This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Understanding Costa Rica Real Estate

Early arrivers to Costa Rica buying land.In Part 1 we considered the early foreign investors in real estate here in Costa Rica’s southern Pacific zone.  The idea being that in so doing, we’ll have have a better understanding of the real estate market here. We continue now with Bob (early visionary investor) as he proceeds to segregate and sell his large parcel (finca).

Bob’s vision for what is to come is so clear (to him) that he recognizes that he essentially stole the gorgeous ocean view property that he now possesses. The plan is to sub-divide the large property (finca) into smaller parcels and sell them at a considerable profit.

He takes his 60 hectare (150 acre) finca and segregates off 5 hectares and puts this on the market at $60,000, the price that he paid originally for the entire finca, leaving 55 hectares as a pure profit proposal.

Now granted, I’m fabricating the name and the transaction. But this I do as a composite of various such transactions that I was aware of at that time. What I experienced when I got into the real estate business here in 2004 were the ripple effects of not just one deal like Bob’s, but the after-effects of many such deals.

There is some historical precedent to the investor phenomenon that transpired at that time. Well known examples are: the dissension regarding Alexander Graham Bell being the actual originator of the telephone. Elisha Gray applied for the patent on similar voice technology, essentially on the same day as Bell. Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin both – independent from each other – came up with the theory of evolution at the same time. It was essentially the luck of the draw that Darwin is credited as the author. And to look at the advent of American Contemporary art in the New York art scene with Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and on, is to see one of the strangest examples of unrelated, converging visionaries.

I wonder at this “phenomenon”. It is recurring in human history. Unrelated individuals and groups, all at roughly the same time, turn their attention to something. It’s almost like some cosmic force directing select ones to go and do a thing. Ok, not to belabor this point, but I find it fascinating. I mean, I could understand one guy. And then maybe that guy talks to someone else about what he’s doing and they think it sounds good and so they do it also. But unrelated, concurrent action??  Por favor! 

Well, barring an un-quantifiable cosmic event from our understanding, I can only suggest that this is simply the way of the world. “Progress” of civilizations. The time had come for this gorgeous country to be discovered and exploited for what it had to offer – its riches. And, as it turns out, there were plenty of buyers.

There were several Bob-like visionary investors who converged at roughly the same time in the early days of real estate here in Costa Rica’s southern Pacific zone. These all went on to see enormous returns (turning $1.00 USD into $120.00+-) on their relatively paltry investments. A couple of the best known Dominical-centric examples of these investments are the areas of Lagunas and Escaleras and to a lesser degree, Hatillo. 

We are now getting to the time when I began work in Costa Rica real estate. These were the conditions of the market at that time. The majority of real estate sales at that time were of raw land, and this was despite the majority of buyer’s initial request was for an existing home. There simply weren’t many to pick from. The inventory was primarily raw land. After looking at the available options for existing houses they would go to the default position of buying land and either building, or holding the land for a future purpose. 

The houses at that time were difficult to sell, despite the common preference of the buyers to purchase a house. Those early arrivers to the area were somewhat unique. I like to say that we were all a bit “out of round”. We had decided to move from our homeland to an area of the earth that was certainly not the most accommodating of environs. What houses there were, were frequently expressions of that individuality that brought them here in the first place. These were not homes for the general market. Some were lovely in their uniqueness while other were, quite frankly, atrocious. 

What I came to call the “Costa Rica Formula” for buying land had a couple of iterations. The visionaries were the big winners of the formula, but those that bought from them were also beneficiaries of having been early arrivers on the scene. The formula was to buy one of the available segregations from a Visionary. Despite having been segregated from the mother farm, these properties were generally still quite large by today’s standards, commonly consisting of multiple hectares (1 ha = 2.48 acres). To then cut off a marketable piece of that parcel and sell it, effectively reducing or eliminating the initial investment principle. Buyers at that time could almost all count on this being an option.

In 2004, some of the Visionary’s pieces  were available, as well as the lots being made available from those that they had sold to.  And there was quite a lot of work being done to bring more to market. These were the days prior to the big crash of 2007/8. The reason for the crash fed the formula, and the market spiked. We were in a boom.  The sub-prime market made for an unreal and absolutely illogical availability of money to homeowners in the U.S. This was the market I started working in at that time.

My thought is that the spike in demand, and the subsequent prices, is one of the many ripple effects from the sub-prime lending mortgages thing that resulted in the demise of the global economy in 2007.  Not to belabor the point, but I think that it’s important to understand this as, here we are some 10 years later, and the effects of the “spike / crash” on the market are still very present. I’ll get to this more in a following article on present day conditions.

