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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Long before any ground is broken, a feasibility study should be carried out to calculate all costs (including mortgage interest) against the possible return of a project. The information gleaned from this report allows you to measure your ‘dream’ against the total investment. Moving forward without taking this step can result in some costly missteps that could otherwise be easily avoided. Consulting one of Cayman’s reputable professionals will help you consider all your project’s relevant factors – and ultimately save you time and money!
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.
What Do You Want?
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.
Think carefully about the layout and configuration of your house or building, and how this will work for your personal needs and objectives. Draw inspiration from online floor plans and design resources such as Pinterest or Houzz. Save any photos that inspire you and use these images to illustrate the home or office that suits your lifestyle or professional requirements. An inventory of rooms and spaces will also help determine the approximate size of the property that meets your needs.
Remember, however, that looking at building plans online does not make you an expert and many house plans found online are generally suited to North America or Europe and may not be appropriate to Cayman. Construction techniques and building codes, weather patterns and climate on-Island can be very different to those found elsewhere. Those minimalist architectural wonders that you have fallen in love with may cost a fortune when translated into the Cayman context.
All too often, rough area construction costs ($ per sq ft) 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 approximate 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, including:
- Soft Costs — Building permits (e.g. planning permission, infrastructure fees, etc.), stamp duty, licences, professional fees (e.g. architect, engineer and surveyor), legal fees and utility connection deposits must be carefully factored into your overall costs. For commercial property promotion, marketing and financing costs must also be considered. For rental properties, initial period vacancy rates are estimated to predict the cost of holding unleased space.
- Hard Costs — Land, construction costs, including normal contractor costs (e.g. overhead, profit and supervision), landscaping, major appliances and site furnishings. Typically, a contingency fee (between 5%-10%) is included in estimates to account for the unexpected, which includes owner changes, site conditions or material cost increases.
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.
Changes to more sustainable building material alternatives are currently being driven by supply chain issues. For example, bamboo flooring is being used as an alternative to wood flooring. Bamboo is more expensive but grows quickly and is, therefore, a great sustainable alternative. The more consumers that move towards sustainable construction materials like bamboo, the less it will cost, as suppliers will be able to reduce prices due to economies of scale.
Those looking to build more consciously will be pleased to discover the many environmentally responsible construction practices that are widely embraced on Island. 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. Some ways in which that is being upheld include: using recycled building materials and timber, tapping into alternative energy and waste-water systems and employing more eco-friendly home automation.
Other green tips for building include ensuring that your property is orientated to make effective use of the prevailing wind, and the windows are positioned to avoid filling the house with the heat of the afternoon sun in a nod to traditional Caribbean architecture. Reduce energy consumption by insulating the exterior walls and roof of your home, and make use of the Island’s year-round sunshine with solar power panels and energy units.
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.
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. Refer to the Home Security Systems & Monitoring page for more.
Interior Design in the Building Process
Consider hiring an experienced interior designer to review 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 for functionality.
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 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:
Development Management Services
No successful projects are accidental. They are the result of a clear plan, consistent effort, intelligent direction, careful financial management and skilful execution. The development of land is a complex process; it requires strategies to take advantage of the development opportunity while reducing risk and enhancing sustainability.
Development management services can help you select a strategy that best suits your goals, and by drawing on their expertise and experience, they can put together a strategy with the greatest reward versus risk potential. Generally, development management consultants offer a combination of real estate knowledge and metrics. They provide expertise in investment management, property management, development feasibility and viability, design, construction, permitting, sales and leasing and financing advice.
Development managers take care of the entire property development process from initial strategy and concept through to delivery. Should the project require sales, a development manager can facilitate and manage contract preparation for sales, sales materials including 3D visualisation, sales team management, project facilities preparation and the coordination of consultants and contractors to execute a successful project.
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.
The length of time required to complete the full cycle of planning, financing, design, commissioning and construction of a building 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, e.g. 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, order time for materials or equipment, adverse weather conditions and design revisions must be considered for a well-planned project.
Good Design - Value Added?
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.