Little house in Guatemala, week 41

Ugh. The past couple of weeks have been pretty tough. BF was away and I was still dealing with the long long process of splitting my 90 acres land in 100 smaller plots. We gave up trying to split in 260 for fear it would be too much at once to get approved easily, and because the more we learned about the process, the more additional fees we discovered.


The initial layout

First the architect asked for $2,000 to draw 260 maps for us. Then, by my findings (not those of an architect who is working on land and construction stuff for a living), I found out you have to submit your maps to the cadaster’s office, and that is new. Because the North of Guatemala is mostly rural, made of huge ranches and few little plots, they are enforcing that rule here first, in the capital city you don’t have to worry about it. It is more a curse than a blessing, because those public servants, 300 miles away from the main office, receive the new directives and have little idea what to do with them, they suddenly get overwhelmed by applications and take a long time to process them.

To split my land I had to request first a copy of the map the cadaster has of the main parcel. Should be pretty straightforward, you pay $20 and you wait “10 days… yeah, our leaflet says 10 days but we have too much work, it’s going to take longer”. How much longer? I got a promise from the director that it would be no longer than a month. But when the month was out, so was the secured paper on which the map has to be printed. It came from the capital a week later.

One day it will all be worth it

One day it will all be worth it

From that map we learned that our land is almost a rectangle with straight lines, when in real life, its limits are not really straight. Can we include the extra land within our fences, since our neighbors have been respecting them for years? Not really, it would be a lengthy process to split the neighbor’s land as well. We just ignore them, it is not much anyway.

Then with that precious paper, they gave me another piece of news. In order to process the split, I now need an agreement from the office of protected areas, since we are next to a zone of protected forest. Ok, off to another bureaucratic heaven then. They say the process is really straightforward and will take 2 days. 2 days later, it will now take 8 days. 8 days later, I call again and am told it should be another few days. So I decide to get there. The legal team has reviewed and approved the file! Cool, what’s next? The director has to sign but he is away. Ok, I come back the next week, and the same girl from the legal team says my file is missing a map of the land so she cannot process it. Did she call me? Of course not. The file was just going to lay there until I come back. Thankfully, I had the map in hand and gave it to her. Are we good now? “Yes, the lawyer need to review it before passing on to the director. Oh wait, there is an error on your file. Yeah, our fault, we wrote your land was #123 and it is #1234. We need to print that again and have it signed by the director. Yes, he is still away.”

I go with the girl to make sure she prints everything correctly and leave, after they tell me the director will be in tomorrow to sign.

view 2

In the meanwhile, the new architect since the first one quit, is putting together the maps. First time he did print them on thick paper, he had to put his $1 stamp on each 100 of them, and knowing that there would likely be mistakes I told him to wait until I see them. He was dismissive and arrogant “ok, come over to do whatever you want to do”. When I got there he wasn’t there and the 100 maps were shuffled, none of them saying for which plot they were, and all of them showing BF as the owner, when our company is the registered owner. The maps were ALL wrong. Not happy that I saved him $100 of stamps, the guy didn’t show up, and I had to go home spend 3 hours with the maps to reconcile which was which and send him a list of errors. He said he would fix them the next week. I sent as many details, edited jpegs to show him how a map is done (he got basic training from the cadaster but is not a real architect, the bad thing is only him is registered to submit maps to the cadaster, not the old architect and they wouldn’t split the fee to do a good job together), and then was surprised when I double checked the list of mistakes to see that they were exactly the same as the previous list of mistakes I had sent a week earlier.

I sent him an email pointing out that he had me correct HIS work twice for nothing, that now he was to print and sign the maps with the corrections, if anything was wrong that I hadn’t mentioned I would pay for a new map, otherwise he was to be responsible. He said ok, gave me another appointment and when I showed up he had printed nothing!

