Costa Rica History in knife metaphorI’d say that about 1/10th of my time spent with people looking to buy property in Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific zone is spent in the actual buying/selling of property. The other 9/10ths is a mix of conversations regarding what’s involved with living here, as well as discussing the business of real estate in Costa Rica.

At its core, the lack of an actual MLS (Multiple Listing Service) colors all aspects of the business here, and I’ll go into that later on in this series. To really understand the business of real estate here, I have found it helpful to go back in time and see the progression of events up to the present. This helps to not only understand the current market but also, to project what is to come.

Early days:
I got into real estate in Dominical in 2004. It felt like the day I got into real estate was the day that someone threw the on-off switch on the market. Since then I’ve heard some tales indicating that the market was already simmering and poised to boil.

I made a sale on my first day in the business. A $60,000 gorgeous ocean view property sized at around 2 acres.  The property featured Uvita’s Whales Tail front and center. That property has gone on to have a lovely home, guest house and pool built on it. It has been re-sold and enjoys a stellar vacation rental history (link to rental page on HomeAway)

Quick overview of The Zone:
The Zone is made up of a string of 3 towns with Dominical at its northern end. The northern boundary is not a hard line but is decidedly fuzzy, easily extending up to Hatillo and at times, up to Portalon. (link to Hills of Portalon Development).

From Dominical heading south on the coastal highway you get to Uvita and then further south, to Ojochal. The area between Dominical and Uvita has a nicely laid out mountain range that runs very parallel to the ocean. Hence the handle “coastal mountain range” This means that you can travel inland from the beach just a short way and get to elevation where it is breezy and cool and offers expansive views of the ocean and coastline, attributes which make this area extremely desirable to investors, relocators and migrators (part-of-the-year residents).

More History:
Before the incoming press of foreign interest in The Zone, the Ticos (Costa Ricans) owned all the land, and their land holdings were always in the multi-hectares (1 hectare = 2.48 acres. Think 2.5 to make it easy).

There was a time in the not too distant past when land in Costa Rica was nearly value-less. There were land-grant programs whereby a man simply had to be willing to take responsibility for a property and the government would “grant” him the land, with conditions.

At that time it was not known that “nature” had a lucrative aspect to it. Instead nature was largely viewed as “in the way” and needed to be tamed, subdued or eliminated. So, one of the conditions to receiving a land grant was to cut the trees down and raise cattle.

I suspect that this era may have coincided with the “McDonalds” explosion. This is an arguable point, so let’s just say it coincided with an extreme demand in the U. S. (and world) for beef.

After some time of cutting down enormous canopy trees and attempting to raise cattle in former rain-forest environs, there was a shift in our world’s appetites; nature became an important commodity. Granted, beef has continued to be an active commodity, but it was also learned that former rain forest land doesn’t necessarily make for the best pasture land.

Raising cattle in Costa Rica was a daunting struggle. The farmers found themselves up against nature. Having to maintain former rain forest jungle land in “pasture” condition presented its trials, as well as the fact that the beef business (exporting meat, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and 3rd world infrastructure or lack thereof) made a guy scratch his head and wonder if having all this land was such a good idea.

The Tico culture was/is multi-generational. These large, granted tracts of land, would end up being populated by the man who acquired the land, his now grown sons & daughters and their families, and the grand kids (soon to also have families.)

So despite having lots of land, a condition that in first-world countries equates to being wealthy, these farmers were subsistence. They lived off of what their land produced. As a child would grow to adulthood, Abuelo (abuelo = grandfather) would simply build them a house and apportion off some land (or not) and they would continue on contributing to the sustenance of the family. The land itself was not thought of in lucrative terms.

Abuelo just happened to acquire a land grant on, let’s say, 60 hectares of land that reaches from the inland side of the maritime zone on the coast up to the highest point of the coastal mountain ridge. He’s not thinking “oh boy! I’ve got some ocean view land here.” No, he’s thinking: “man I hope this land is fertile.”

Enter foreigner:
One day Bob, a tourist, is exploring the area and decides that he’d like to buy Abuelo’s property. Bob offers Abuelo $60,000 for the land. Abuelo has never even considered the remote possibility of maybe someday having such a sum. In fact, he’s never even seen that much money. He talks it over with his family and they (very understandably) feel that this would be a wonderful thing for them to do. So, they sell their land.

Bos is a visionary. He sees what is likely coming and so he stakes his early claim. Now, keep in mind that there is no electricity to this property, the access is horseback and the water is from a nearby spring that is bubbling out of the ground. Abuelo has run a pipe from the spring to an elevated storage tank near the family homes. Bob’s a visionary in that – what foreigner in their right mind would possibly want such a remote and forbidding piece of land?

To understand this is to understand the element that is credited with making the world go round. We all have different likes and dislikes. I wonder at the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s level of focus on the personal home computing idea at the time that they had that focus. I’m not of this ilk and so my hat is off to such ones. I view the early investors here in The Zone as being made of the same stuff.

In looking back over the history of the first wave of investors here, I marvel at their foresight. My then wife and I looked at some Whales Tail view property in Uvita around 2002 and, despite its being gorgeous and nicely priced, I felt that it was simply too remote. This was in the same area where 2 years later I sold my first property.

Ok, so I said that to understand the real estate market here in Costa Rica, it helps one to know a bit of the history. Granted, we’ve gone back to what I call the first-wave of intrepid and visionary investors – the Mavericks. We’ll continue on in the next article with Bob’s next steps and incredible gains on his visionary act.


