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It’s Not Just About the Home in Costa Rica


“Why on earth would anyone want to buy a home in Costa Rica?” this guy asked incredulously, his bushy brown eyebrows arched and some words getting a disproportionate amount of emphasis.

Okay, so I made up the guy with the bushy brown eyebrows, but not the question. It’s a question that we often hear around here.

You could be forgiven for assuming that since I’m a real estate agent in Costa Ballena – what I would consider the most beautiful part of a 100% beautiful country – my answer would be all about views and elevations and construction styles and finishes and prices and furnishings and making offers. After all, isn’t that what a real estate agent is all about? Well, sort of, but there’s definitely more to it than that.

To illustrate, I’m going to tell you a mercifully brief version our own long story.

My wife and I came to Costa Rica looking for an experience. Before we ever looked at a property, in fact before we ever thought we might want to look at any property, we began looking for a new environment where we could transplant ourselves. We thought fresh new soil might be fertile ground for our brains to gain pathways and for our lives to follow those paths wherever they might lead. Totally cliché and poetic, I know, but it’s the truth.

That meant we didn’t start off listing the characteristics of a property, but characteristics of a new place to plant ourselves. Most importantly, we wanted a major change. My wife reads enough to keep several publishing houses barely afloat, and several of her hundreds of books state unequivocally that personal growth often comes as a result of change. That was good enough for us, especially since it validated what we already believed and encouraged us to go for it.

I’ve lived several exotic places (think Matsigenka Indians in the Amazon jungle at one extreme, and Chicago’s downtown jungle at the other) and I can attest that there is beauty and there are interesting people and you can find personal challenges anywhere on earth. So what were we looking for that made Costa Rica appealing?

Your list would be different from ours in some ways, but I’m guessing there would be some overlap, too:

1)      A place we could get to without spending half our lives sitting in airplanes, and without changing too many time zones. Having done plenty of those trips to exotic places where your biorhythms go all loopy, the thought of a half day’s travel within a narrow band of longitude has its appeal.

2)      A place where Spanish is the national language. We’d both been working on learning Spanish and wanted to give ourselves a boost by living surrounded by Spanish. Not that you couldn’t live here without learning Spanish, but still…. And once you have Spanish in your toolkit, it works with all the neighboring countries too.

3)      Tropical flora and fauna. The tropics offer a whole world of flora and fauna that you don’t find in temperate zones. Of course some of that flora and fauna drives you nuts or scares the bejeebies out of you at first, but at least it’s different, and the tree ripened fruit makes up for it. And who needs those bejeebies anyway?

4)      A moderate climate. Changing seasons with freezing winters have their charms, but we were ready for average temperatures where flip flops and t-shirts are always comfortable. And shorts. Where if you get caught out in a pouring rain, you consider it refreshing. Where the rain is never frozen.

5)      A different set of national policies and priorities. It’s quite difficult to evaluate your home country if that’s all you know. Looking at it from the outside and comparing it to something else highlights the best, the worst, and the simply different. That’s healthy exercise for brains.

6)      Regular contact with an assortment of people from a variety of countries. “Internationals” have a certain flavor that we like, even if it’s an odd flavor sometimes. We gravitate toward them and find them interesting. Sometimes even comically entertaining.

7)      A strong tendency toward environmental protection. We aren’t rabid environmentalists, but we appreciate an inclination to protect our world instead of just slash and burn it. Having grown up hunting for food, I now hunt for photos.

8)      The possibility of outdoor adventure. Adventure comes in many forms and one person’s big adventure is another person’s big yawn. That would even be true in our household. In my particular case, activities in a warm ocean, or in warm rivers with waterfalls and high boulders to leap off of, or on hilly roads riding a mountain bike in the jungle are free favorites.

Those were some of the important things on our list. There was nothing about what kind of home we would like, or where it would be located, or how much land it should include, or whether or not it should include an ocean view. It would have been possible to find all of the things on our list while living in a thatched hut or a Tuscany style mansion or a humble hostel.

The first time we came to Costa Rica together, we spent three vacation weeks. One week in Monteverde, one in Dominical, and one in Manuel Antonio. We didn’t come to look at properties, but the Costa Rica experience, and especially the Dominical part of it, grabbed our hands and wouldn’t let go. We came back as soon as we could to look at properties.

“What kind of property,” we asked ourselves, “would open doors to the kinds of experiences we craved?” How could we be sure that the possibilities outside our new home would be at least as compelling as the comforts inside?

So that’s when we made a second list, heavily revised several times, that spelled out the kind of place we’d like for a trailhead. You know…not a place to sit and slouch, but a place to set off in search of marrow to suck from the bones of life, and then return to so we could post it all on Facebook. We searched, and we compromised, and we made an offer.

It’s pretty tempting in my business to slide into thinking that my clients’ homes will be the most important part of their experience and I must therefore help them find the perfect home. Of course to be clear, I do want to guide my clients to a home where they wake up in the morning, pinch themselves and say “Wow!” three times before breakfast. And do it again while watching the sun set from their deck.

Still, I have to remind myself regularly that one of the most important features of any home is its doors, and for my clients to thrive in this beautiful, tropical place with killer views and migrating whales, the experiences they will have going out the door are every bit as significant as the experiences they will have going in.

Why on earth would someone buy property in Costa Rica? That’s why.

And the property we ended up buying for our “trailhead”? Priceless.