Building Our Home In Las Terrenas: Best Decision We’ve Made

A Caribbean Beach Home All Our Own—A Cross-Cultural Construction Story

From the first day of our first visit, my wife and I were enchanted by Las Terrenas.

This eclectic, multicultural Caribbean beach community was so much more than we’d been expecting. It took only a couple of days for us to decide that we didn’t want to just pass through Las Terrenas. We wanted to be part of this place long term.

So we began looking at property for sale… and were so happy to discover that all price points were represented. This isn’t a typical Caribbean property market, where the little guy can’t afford to get in. Yes, there are drop-dead gorgeous beachfront villas priced in the low seven figures, but we also found one-bedroom condos for less than US$100,000.

At first, we were primarily interested in a condo in a beachfront community. There were many to choose from, but the ones that most closely fitted our criteria (we were looking for a modern, recently built property with three bedrooms close to the beach) seemed always to come in at US$300,000 or more.

That was more than we had planned to spend, but we also didn’t want to buy something that was less than what we really wanted.

Another of our criteria was that we wanted to be able to fully experience the town without needing a car. This meant easy access to restaurants, shops, and the beach… while still being located in a quiet area. Our search for the perfect property in the perfect setting included many long days riding around town on bicycles. This gave us a chance to really get a feel for the neighborhoods and to appreciate the difference between “truly convenient” and just “close by.”

We rode up and down each and every street along the beach road, exploring the neighborhoods along the way. Playa Popy and Playa Las Ballenas quickly became our primary areas of focus, as these are the only beaches truly within walking distance of the majority of the dining and nightlife options that Las Terrenas has to offer.

After many hours (and miles) riding along the beach roads, detouring to go up and down each spur road and taking in the karma of each neighborhood, we decided to focus on Playa Las Ballenas.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the selection of condos available at Playa Las Ballenas was limited.

Just about the time we’d reached a level of frustration that almost caused us to give up, we stumbled across a villa that was being built on spec by a local French developer. It was the final villa in a small neighborhood of eight homes. The builder is well known around Las Terrenas, with a reputation for both quality and providing good value for money.

The villa in question was a standard plan, so we had a good idea of what we would get. And the location, just 100 yards from the beach, was ideal.

We decided this was the place for us.

Buying early on in the construction process offered us the chance to incorporate our own touches and customizations to make the house our own. The French construction supervisor had assembled a Dominican crew that proved capable of implementing even our most complicated changes to the plan. Those many enhancements resulted in a substantially improved final product, but added only marginally to the cost, thanks to the affordable cost of building in Las Terrenas (at least when you’re working with an honest builder).

Though we’ve heard lots of horror stories about building a home in a developing country like the Dominican Republic, the decision we made to build a home of our own was one of the best we’ve made in a very long time.

Perhaps the best part was the chance it gave us to meet and to get to know so many members of the business community around town. The variety of services available in Las Terrenas is impressive, it turns out, as, we’ve found, is the customer service.

And what an eclectic business community. A rainbow of nationalities is represented in this little beach town.

One of the first tasks we faced after signing the “promise to purchase” was to decide on the kitchen. We were guided by our builder to an Italian kitchen shop that has been installing custom kitchens across Las Terrenas for a decade. Our visit was a whirlwind of computer graphic design, hands-on evaluation of finishes, and multilingual in-depth discussions and decision-making.

Our builder speaks French and Spanish, and limited English. We speak English and French, and very limited Spanish. The kitchen designers spoke Italian and Spanish, but little else. If I told you I understood everything that was discussed that day, I’d be lying.

Still, language obstacles notwithstanding, we were able to design a custom kitchen in less than two hours. Total cost of our new kitchen, including beautiful cabinetry, excellent appliances, and modern finishes: US$14,000.

The rest of the process of finishing our beach villa was a similar experience.

The French furnishing store in town specializes in getting anything a client could possibly want, custom-tailored and delivered with a level of customer service that is beyond anything we’ve ever experienced in the United States.

Need a mirror? They come to the house to measure it, get it custom-made, and then return to hang it on the wall for you! You’d expect this for drapes or blinds, but it is also the case for couches, chairs, tables, etc.

Fully furnishing our four-bedroom, four-bath villa with custom-designed pieces costs less than what it had cost us to furnish our one-bedroom place in the United States.

Furniture ordered, we decided we wanted original artwork that was a cut above the standard Haitian art sold along the sidewalks in town. A well-known local artist, a French woman who’s lived in Las Terrenas for over a decade, came to our home to help us with a plan. She came up with a concept that allowed her to fill our villa with nearly 100% original, custom-tailored art for roughly what we would have paid for just one of her original oil paintings.

The French appliance store sourced all of our appliances, down to the gas grill and wall safes. They delivered everything to our villa, then took every appliance out of its box, hooked it up, and tested it for us.

The Swiss electrical contractors presented our biggest linguistic challenge. They speak only Italian and Spanish. Nevertheless, we were able to arrange for the installation of a low-cost backup power supply to keep our home humming during the frequent though generally short-lived power outages. Fully installed, integrated seamlessly into our electrical supply, the whole system cost little more than the cost of a portable gas generator in the States.

The bicycle shop in town is owned by a Swiss fellow and his Dominican wife. He speaks German and Spanish, while she speaks Spanish, German, and English. Every interaction with them is a delight, as they switch among languages to consider with clients the trade-offs of different bikes they either have in stock or can get in a day or two.

Best of all, though, they aren’t just a bike shop. They are their own center of social activity, organizing weekly bike rides. Imagine our surprise when discussing a bicycle with them one afternoon to find that no fewer than three of the business owners we’d been dealing with for the construction of our villa showed up for the weekly ride!

This is truly an exceptional community of people from around the world working together to build a quality lifestyle in a beautiful beachfront location, regardless of the language each of us uses in the process.

We’re delighted now to call it our home.

Bill Piatt

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