Sunday, February 04, 2018

House Hunting in Costa Rica


Recently we started looking for a house to buy after our beautiful rented castle started to turn into a nightmare with suddenly raised rent, dead fridge, washer and dryer and an ongoing confloption involving the electrical system in the house starting to short out and landlords that seem less interested in fixing anything than trying to jerry-rig the joint together until they can sell it. No bueno.

We rented here with the idea that we might buy the entire joint, four cabins, two houses, pool and landscaped acreage. Not happening now. I've seen what a lack of maintenance can do. This would be a money pit. It would take moolah and lots of work. I'm too lazy for that.

I will admit I will miss the backyard howler monkeys and the birds peeking into my bedroom window. I hope there is wildlife where we are going.

Looking for a home rental back in August and September had been a frightening and comical experience that involved things like an apartment manager explaining why he didn't think we needed air conditioning in the bedrooms. This was also when we saw a house that looked like a murder scene save the crime scene tape and the birds flying in and out the broken windows. There were other snafus before we ended up in our rental.

This time was easier in some ways, and way more varied. No, there were no houses with broken windows and birds, even if one realtor tried to insist we view a property way out of our stated budget that will be filmed tomorrow for the television show 'House Hunters International'. Looking for a house to buy involved some less janky properties than the crazy mixed bag of rentals. I have them listed by the nicknames I've given.

Tamarindian Xanadu

Our realtor spoiled us by showing us the very best property first. Seeing this nine foot walled paradise of a beautifully tricked out home surrounded by mature fruit trees did us no favors. Every other property measured up poorly in light of this house. The house is fully furnished with a lanai that wraps around three sides of the house, like something out of a home decorating magazine. There's a large suite that houses the master bedroom and bath. The kitchen is big enough to cook and host a crowd and the picture window over the sink holds an incredible view. I can just see my lazy rear end flopping on the sofa in the picture window in the master suite to read every afternoon, or on one of the many pieces of wicker furniture on the lanai. Casa Del Lazy Ass.

At the front gate there is a good sized guest home, the only place on the property that needs any work at all. I would need to rearrange and decorate it before listing it on AirBnB in time for Semana Santa. It would allow us to host a lot of people with the bedrooms in the house and it's all very private. Unfortunately there's already another contract on this home.

We would need to install a pool to make it perfect, but the footers for a pool, electrical and plumbing are all in place. They must have been planning to install a pool at one time.

Copey 2.O – Fish Guts and White Walls

Immediately after our realtor tried to show us a slightly smaller new house and we just were not interested. Right on the main road we already live on that is too noisy. The house might have been just a few months, but there was already wear and tear from the renters, cracked concrete and ceramic tiling. The kitchen was a concrete counter with a sink in it and the yard was a patch of stirred up dirt without room to install that most essential of items living here, a pool. Nope, nope, nope, plain white everything with zero charm and the ceilings were all those cheap plastic panels that do not hold up that comprised our room in Copey de Dota.

Hearing that the property developer lived right up the hill and liked to use the large laundry room/extra bathroom to clean his fish from his every few days deep sea fishing was pretty much a deal breaker. Scrubba dub dub builder in the tub scaling his fish and me cleaning up after is not happening.

Casa De No Shoes, No Shirts, No Service

We went out on another day to see more homes. The first one was nearly as gorgeous as the Xanadu. There were just a few problems. The current tenants, who refused to allow us in with shoes on, forcing us to stand in the covered garage and remove shoes. The landscaping needs attention and the garage was plain and ugly but one thing made up for the lack of looks on the outside. YOU COULD SEE THE BEACH FROM THE FRONT DOOOOOOOOOR!! I could tolerate a lot for a two minute trek down the street to swim in the Pacific ocean.

I was amused by the insistence on shoe removal because there were no carpets in the house, just the standard caramel brown earthen tiles. The tenants were pretty cranky with us traipsing through the house on a Saturday morning it felt to me. I got the feeling from the attitude of the family that this was just a distinct 'fuck you' to everyone who might kick them out of the house after buying it. Yes, we would have to evict the renters to move in ourselves.

