Is the Property Survey Accurate?

I’ve encountered an interesting and potentially damaging deficiency in our profession here. It has to do with the accuracy of the survey (plano in the local vernacular), or more accurately, the real estate agent’s knowledge of said plano.

When we (sellers of real estate) take a listing from a seller, we review the property with the seller. She shows us the property and we review the plano. We ask where the boundary lines to the property are and the seller will generally indicate the line in a diverse number of ways. Sometimes there are convenient line definitions: a road, a creek, a natural drainage ditch, ridge-line etc… But frequently the line is “over there”, stated with a wave of the hand, and gesturing towards a mass of overgrown jungle.

When a prospective buyer enters into contract with a seller, there is typically a 1 month term of due-diligence. It is during this time that the buyer’s agent and attorney will oversee any concerns about the property. These “concerns” are to make sure that the property has legal water, electric, access and, that the seller has the right to sell the property, that the property is indeed what was represented to the buyer AND, that the survey is accurate to within 5% of the size represented to the buyer.

It is this latter point this article addresses. In the due-diligence period, it is recommended that the buyer, at their expense and arranged by the agent, hire a topographer to re-measure the property. This is called “re-planteo” here in Costa Rica.

Some property owners maintain their property lines and so they are easily found. This is the exception and not the rule. When the original survey work is done, most topographers will place steel or cement posts at critical points along the boundary line that correspond to points indicated on the plano.

As stated, maintained property lines are not common. These lines frequently have become inaccessible due to jungle encroachment and the posts, if they are still there, are covered by vines, moss and lord-knows what manner of life, resulting in an appearance very much like their surrounding environs. In a word, they become invisible or certainly, difficult to locate.

Over the years, I have worked primarily in the mountains above Uvita. I have been shown the properties there by various sellers and followed procedure regarding where the property lines are/were. Again, this is a matter of asking the seller, and the seller indicating in one of the aforementioned manners where the lines are.

Bear with me, we are now getting to the “deficiency” mentioned.

I have a deal in process, actually 2 deals in process. These 2 properties sandwich a 3rd property where there is house and pool construction in progress. I have been involved in the sale of all 3 properties. Both deals are in their due-diligence period. In the re-planteo (topographer re-measuring the lines) it was discovered that the upper line of the selling property went through the middle of the pool of the middle (under construction) property. As chance would have it,

Costa Rica survey map inconsistency.
My conception of the 3 properties and their overlap.

the pool is in construction, being made with cinder block and lots of digging. That property owner is committed to it being there both in monetary investment as well as overall quality of the property. The error of where I had represented the line, years ago, and where it is being suggested by the topographer’s re-planteo to actually be, could cost the middle property owners a lot. In fact, it would seriously de-value his property and result in having to re-design things at a tremendous expense. The area that he would lose is the view area and also, is where his pool is.

How did this happen? I had represented to the various property owners, as well as the current buyer, where the lines were. In this case, the line was at a ridge. In my presentation of the properties I indicated the ridge line and stated “that is the property line”. This was based on the loose procedure that is used when we (us realtors and our sellers) discuss where the property lines are. Now that the topographer is doing the legal defining of the lines, we find out that it is not the ridge line but instead, is several meters beyond the ridge line.

The solution to this particular problem is currently in progress. We are getting a second opinion and may find that the topographer was simply wrong. The solution to the deficiency in our industry is another story.

When us real estate agents take a listing, we are not in the practice of hiring a topographer to verify where the lines are. This procedure runs in the hundreds of dollars per property. This would make working in the profession of real estate in Costa Rica cost prohibitive in many cases.

At first I thought that there had been an inaccuracy of the plano. One such glitch and the entire jug-saw puzzle of neighboring properties gets thrown into chaos. I imagined having to go around to the various property owners and explain how they will need to do a re-measuring of their property to see find how it effects them.

Then, when I realized that the plano was accurate and that the problem was in the presentation of the property – by me – based on what I was told by the seller(s), I started to think about the procedure we use in taking listings and found the deficiency. We simply don’t verify with a topographer that what the seller tells us is accurate.

So, what do we do? I’ve decided for my part that when I take a listing, I’m not going to go through the expense of hiring a topographer, but instead, am going to ask the seller to clearly define the property lines. Find and uncover the posts that were used. If they aren’t there, get them put there, and then keep the lines maintained.