I was furious and almost insulted him for having me drive one hour for nothing and lie to me. He said “you need to give your ok before I print”. What ok? The one I gave you a week earlier by email? Yesterday? Right now?  So are we printing them today? “oh no, I have worked too hard, I’ll do it for tomorrow”. I thought I would explode, but eventually there was nothing to do so I got his word the next day, 100 maps with 100 stamps and signed by him 100 times would be printed. I got there again the next day and he didn’t show up! The maps were printed by his colleague but only him could stamp and sign. He didn’t pick up his phone the whole day and when BF called him from another number he hung up on him! It was payday so BF thinks he may have been drunk, which is common here on payday. WTF?? You make me drive all the way, at least have the courtesy to warn that you aren’t going to be there!

So now I am still waiting for my 100 maps and my letter from protected areas, losing patience and knowing that you can’t do anything because they have the power. When the guy sobers up tomorrow or a month from now he is going to call and pretend he is a reliable professional and if I talk heavy to him, he won’t do a thing. I am completely unable to brownnose and pretend everything is fine. We already paid half his fee at $1,300 and starting again with another guy is not a possibility. Apart from being an insolent little gringa in a macho country, who called him incompetent and lazy for having ME check out his poor work, I also mentioned that instead of the 100 maps we would submit first 20 to the cadaster. His terms of payment are another 25% when the 100 maps go to cadaster, so if we put only 20 for now, at the pace things go, he would only see $150 and that’s probably the other reason he bailed.

Still, he is getting $3,000 for a job that took him 4 days of field study with an assistant who surely earns less than $20 a day, and what should have been a week of office work, turned three so far. A pretty nice payday indeed, to not even do his job properly.

The idea behind trying with 20 maps only is you have to pay $15 per map to the cadaster for review. Should they reject them, we would lose $300, not $1,500. And pay our guy $150 until he fixes it, not $750 and not see him again. He may not have been very keen on the idea.

That is also why we submitted 100 plots, the guy is already charging $30 per plot for the maps and field study, and the cadaster would have cost a cool $4,000 for 260 maps, so better have small plots that will be easy to divide if and when a buyer shows up asking for a smaller one.

While I am not too worried about protected areas office giving me my approval letter (which we were at first, thinking some jealous people from around here could block it but legal has approved it), I now have a MIA architect-who-is-not-an-architect who has all the power, and $1,300 of ours in his pocket. It is going to be interesting, not sure I have the patience to play games though.


What was your most frustrating moment with a public servant?


This post was featured on the Lifestyle Carnival, thank you!


A 30 something French girl embarking on a journey towards Financial Independence. I blog about money, travel, simple and deliberate living, freedom and choices. You can find me on Twitter, Google+, or Reach Financial Independence's Facebook Page

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  1. Craziness on the corruption in that country. Do you think they are giving you a harder time because you’re not from there?

    Hopefully your ROI will be worth all this aggravation.
    charles@gettingarichlife recently posted..The #1 Reason Why You Need To Save For RetirementMy Profile

    • I think I am having a hard time because I don’t know what they need, and since the directives change all the time, they don’t know much more. One told me “sorry, for a month we were in limbo and had no idea what to require from applicants”. Another one “we don’t want to mess up so we ask for more than we need”. And then they see the gringa and they don’t want more problems than they already have so they delay things a bit more. But it will hopefully turn out fine…

  2. I have nothing like you mentioned going on here Pauline. This definitely sounds like a lot of red tape and more hassle than it should be. It will pay off in the end just no idea when the end will be hear. When I hear your situation it makes me realize some of the things I complain about really aren’t that bad.
    Thomas recently posted..Do What Works For You Just Leave Me AloneMy Profile

    • oh, I have a post in queue called “I can’t complain” too, I’ve been a walking rant lately but there is a lot of positive going around as well.

