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.


What to Bring When You Move to Costa Rica


This article is a copy and paste from an e-mail with a couple that have purchased a property here in Uvita. They are moving from Canada and are going to build a primary home for their own full-time residence. Plus, they are going to build at least 3 rental cabinas that they will run as a business to support themselves.

They asked a series of questions about what to bring. They have sold what they have at home, and are moving, lock stock and barrel, to Costa Rica.

Suitcase for a move to Costa Rica

What to pack in a move to Costa Rica

Questions fer ya:
We are trying to figure out how much cash to bring… We want to buy an ATV within the first week of being there… What’s the best way to pay for it? We’re looking at ones around 5-6k Max… Do we use our CR Bank card? Write a check? What’s the best way to pay for large ticket items?
This is likely preaching to the choir but, you can only bring $9,999 on your person without having to declare it. This is something that I have done sin problema (without a problem). I’m not even really sure what the problem is with having to declare anything at or over $10,000. It may be a non-event, but I suspect that it will result in a bit of bureaucracy (man that is a crazy word to spell correctly).

 

And as we are packing the kitchen items we are wondering about a few items and if we can get there and/or if they are way pricey there!
  1. Sm shop vac – to keep the spiders away!!!

Y’all will likely want to sign up for membership at PriceSmart (Price-Ehsmart in Spanish). They’ve got shop-vacs there. I’m not sure about the

Buy a ShopVac in Costa Rica.

You can buy this one at PriceSmart in San Jose for about $200.00 USD

pricing, but at some point it becomes no longer worth it to always try and beat the system with getting lower prices elsewhere and then the hassle of getting the item(s) here. Peter and Mindi just told me the other day that they had bought their Shop-Vac at Price Ehsmart.

 

  1. Leaf blower (to bring later – its a hand held plug in type)
This would likely be a useful item here. They are not common so I don’t know about their availability nor pricing. Ditto the above comment for this. Maybe it’s available here. There is the “Get it There Jerry” service that lots of folks here use for bringing such things down.

 

  1. Should we bring our juicer? Are veggies for juicing readily available or are they expensive? Beets, carrots are our favourite and then any hard fruit that can be juiced i.e.: apples, pears

Yes (conditionally), bring your juicer. I have had a Champion juicer, as well as another high-dollar brand here in the past. These were a major hassle to clean. We used them as a family but eventually we all tired of the

Vita Mix

This author feels the VitaMix to be essential to life in Costa Rica, or anywhere for that matter.

hassle. I suspect there have been some design improvements over the years though. I now accept the oxidation hit that comes from using just a

Vitamix for all my juicing needs. This is a must-have item here (as we have discussed). I think that my regularity of using the thing and the high quality of kale, spinach, turmeric, carrots, bananas, papaya, flax etc… mostly organic, makes up whatever qualitative concerns there are between a blender that oxidationalizes over a juicer that just extracts the pure juice from the pulp. So, it’s a personal call.

  1. Thick duvet cover for our dogs to use on the back of the jeep (small dogs need some security lol) – can we buy an ugly polyester one for cheap somewhere?
I would think so. Nat is the queen of the Ropa Americana shops in San Isidro. She can help to find whatever. These shops usually have good prices. They’re akin to Salvation Army. We have found that the heavy packing blankets that one inherits from using a container to ship stuff to Costa Rica come in handy for such purposes.
 
 

 

  1. Chai seeds
Available here. Nuts and seeds are generally cost prohibitive to my way of thinking. I haven’t checked for a while, but I generally avoid buying these items here.
 
 

 

  1. Hemp seeds
Ain’t never seen these here. Getting in with the Tinamaste crowd would likely result in a broader selection of such things. I would bring what you can though. I’ve got a few items for which I just know what a 6 month supply is. I regularly bring these down with me every 6 mo. visit to the States: good tasting yeast, coconut oil, Dr. Bronners and so on. This list is changing however. There are more products here all the time and prices are changing both here and elsewhere. Ex: I’ll not be bringing Coconut oil back anymore due to the rising price of it in the States.
Ditto this on the Dr. Bronners, but not for pricing so much. I have a friend here in Playa Hermosa that sells Amway products. I buy my laundry detergent, toothpaste, bar-soap, bathroom cleaner etc… from him. This company seems to me to pay the requisite attention to biodegradability of both its products and its packaging (for the most part). Their toothpaste is more organiquer than “Tom’s”.
 
 

 

  1. Balsamic / white wine / etc vinegars

All vinegars are available here at the Poop (BM) Market. I make my chilero

Malt Vinegar is a bit frivolous due to the wonderful lemons that serve to brighten up the flavor of the abundant fresh fish here. But I still use it on occasion.

Roland Malt Vinegar is available at the grocery store in Uvita, along with other such liquids.

with Heinz apple cider vinegar. Synthetic (still not sure what that means with respect to vinegar) white vinegar for cleaning spray. Balsamic and malt vinegars are available here. The company “Roland” seems to fill the void with various products. They are more expensive but hey, what can you do.

 
  1. Any spices that you think we should bring? I have tumeric, cumin and spices like that packed
I buy all those here. Fresh turmeric is cheap (500 colones for a bag of roots at the farmers market). Cumin I pay about 700 colones for 1 oz of the dried powder, again at the Poop.
 
 

 

  1. Organic oatmeal (spelt is ideal)

There is oatmeal available here, but if you get into the specialty types,

BioLand Avena Oatmeal

Avena is Spanish for oatmeal. Bio Land sells some good organic foods in Costa Rica.

you’ll pay. Steel cut is occasionally here and expensive. I buy any brand of regular oatmeal that claims to be organic, and it’s not expensive. Bio-Land is a good bet here. However, anything other than just run-of-the-mill avena will be pricey.

 
  1. Good cereal – I have a cereal addiction and we like the ones made from quinoa and black beans – so in that zone of health
Quinoa is expensive here. I don’t buy it for this reason. Bring a supply. Black, white, red, lentils and garbanzo beans are plentiful and good here, and affordable.
 
 

 

  1. Chocolate almond milk (to go on the cereal)
Almond milk is available here, but due to pricing is not on my shopping list. Your call.
Liquids are tough to bring. When I’ve brought Dr. Bronners soap or coconut oil, I cut a rectangle of cardboard and wrap the bottle in a layer or 2 of the carboard and then tape it so that it’s secure. You don’t want to open your suitcase to find everything covered in oil.
 
 

 

  1. 70% or higher dark chocolate – there’s a theme here
Yes, this is available but I’m not qualified to speak to the pricing of it. There is a gal at the farmers market that sells it. There are lots of cacao plants around the country so I suspect you’d be able to find a cottage source for your habit.
 
 

 

  1. Rice noodles

I think this is here. I have found Roland’s Organic Buckwheat Soba

Roland Buckwheat Soba Noodles.

These buckwheat Soba Noodles make a mean spaghetti.

noodles are to die for.

 
  1. Medications? We have a Costco size of Aleve already lol
This will likely be a good difference here price-wise. You might have to find equivalents in other brands, but medications are readily available. I’m not well versed in this actually, but Big Pharma is great at getting its junk everywhere.
 
 

 

  1. Any other food recommendations that you think we might like that we can’t get there please add – we like our healthy options!!!
Sheesh! Not sure what could be added to this list. But I’ll give it some thought and letchoo know if I come up with something.
 
Just thought I’d share.