Jamaica Magazine

Buy A House – Don’t Build (Part 1) – American Retiree in Jamaica

Written by John Casey

Wouldn’t it be nice to move to Jamaica into a brand new house that you designed yourself? Sounds inviting doesn’t it? Before you get your hopes up let me explain to you some of the things you will encounter to make the house a reality.  

Finding the ideal lot can take quite a bit of time. Once you have found the property you will need the services of a reputable attorney – at – law to assure that the land will be free and clear and exactly what you thought it would be. I have heard several stories of people who have paid large deposits to the seemingly owners of the land only to have them disappear with their hard earned money. The lawyer can guarantee that you receive a clear title and deed to the property without wondering if what you think is the property actually isn’t the property. I know a man who owns a house on a fenced in lot where the property line is as much as six feet inside the adjoining vacant lot. This man is now trying to correct the situation by purchasing the empty lot rather than move the fence.  

Once the architect has designed the house to your specification, it must be “commissioned and approved.” Then a building permit must be acquired. Both of these processes can take considerable time and money to obtain. Perhaps the most difficult aspect is to find a reliable contractor. Larger contractors may have the skilled workers as employees while smaller companies are basically general contractors who subcontract all their work. Your subcontractor may or may not have dealt with the general contractor in the past either. I experienced the latter on work I was overseeing on a friend’s house. The initial project was to have manufactured and install a spiral staircase made of wrought iron railings with a wooden banister on an existing staircase. This was not the first time the general contractor had used the welder but then it got more complicated. The original welder the contractor brought in assessed the job, quoted a price, and was approved by the homeowner. When it came time for the work to begin, the welder backed out for some unknown reason. A second welder agreed to do the job at the same price but had never worked for the general contractor before. The problems began well before the work started in the house. First there were delays because of a previous job the welder was finishing. Then the welder took weeks to make the pins and curls for the railing. When the work finally began inside the house I could see many problems with the workmanship right from the beginning, not to mention the welder being four or more hours late each day, which I addressed to the contractor. Unfortunately the general contractor was not an aggressive or bold man and as a result was unable to rectify most of the problems. The welder was also very careless in his work leaving burn marks from his welding machine and paint marks all over the tiled floor and adjacent walls. The carpenters who also had never worked for the general contractor were equally inept in their abilities to perform the task they were contracted for in which they were hired. Needless to say the finished railing was far from quality work.  

The next major project was to install kitchen cabinets. The homeowner, having learned from his experiences with the general contractor, decided to hire a kitchen specialist who he presumed would do a better job. A price was agreed upon and a deposit accepted by the kitchen designer. Work was to start two weeks later but that never happened. The owner of the company came up with more reasons for the delays than you could possibly imagine. When the contractor brought his carpenter to double check all the measurements I assumed that there would be no problems. At that time I asked the kitchen contractor to mark on the wall exactly where the cabinets were going so that the electrician could put in the wiring for the plugs, lights, and dishwasher. With those marks in place, the electrician did his part but, alas, the kitchen contractor neglected to mention that the granite countertop would have a backsplash. Consequently, when the counters were installed, the granite backsplash had to be cut out around the half dozen or so outlets and switches which detracts from the beauty of the speckled black granite countertop.  

Finally the base frame was brought in but it took weeks for the countertop to be installed. Two trips had to be made because the sink was to be installed under the counter and seemed to be unavailable. However, the kitchen contractor assured the owner of the house that he had the sink in his inventory at the time of the deposit being paid, but was several weeks before one actually appeared.  

Several weeks later the carpenter came with the rest of the cabinets including the doors and drawers. It took three days for the job to be completed and the quality of workmanship wasn’t totally professional. The cabinet doors did not close properly, almost none of the handles for the doors and drawers matched, the glass shelves in the upper cabinets weren’t cut properly which caused an overlap between two sections, and the list goes on and on. The biggest problem was the wrong measurement was made on one side of the kitchen for the top cabinets which extends ½ inch into a doorway. The carpenter said he would make a molding to go around the door casing to hide his mistake. I approved of the fix which actually looked good but a few days later I noticed a ½ inch gap between the refrigerator and the countertop. This issue is still being addressed at this time. Also on that same cabinet section, this is a panel that extends from the top of the cabinet to the floor. It appears that a knot fell out of the panel and a poor attempt to patch it resulted in a two inch square piece of unmatched wood being used to fill the hole which is quite noticeable. This issue is also unresolved. Later  

Part 2 Next month.

About the author

John Casey