Have you recently purchased, or are considering purchasing a vacation home or Condominium in a tropical hotspot? Are you aware of what you need to get it setup for use, and plan for ongoing maintenance, to make your vacation property enjoyable and minimize maintenance hassles? Let's talk about what you need to be aware of to ensure you make the most of your investment.
Construction and maintenance costs in places like Florida, The Caribbean, Mexico and other parts of Latin America are reasonable in comparison to here at home,and that can be a significant incentive for us to take the plunge.
However there may be a few things you need to consider beyond the real-estate transaction itself which might not be front-of-mind if you have less experience with the everyday wear and tear that a tropical climate brings on your property. Being more aware of these things can help you budget better for initial setup and ongoing care, avoiding potentially costly mistakes along the way.
Here are just a few key things to consider:
1. Make the effort to learn at least a rudimentary knowledge of the local language and culture. It will go a long way to help you forge relationships with local craftsman - In many cases these craftsmen and women are experts in their field and may have knowledge of more than one discipline so use them as much as you can. They are also likely to have contacts who can do other types of work. Find them by getting references from other Canadian/Americans who have owned property in the area for a number of years.
2. Frequency of Painting Exterior/Interior. High humidity, precipitation and ocean spray are very hard on exterior and interior finishes. In most tropical or sub-tropical climates if the exterior of your property is painted (rather than stucco or plaster that has integral color in it) painting the exterior once per year is pretty much a given. The same applies to any interior spaces which are open to the exterior. If your interiors are not air conditioned, they will run a higher risk of damage from humidity and likely will require a once-per-year repaint. If this is could present a problem, consider having the interior walls plastered or consider creating an interior aesthetic that has minimal painted surfaces.
3. Slippery Floor Surfaces. That polished limestone tile sure looked fabulous in the showroom and at that resort down the road, but just a little humidity or light shower of rain can make it a dangerous skating rink! Where possible, choose floor tiles that have some degree of texture to them to minimize slippage. Or use smaller-sized tiles so that there are more grout joints which will facilitate better grip. You may have noticed that in some tropical resorts, they use broken tiles to create a sort of random mosaic installation which is not just for decorative purposes - it helps to reduce slippage. Other options include stamped concrete, exposed aggregate concrete, and standing pebble pavement which is particularly attractive and surprisingly comfortable. There are also plenty of porcelain tiles available which are rated for use as floor tiles in wet areas. Also, the 'grout' is not necessarily what we use in Canada/USA - review this with your contractor or tiler before the material is installed to make sure the grout used is also of a material that will withstand the humidity and be less conducive to mould growth. Stan
4. Woven Flooring. If you must have any kind of carpet in your property, make sure it is made of fibres which are mould resistant. In particular, Wool is one of the best and most reliable. Your best option is to avoid wall to wall carpet and use area rugs placed on top of tile or hard-surface floors. While you can find other area rugs, or carpets which have been treated to be microbe-resistant, a fibre such as wool which is naturally resistant is your best bet. Plus, wool has the added advantage of being easily cleanable and fire resistant.
5. Critters. Depending on geographic location there will be critters of various types which are not particular about where they relieve themselves. Bats in particular will leave streaky marks on walls, floors and ceilings, as will lizards. In a similar way that the acids from bird droppings will damage paint work on vehicles, these tropical critters will leave messes that will do similar damage. Become aware of what these messes look like and ensure that you and you cleaners make it part of your cleaning regimen. Critters can also leave marks on furniture, so ensure that your furniture selections are easily cleanable.
