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Our home improvement project finished the Tico way

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

home improvement project finished the Tico way

So, we’ve completed 98% of our home improvement project.

Friends say that this is the Tico way of finishing things. Honestly, I think it happens everywhere. But allow me to tell you all about it, so you can learn from my mistakes.

We have finished the business with my contractor and amigo. BUT, but this is where both amazement and disappointment raise their ugly heads.

Up to this point, the contractor and Ticonuevo are treating each other like brothers. “You are the best client I’ve worked within ten years,” he says. “I depend on referrals”.

“You can count on mine,” I said completely satisfied—hugs all around.

He finishes packing up his equipment and leaves with his crew. I pay him a pocket full of “final payment”, less $400 for a small portion for a project yet to be completed that we withheld.

home improvement project finished the Tico way

Two Months Later

Well two months later, that small portion of a small home improvement project is still incomplete. Also is a small, but aggravating list of items.  These items, we later discovered:

  • Never worked,
  • Recently failed,
  • Don’t function properly or are,
  • In need of completion, replacement or repair.


To be honest, only a few of our complaints stem from oversight or shoddy workmanship performed by our contractor and his crew. Most of our complaints are about the work done by his subcontractors.

We’re talking about:

  • Wooden doors with cracks down the middle of that were faultily installed so that they no longer lock shut;
  • Cabinets that cover electrical panels preventing electrical access or repair;
  • Custom metal screen doors without screens or that no longer close;
  • Louvered glass windows that won’t close because one or more of the glass panels are too large;
  • Granite countertops with poorly finished seams and edges or gaps that weren’t filled;
  • Hinges left unattached to metal doors;
  • And a circuit of electrical outlets that don’t work.

home improvement project finished the Tico way


While the contractor was on-site, any complaints or dissatisfaction was always addressed and corrected to my satisfaction. The items mentioned in the paragraph above are all repairable. In the States, we would expect an implied or written warranty by the contracted professional. We would think that the work or product isn’t complete until it operates and is free of noticeable defects.

These are all items that have not been finished, defective, or omissions discovered after the crew departed. Some have failed since the crew departed. We gave the contractor a list of faulty items on the home improvement project on several previous occasions. One list went with a platter of Christmas cookies and fudge personally delivered to his residence, no less. In addition, several calls have been made reciting the to-do list.

Now, Brooke Bishop, Isabelle Jones, and Ivo Henfling have all presented the list to our contractor on our behalf again. No fewer than four promised appointments have been made; followed by the now-predictable “failed to show.”

Costa Rica is by and large a caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) society. There doesn’t seem to be any warranty period or law that obliges a builder to give a warranty on their work or product. However, during our time together, our contractor was professional, considerate, honest, competent, and accommodating; everything one could expect a contractor to perform labor or provide a product or service.

Take the money and…

I am beyond amazed that our friendship and mutual respect counts for so little after the closeness and fellowship that we shared for four months. Maybe I was naïve, but I expected very much more.

Sadly, I am told, when it comes to labor and services, this is an ingrained element of the Costa Rican psyche. Do just what is needed to get paid, take the money, and run. Adios amigo.

Probably, what is left to be completed is more than the cost to do it. It’s easier to give one last “adios amigo” wave bye-bye and ride into the sunset. If the work is substandard and fails two minutes after you the contractor left — too bad for you. It’s your problem to find somebody else to fix it or do it over.

To a gringo, this kind of behavior seems almost immoral or even illegal.


My advice for surviving a home improvement project in Costa Rica is:

  1. Hang on to more than the dollars we did before signing off on any project or contract.
  2. Keep something back (20% seems like a reasonable figure) to give your project time to fail or literally show its cracks.

Without doing this, you lose your leverage. You will be forced from being in the driver’s seat to becoming just a passenger along for the ride.

This is really not my advice. It came to me from Ivo based on his experiences over many years here. And, again, thanks to Ivo and his team for some leverage in trying to get my contractor to complete some of these outstanding repairs. However, it appears that I’ll now have to place the problem in the lap of my lawyer.

home improvement project finished the Tico way


This is the most unpleasant, and seemingly unnecessary, prospect. It’s been a learning experience for me. But also more than a disappointment about great memories that are now a bit sullied and soured.

My contractor did a really great job and we had a super relationship up until the very end. Now, I don’t know how he could ever expect a referral or a positive recommendation from me. What a shame that the last impression he left with me will be the only one I remember.

The Author

The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica. He and his wife used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.

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I DO want to remind our readers that we appreciate any referrals you can send us. Also, please remember the GoDutch Realty agents when you talk about your home in Costa Rica, we appreciate it.

We Love your Referrals at GoDutch Realty

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