To Build or to Buy?

One of the foremost thoughts of those migrating to Jamaica is to buy a piece of land on the beach or one with a panoramic view of the Caribbean ocean to build their dream home. It isn’t as easy or as practical as it sounds. Over the years I have touched on this subject on several occasions but never gave it the justice it deserved. I have been prompted this month by two articles in recent editions of one of Jamaica’s national newspapers, The Jamaica Observer. The first one is from a letter to the editor of The Jamaica Observer from Mr. Leon Hughes, a Jamaican in the Diaspora from England. The other one is from a follow-up story written by one of the leading journalists for The Jamaica Observer, Mark Wignall. By the time you finish reading this you will have some insight into what you would encounter in building that dream home.


One of my earliest readers, who I will call Betty, provided me with first hand knowledge of all the problems she encountered with her building project. Betty’s situation was, she bought a run down hotel that needed major renovations instead of building from the ground up. She came to Jamaica with years of experience in buying fix-it-uppers and selling them for profit. However, Betty had never done this in Jamaica. Before she moved here, I went to great lengths to prepare her for the Jamaican construction worker. With confidence in her past experiences including working with Jamaicans in Florida, my cautions went on deaf ears. It didn’t take long for her to learn the hard way. For instance, one of her foremen was caught stealing money from her and her laborers on payday. When she found out and dismissed the man, she had to hire a bodyguard to protect her from his death threats. One of her trusted employees had friends steal building materials and tools to build her own home. This went unnoticed for some time because the supplies were taken away in a boat in the middle of the night. Several months into the project it was discovered that the wrong material was used necessitating demolishing part of the building to correct the situation. The cost between the proper material, that was supposedly ordered and paid for, and the wrong material was pocketed by a different foreman. All this and several other instances cost Betty thousands of US dollars during the life of the renovations.

In Mr. Hughes letter, he mentions that he is nearing retirement and wants to return to his native Jamaica to enjoy the rest of his life. His first problem was living and working so far from Jamaica. He states with confidence that he was sure that he “knew all the tricks and could overcome any obstacle.” His family recommended an architect but as soon as the firm found out where he was living the prices went up. This architect went so far as to pretend to submit plans to the local planning board for approval. When Mr. Hughes came for his regular visit the architect and the money were nowhere to be found.

Secondly, the person whom he was buying the land from didn’t have a title to it but insisted that Mr. Hughes pay a 50% deposit. Once again the money was unrecoverable. Lastly, even his attorney couldn’t be bothered in helping him through his plight. His letter ends with this profound statement; “Unfortunately, no one can be trusted, and it seems one has to be right on the spot to do the business.” I highly concur with his conclusion.

Mr. Wignall’s article reflects on Mr. Hughes being victimized by those who took advantage of his living so far away. He states, “Unfortunately, this is an old story. Old but sad and tragically true.” Mr. Wignall continues with excerpts from a retired economist and an attorney-at-law who responded to Mr. Hughes’ letter and gave incredible stories of scamming that occurs in Jamaica. To read Mr. Wignall’s whole article, log on to www.jamaicaobserver.com and look for Wignall’s World, Sunday, April 6.

At this point you might have some reservations about constructing your own home in Jamaica. I must point out that these examples are merely that, examples. There are many reputable contractors that are above reproach waiting to assist you. It is very important to check and double check all referrals and references. Further it would still be advisable to be on site at all times to make sure that you are getting what you’re paying for. I too was one of those people who wanted to build their own home but several Jamaican friends advised against it. Today I am very happy with the existing house that I purchased. My opinion is to buy not build.

About the author

John Casey