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.


Why Baby Boomers Are Buying Real Estate And Retiring In Costa Rica 2


The U.S. Census Bureau defines the Baby Boomers as those born between January 1st, 1946 and December 31st, 1964. As of January 1st, 2011 more than 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 per day, a pattern that will continue for the next 19 years. The question isn’t if there will be a lot of people retiring. The question is… where are they going to go? With escalating government debt and rising taxes, many retirees are looking outside of the U.S. for a retirement location.

What is a Pensionado?

Retiring In Costa Rica

A morning walk and talk.

Retired or semi-retired people from the United States, Canada and Europe have always been a strong contingent in Costa Rica. I have read that there are approximately 100,000 foreign residents in Costa Rica. I would bet that number is much higher given there are still many expats living a perpetual tourists (e.g., leaving the country every 90 days) or their residency is “in process” which allows them to forgo the inconvenience of leaving.

With good and experienced legal help, it is not difficult to get permanent residence in Costa Rica. In order to qualify for retired (pensionado) status, the applicant must show proof of $1,000 in monthly income from a qualified pension plan. A married couple needs to show proof of only one pension of $1,000 per month. Pensionados agree to live in Costa Rica for a minimum of 121 days (approx. 4 months) per year and there is no maximum. Since most people looking to retire qualify for pensionado status and want to live in Costa Rica more than 4 months out of the year, the requirements for being a resident are more than manageable.

It’s An Adventure Every Day

Over the past 10 years, Costa Rica has risen to the top of retirement destinations. Warm weather, spectacular property, abundant wildlife, nice people, less stress… these are just a few reasons why millions of people visit Costa Rica every year, and why many fall in love with the country. One expat who retired to Uvita in 2008 summed it up recently by saying, “It’s an adventure every day.” It may sound cliché, but it is indeed true.

As I write this, my son is taking video of the white-faced monkeys in the trees by our house. Yesterday, we admired the howler monkeys while planting banana trees in the yard. I just returned from surfing with three dolphins. It is indeed “an adventure every day.”

Finding Your Costa Rican Property

Ok, so you are interested in retiring in Costa Rica, specifically the area in and around Uvita. Now you will want to find a place that resonates with you. Here are two key factors we have identified over the years—

Climate. Take advantage of the consistent ocean breeze by finding a property in the mountains. You won’t need air conditioning, thus you’ll save significantly on your monthly electricity bill. You’ll also be able to spend more time outside, which is what Costa Rica is all about. For those who don’t like the bumpy dirt roads, there are nice ocean view options offering quick 2WD access from the main highway.

House or Land. Most people come looking to buy a house, yet many end up buying a piece of land and building. This is because we are still early in the building cycle, especially in and around Uvita. Clearly, it is easier buying an existing house, but I do not discourage people from building in Costa Rica. We know many retired folks who have had good experiences with their builders. They also end up with a house that fits a longheld dream, and it’s tough to put a price on that.

My uncle, a baby boomer, lives down here in a lovely area above the small town of San Buenaventura. He likes the solitude, the wildlife, and his neighbors. Retiring in Costa Rica made sense for him, especially considering he purchased the land his current villa sits on at pre-boom prices. The good news for anyone looking to relocate or invest in land now is the real estate market has declined back to pre-boom prices. In fact, our inventory is loaded with ocean view lots under $100,000.

How To Navigate Our Non-MLS Market

There is no MLS (Multiple Listing Service) in the southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica. All of the real estate companies have their own database of listings that they have built up. The big misconception is that you need to work with all of them in order to find your property. Like Ben and I said in our last Talk Show #20, we have many of the same listings. Let us save you time and money, by contacting them on your behalf. That way, when you come down, we have already previewed the property that fits your criteria and narrowed down the list for you. The savings in time means you will have more time to enjoy the warm ocean, take a nature tour, meet new people, and relax into the pura vida.

So, please browse our listings and contact us if you would like to get more details on real estate and retiring in Costa Rica. Saludos!


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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