This isn’t the end-all solution. They seller may be mistaken or there could be an inaccuracy in the existing plano. But it will clearly establish that all representations of the property have been done in good faith.

 

Property Buyer’s Checklist Part 2

Elevation, temperature, misty, humidity, view spoiling clouds and mold. These are the next points on the checklist about buying a property at altitude in Costa Rica.

I find “temperature” an interesting consideration. I moved to Costa Rica from the high-country of Colorado USA. I think that I spent the first 2 years here thawing out. I still find myself looking at a steep driveway entrance to a house and wonder at what the people do during winter. Hah! The climate in Costa Rica is exceptional – for the most part.

The Zone’s topography is loosely as follows: mountains coming down to the sea. So there are some elevated options, as well as some sea level options available here for the property searcher.

I live just a little north of Uvita in a pueblo called Playa Hermosa. My house is located at the highest point in this community, roughly 600 feet. There are times during dry season (read: summer) when I go to Uvita (just above sea level) to do my errands, and then get back home, where the air is fresh and breezy, thanks to the Pacific ocean.

So, we are here talking about a subjective concern. What kind of climate are you looking for? I have talked with some people who thrive on the “hot” of Uvita during the summer. I have also spoken with those who, like me, flee the heat.

Altitude: The official designation of the cloud ceiling within 10 degrees of the equator (Costa Rica is at 9 degrees) is 2,400 feet above sea level*. This is where you start to see the cloud forests. You know you’re in a cloud forest when you see trees that have moss hanging from the branches (among other indicators, but this one is easy).

Here in The Zone, there is the potential for clouds, mist and humidity at elevation. As a guide to making a buying decision on a piece of property, this is a matter of personal taste. My taste is, the higher the better. But, it (altitude) does present some of it’s unique conditions that are good to know about.

If your clothes, bedding and furniture are getting ruined & smelly by incessant dampness and mold, now you’ve got a problem. I’ve not had this problem in any of the areas I’ve lived in here (San Isidro, Dominical and Uvita), but I have certainly seen it, and it’s a problem to contend with.

Part of the answer lies in the design of your house. The treatment of light and air motion, as well as the intelligent use of fans, A/C and de-humidifiers all factor into the equation. The design of the house is the main thing. Design with the climate in mind. If you are at one of the higher elevations, visit the property at different times of the day. Talk with others who live nearby and see what they have to say. These people are generally all-too-happy to share their experiences with you about what worked, and what didn’t. Ask about soffit overhangs, direction of windows, keeping in mind the evening sun, types of paint, wood and so on.

I’ve been up at elevation when the clouds have come in. The homeowner goes around closing their windows to keep them out. I sat there enjoying the spectacle – no, not of him closing windows, but of the clouds coming up the coastal mountain range and buffeting the house. Man I could live like that! Others have expressed a distaste for the experience. Again: subjective.

I spoke with a friend here that lives at 2,000 feet and asked him if he has a problem with humidity and mold. He said “no” with a caveat. When he had first moved into his house, he had left it for an extended period of time. When he came home there were some dark mold spots in a few areas of the house. He had closed his house up tight. Now when he leaves, he leaves his windows open and fans on low. He now comes home to no mold.

As for the question of humidity, it may be the opposite of what one would think. It seems that there is a higher humidity down at sea level than at altitude. I can attest to this from years of driving down from San Isidro to Dominical. There was a point along the way that my family felt when we would hit what we called “the wall”. There was an uptick in what felt like the temperature and humidity. Hey, its not called the tropics for nothing. It is slightly cooler (3.5 degrees F. per 1,000 ft.)  and drier at elevation.

Topography & Terrain Steepness

If you are a lover of the ocean view, you will end up buying a property at elevation, at least a little bit. The coastal mountain range in The Zone is as diverse as can be.

Costa Rica is a “young” country in geologic terms. North and South America existed for some time as distinct and separate countries that were eventually joined by the land bridge that is Central America. It would seem that there were a number of forces at work, determined to make this bridge.

I had never thought of this, but I had it brought to my attention recently by Jack Ewing of Hacienda Baru fame, that despite being known for its volcanoes, all of Costa Rica’s active volcanos are in the northern part of the country. The southern part, where The Zone is situated, appears to have been formed by tectonic plate activity. Interesting. Volcanic to the north, tectonic to the south. Sounds like a nicely coordinated effort.

