15 Critical Questions to Ask When Buying Property Overseas: Water

This blog is the third in a 15-Part Series from Mike Cobb, CEO of ECI Development. As an offshore real estate and resort developer, Mike has used his experiences in Central America to create the “15 Critical Questions to Ask When Buying Property Overseas.”

Buy What You See: Water

One thing that you need to accept right off the bat is that buying real estate abroad is going to be nothing like buying real estate in North America. There are many things one must account for, and more importantly ask, that wouldn’t be of concern if you were buying a house in the US. For that reason, I put together a list of the 15 top questions that an interested buyer should ask before committing to a property or project overseas. They follow three central themes: Buy What You See, Own Community, and Know the Developer.

The Third Question:

Is there enough fresh water and water pressure? Is there hot water?

Sometimes, it’s the smallest of things that adds greatly to one’s quality of life. Water pressure, though something most North Americans take for granted, is one of those things. Think about the last time you were in a house without running water in the United States. It’s simply not permitted to build without planning for and connecting to water. That is not the case in the developing world. The responsibility for planning and paying for the water system falls on the developer, or on the homeowner if they’re not careful.

Access to fresh water is one of the most important factors in one’s quality of life. Imagine you have family visiting for the weekend, and your water shuts off without warning. No dishwasher, no showers, no flushing toilets. Think about how you’d react. The water company is probably there within hours. In the US, it just wouldn’t be an acceptable situation. In the developing world, the solution you might get from the water company is, “Wait for it to turn back on.” Is that something you could stomach? Regularly?

That is why you really need to Buy What You See when it comes to access to water and water pressure. When you go to see a property, turn on all the faucets, inside and out, run the showers, and flush the toilets. Is there sufficient pressure? Ask for the specifics. Who is responsible for maintenance of the overall system? Personal liberty is a great thing, but it certainly comes with more responsibility. You want to make sure that your responsibility is for due diligence, not for installing water tanks and pressurizing systems.

Another big factor in quality of life is hot water. Again, it sounds like something simple, but hot water is not commonly installed throughout the developing world. Many developers will “build local” for the sake of convenience and cost, and it’s important to make sure that the developer can meet your standards from the beginning. Often, a splitter will be used to send cold water to both knobs, and I know from experience that this is an often overlooked detail. Refitting a concrete home for hot water can be prohibitively expensive, so ask to see the plans ahead of time.

What to Avoid: 

Check under the sink in order to confirm that a cold water splitter is not in place.

In building North American-quality communities in Latin America, reliable water has always been one of the first things my company, ECI Development, has put in the ground. This means bio-filters, pressurizing systems, installation and maintenance of the pipe system, as well as regular testing. Yes, that is a huge upfront investment. In looking for property overseas, you will find many developers who haven’t put that sort of water infrastructure in the ground. If they haven’t, you the buyer will take on the cost.

I’m writing this blog series because I didn’t know to ask many of these questions myself when I moved to Nicaragua almost 15 years ago. My family and I moved between three different houses before we finally found our current home. We dealt with several issues, and water was one of them. While it was certainly a frustrating process, now I know what I didn’t at the time.

If you are interested in additional information, I regularly hold special training sessions for agents interested in international real estate in which I briefly walk through the rest of the 15 Critical Questions. These sessions highlight how you can profit from working with international developers by implementing a simple and easy strategy. If you would like to learn more or register for an upcoming session, you may do so here.

Mike Cobb