This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Understanding Costa Rica Real Estate

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 appropriately call the first-wave of intrepid and visionary investors – The Visionaries. We’ll continue on in the next article with Bob’s next steps and incredible gains on his visionary act.


The Magic of Costa Rica – Rainy Season versus Dry


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.

Costa Rica rainy season experience.

Antonio taking advantage of a downspout & wheel barrow to shower off after a mango-skin fight.

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.