  3. Its really hard to get things done when you have such corrupt officials around you. All your hard work will definitely pay you and I wish you all the best

  4. Wow, what an absolute mess. Sorry to hear about the hassle Pauline. It just seems like they’re just doing everything they can to make this an absolutely horrible experience for you. I’ve had my fair share of dealings with incompetent bureaucrats, but nothing at all like this. Hopefully someone gets their act straight some time soon.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Cancel Your Cable, Save Thousands & Become More ProductiveMy Profile

  5. Love those pics, Pauline! It really looks beautiful!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..September Budget Breakdown and Life UpdatesMy Profile

  6. My goodness, Pauline, my head hurts just reading what you have had to go through. How very frustrating for you. My biggest issues have been with the tax office, trying to sort out payments going back years on a company car that I only had for a couple of months. If I’d known it was going to cause such complications I’d never ever have used it!
    I do hope that you get this sorted out soon and can progress. x
    Skint in the City recently posted..Would You Wear Clothes Then Return as ‘Unused’?My Profile

    • hehe I can imagine you’d just want to throw the car keys at them and scream “keep it!!” then walk away. It can get so frustrating when you don’t have a thinking person to talk to about your problem. Reminds me of Little Britain’s “computer says no”…

  7. Wow, what a mess. I really don’t think I’d have your patience with all of this. Hopefully it pays off down the road.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Buying a Car: Setting a Budget and a TimelineMy Profile

  8. Wow, that’s some serious bureaucratic BS. How much of all of this did you know before you went ahead with the land purchase and plans to divide and develop it? Luckily our government bureaucrats are actually pretty darned good at their jobs and very responsive to every question we’ve ever had. The most annoying one was the SSA clerk who argued with me about my name change form after I got married. She kept telling me that I wouldn’t like the name I was taking and that I should just take my husband’s name full-stop and be done with it.
    Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..PoP Income Statement – August 2013My Profile

    • We knew it would be no picnic but didn’t know what the whole process was about. At the protected area offices we put our file early July then on July 30th got a letter saying the file was incomplete… as per the motion of July 29th! How in hell can you find out about it?
      Funny about your name, she may have thought you would change it down the road and didn’t want to work twice maybe? I got offered a free boob job during a free physical in France, the doc just looked at me and offered it without me saying I wanted one (and like social security has money to throw out the window).

  9. I am imagine developing real estate always has its delays and hassles, but the ones you are experiencing seem a bit over-the-top. Hang in there. The caption on your first pic “One day it will all be worth it” is the right attitude to maintain!
    Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia recently posted..How to Become RichMy Profile

    • One day.. are we there yet?? I guess in the US or Europe we would have had it easier but with an even longer list of things to do before getting approved so it would have taken more time maybe.

  10. Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    I hate dealing with incompetent people or macho people who won’t treat you as an equal because you’re a woman. Your property is so beautiful and it’s so unfortunate that you have to go through all this red tape that seems to benefit no one.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..A Labor Day {Inforgraphic} – How Do You Compare?My Profile

    • The beach property where the house is depends of another organism that seems more straightforward and the guy had been great but the land depends of the council and small town men drunk on power, not a good mix.

  11. Wow, how convoluted is this process? This is ridiculous Pauline. Sorry you have to deal with this crap.
    Grayson @ Debt Roundup recently posted..Why You Need a Checking Account (and how not to regret having one!)My Profile

  12. I’m so sorry to hear about this. I hope that you get everything straightened out and keep remembering in the end it will all be worth it! I’d say my biggest frustration was dealing with our broken sewer drain. If I could have dealt with only a private company it would have been done much faster, cheaper, and better. Unfortunately we had to use their guys since they were paying.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..What I Love about Cub Foods: Savings and DealsMy Profile

  13. oh my gooood, I would go crazy if I had to deal with something as hopeless as that. I really hope it all ends well soon, with the result you want and have paid for.
    The Norwegian Girl recently posted..The Importance of Social MediaMy Profile

  14. so for some reason I manage to post comments before I´m done writing… anyway, this reminds me a lot about the canarian system.. My parents used about 8 months to get all the papers and transactions and various things done correctly, when they bought their latest apartment in Gran Canaria. My mom nearly gave up, because every time she went to see the bank manager, there was something wrong, something missing or whatever. They even wanted a statement about how long my father had worked in his then current job, which my dad gave them, but then they got suspicious because he´d worked for the same company for over 20 years.. and obviously this was very, very suspicious! OMG!
    The Norwegian Girl recently posted..The Frugal CleanseMy Profile

  15. If nothing else, I can share your frustration from afar! I can’t believe all the junk you have to deal with. It sounds like you are (very) slowly making progress at least!
    Anne @ Unique Gifter recently posted..Back to School Gifts for College StudentsMy Profile

  16. I know it’s going to be a good post when the first word is ugh! You sound as frustrated as I am with our partners in our real estate flip. We should take bets on who gets finished first!