I say all that to get to this point. The geology of The Zone is diverse. There are areas where the soil is as stable as can be. We get what are almost routine tremors throughout the year here. The Ticos start getting a little nervous when there haven’t been any for a while. The thought is that if there hasn’t be a pressure release on what is underfoot, there could be a big one storing up.

I’ve been through some rather exciting shakes here, but nothing that knocked a TV off it’s place, nor anything like that. But seismic activity is good to be aware of. Also, intense rains. We are, after all, in the rain forest.

So, as you look at your properties, and wonder how the property you are enamored with will handle the shakes, there is something that you can do that will take the guess work out of it.

A soil analysis is a feature of roughly half of the raw-land sales that I’m involved with. The geologist will take a number of samples from different areas of your building area, and give you a detailed report on what it can bear. If you were thinking of building a 3 story, cement block house, he may just come back to you and say that you’ll need to keep it to 2 stories, or build with lighter materials and so on. The results are quite impressive and can make for a successful land purchase of a mountain property.

Up next: Solar Power, Hot Water, and Distance from Amenities

Info thanks to a friend who lives in Costa Verde

Steepness of terrain for building

Disappearing Breed: Under $100k Ocean View Lots

One of the things you can count on when you are a real estate agent in Costa Rica. The question: “how is the market there?” Perhaps not a daily occurrence, but almost. I was asked this today. One of the consistent qualities of “the market” here is that there are always those that are looking for the under $100k ocean view lots. If you find yourself in this category, this article is for you.

Under $100k Ocean View Lot Uvita Costa Rica
Ocean view from a $92k lot in Uvita – BV 5.

First off, who are you? Obviously, the budget minded buyer, perhaps limited in available expendable cash. But that ocean view is a gotta have! There are also those that already have a property here in Costa Rica and they simply want an income generating property, or an additional property for visiting friends or family. And they too, really want to offer an ocean view to the mix. Don’t want to be sticking the mother in law down in a hole somewhere with no air motion and (gasp!) no ocean view. Then there are the spec home builders. They are looking to reduce their initial investment to maximize profits. I suspect that there are some others that I’m not noting here, but I think that you get the point. This group of buyers applies to many who are interested in property here in Costa Rica.

Big Whales Tail view in Uvita Costa Rica
Shabam View – $85k ocean view. High-dollar view for low-dollar

As mentioned in the title, in the current market here in Costa Rica’s southern pacific zone, the under $100k ocean view property is going the way of the dodo. I’ve checked my own inventory as well as made a search of some of the other agencies in The Zone to see what they’ve got. They’re getting scarce. I provide a list of links at the end of this article of some of these under $100k’ers.

This is the second countdown on this type of properties that I’ve experienced in my career. I think that it was in 2006. We did a countdown and I remember the day when the last of the breed got snapped up. From that point onward we simply had to say to such buyers: “I’m sorry but ocean view properties start at $125k”. Then gradually up to “$145k”. Then, the crash. Then, the recovery. Then the glut on the market of desperate sellers who have finally cycled to the “conciliation” state of the acceptance cycle and had the mindset of: “whatever it takes. Sell that thing!”

This was the period that the word “fire-sale” characterizes very well. There were lots of fire-sales. These sellers had ocean view properties on the market for years. That’s right, plural – “years”. “Do not let that prospect walk away from the table” was the common message from the buyer to his agent.

That was clearly a buyer’s market. It is now gradually shifting over to a seller’s market. There are still some good options out there, but we are in that period of time prior to when this type and price of property is simply no longer available.

Costa Rica Property Buyer’s Checklist

I’ve recently been working with a fellow, a prospective buyer from the US. He is a great model of what I receive from so many of my prospective buyers when they start to get serious about the big move to Costa Rica and buying a property here.

To the right you can see what is the net result of my e-mail thread with Adrian. Due to the sheer volume of the data points, I’ll be working through this list episodically, probably in a series.

What I appreciate about Adrian’s approach is that he set out to identify the questions. This can be a tricky thing. You know how it is when you finally got the guy on the line – he’s all ears – and you’ve got your principle questions clearly in mind but the other ones, the ones that you had as you lay in bed mulling this thing over, are not coming to mind. The conversation hits that loaded pause as you try and recall those oh-so-important questions. The guy says: “Ok then. Great talking with you.”