And I get that, particularly right now in our house when we have had to put up with people clomping through this house as a prelude to selling it as an investment property. No one likes strangers booging through their space. It feels awkward on both sides. Semi hippie family of all little girls and momma wearing jeans over bikinis, while the house was living in messy with one of the panes around the front door cracked. The house was beautiful on the inside with a lot of custom iron work, the most appealing carved wooden furniture and howler monkey iron lamps. Two bedrooms and baths downstairs with the master suite taking up the entire second floor. That view to the ocean from the master bedroom was amazing, worth every penny. Unbelievably detailed tilework and wood work throughout the place.

This place is 70K more than Xanadu, but about a year old with the nearness to the ocean I crave. The other two houses are like where we live now, about a full mile from where the sand beach starts near the estuary near Tamarindo. It's about thirty minutes away from Tamarindo and on another beach. Another big disadvantage is that there is no pool, no security system and it's a duplex. But this is our second choice if our offer on Xanadu is rejected. We could be really happy here, but we'd have to put in a pool, tart up the outside and deal with that dreary landscaping. The only thing we would need to do at Xanadu is install a small pool.

Pocket Pool Corner Pocket Casa De Crowded

Not far down the road, but with a much longer walk to the beach was the second house of that day. Until this point we'd been looking at houses in the 2,500 sq foot range. This place with minuscule, I doubt the main house was more than about 900 sq feet, about the same size as the guesthouse in Xanadu. The kitchen was a tiny closet, the living room too small to hold a full sofa. The main bedroom was just big enough to hold a double bed, a television at the foot and a window unit air conditioning. There was a second bedroom running across the back of the house, a clumsily walled in porch with oodles of bunk beds. The entire house was tiny and cramped, with things piled everywhere. Hearing that the sellers were leaving everything but toiletries filled me with panic. I have ADHD and I don't handle clutter well. I would have had to sell off most of the furnishing to make it a modicum of livable for us.

It looked like someone's attempt to tart up their roughing it family cabin/fishing camp and they were asking another 50K more than the previous place with a very small house and less land. They were throwing in a ten year old Ford 150 truck, the place had a swimming pool, too tiny to swim laps in and triangular shaped and there was a 'guesthouse' (crude room over the garage with an outdoor bathroom behind it.) The razor wire on top of the concrete walls was off putting too along with the loads of iron bars on the windows. The landscaping again needed serious work, and I'm just too damn lazy to be tearing up garden plots again.

But it held another dealbreaker for me. I have to have not only ac in the bedrooms, but I require it in the kitchen area too while I'm cooking. The closest thing to ac was the ancient wheezing window unit in the master bedroom. I don't like sweating like a mutant pig on Mars while cooking. I cannot do it. I can sweat while reading or watching television in the living room, or slicing up fruit in the kitchen, out in the garden or sitting poolside but it's too much to ask to have zero air conditioning in the kitchen.

Dracula's Italian Castle

This place was one I'd seen online, towards the bottom of our budget and the realtor had not scheduled to let us see it. I asked while we were in the neighborhood if we could see it because it had a fair amount of land, three big bedrooms, an ocean view and it came with a four wheeler. It was also 3,600 sq feet in the house of living area. Turns out it was at the very back of a finca (plantation farm) and it was a bumpy ride up dirt roads to the top of a mountain where this sat like Count Dracula's summer house. When we got up there you could see the Pacific from the front of the house and from the master bedroom in the back of the house.

There was some funny drama when we rolled up because a fleet of fruit bats had decided that the covered overhang protecting the front door was the perfect place to hang around upside down. Our realtor squealed like a frightened little girl in a horror movie as the bats swirled around the portico. My friend visiting from Virginia and I laughed at him because the bats are harmless and they keep bug populations down. There are worse things.

