• Ron Snell

Lots About Lots

The end of our search for land.

There are lots of lots for sale in the southern zone of Costa Rica, with great buys to be had! But there’s lots to think about before you buy a lot or lots.

First, let’s get the obvious question out of the way-- why are there so many lots on the market right now? Well, rather than go into a discussion of national economies and bubbles and busts and the International Monetary Fund and global hotspots and other things that might make your eyes glaze over, let’s just say that a lot of people bought properties a few years ago, often broke them into smaller properties to make a handy profit, and then the economies of the U.S. and Europe and almost everyone else tanked.

Since the majority of those who purchase exotic tropical properties in Costa Rica come from abroad, some owners of lots have been waiting for several years for economies around the world to strengthen and for foreigners to feel like they can start looking at opportunities overseas again. Now although the market is a lot stronger in 2018, prices are still adjusting to a new valuation.

Lots in our area are not all created equal. With only a couple of exceptions, you cannot take a picture of one lot in a development and feel like you have taken a picture of all of them. Unfortunately, you will have a very difficult time getting a feel for a particular lot by reading our (or anyone else’s) description of it on a website. Each lot is unique, really unique, totally unique, 100% unique or exceptionally unique. We’ll leave for later the fact that “unique” is “unique” and the adverbs are superfluous.

To make it worse, you have to give a thumbs down to rules of thumb. Hearing that a lot is a best buy because it is “$ X.XX” per square meter tells you NOTHING! We personally know over a hundred residential lots and they vary from $1.00 per square meter to over $100.00. And you can pretty much count on every one of them containing at least one of the following descriptions: “Seller motivated,” “Fantastic view,” “Surrounded by wildlife,” “Easy access,” “Ready to build,” “Electricity and water in place.”

That’s the bad news. The good news is that with a knowledgeable real estate guide (like us, of course) who has already done the bushwhacking for you, you will get to see a variety of “unique” properties, choose from a menu of characteristics, and decide what makes your pulse quicken. Or just keep looking until you get out the car and gush “WOW!” and you know that’s your place.

So here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. How was the drive? Imagine that you want to go to the beach for a couple of hours. Imagine that you forgot to buy the milk your wife specifically requested for company that night. Imagine that you will have others trying to find your place as renters or guests. Imagine your personality expressing itself in that space—will you be a virtual hermit reading and writing and painting, or will you be a social butterfly craving hourly interaction (and therefore many trips) with whoever will talk to you?

2. How is the climate? The higher you go, the cooler it will be. You’ll notice a difference as little as 500 feet up, and by 1200 feet you won’t need air conditioning. In our area you can get pretty high without going very far. Real estate agents refer to that as a “spectacular view minutes from the beach”. You might call it a “very steep climb.”

3. Are the basics in place? If it’s titled property, is there a title? If it’s concession property, is there a concession? Is there legally recognized drinking water on site? How close is the nearest power line? Is there a clear, obviously useable building space? Are steeply cut banks being managed with plants and proper drainage systems?

4. How much usable space is there? This is super important to keep in mind as you ponder the size of lot/land you are going to buy. There are generally three factors that make land usable: a) what you want to use it for, b) how precipitous it is, c) to what extent environmental restrictions limit your choices with regard to things like natural forest and waterways on the property.

To some people, having a river or spring is essential. They will use it for swimming, exploration, mini hydro projects, and more. For others, a river or spring will kill their plans because there are restrictions re: building too close to natural water sources. Similarly, some people will need lots of space for hiking trails through the jungle, while for others the jungle will be in the way of their plans.

Yes, of course there are intangible “uses” that you will include. A spectacular view is a “use.” So is a flock of parrots yacking in a tree just down the hill. So is the fact that you can’t see any roofs below you or hear the neighbor kids playing in the pool.

Precipitous land is almost never useful for utilitarian purposes. You can’t cut into it for fear of landslides, you don’t want to build a road across it, it's very expensive build on it, it’s hard to plant anything, you can hardly even walk on it. It looks nice and may host lots of wildlife, but there isn’t much advantage in owning it yourself because no matter who owns it, it’s just going to be there forever.

Forested land and natural waterways are also something you must plan around in Costa Rica. If you want to plant a bunch of fruit trees, or run horses, or clear a view, or build 10 cabins, you will not be able to clear forested land to do it and there are limitations on how close you can get to rivers and springs. (E.g. you can't do any kind of development within a 100 meter radius of a spring. That's a lot on a small lot. The government is very protective of its forests and waterways, so for any use that requires cleared land, you will do much better to start with cleared land.

So, when you are reviewing lots, this is a crucial concept to keep in mind: compare prices in relation to usable land. If someone wants to sell you 50 acres for $200,000, and someone else wants to sell you 1.5 acres for $250,000, which is the better deal? Well, it depends on what you want to use it for and how much of it is usable for that purpose. You may find that you get a lot more for your money with a much smaller lot surrounded by someone else’s precipitous, forested, unusable land. Or not.

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