So, here you have it. All those questions (well, most of them anyway) that you would like to have answered as you set about on the path of buying a property in Costa Rica. Let’s start with the first one:

Water Supply

This one has become the hot button for a lot of our properties. This is a recent turn in the maturing process of Costa Rica real estate. The powers that be have decided to start enforcing laws that have been on the books forever, as well as adding some new ones. It used to be that if there was a spigot that produced water when you turned the handle on or near the property, you were good to go. You had water.

Not any more.

You now need to have “legal” water. This can be from one of two sources (or both): a community water system that is known as an ASADA, or a private source that you then get concessioned to have the legal right to it.

The ASADA option requires first off that there be an ASADA system available to the property. Supposing there is, you will pay a tap fee and have a meter installed. There will be a monthly base payment of somewhere around 3,500 colones ($7.00’ish USD). High usage will cost more.

The concession option can be for surface water such as a stream, river or pond. Or it can be a well that can be hand-dug or deep drilled. Or a spring.

The cost of a concession is $1,000 – $1,500 (single family properties). I concessioned a spring that is about 100 meters away from the house for $1,000. I paid $500 about 18 months ago (at this writing) for the initial payment and will pay the balance when it is registered. Due to the newness of these changes in the law, and the ensuing press of applications, I’m hearing time estimates of up to 3 years to finish the process.

I’d venture to say that the majority of water systems in Costa Rica were rogue (read: illegal) previously. If not in Costa Rica in general, then certainly here in The Zone. It used to be that a neighbor would run a tube from his well, stream or what have you, across the road and down the hill to your property, and now you’ve got water.

Again, not any more.

  1. water supply
  2. access road maintenance costs
  3. height above sea level – temperature / misty / view spoiling clouds / mold
  4. steepness of terrain for building
  5. solar power
  6. hot water
  7. distance from amenities
  8. 2 wheel drive access throughout the year
  9. wi-fi / Internet connection / TV (uninterrupted UK soccer on weekends?)
  10. views: ocean / jungle / sunset
  11. flooding
  12. erosion
  13. Fees: HOA / water service / road / annual taxes
  14. future neighbors – build out of area

Legal:

  1. corporation
  2. death of owner
  3. soil tests
  4. survey (plano)
  5. security
  6. squatters
  7. For Sale by Owner vss Real Estate Agency
  8. title

Building:

  1. getting materials to the property
  2. wood / cement / other
  3. building in absentia vss being there
  4. fencing
  5. sewage

So, the topic of water is a hot one. This is because without legal water, the municipality will not grant you a building permit. There are workarounds and ways to manage the situation on most properties.

What to do if there is no legal water available. I’ve yet to see a property that has no access to water. I suppose it can happen, but I’ve not seen nor heard of it. There is usually at least one option for water.

So, if there is a short answer, here it is, water is an important topic for the land buyer, but your real estate guy will be able to help you navigate through the rocky waters. Also, a good number of properties here in The Zone already have legal water, so it might just be a moot point in your case.

Road Fees and Maintenance:
The Zone is characterized by a coastal highway that has got to be one of the finest roads in Costa Rica. It wasn’t so in the not too distant past. But it is great now. Almost all roads that come off of this coastal highway are dirt & gravel. I recommend to anyone that is interested in this part of Costa Rica to buy a four wheel drive vehicle. Pretty much everyone that lives here has one. I personally use compound low to get home.
OK so, the road that leads to a property is most likely “public”. This is the legal handle for the road as opposed to “private” or “easement”. As a resident of a different country than Costa Rica, you are going to think: “well then, the government will maintain the road” – NOPE!
The community that benefits from the road, maintains it. So, one of the questions that you want to ask, dear prospective owner of a property in Costa Rica is: what does it cost to maintain the road? This will obviously vary from one area to another. I would say that generally speaking, around $150 – $1,000 per year will cover most cases. There are many that don’t have an annual fee, but where the community just takes a collection as the need dictates.
There will be varying degrees of road maintenance. Sometimes all the road will need will be a new cap of material that gets compressed into the underlying material. Or, the road may need some tractor work done on it so that it is crowned for water drainage and/or perhaps there are deep ruts caused by water running down the wheel tracks in the road. So generally you keep an eye on your road and take responsibility for it. If you notice that there is some water damage starting, get your pick and shovel and divert the water over to the drainage ditch alongside. This type of individual responsibility in road maintenance can reduce the costs.
As you can see this is going to take some doing to get through the list.  If there are any questions pertaining to the 2 points here, or to any of the points in the list above, please feel free to use the comment thingy below so that others can benefit from the Q & A as well. I will episodically add more explanations to the points in the list with subsequent articles.