 


Uvita Costa Rica is Growing


We are in high season here in the southern pacific zone. The months of November through April are typically when there are more tourists here than during the rainy months.

There is another type of “high season” happening right now as well. This has more to do with world conditions. I know, those from the States are going to think that Mr. Trump is pushing many to look elsewhere. And I suspect that this is true to some extent. I think that Mr. Trump has been good for my Costa Rica real estate business. I think Mrs. Clinton would have been as well. Such is the world that we live in.

However, our property buyers here are not just from the States. We’ve got buyers from Canada, despite their currently weak currency. These people are buying property and essentially paying 30% – 40% more due to the exchange rate on their currency. One has got to wonder – why?

France, Germany, Great Britain – all are providing us here with buyers. Again: why? There are economic, political and security issues happening in various areas of the world. I suppose that greater analytical minds would come up with the cause and effect links in trying to answer the question. But I find that there is one common thread when I talk with these people.

The Reason:
Stress
is pushing, and the promise of less stress, is pulling people to consider a life in Costa Rica. Simpler living is highly attractive. Costa Rica offers this and it (simple living) seems to be the antidote to whatever may be happening in one’s home country.

Uvita, Dominical, Ojochal and the surrounding areas that make up Costa Rica’s southern pacific zone are all seeing an influx of buyers. But there is more. There are some big-money players who are making some moves here that are notable. There are condominium complexes being constructed, and sold at a good clip. There are town homes, urbanization projects and upgrades to some of the antiquated infrastructure in some of these areas.

There is some talk of giving Uvita a facelift. This is much needed. With both Dominical and Ojochal, you turn off the coastal highway and drive into the town. In Uvita, the highway passes right through the town. Up till now its growth has happened with hardly any attention to the aesthetic and it is essentially a strip-mall, Costa Rican style.

This is a pity since Uvita could really have been (or be made to be) one of the most beautiful towns on the planet. So if these well funded entities see the beautifying of the town as in their best interests, great! Although it’s hard to imagine what can be done, short of tearing the whole thing down and starting over again.

The Envision Festival is going on currently. This has become one of the largest events of the year. Kudos to the organizers. I’ve heard that 7,000 people attended last year, but that about half that number are here now.

Uvita Costa Rica's Crunchy Envision Festival

2017 Envision Festival Uvita Costa Rica

Some of the Ticos complain a bit about Envision, claiming that the drugs, nudity and general licentiousness is disrespectful to their culture. I suspect that there is some truth to these allegations, but for me, I’ve never met an Envisioner I didn’t like and the festival provides a time of some fascinating people watching.

I’ve not  personally ever attended. I can hear the music from my home well, the bass notes anyway, and I routinely provide rides to those thumbing to the grocery store and back. There is also the complaint of them being a bit odoriferous, but I can’t speak to this having lost my olfactory sense some years back. So I get along fine with them in my car and always enjoy their upbeat spirit.

So between the time of year and world conditions, sales are good here in the Zone’s real estate market.

About Property Prices:
During the recession, there was not much of a market here. It hit hard and us realtors languished waiting for the anomalous inquiry that might result in a sale. I actually got into brokering hard money loans during this time in an effort to not only make a little commission, but to also help some land owners to not lose their properties.

Prices plummeted during the recession. This was an interesting time. The pre-recession time was a “boom”. The biggest challenge for a buyer then was being able to find an available real estate agent. I felt like I should put a Baskin Robbins “take a number” device at the door. Some of these buyers were our good-old bread and butter retirees, looking to retire to Costa Rica. However, there were lots of folks who refinanced their homes and then found themselves cash-rich and wondering what to do with it. The causes of the recession helped to fuel some of that heady boom and resulted in pushing prices up to a rather silly level.

So the fall of pricing some 40% – 50% during the recession could appropriately be called a correction.

Much of our land here is still at recession pricing. There hasn’t been a big upward push on prices since then. The demand for houses is strong and so we’re starting to see some upward movement there – all very rational though. This is no heady boom. Its simply that the inventory which was glutted post-recession, is finally starting to get mopped up. This was inconceivable in the years following the recession due to the glut.

I still get asked sometimes why it seems that everything is for sale. I find this interesting since I have to really work to find properties for some of the criteria lists I build for my clients.

Yes, I suppose everything is, in fact, for sale, at some price. However, finding what you want, finding that screaming ocean view with good access and amenities nearby, and all this in your budget, can sometimes be a bit daunting.

And then there is that wonderful amenity “simplicity”. I wonder if this could be put at the top of the list. Right up there with “ocean view”. I’m thinking that this one amenity is the primary mover of the current strong market we’re seeing here in The Zone.