The Wall 2011 2


Visiting Family:

It is one of the truly enjoyable aspects of living in a foreign land.  You have to leave the United States to be able to visit the United States.

There is an obvious pleasure quotient to visiting family. However, I suspect that my case is a bit unusual. Here is what I get to do at the advanced age of 52. I am able to visit my brother, sister and mother – all in the very same house that we all grew up in. The biggest change over the years is simply that our father is no longer with us… well that and the fact that we are all quite a bit older than we used to be.

A Wall of Magazines

Food For Thought?

But that’s about it. In fact, the green shag carpet that we had there in the 70’s is still there. I’m in favor of a law regulating the life of carpet. This green carpet really should be illegal, but there it lies.

Aside from the joys of family, I get a real kick out of visiting my former homeland. I am very much transplanted now.  I have lived in Costa Rica since 1999, and so in the normal course of my days, I don’t pay that much attention to the goings on of the States.  The exceptions to this are when I visit there, or when there is some noteworthy happening that finds its way through all of the insulation that I’ve put up in my life, motivated largely by a desire to reduce, if not eliminate, the effects of media on my mind and by extension, on my life.

So, when I fly back into the States, it is normally via Dallas or Houston. I make it a practice to bee-line it to one of the airport book stores. In these stores there is generally a wall of magazines. This wall of magazines is an intensive crash course in what the media is currently pumping.  The topics seen there will likely factor into my visit, and I expect to see these topics being worked and reworked in various configurations throughout my stay. This pumping is largely in response to what “we”, or the population at large, demand from the accommodating media.

My life in Costa Rica is immersed in a very different lifestyle than anything that I ever experienced when I lived in the States.  The contrast of my “normal”, with the “normal” of the States, causes a sort of sensitivity. The aspect of this sensitivity that I focus on at this point in my travels is primarily the media. But there is a problem. I suspect this problem is due to the fact that I am from the States, so in fact the prevailing conditions in the States are never all that far from what I grew up with. So the acuity of vision, or sensitivity, only lasts for a short time. I quickly slip back into my deeply ingrained gringo-ness and all of the bru ha ha starts to make sense and grow in importance.  All of the blaring news announcements, “BRAD APOLOGIZES TO JENNIFER” – from the tone one might think that World War 3 has begun, or that someone really has discovered perpetual motion. I just really get a kick out of these things when I first arrive in the good ole US of A.

Over the years, my visits to The Wall have provided me with an opportunity to re-evaluate my own life and my own move to Costa Rica so many years ago. I wonder at what it would take to get a presence on The Wall.  It must cost a bundle to publish a magazine and distribute it to all the Walls every month, or week, or 2 weeks, whatever. Vale la pena, as they say in Costa Rica: it’s worth the cost. They incur the expense because they know that we – us humans – want this stuff, and we will pay for it.

I am a sponge, standing there. I smile at my own species while I observe the media, in all its glory, accommodating the gigantic demand for this brain-rot drivel.

I can’t say that I’m interested, heavens no! Ok, maybe a little, but not a lot. Well, you gotta admit, the personal carryings on of Jen & Angie does have a certain appeal, a certain “I think I’ll just take a minute and find out what is going on here” appeal.

In my visit to The Wall as I enter into the States, I really find that I’m not interested in the least. However, over the course of my stay, my attitude goes through a shift. As I leave, I feel that perhaps this information really does need to be told.  And by golly, I really would like to know just exactly what Brad said to Jen when he apologized to her.

Topics

The Wall is diverse in its subject matter. I generally find that there is a hot technology topic of some kind, health, politics, and of course, celebrity.  The Apple Corporation seems to be enjoying its 15 minutes. Health has gained some points over the years that I have been visiting The Wall.

The political scene ebbs and flows on The Wall.  In past years George W. was a common feature on The Wall. I found it interesting how quiet The Wall was about Mr. Obama, but it was quite noisy about a few members of the large group that are vying for the GOP position in the upcoming presidential election.

So, as I fly out and away from this consumer haven, I do The Wall in reverse. I note how I feel about observations on life. And I like to watch how these feelings morph as I settle back into my “normal” in the coming weeks.

I have written in the past about my theory that I like to call “Original Thought”. Original Thought can be seen in visitors to Costa Rica on or shortly after about day 4 of their trip. Staying in a villa, nestled into the jungle, overlooking the Pacific ocean, there is a noticeable shift that occurs in people.  The theory posits that getting away from the media, frees up the mind to think about topics that are genuinely of interest and originate from the person. The theory states that we all have a little something as a gift, like maybe a leaning towards poetry, or music. Or maybe we have a propensity for thinking up sustainable systems, or a better way to raise broccoli or whatever.  The topics of The Wall are nowhere to be seen when Original Thought rears its head.  People find themselves conversing about all manner of topics, topics that bear no influence at all from external media but instead originate from the pure, unadulterated human intellect that we all carry around with us.

So in my re-entry to Costa Rica, I watch as the numerous images that were repeated with regularity during my visit to the States, recede. The Wall will have to get along without me – until my next trip.

 


About Tigre

My first visit to Costa Rica was in 2002. I immediately fell in love with the warmth of the climate and people. After spending two weeks in San Jose, Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side, and Tamarindo in Guanacaste, I knew there was a good chance I would return sooner than later. Sooner came just 6 months later when my uncle mentioned he was flying down to Costa Rica to close on a piece of property in the Southern Pacific Zone. On that trip I found my own piece of paradise above the small town of San Buenaventura, home to the San Buenas Golf Resort. Two years and 8 trips later, I decided to move to Costa Rica full time. Every day I am thankful for that decision.


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