6. Upholstery and Drapery Fabrics. For anything that is going to get high sun exposure, whether inside or outside, use fabrics that do not fade in the sun, and are resistant to humidity, otherwise you will be reupholstering or replacing the pieces very soon and spending twice what you needed to spend. Brands such as Sunbrella or other equivalents are a wise choice, and there are options which do not feel rough to the touch. The other thing to keep in mind is the type of foam or 'fill' used in cushions. You want something that has some moisture and mould resistance. If possible, find a local upholsterer whom you can ask about the options they offer. Even using a foam core with a wool wrap can be enough to help mitigate mould growth. With regards to cleanability - fabrics that are inherently stain resistant and wipeable are you best bet for exterior use, and for interior use you can use some of the same exterior-grades as well as using other fabrics which are washable as opposed to 'dry clean only'. If you cannot find the style or selection of fabric from local sources, it could be procured in Canada or the USA, depending on quantity required as it costs less to ship than larger items such as furniture or rugs.
7. Wood Furniture - Any piece of wood furniture that will be outside is going to require a lot of upkeep. Pieces located inside will require less, but its still more humid than northern USA and Canada so interior pieces will still require more attention than we give them at home. The sun, humidity, wind, rain and critters all want a piece of it, so you need to choose pieces which will require minimal maintenance. First of all, buy wood furniture that is made as locally as possible. This is because wood that has been acclimatized to the humidity of the region BEFORE it has been constructed is likely to last a lot longer than pre-manufactured pieces that are shipped in from further afield.
6. Reduce Shipping Costs - Buy local wherever possible - This not only supports the livelihood of the local population, but it also minimizes what you pay to get goods to your property. Shipping between Canada and the USA is one thing, but it is cost prohibitive when trying to ship from Canada (or the USA) to/from Mexico, the Caribbean or other Latin American countries. The other side to this is that you can get custom-made furniture in Mexico/Latin America (in particular) for a fraction of the cost that you would pay at home, so its to your advantage to make your property more unique by tapping into whatever hand-made, custom goods you can. If the local suppliers do not have what you are looking for, work with them to see if they are willing to make something to your specifications. If the prospect of doing this daunts you because you don't know exactly what size of piece(s) you require, or how to create the style/shape, an interior designer can help you design/specify what you want. The investment in their services can pay off by ensuring you get something that is exactly what you want which you can then take to have priced by more than one source if necessary. Alternatively an interior designer can design AND supply the product for you, putting the onus on them to manage the process and provide the end result.
7. Vegetation Overgrowth - Be aware of the proximity of plants, trees, shrubs to the walls and roof of your home and be aware of their growth rates. Its obvious to say it, but fast growing plants will require more ongoing maintenance than slower growing plants. Consider too the aesthetics you want on your property and purchase plants which will enhance the effect you want and provide enough shade from the sun; too many cacti in comparison to shade-providing trees/bushes will make the property feel a bit exposed and harsh, even although they are very easy maintenance. So work to get the balance right between maintenance versus aesthetics to create the mood you want. If you are renting out your property, consider the importance of planting to make the place look and feel attractive. If you scrimp on plants and the place feels uninviting, it might mean that is will be less attractive to your potential clients.
8. Construction Cost & Upkeep of Palapa Roofs - A Palapa roof is a type of thatched roof made of palm fronds, or can be made of synthetic materials and in tropical zones this style of architecture is in widespread use. While this type of material looks lovely and is a true piece of craftsmanship when done well, it also requires upkeep, repair and replacement on a regular basis. The life cycle of a natural product will be less if it is used on top of a plywood or other substrate, versus when it is used in an 'open' roof application. On average a natural Palapa open roof will last in the region of 10 to 12 years before it needs completely replaced , whereas a synthetic thatch material in a similar application will last a lot longer, in some cases almost double the length of time. There are other variables which will affect the life cycle of it which you should ask a local supplier for their expertise. Natural palm frond roofs also should be coated with fire retardant material, which may also need to be re-applied at regular intervals.
As with all of the above, if the process of setting up your vacation property becomes too overwhelming or you can't find what you need, consider the value of investing in an interior design professional who can help you to enhance your property so that it looks and functions to the best of its ability.
Need help with your vacation property in a tropical climate? Call Kevin Gray Interiors for a complimentary discussion today. We are based in Calgary, Canada and one of our specialities is vacation living. 403-453-6860
Kevin Gray is a residential interiors specialist, who has more than 20 years experience in the interior and architectural design industry.