 

The Hidden Market

Little House view
View from the “Little House”

I’ve just submitted an article to Tico Times about the time we are in right now that is favorable for spec home building. Now let’s add to this another factor that is not as obvious. Well… it is actually every bit as obvious. It’s just that it is hidden, which is a gracious way of saying: neglected. And by virtue of it being neglected, it is a bit unknown.

The Zone is in an expansion period. There is a strong market here for existing houses. Many of these homes are in the $400,000 – $1,000,000 market and beyond. The realtors here are doing well selling these properties. When I get an ocean view house listing in the $350,000 range, I view it as solid gold, because this price point is in high demand, and relative to our market here, is in the low side of the range. It will likely sell quickly.

There is little to no financing on the purchase of a house in Costa Rica. This means that the buyer of a house needs to be liquid starting at right around $350,000. What about those that aren’t packing this amount of liquid cash?

The Hidden Market:

One of my sellers of a $60,000 property has consulted with me about how he can sell his property. This man knows his way around The Zone’s real estate market. He has been involved in millions of dollars worth of property business during his time here. Why did he feel the need to consult with me? Because I took his listing. He can’t get any of the local real estate guys out to his property to list it. They are not interested. Despite being low priced, his property represents a considerable amount of listing work. The real estate guy’s perspective is that he can spend his time taking a listing for, say, a $750,000 house, or for this man’s property that pays less than a tenth of the house. Duh!

I recently took a listing on a small, 1 bedroom, 1 bath house nearby to where I live in Playa Hermosa, which is a small pueblo just north of Uvita. It had been refurbished by an investor. He had found an older Tico (Costa Rican) house that he fortified, re-tiled throughout, put in a small pool and generally fixed it up. The resulting house offered what many are looking for but are having a very difficult time finding: “Ocean view home, with pool for $129,000, 7 minutes from the grocery store”. Yowza! This took me less than 3 months to sell, and I continue to receive inquiries on the property. I wish that I had another dozen of these. Alas, I don’t. But, the same (or similar) effect of this property can be achieved in other ways.

Cracking the Hidden Market Nut: Buy one of the available lots on the market, build a modest but nice home on it, and you are in it for less than $300,000. You can then live in this house, or you can put it on the market in the under $300,000 range.

In my Tico Times article, I spell out a scenario where the house is priced at $429,000. Getting a house on the market for under $300k and that is nice, will result in a line at the door.

Properties similar to the Little House I had at $129k are nearly non-existent. These are so extremely rare that, even with the buy-and-build approach, are difficult to duplicate – difficult but not impossible. And this is the Hidden Market here.

If you’re reading this and wondering how you can bring a limited budget to the table and still own a home here in The Zone, you are looking into the Hidden Market. It may be that you’ve done some searching, and perhaps you’ve even found some properties that look like they’ll work for your budget. But then when you inquire, or look a little deeper into it, you find out why the property is priced as it is. It may be way out in the sticks, or the property itself may have some problems that explain why it is priced so low.

The caveat to solving the Hidden Market problem is that currently, all of the solutions I know of require buying raw land and then building. This is beyond what many are looking for or are willing to do. However, if you’ve got a limited budget, and you really want to own a home here in The Zone, consider buying and building. Your possibilities are: 1) wait for another Little House option to come on the market, or 2) buy one of the low priced, but good, raw land options and then build on it. If you are one of those that say “I can’t build in a foreign land”, then you are going to need to go with option #1. It may be a long wait.

The purpose of this article is not to go into the ins and outs of building here. That is for another article (or post your question below). Suffice it to say that there are some good options for doing so, and that some have even had good experiences building in absentia. I’m hoping that this information will help what I feel to be a rather large segment of the buying population who are frustrated by their inability to find a property in their budget.

