Building in Baja California Sur

All about plans and architects

Considering buying a lot and now you want to build your dream home? How exciting!  But with it, there are responsibilities. Responsibilities to do it correctly here in Mexico. And with it are a ton of questions you may have.  Here are a few answers:

What do I need?  A permit? An architect? A structural engineer?

Plans?  Yes, you need plans. The requirements for plans are less than in the United States, but, there are minimums, and always engineering plans and calculations, are required. If you have your own architect in the US or Canada, you may use their plans, BUT, your architect will need to provide them in the Spanish language and in the metric system. Trust me, this is not as easy as putting the terms through an online translator…  AND your American architect should partner up with a Mexican architect / DRO.  An unlicensed architect in Mexico will not be allowed to pull the permits without the stamp or a license of a Mexican architect and/or a designated DRO.  This holds true for your foreign structural engineer too. The structural engineering must be done and stamped by a Mexican Structural Engineer (here called a Civil Engineer.  You can also choose to hire a Mexican architect and forego the additional expense of paying two architects and engineers.  There are very skilled technicians and fine designers right here in Baja California Sur.

What is a DRO? Mexico does not have regular construction inspections or building inspectors like the majority of the United States.  At most, they may send someone to be a drive by before construction and one drive by after construction is reported to be complete. Technically, they are supposed to go into the building and verify completion, but I have yet to have one get out of the car!  Unlike the U.S., where every stage of the construction process is inspected and you are subject to corrections or additions from the inspector before you can advance to the next stage, Mexico puts the liability directly onto a “Director of the Obra” (DRO).  A DRO is an architect or engineer that has had additional training and is certified by the municipality to act in the capacity as DRO. He assumes all liability for the structure. If there is a structural failure, he is the one you would sue or the municipality would hold responsible.  Again, you need an architect, a structural engineer and a DRO. They may be one in the same, or individual entities, but all receive a fee for each of these services.  At the end of the construction, your DRO must sign the Terminacion de Obra (Completion of the Work) form and submit it to the appropriate government agencies in order for your construction to be registered at the value of the permit (never short change the permit amount) and becomes “manifested”. 

There have been many articles about Manifestation in our real estate section of the Gringo Gazette, but in short, manifesting the construction registers the construction as completed, at a certain value, allows you to claim and deduct for the construction and its costs, allows you to sell your property as a property with a structure, as opposed to raw land, establishes your new property tax amount and it is THE LAW.

A few words about Mexican architects.  Unlike the United States, where architects, by ethics, are not encouraged to be a design/builder FOR A CLIENT, in Mexico, that is the norm.  In the U.S. that discouragement is in place so as to allow the architect to be your advocate, and not cross any lines of conflict of interest.  I myself am an architect, I agree with this moral and ethical position.  Besides, in my opinion, you are better served getting competitive bids than to be forced to build with an architect not presenting you lower costs or options.  In addition, it is very rare indeed to find any individual, in any occupation, to be good at everything. Rare to find an architect that is good at design, good at business and also good at building.  In my opinion, it is better to get experts in each field to work for you and let their strengths shine to YOUR benefit. However, here in Mexico, you CAN choose an architect to do be your builder as well, or you can tell them up front that you want design services only.  If you choose to have your architect be your builder, I highly suggest that when you interview architects, get references and call each reference about not only their experiences in the design process, but their experience in the building process, the administration of the business end of the project and the architect’s follow through on the governmental termination of the project. Were they on time? On budget? Were they flexible? Did they pay the worker’s social security? Did they man the job properly? Were they asking for money ahead of their payment schedule?

If you choose to have your architect do only the design, you may wish to expand their scope into the bid process as well, and/or some construction quality reviews or take on that task yourself.

Either way, make sure you have a contract, reviewed by a Mexican lawyer, set up a reasonable payment schedule and never pay ahead of the progress markers established.  If your contractors need an advance outside of your payment schedule, then they are probably not solvent and are using your money to pay for a different person’s job.  Pay extra to have a Mexican accountant to oversee your payments. Define the accountant’s scope of work so that he will also make sure that you are within the law for worker’s payments/benefits, receiving facturas prior to the payments being made and protecting you against any potential claims against your property. Make a written contract with the accountant for those services.  Remember, you are not an expert in the law or the obligations fiscally and legally here in Mexico. Build a good team!

There are many fine Mexican local architects. The scope of their work and responsibility is in your hands to define. But remember, you as the property owner, not the builder or architect, are responsible, by law, for payments to workers, their benefits, safety, and for the payment to providers of materials even though your contractor or accountant make be charged to do so.  Make sure to put together a good team.  Doing so, will save you money, time and problems.

Building is always more stressful than buying a built product. But the rewards can far outweigh the extra effort. Being armed with knowledge and reasonable expectations can make your experience all the better and more rewarding. 

By Cheryl T. Miller, NAR, ABR, CIP, Broker, Architect. Broker of Baja Realty and Investment. We at Baja Realty and Investment can help you find the perfect lot for those dreams…Contact us at, 624-122-2690.