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Vacation Journal
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Thinking of building on Isla - read this first!

Date: 2/11/2004

Six Weeks of Hell

Hi all

Maybe I should subtitle this ďDonít follow your dream until you find out how mine endsĒ.

I would also like to point out that my husband read this and said I was being too reasonable and nice and social workerish and if he had written it there would be a lot more anger, threats, verbal abuse and blunt accusations. Iíll leave it up to you guys to read between the lines.

Weíve always been really upfront in sharing our experiences with the board, basically because so many people think about doing the same thing we are doing and when we started our research there was not much real life personal experience information around.

The web is about sharing information and so we thought it would be good to share what we were learning about building on Isla.

As most of you know it all went really well to start off with (see Christmas in Mexico trip reports). Surprisingly well. Astoundingly well. We flew through all of the usual problem areas.

Our land had clear title so the land sale was easy
We had drawn most of our plans beforehand so sending them to the architect to be completed was straightforward and rapid
The permits and plans were granted without a hitch
Building commenced and progress was steady and good.

By Christmas we had a completed shell and when we visited the island over Christmas we loved the house, it felt spacious and solid, the views were awesome and everything we had hoped for. The builder told us it would be completed by 1st week of February and we went back to the UK happy and planning another trip in six weeks to fit the house out.

And then it all went wrong.

There wasnít much progress in the first week of January but the real estate agents reassured us and said the workmen were on their annual holiday.

Then the complaints started from the builder. There was an error on the plans and the house had been built 15 square metres too big. We thought this was a bit odd, as we had gone to a lot of trouble to ensure the house was the right meterage on our plans. We had even pegged it out in our back garden and checked and re checked measurements. Turns out the architect had made a mistake in transferring our plans to hers and Julian the builder had not noticed this despite having the plans in his possession since October. We didnít see the full plans until the house was built; they had been too big to fax or photograph.

The real estate agents pointed out to Julian that this was his problem and Julian agreed. He assured us that we would have our house on time and just how we had planned it. Despite his promises work slowed further on the build with only one person on site slowly rendering the walls.

Then came another complaint from Julian. He was losing money on the build. He had underestimated costs and he had no money left to complete the build. This seemed very suspect to us and also there was nothing we could do about his underestimates. The entire project was on a fixed price contract and accompanied by a 9 page comprehensive contract.

Let us pause for a moment and consider the economics of building.

Blocks are cheap. Cement is cheap. Labour is not much more expensive, especially in Mexico. The real costs of building come in the last few weeks as a house is fitted out. Windows, doors, tiles, bathroom fittings, air conditioning etc etc are what make up the last expensive bit of any build. Throwing blocks up and creating a shell is easy and relatively cheap and looks impressive to anyone who doesnít know building.

What Julian had built looked like a lot of work but in fact was actually the cheapest part of the project. And yet he had already run out of money.

When we agreed the build costs we agreed a large deposit. This was so that materials could be bought in bulk allowing Julian to get value for money and also to avoid availability issues at the end of the project. This was written into the contract Ė use the deposit to buy materials. Doesnít look like he did! Weíve never seen them despite requesting in writing that they be placed on site.

We had a telephone conference with Julian. He agreed there were problems but assured us that he would solve them. We would get our house

From that time on Julian started to miss appointments with out real estate agents. Julian started to ignore them in the streets. On the 19th January work ceased on the build site and hasnít resumed to date.

Following work ceasing our Notary sent Julian a letter pointing out the contractual obligations he was in breach of. At that point he was in breach of 4 of the clauses in the contract. There was no response from Julian at this point.

He now does not answer emails, telephone calls or letters.

A couple of weeks ago, back when we thought we could help this guy we offered to fund his cash flow problems. We would ship him money, an amendment would be added to the contract and he would owe us the money and could pay it back in the next year. We just wanted our house and if that meant we carried his mistake then that was okay in the interests of having a finished property. He didnít show up for the three different meetings we arranged to discuss this even thought he knew what we wanted to talk about. Mexican pride or bloody arrogance? I dunno?

And so we reach impasse. No work going on. Builder not willing to talk to us or explain what is happening. Lot of money missing.

What do you do???

Why did it happen?

There are things I am angry about. Iím angry that we were led to believe that this guy was an experienced builder who could manage a project like this. He was recommended to us and we were several times shown around a house he had built. I now know he didnít build that house. He had actually never done a project like this before.

Iím angry that when we were on the island at Christmas none of these issues were mentioned yet within 10 days of our returning home they were brought up. The only reason I have ever been given for this is that ďhe didnít want to upset youĒ. Trust me, Iím a lot more upset now!

Iím angry for all the nights I stayed up waiting for promised telephone calls that never came, for all the hope I wasted on this man, for all the broken promises, for all the money that is unaccounted for, for all the work we put in to getting this right before ground was even broken, for the money we gave him and his men for Christmas and went without ourselves.

And Iím tired, Iím tired of being optimistic, tired of trying to solve his problems, tired of trying to find ways to make it work when he wonít even speak to us, tired of waiting for emails, waiting for calls, waiting for anything to hang hope on.

We did everything by the book. We had a contract, we did our homework, and we tried to negotiate when things went wrong rather than blow a fuse and over react.

Now there is nothing left to do but react.

I am heartbroken that this happened. We had such dreams. We wanted to finish the house, rent it out for a couple of years and then move to Isla. Phil was going to move his company over, train islanders and provide jobs, high tech low environmental impact jobs. We were going to train people in repair and replacement of lighting systems, with Cancun so close and the environment so harsh we figured we had a good market. I was going to just to do consultancy work in the UK and I hoped to train and supervise Mexican people who worked in my field (child abuse and behavioural difficulties). I thought we had a lot to offer the island and we wanted to pay back on some of the pleasure it gave to us.

Every day I wake up and hope it will be okay. That Julian will suddenly have the guys back at work and we will get our house and this would have all proved to be a glitch, a mistake, a sociological cross-cultural communication confusion. But that doesnít happen and every day it looks worse. It looks more deliberate and the excuses sound hollower.

And the little island that I loved and the dreams I had are horribly tarnished.

So those of you who dream of doing what we did - dream a little longer, learn a little more, whilst I work my way through the Mexican legal system and fight to get our home.

Before you take your big step and do it what we did, let me finish my road. Learn from what happens to us, because that is why the web is here and the board is here and as a community we are here.

Iíll let you know how it goes. Now I have to go instruct a lawyer.


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