Let’s get started. Here are a few properties right now that I feel solve the Hidden Market problem:

Lot for sale in Uvita Costa Rica Town Uvita Ready to build, all services in, about 5 minutes to the grocery store and 10 to the beach. No ocean view, but in a very nice area.

Click to view

Price $60,000
Type Land
Size 1/2 Acre
Lot for sale in Uvita good for spec home.
Some of the usable area on the $69,000, 1 acre lot.
Town Uvita One acre of nearly all usable land. Located about 4 minutes to the grocery store. Beautiful location. The services are in. Needs simple tractor work to get it ready to build, all services in. Some ocean view. This is just next to the $60k option above. A father-son selling team.

Click to view

Price $69,000
Type Land
Size 1 Acre

Ballena building site.
View of Roca Ballena from the $83,000 spec home lot.
Town Ballena South of Uvita:

Centrally located between Uvita & Ojochal. Looking straight out to the Roca Ballena configuration. This lot is ready to build. The water will need to be run from a neighbor’s well system. The electric is at the road the runs by the property. Ocean view including the Roca Ballena formation.

Click to view

Price $83,000
Type Land
Size 1 Acre+
A sort of companion article with links just posted: “Disappearing Breed: Under $100k Ocean View Lots”

If you haven’t read the Tico Times article that I reference at the start of this article, do so. You can scale down the costs outlined there for construction to calculate if you can buy one of these properties and then build on it. Ah what the heck, I’ll do some of it here. (I’ve hit my 1,000 word limit. As a blogger I’m told that you, dear reader, have a declining attention span for reading such length. Let’s prove ‘em wrong.)

Let’s find you a builder who can build your house for $85.00 per foot. Let’s say that you want to build a 1,200 sq. ft. home. Your building costs will be $102,000. If you want a pool, add $15,000. And then let’s add another $10,000 for permits, landscaping and incidentals. So your costs are right around $130,000. Add the price of your property and you’ve got your Hidden Market home.

Fiddle with these numbers. Keep in mind that we are in Costa Rica for a reason. And this reason isn’t to be sitting inside watching the tele. Build your house cheap. This isn’t to say “low quality”. Just enclose & secure the bedrooms, bathrooms and (if you like) a media room. Go ahead and have plenty of areas under roof, but who needs walls? Your kitchen can even be open-air here. What we need is a place to sit, do yoga, talk with friends etc… that is protected from the sun and the rain.  That $85.00 per foot figure can be pushed down.

Or try this: buy that $60,000 property, build a decent abode on it for $70,000, and you’ve duplicated the Little House scenario, just without the ocean view.

 

The Magic of Costa Rica – Rainy Season versus Dry

Costa Rica rainy season experience.
Antonio taking advantage of a downspout & wheel barrow to shower off after a mango-skin fight.

Before moving to Costa Rica in 1999, my family and I had lived in Colorado for the previous 20 years. We lived in the gorgeous Aspen valley. There was one busy season there at that time: winter. Aspen was known as a ski town and that was why people went there.

Us locals didn’t really understand why summers there were the “low” season. Summer there is magic. Well, during the years that we lived there, we saw a transformation from a 1 season tourism town to a 2 season. I’d be interested to see the data on which one is bigger tourism-wise. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that summer out-does winter, but that’s just me.

Here in The Zone, I feel like I’m seeing a repeat. For many of the locals that live here, the rainy season is the preferred time of year. It is cooler, and absolutely magic as well. Its still warm when it rains.

The beginning of the rainy season coincides nicely with the mangos becoming ripe on the trees. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten a mango, but they are MESSY. You get the juice running down your chin onto your shirt & shorts. It is for this reason I don’t eat a lot of mangos as a practice, despite the fact that I LOVE their taste.

So here’s what we do; when heavy afternoon rain set in, we suit up in swim attire, go climb a mango tree and get a bunch of mangos to eat. Then we sit in the downpour eating mangos. Invariably we end up having a mango-skin fight and getting covered with mango juice which then promptly gets washed off by the rain.

Or, one might find the deserted beaches to be the thing that they like to do during a tropical rain storm. They are “deserted” due to the fact that it is raining. Again, not sure why this is. The beaches in the warm tropical rains are a pensive and wonderful experience. To have a couple miles of breathtakingly beautiful beach all to oneself or with a loved one is, well… magic.

