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.


Getting Health Insurance in Costa Rica 1


I am 53 years old and have just gone through the process of applying for private health insurance. There are two types of health care in Costa Rica. One is socialized medicine. All residents of Costa Rica are required to pay into what is called “caja” (KAH-hah) insurance. This runs me about $25 per month. This is the government subsidized health insurance in Costa Rica.

I have written about my one week stay in one of the caja hospitals. I don’t recommend it. Its not so much that the practitioners aren’t good, its the overall structure. I think that you definitely want your health providers to be mindful of the fact that if they don’t offer a good service, then someone else will and they will get the business.

Photo of a stethoscope for the article on health insurance in Costa Rica

The second type of healthcare here is very similar to what you get in other  countries, and what we refer to as “private” insurance. Up until recently. the Costa Rican government was the exclusive provider of health insurance. This has changed and there are now some international health insurance providers here, and I hear that they are pretty good. I don’t have any experience with them so I can’t detail how they work or their value.

This article is just about the private insurance that is offered through INS (Instituto Nacional de Seguros), the Costa Rica government’s health insurance branch.

The Exams

Since I am so old, I had to get a number of health exams to see if I qualify for the insurance.  I still don’t know if I do qualify, but if the response on the part of the examining doctors is any indication, I should get in no problem. It is interesting that this past May 11th marked the second anniversary of a violent criminal event that almost killed me and left me blind in my left eye.

One of the testing doctors used the word “perfecto” about 5 times during the general examination of my overall level of health.  She said that if I didn’t have that one, life threatening bugger on my record, I would have a perfecto health record. So, it will be interesting to see if I get approved.  For you folks out there that are wondering how to be middle aged and have a couple doctors say say “perfecto” when they examine you, I’ll pass my secrets along in a minute.

So, 53 years old, in perfect health with the exception of this small, life threatening incident two years ago – $1,600 per year.  I can pay it monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, or once a year. I’m not sure that the coverage is as far as deductibles go, I’ll post that information when I find out. The coverage is for up to $200,000 of insuring per year.  You can get an additional coverage if you like. It’ll set you back another $160 per year and it adds another $200,000 to the coverage and is specifically for cancer and other such catastrophic incidents.

I decided against the additional coverage, despite its low cost.  I spent a month in CIMA hospital and was in a drug induced coma for 2 weeks.  That visit included multiple medical specialists, amazing facial reconstruction surgery that left nine plates in my head, a plethora of x-rays, and a good steady flow of pain meds and antibiotics. My bill came to $110,000.  So, I’m not sure what you’d have to do to run the bill up to over $200,000.

I’ll post another article if and when I get accepted.

Ben’s Health Secrets

As a reader of the Guys in the Zone blog, you get the dubious pleasure of my secrets on how to be in perfecto health.

Kickboxing

I have been into fitness all of my adult life.  We have always had a home gym of the Olympic weight variety with vertical leg press machines, and cables for low rows, squat rack, bench, etc. I have been involved and invested in my health. I thought that I was in shape when I went to my first kick boxing boot camp here on Dominical beach – boy was I ever humbled.

Aside from attaining to new levels of exhausting, never before achieved, I also released more endorphins than I previously knew possible. The point here isn’t to discuss how to kick box, but simply to say that I am in the best condition of my life, and I credit this activity with this data point. Oh, but there is one more thing –

Green Drinks

Vitamix is the key here. I brought one down from the States during a visit to my family in Davis.  If you don’t yet have one, or worse yet, don’t know what one is – a Vitamix is a blender on steroids. I mix up a drink every morning that has the following ingredients:

  • kale
  • spinach
  • ginger root
  • turmeric root
  • frozen pieces of pineapple
  • frozen bananas (2 of ’em)
  • 2 apples
  • 1/4 cup of ground up oat meal
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of ground up flax

I will also add mango, tamarindo and other fruits when they are available. This drink gets me through every morning of my life with no hunger and is slowly converting me into something of a super hero.  I am almost to the point of flying, almost.

The best way to buy a Vitamix is to go to my website and buy one there.  There are a couple of reasons why this is the best way to buy – one is that it appears to be the best price around.  The other is that I make a commission if you do.  Buy a Vitamix from Ben: Go to www.blenditraw.com.

In conclusion, getting basic health insurance in Costa Rica is easy.  It’s the getting healthy part that takes some doing.


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