Is your construction project a dream or an investment.... or both? If your project will be an investment, it will be very important to carefully weigh all the various components to ensure you have a cost effective plan in place.
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An essential element in feasibility planning is weighing the importance of financial investment against less tangible personal goals. Analysing the financial investment is relatively straight forward by calculating all costs (including mortgage interest) against possible return; however, it is often the subjective factors that can complicate decision-making. If it is ultimately important to be able to say, “I did it my way…” do not necessarily expect the process to be easy, efficient or enjoyable!
On the other hand, obtaining advice from reputable professionals can allow you to concentrate on what you do best, without repeating some classic pitfalls of a first-time developer. This section will provide prospective home owners with detailed information on the various approaches one can follow when building a home in the Cayman Islands, including the associated pros and cons on things that need to be considered. There are many benefits to building your own home:
- First and foremost you can choose where you want to build and precisely what kind of house you want to build.
- A new home will be built to comply with the latest building regulations, so it will be far more efficient than an older similarly sized home.
- Being brand new, a new home should not require any significant maintenance for at least four or five years.
- Stamp duty is paid on the land and not the completed property, which is a great cost saving benefit to building in Cayman.
- It can be cheaper to build your own home than buying a completed property.
Despite all the advantages, building your own home can be a daunting task and will more than likely be the most significant expense of your life. Thankfully, the Cayman Islands is fortunate in having all the relevant construction industry professionals that specialise in residential builds that can act as a guide to the home builder.
The building sections on this website were researched and written by Wil Steward, Managing Director of Chalmers Gibbs, an architectural firm based in Grand Cayman. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beyond the obvious location factors of convenience to work, schools and shopping do some research on the area - find out if any nearby road improvements are proposed or the potential incompatibility of approved neighbouring land uses.
A quick online check of the zoning map on the Central Planning Authority website will allow you to see land uses proposed for an area and the specific zoning of the parcel you are considering. Although you should be able to glean this information from your realtor, surveyor or architect, a little due diligence may reveal a lot. For commercial properties this is particularly important since proposals for a parcel requiring rezoning may take years to plan and obtain required approvals.
Many older subdivisions built on reclaimed land have ‘marl’ fill placed over original ‘peat’ material to bring up the elevation. This peat layer may be a mixture of sand, rocks and organic solids unsuitable for supporting the weight of a building. The replacement of this material with ‘engineered fill’ or the design of pile foundations to penetrate down to a solid bearing material may add large costs to a building which must be considered. An engineer can drill or dig test holes at a modest cost to allow some cost planning for foundations. Often the engineer’s local knowledge will be sufficient to predict general soil conditions. This might even be a prudent condition of a land sale if problematic soil conditions are expected.
Have a Plan
Detailed and careful planning will help you achieve the house of your dreams. The initial design stage is the most critical part of building your own home or office in the Cayman Islands and here we detail some of the pitfalls that can plague a DIY designer when they scour the internet for those ready made one-size-fits-all design plans.
First things first, think about how you want the layout and configuration of your house or building to look and think about how that will meet all your needs and aspirations. You can get inspiration from online floor plans and design resources. Save your ideas and photographic inspirations to a folder or website such as Pinterest. These images will illustrate the home or office that suits your lifestyle or professional needs, while an inventory of rooms and spaces will help determine the approximate square footage of the building that meets your needs.
But remember looking at building plans online does not make you an expert! While it is good to think carefully about what you want to achieve and draw inspiration from multiple sources, be careful when looking at house plans online as they are generally suited to North America or Europe and may not be appropriate to Cayman. On-Island construction techniques and building codes, weather patterns and climate can be very different to those found elsewhere. More importantly, those minimalist architectural wonders that you have fallen in love with may cost a fortune when translated into the Cayman context.
Anyone planning on building a home or office in Cayman will now find a host of options for more environmentally responsible construction, from using recycled building materials and timber from sustainable sources, to alternative energy and waste water systems and home automation systems.
Solar power and solar energy storage units are popular options for homeowners thanks to the Island’s year-round sunshine. LEED certification is available on-Island to ensure your home is truly green. Technology is constantly progressing so talk to the experts about your options. For more information on renewable energy and waste water systems, refer to the Being Green chapter.
Insulate the exterior walls and roof of your home. Make sure your new home is orientated to make effective use of the prevailing wind and windows are not designed to fill the house with the heat of the afternoon sun. The classic plantation houses of the Caribbean are always designed to allow the prevailing breeze to flow through the house. Take a lesson from history and ensure that your architect incorporates similar thinking into your home design.
Green construction in Cayman is recognised by the Governor’s Award for Design and Construction Excellence in Sustainability and the Environment. The idea of the award is to foster and maintain innovation, sustainability and excellence in the Cayman Islands’ construction industry.
For more information on green building in Cayman and a list of developers and contractors that specialise in eco-friendly design and technologies, visit the Green Building page.
Clean Energy Systems
Upgrading to clean energy systems can be a significant expense for existing homes, but if you are building from scratch, it makes perfect sense to install such systems at the outset and take advantage of the abundance of the sun and wind that living on the Island offers. The initial expense will result in excellent long-term savings.
