More Than Good Fences to Make Good Neighbors
For those of us involved in the real estate and tourism-based economy of the Gold Coast, the invisible guiding hand of Adam Smith has basically dropped down hereabouts like an ironclad fist. First the flow of starry-eyed potential buyers dried up. Many projects simply locked the ornate gates purportedly leading to a perpetual vacation and fun-in-the-sun lifestyle, others got foreclosed by the lenders, some experienced falling outs and legal battles between the original land owners and investors, or among the partners. Any number are now informal cattle pastures and slowly converting back to forest. Prices have yet to reach the new equilibrium point with demand.
Driving around my neck of the woods, it would appear that $25K seems to be the new “hook’ point on the roadside signs. A number designed to capture the attention of the occasional passerby with enough liquidity to still dream of something other than ice storms and the daily commute back home.
While the halcyon days of high prices and abundant buyers had everyone and his Johnny-come-lately brother hanging out shingles to announce their efforts at forest protection, monkey loving, tree planting and LEEDS approved building designs, nowadays people are flogging their wares like so many streetwalkers in downtown Tamarindo.
As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, but sometimes the depth of desperation really comes as a bit of a shock. As it turns out, creative desperation can truly separate the men from the boys.
In truth, the ‘hard sell’ is nothing new hereabouts. Old timers in my area will no doubt recall one of the infamous denizens within the real estate radius around the surf break at Playa Negra. Having honed his skills selling cutlery door to door in the US, he had no trouble in adroitly adapting the ‘foot in the door technique’ to an ‘over the counter’ maneuver, credit card machine in hand, pressuring clients to ‘just put down a deposit’ on their American Express card while they ate burgers “as big as their heads”…
Just up the highway a highly leveraged, high internet profile development with a substantial number of lots already sold, began to crumble during the rainy season when a couple hundred yards of their mountainside access road paid greater heed to the laws of gravity than to the laws of supply and demand.
On the subject of roads, a word to the wise for potential buyers. Folks, if you’re looking at land, don’t suspend your powers of observation. Try to rerun those old ads “this is your brain on drugs,” but with a new narrative: “This is your road during a deluge!” Chances are if it looks like the access to your ocean view might be better for white water rafting when it’s raining 2-4 inches an hour, think twice before whipping out the plastic and putting down a deposit with your hard earned dough.
As I pointed out in an article on the same topic several years back, if your future neighborhood at present looks like an entrance gate and little else, in spite of all the sincere assurances by the smiling salesman or optimized web site that your investment will go straight into extending the road, water, electricity, fiber optic internet, etc., directly to your lot, er, think twice. At the very least.
Maybe I’m a bit gun shy, but over the years, because of these articles in the Howler, I’ve gotten any number of letters from people who made unfortunate purchases in our area. “The road and water are still 1 Km. from my lot. What can I do?” “I bought a 5th floor condo at a pre-construction discount, but they stopped building at the 3rd floor.” “The guy no longer answers my e-mails or phone calls, can you suggest a good lawyer?” And sometimes the evidence is a bit less tangible to even the most skeptical observer.
One take home lesson from life here is that there are times when you really need to be able to depend on your neighbors. Car troubles, brush fires, medical emergencies, flooding, power outages, whatever, it’s nice to know you can count on neighbors when the chips are down.
In my case, whenever possible, potential buyers are encouraged to spend a few days in a small cabina here on site. They wake up with the monkeys in the trees and see the daily routine in the gardens, orchards trips to the beach. Most importantly, they meet their future neighbors.
Bear in mind, that as the developer winds down his investment in maintenance of the infrastructure and common amenities, the ‘neighbors’ have to agree on what and how things are going to be run. And who’s going to foot the bill.
I know of at least one case where the discord within the owners association reached a point that they couldn’t approve budgets to, for example, fix the leaks in the roof during the rainy season. This begins to affect both the value of your property and the potential for resale. Not to mention your everyday peace of mind.
From my perspective (and direct experience), serious shoppers in the current sales atmosphere in our neck of the woods should add another item to their checklist:
All utilities…or at the least a timeline for installation
A functioning Homeowners Association
You need a game plan for how you and your neighbors are going to inherit and manage the running of the place or you may well find yourselves on a treadmill, running at full speed but getting nowhere in the face of all the complex problems that crop up due to the weather, the culture, the laws in Costa Rica, the remoteness of our area and a long list of etcetera’s. Unfortunately, most developers overlook the human side of exactly what has kept Guanacaste in the Blue Zone of longevity and has permitted Homo sapiens to survive as a species over the millennia. We need healthy communities as much, and at times more, than functioning infrastructure.
Nothing could be more diametrically opposed to this ‘community development’ focus than the latest ‘trend’ in sales tactics as desperate investors try to cut their losses and game the market to the max. For film buffs who’ve seen the 1992 classic, Glengarry Glenross, the image of ‘boiler room sales’ could not be sharper. Picture a room full of telephone salesmen, thousands of miles away from the pristine beaches and howling dry winds, guys who couldn’t tell a Guacimo from a Guanacaste and who couldn’t care less, haranguing anonymous leads over the phone to invest in a ‘sure-fire’ piece of paradise by the sea. Now, you could ask—and possibly answer—a variety of questions about this approach. Hey, it worked to flog desert parcels in California and mangrove swamps in the Deep South. But it is definitely not designed to deliver the kind of community cohesion that enables us to enjoy the ‘Pura Vida’ that drew us here in the first pace. So final checklist item before buying: visit land, meet the developer and speak to a few neighbors living next to your potential paradise.
Tom Peifer is an ecological land use consultant with 19 years experience in Guanacaste. 2658-8018. email@example.com
El Centro Verde is dedicated to researching and promoting sustainable land use, permaculture and environmentally sound development. www.elcentroverde.org