the self-sufficiency required to take on this type of project just invigorates him. (Smiling!) For a do it yourself guy like Scott, this is all just heaven for him!! For me…when do I get to pick out the Paint!!!!!
Another aspect that we should be getting into soon will be interviewing and hiring a contractor. Our architect will have some recommendations and we have also gotten a few leads on our own. This, of course has to wait until we have some actual blueprints to show. For now, as you can imagine… all these other details will keep us pretty busy. This is a huge undertaking and I have a feeling this building experience will be nothing like the one we had in Los Altos! Where are those electricity and water Gods, anyways???? LOL!