Building your dream home in Mexico

Ever consider having a cave in your house for your wine collection? How about a fire pole to go from your bedroom to your dining room?, Perhaps an office in a treehouse? If you have eccentric tastes--or if you just want something different for your house, like an extra large chef's kitchen or an isolated bedroom for your mother-in-law--you may want to design and build one yourself. Although you might entertain building a house from scratch back home, tackling a project like this in Mexico may seem daunting.

For me, the build versus buy decision was settled the day I married a Mexican architect. But you don't need an architect in the family. If you have a clear idea of what you want and are willing to roll up your sleeves and find yourself a good architect and builder, you can turn your dream into your dream home. We did--and it ended up being a lot of fun.

Here are some tips from the two years my wife and I spent building our home in Mexico.

I. Finding the land

Where should you buy? Mexico has 5800 miles of coastline and lots of charming towns. If you're not already sure where you want to build, consider convenience. You may find a beautiful spot on a remote beach, but if getting there involves changing planes and a long drive, you may find yourself using your new house less than you think, especially if it's a vacation home.

Major airlines have been adding new routes and flights to Mexico, so if you're looking for a good deal, explore areas that are receiving more international flights. Not only will more flights make getting there easier and cheaper over time, it's also a good sign for rising property values and your ability to rent your house when you're not using it.

Once you find a piece of land that you like, check out the area at different times of day and on different days of the week (in Valle de Bravo, where we built our house, it's usually deserted during the week and packed on weekends). Inquire about the weather: is there a rainy season? Does it ever get hot and humid? Will you need to put in heat or air-conditioning? Valle de Bravo's mild climate is economical, and most people get by with neither--in our house, we have just fans and fireplaces.