In 2003, when my wife, Renda, and I first came to Nicaragua, it was to live a healthier lifestyle and have a less stressful life, for a lot less money. We met those goals and at the same time learned to successfully face the challenges of developing and growing a business in San Juan del Sur.
Our experience back in 2004 of purchasing property and constructing the Park Avenue Villas Hotel was “much like raising a child.” It’s not easy, and it is full of surprises, but if you stick with it, it’s very rewarding. Since building our hotel 12 years ago, much has changed. The always improving areas of Nicaragua (the safest and fastest emerging country in the Americas) have made it so much easier for a person to own property and build.
After years of running the hotel and living here, we made the tough decision that we wanted to retire for real. We enjoyed life in the hospitality fast lane meeting new people every week, and returning guests every year. It was a learning experience and fun lifestyle.
Then it was time to build our retirement home. Searching for a building site, we found just the right place. Close to six acres of jungle with a small one-bedroom house that the owners had built some time ago. Of course, we wanted a view. I had two men with machetes cut a path so I could view the vista from the high point. Needless to say, that is where we built, overlooking some of our land, Nacascolo Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.
In our group of expat friends, we met a young man named Todd that was working with a company using a new type of building method: steel framing with styrofoam fillers. Todd worked with me as project manager/engineer. Between us we took this process to a new standard…with a lot of innovation.
I did the design, a lot of leg work, site work, and brought utilities to the building area while Todd engineered the structure for the steel frames and figured the foam panels all laid out on his computer.
This was no easy task as we wanted this house to be very special just for us. With his skills and my designs, it worked out even better than expected. Both of us checking every detail, and a fun crew to work with.
Today in Nicaragua, you can purchase most anything you need in the field of construction and building. While in the U.S., I took my interior designs of the cabinets (kitchen & bathroom) to a couple of “Big Box” stores I had worked with in years past. The bid for the pressboard veneer fronts was $22,000. And for solid wood stained $27,000…and that was just for upstairs. A friend told me about a man in our area in Nicaragua that has his own teak tree farms and a specialty woodworking shop. After seeing his work, we contracted with him for less than $10,000, complete, including doors. There is no wood in the construction of the building, but all interior woods are solid hand-crafted teak. It is the first thing a person sees…the cabinets and doors. It was outstanding.
Knowing this would be our last home (me 76, and Renda 71); we might have overdone a few areas. But cost was coming in way below for an even-better end result than what we could have built back home in the U.S. And the tax on this complete package—six acres, two houses, and pool is less than $1,000 per year. And, it took only six months to build the house (not including pool).
Building here is not like it used to be…not like in the U.S. either; it’s something a person must learn or hire someone that understands it. Most folks in North America would not build their own home, and it’s the same here; get a professional with good history building what you want.
We still own the hotel but with good management, we are not tied to it. I spend my days working in the garden with the plants—it’s like a nursery. I have my Sea Scouts that I teach to sail and take guest on sailing tours. My wife, Renda, since retirement has been designing and producing jewelry that sells in the U.S. and online.
Nicaragua is not for everyone, but we have found a lifestyle that suits us. Getting out and away from the “land of stress & excess” was the best move we ever made.
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