    I think my biggest frustration in dealing with government officials is with billing Medicare for health services. They have crazy rules and deny lots of things. We got a letter in the mail from them once saying a claim was denied because they didn’t have our address!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Happy Labor Day!My Profile

  17. When I changed back from my maiden name after my divorce the local electrical utility gave me the hardest time. Revenue Canada, my bank, major credit cards, drivers license, health card, my professional licenses were all a breeze but the electrical utility wanted signed and notarized copies of an old utility bill and several official change of name documents and a copy of the driver’s license in my old name and my new name.

    What are the names of the street? I tried to read them on the map but they are too tiny. Are you selecting a theme for the names (men you have know and loved or all cities you have visited)?
    Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle recently posted..Lady Driven And Less Than 100,000 KMMy Profile

    • Wow that is ridiculous!
      The street are named North, South, Central East and West in Maya, that would be Xaman, Yaxkin, Nojol, Chikin and Likin, then main street is Avenida Real and the rest has random names based on what was there (a pond, a view point, a cattle scale…). No exotic cities :)

  18. Hopefully you will look back on this ten years from now when you’ve made bank on this land and laugh. Im sorry it’s so difficult right now. :(
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..It Started With Lip GlossMy Profile

    • One day I was super happy and I thought I had made a step forward so I thought I would go to the girl who helped me and say thanks. I just walked through the door and they said “oh, good you came, we need more documents”. Sigh. One day…

  19. All I have to say is…… I don’t know how you do it Pauline. It seems like there is so much red tape you are jumping through to get this dream of yours off the ground. I know thought that in the end it will be worth it for you.
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..Bust our budget August 2013: Save or splurge?My Profile

  20. This story sounds familiar (though I had to deal with a smaller scale nighmare). Thinking of you and keep persisting – one day it’ll be really worth it :).
    maria@moneyprinciple recently posted..Our financial goals: time for another reportMy Profile

  21. My friend, you have far more perseverance than I do – I would’ve given up on those rats long ago! For all the complaints one can have about America, at least, for the most part, when you pay for a job it gets done, I would imagine since there are so many more businesses to choose from. How frustrating for you!
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..How to Make Rabbits Stop Eating Your GardenMy Profile

    • “when you pay for a job it gets done” sounds like a distant memory. We argue a lot with BF about that because I expect the job to be done, while he expects the errors. So he goes about correcting them before people deliver. I wait and then get bitter when they deliver crap.

  22. Holy crap, Pauline! I thought DMV was bad. They now appear to be a paragon of efficiency after reading this. Actually, getting my gorgeous Granados guitar made in Paracho, Mexico and sent here was pretty intense. There was a language barrier, the bank account troubles, having special tuners purchased from a place in CA and sent to the luthier in Mexico, and it took nearly 9 months. Still, it is obvious that it was nothing compared to this morass you’re going through. I wish I had read this article prior to having my guitar made!!! Have a marvy one!!!
    cj recently posted..Speaking Your Language of LoveMy Profile

  23. Wow. I hope that your rewards for all this are proportional to the effort you had to put in!
    Alex @ Searching for Happy recently posted..A quick happy thoughts list for tonightMy Profile

  24. Pauline, my most frustrating moment with a public servant is this one! This is ridiculous stuff, and if I didn’t know you were a real person, I would say this was great fiction or some sick TV show plot.

    I do love the caption that says it will all be worth it one day.
    Tammy R recently posted..Speaking Your Language of LoveMy Profile

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