Going inside was fascinating because of the wonderful European touches the house held. It was constructed by a wealthy man from Italy, and was brave with beautifully hand painted tiling in earth tones with bidets in the bathrooms. Most beautiful country views without a soul for a long way. The master bedroom took up the entire upstairs floor and was just breathtaking. I've never seen such a well built massive place.

It didn't have a pool even if there was plenty of room to install one, and the cleanliness levels and landscaping left a lot to be desired. I liked it a great deal. Jim didn't. He thinks its way too far from civilization. It isn't an easy hike or bus to the beach either. Backroads a couple of miles straight down on that four wheeler. After Jim peed off the side of the mountain we rushed to meet another realtor at two more available houses.

Bongwater Yogis

The next house was next door to a world famous Yoga retreat, and also held a fair amount of land. Sloppy landscaping, no pool and unlike all the other houses it lacked community water. It was on an artesian well.

When you buy a house here you have to be careful to note what type of water you get because in the dry season unless you have a deep injection well you might find yourself having to order up a few costly truckloads of water to keep flushing your toilet.

It was beautiful in the inside, after we got past the chagrined renter and her cloud of pot smoke. All trendy gray walls, tiles and the industrial concrete look. All one level, like our favorite house. It had but two bedrooms but the renter was sure to point out the ladder and pile of mattresses for visiting surfers on the unofficial loft on top of the bath. No closets, oddly laid out with the trendiest of fixtures. For someone, but not for us. Smallish house too. Someone with trendy ideas bought a small Costa Rican Tico house and upgraded it on their ideas. The lack of all storage, or anything beyond a sink set in an industrial concrete bench in the kitchen were turn offs.

Big bongs everywhere.

No air conditioning.
There was no air conditioning up in the Italian vampire's mountain retreat either, but it was high up enough that the air was a good ten degrees cooler so you might not need it. Plus it was plumbed and wired for air conditioning to be added later. This place had open walls at the very top.

Gringo Paradise ala House Hunters International

The last place we viewed was out of our stated price range. I think the only reason the realtor wanted us to see it is that we'd had to give him a letter from the broker confirming how much cash we had readily available. So he wanted to show us something that would eat up half of it instead of a quarter. Yes, double what we told him our top figure was.

The two realtor's talked it up. A bargain! A motivated seller who NEEDED the money ASAP that would take far less than listed price!! A BRILLIANT business opportunity!! Eleventy!!!!!!!!!!

Also as far from the ocean and Tamarindo as the last two. I was thinking 'Aw hell NO!' the second we pulled up and I saw that the house was three separate buildings constructed around a swimming pool. A long building that held a kitchen, dining room and living room. Another building that held the children's play room and homeschooling rooms with two bedrooms up a narrow staircase. The third building was the third side of the pool, holding two large bedrooms with multiple beds. No air conditioning anywhere. The forth side of the pool was walled in with a laundry room cum storage shed with no dryer and a beat up ancient washer.

The property had a guest house, tiny one giant room holding a queen sized bed and a hot plate. Apparently the family, kids and all, move into the guesthouse whenever the house is rented out on AirBnB. They bragged that they cleared 10K last year after expenses by this uprooting and renting out the house. I personally don't think it was worth it.

Definitely not for us. We don't want to work that hard. I have no desire to be an inn keeper more than renting a guesthouse out a couple of times a year when the hotels fill up. That place would require so much work and upkeep even if it was just us living there.

We ended the day up at our house. While I dealt yet again with a dying freezer and refrigerator we ended up putting together a bid on the first place. The realtor is pretty sure that the guy trying to buy it is going to miss his contract deadline of Monday at 5pm to come up with half the money for the house. Now the seller knows we're interested and coming in with a higher bid for the house and cash for the entire house within days. If everything goes well we should be moved into Xanadu in 21 days from Tuesday. If not we're going to be buying the beachfront place. We are ready to be here for some years now.

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I've had a lot of questions about moving down here and I'll address them soon. It's not as easy and carefree and cheap as the multitude of retire to Costa Rica blogs make it seem. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and costly things you must do. Moving here without a pile of money or a good retirement is very difficult. 

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