Swimming in a Costa Rica quebrada.
A refreshing dip in a very private, tucked in the jungle pool. Many are fed by waterfalls.

Again, its not cold out when it rains and the ocean here is just about warm. In fact it wouldn’t bother me a bit if it was a bit cooler. On a hot summer’s day, you jump in the water and now you’re wet. Its not what I would call “refreshing”. If one wants a refreshingly cool dip, they have to go inland to one of the many rivers and find a pool with a waterfall. Now this is invigorating. Nothing like the breath-stealing cold of the melting snow rivers of Colorado however. The rivers here in Costa Rica are set at the perfect temperature.

Costa Rica rainy season sunset
Sunset over the Pacific during a rain storm.

Anyway, as the change from rainy season to dry season is becoming evident, I’ve now heard a  number of locals say (yours truly included) that they are sorry to see the rains go. Weird eh? Many that live here almost prefer the rainy season over the dry season, despite the fact that it is the low season for tourism. Shades of Aspen Colorado in 1979.

In Aspen, the summers were/are just absolutely gorgeous. The rivers to die for (albeit really cold). The backpacking, bike riding, fishing and any number of other outdoor activities were magi…, er… wonderful. It is no surprise that the tourism crowd figured this out. Will the same thing happen in Costa Rica? Me thinks “yeah”.

In fact, I think that its already happening. I’ve heard a number of the local merchants, i.e.. restaurateurs, hoteliers, vacation rental-ers and tour operators say that business was good this past “off” season. Granted, for travelers from the U.S. & Canada there is a bit more involved with travel to Costa Rica than to say, Colorado. So there are some aspects of the comparison that differ. But I suspect that we are seeing a gradual up-tic in the numbers of people here in rainy season.

There is also an increase in the numbers moving to The Zone. Our real estate business is brisk. One of the guys in our office says that he likes the start of rainy season because it is always busy for him. My experience has been similar.  Real estate seems to have its own time frame. Some that are considering a move to Costa Rica come down during this time to see if they like the rains. Another benefit is that since it is a bit slower, you can get the undivided attention of your real estate guy (or gal).

During the busy season, we will sometimes plan a morning of showings with one buyer and then have to finish up by early afternoon to free up for afternoon showings with a different buyer, limiting the total focus that is available to any one buyer during the rainy season.

So, if you are among those considering a move, or even a visit to Costa Rica, you might want to consider coming during the months of May through November. September & October have typically been the wettest months of the year here but this may be shifting a bit. November was one of the heavier rain months this year.

Of course, one of the favorite activities during the rainy season is the afternoon hammock siesta with the sound of the rains pattering on the rainforest. You might start off with a little book reading, but it will likely go into slumber.

To some extent, I am just putting to writing here a conversation that seems to repeat itself in my real estate business on a regular basis. People want to know what its like in the rainy season. So, I thought I’d share.

A Morning in “The Zone”

Toucan in guarumo. Uvita Costa Rica
As I was preparing this article to post, I had this visitor. Ahhh, such are mornings in Costa Rica (and evenings… and afternoons).

At this writing, we are in the later stages of the rainy season here in the zone. Its a bit of a paradox why the rainy season here is called the “low” season. For those of us that live here, it is one of the nicest times of the year. There are flowers out like crazy, the climate is only perfect AND, there aren’t that many people here.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the busy season when there are lots of people here. Its just different. After what can seem to be a lengthy rainy season, one is ready for the sun to come out and stay out. Also, after the rather quiet months of the rainy season its kind of nice to get back into that almost festive feel of seeing so many people coming here and enjoying the sites and adventures that this part of Costa Rica offers.

So, where we’re at right now is a rainy season coming to an end – lastima! (too bad!) I love the rains.

We’re heading into months of uninterrupted sun and LOTs of people. The rainy season is extremely nice here. So is the non-rainy season – I guess this is what we call “life” here in the zone.

Diana - coordinator of the Uvita farmers market.
Diana is the coordinator of the Uvita Farmers Market. Front and center, you can’t miss her. She also (among other things) makes the best carrot cake in the known universe (catering too).