Using green systems can also have a positive impact on your health. From utilising materials and finishes, which do not emit volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), to designing mechanical systems that exchange fresh and purified air, means you are less likely to get sick and is great for those with allergies.
A few forward-thinking individuals in Grand Cayman have recently installed systems or built homes powered entirely by renewable energy sources, and are already reporting successful results. In order to be totally self-sufficient (off the grid), it requires battery banks in addition to solar panels or wind generators, so you can store surplus power generated during daylight or windy hours for use later on.
Alternatively, the CORE programme offered by CUC allows you to generate your own power from renewable sources, while at the same time remaining connected to the grid, so that in the event of not being able to generate sufficient energy for your needs, you can still get power. CUC pays for the energy sold back to them at CI$0.385 per kilowatt hour for residential customers, which at this time, is even more than they charge regular customers per kilowatt hour (CI$0.34). Critics say CUC should not be paying more for power than they charge, but the company says they are offering people an incentive to produce alternative energy.
To see if the programme is right for you, visit the Alternative Energy section on the CUC site.. The Electricity Regulatory Authority and the Cayman Islands Government have been very supportive of the efforts by individuals to find greener alternatives for building and powering their homes. Check out Cayman Resident’s Solar Systems.
The company below sells clean energy systems to power your home off the grid.
Designing a Security System
To have an electronic security system that is well integrated into the design of your new home, a plan should be drafted at the conceptual stages. You, your architect and an experienced security professional should work closely together to identify your needs and see what technology will be suitable to achieve your goals.
Interior Design in the Building Process
Consider hiring an experienced interior designer and kitchen designer to look over your plans with your architect before they go to the builders. A qualified designer can look at architectural plans and work out whether the space and dimensions allowed will work or raise potential problems and limitations.
They will look at the plans, room by room, and work out their function, including ease of access, amount of light, acoustics, seating and places to store or set things down. They will also consider how the space will be used, whether it will be for work, leisure or entertainment, and their goal will be to create a unified whole. For more information on Interior Designers refer to the Home Improvements section.
For your kitchen, finding a designer who specialises in creating functional, beautiful spaces is essential. In today’s modern homes, kitchens are now the focal point; they are usually free flowing spaces that are well integrated into the rest of a home, and also the primary place for entertaining. If you want a kitchen that is well-designed and suited to your lifestyle, then we recommend the following two companies who have a proven track record and lots of examples of beautiful kitchens they have designed:
Budget & Scheduling
Making a realistic cost plan can provide a useful indication of the cash flow requirements during the process which will be of interest to potential lenders and can allow you to calculate carrying costs or requirements for interim financing.
All too often rough area construction costs ($ per sq foot) are used for budgeting in place of realistic assessments of probable development costs. Fooling yourself that a building will cost $x/sq ft multiplied by an approx. area is usually a recipe for disappointment or frustration later in the process. A quantity surveyor may provide you with a detailed breakdown of actual costs to expect, such as:
Soft Costs — Building permits (planning permission, building permit, infrastructure fees, etc.), licenses, professional fees (architect, engineer, surveyor), legal fees and utility connection deposits must be carefully factored into your overall costs. For commercial properties promotion, marketing and financing costs must also be considered. For rental properties initial period vacancy rates are estimated in order to predict cost of holding unleased space.
Hard Costs — Land (including duty), construction costs including normal contractor costs (overhead, profit and supervision), landscaping, major appliances and site furnishings must be considered. A contingency fee (typically 5-10%) is usually included in estimates to account for the unexpected – these include owner changes, site conditions or material cost increases.
Scheduling – It Ain’t Over ‘til it’s Over….
You must make a detailed schedule with a building professional. The length of time that is required to complete the full cycle of planning, financing, design, commissioning of a building and construction often comes as a surprise to ‘proto’ developers. A period of up to several years may be required for a large residence or commercial property once all the factors have been considered.
When projects are geared towards completion for a specific date, planning can become critical – a homeowner entertaining visitors from abroad, a store owner aiming for a holiday retail season, or a company gearing their move-in date around an annual business cycle all need to plan for the unexpected or even the unthinkable. Delays in obtaining statutory approvals, long order time materials or equipment, adverse weather conditions, and design revisions must be considered in a well-planned project.
Good Building Design
The area of professional services is often a difficult one to apply a cost-benefit rule of thumb – a DIY homeowner downloading a set of plans from the internet or trying to draw it themselves may save thousands on architect’s fees but may end up spending even more in construction costs due to delays, cost overruns or approval issues than if they had hired a professional to draft an accurate, detailed set of construction documents.
To assign a realistic budget for professional fees (architecture, interiors, engineering, survey) of 10-15% of construction budget will inevitably be value-added to the building; however, unlike commodities, it is sometimes difficult to assess the value added. The DIY designer will inevitably love their own creation to the extent of remaining oblivious to its shortcomings and triumphant that they have saved money.
If the cost of their time, delays or construction stage change orders was considered, the saving may well be insignificant. They will remain unconvinced in the face of the evidence which may, at worst, have resulted in an ungainly or dysfunctional building when construction is completed.
This section as well as the Costs & Budget section were research and written by Wil Steward, Managing Director of Chalmers Gibbs Architects. email@example.com.