My morning:
This morning I did my usual visit to the Uvita Farmers Market. This is the big cultural event of the week in Uvita Costa Rica. Recommended to anyone considering having a stake here in the Dominical, Uvita or Ojochal areas.

It’s nearly impossible to run in, grab what you need, and leave. My good friend Rod came in for a glass of fresh squoze orange juice.

I think it took him more than an hour to get back to the squeezer’s table and get himself a cup. Such is the Uvita Farmer’s market.

Uvita Costa Rica's farmers market orange juicer.
Fresh squeezed orange juice. Alway there, always sweet.

One of my current observations regarding The Zone is the ingenuity and creativeness of the expats to make a living here. I have mentioned how young families have firmly made up a new segment of the demographics of The Zone. The private, bi-lingual schools here are bursting at the seams.

Not just the young families, but also most who are looking to move here have the question “how do I make a buck in Costa Rica?” as a prominent pregunta (question) in their considering the move.

This morning when I entered, I saw my good friends Tom & Anke Nagel at the immediate left as I walked in. They have s sustainable farm between Uvita & Ojochal, up in the hills a bit. They have lots of cacao plants growing there. They groom the plants organically and harvest the cacao seeds. They are now making screaming delicious chocolate bars called simply “Tom’s”. They sold out as I stood there, despite it being “low” season.

Then I turn to my right and there is Tori at her table. Tori works part time as Rod’s personal assistant. I think that Rod would prefer that she be called “the one who makes my life work”, or something like that. But in any case, Tori and her fiancee have begun the first micro-brewery in the area and even organize what has established itself as a very successful beer fest here in the area. She sells kombucha at the market.

Moving back further into the market I spoke with Maria who provides all manner of organic delights: dried plantains, seasoned with chile, salt or lemon. Also she sells an amazing yogurt tahini as a dip. Spicy and variously flavored chile sauces, organic cacao beans, sesame seeds, all manner of nuts etc…

Gaby's table at the Uvita farmers market.
Gaby is a wealth of healthy living knowledge. I make it a point to stop by and say hi – and perhaps gain a further tidbit of valuable information. Great earth-friendly products as well.

Going yet further back I like to visit Gaby’s table. She is where I buy my Himalayan salt, as well as bio-friendly laundry detergent and so on. She has helped me get started with growing my own moringa (do a search on Google for “moringa”, it’ll blow your mind. The solution to the world’s malnutrition?) & chaya trees (again – the solution the world hunger?). I always learn something from Gaby that helps me to take steps towards my personal objective of not being quite so dependent on what’s on the shelves at the grocery store.

Ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for months. We sat at the restaurant there in the market and discussed exactly this topic of how to make money here as an expat. He’s looking at focusing on long term rentals which we both see as a strong and very needy niche that needs to be filled here.

Brian Nice - proprietor of the Uvita farmers market.
Brian is the local philanthropist who provides the space for the farmer’s market, as well as the instigator of the privately funded Playa Hermosa lifeguards.

I stopped at Brian Nice’s table to pay my monthly contribution for the Playa Hermosa life guards. This program is saving lives and is funded strictly by voluntary donations and (I think) Brian’s pocket. I know, you’re thinking: “isn’t that what the government should be doing?” How ’bout let’s not go there. This is how it gets done here.

Rod & I decided to go get a bite at the Bamboo Taco trailer thingy that Sean Gallagher came up with. He drags his trailer’d grill behind his 1970 something diesel Toyota Land Cruiser and parks outside of the Uvita Veterinary Clinic right alongside the coastal highway starting on Thursday through Saturday. The tacos there are to die for and they are now serving pizzas and ribs, the latter of which was the reason that Rod went there today. I had the fish tacos. Awesome!

So, if you’ve read this far and are wondering what the heck a “morning in the life of the zone” article is doing on a Costa Rica Real Estate blog, it for this reason – many people that buy real estate here in The Zone are looking for a change-of-life. This is not just a question of buying a piece of property. In fact, real estate is just a small part of a much bigger picture. What its like to live here factors very strongly in why many people buy property here. Also, seeing the creative ways expats & Ticos make money here addresses one of the principle topics I encounter in my consultations and real estate business in general – that of “how can I make money in Costa Rica”.

If you’d like to talk, let me know. You can use the form below to setup the first one. What the heck – its free.

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