Our success story of how we ďbuilt before
moving to Costa RicaĒ began with a week long vacation in
Costa Rica in March of 2007 celebrating our youngest daughter,
Allison's completion of a three-week
Spanish immersion course in Alajuela. She kept telling us to go,
go, go to Costa Rica and she ďjust knew we would love it.Ē
FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS
That first visit we were invited to stay in
Santo Domingo (located in the province of Heredia in the
Central Valley) in the home of a couple we had been
introduced to by one of my husbandís colleagues but had only
met once. Oops, I think thatís another no, no. Oh, well,
this couple then introduced us to their neighbor who just
happened to be a builder. Oh, no. Should red lights have
been flashing about now? Whatever.
We asked to see some of
his homes and found them to be well-built and attractive
houses. And most of his homes included his signature
design "cuarto de luz" (room of light) along
fountain. And lastly, his process seemed very
reasonable. The average price for a custom
built home (including lot) ranged from just under
$100,000 to $120,000.
I know itís unfathomable to the advisors, but we headed back
to Dallas with a couple of house plans to study and began
emailing back and forth with the builder. We settled on a
three-bedroom plan on a corner lot and by our next trip had
made our first payment. Iím sure some people thought we had
fallen off our rockers. Building began in July 2007, was
completed by March 2008, almost exactly one year after our
first vacation visit.
For three years we made visits back and forth
from Dallas and finally on January 11, 2011 we moved. We
had planned for it all to happen a year earlier but, as it
turned out, Johnís parents became ill and both passed away.
We stayed around to care for them and to remodel their home
and sell it.
We did almost everything wrong according to
sound advice given by most wise people. Actually, the only
people who would ever advise you to buy a home right away
are probably realtors. Would I advise someone to come here
for a visit and start building a few months later? Probably
not, but that depends.
Why were we successful? And we were. Iíve
heard some horror stories about people getting hugely ripped
off by very ďniceĒ ticos (realtors, lawyers, builders,
etc.). For more info about that,
check out this link. There is a great video on the
topic of building before moving to Costa Rica.
John and I combined seem to
have a sixth sense about people and have a history of
reading people and situations quickly and accurately.
Our decisions have consistently played out with success.
If you have a history
of misreading the cards, and experiencing disappointment in
outcomes, I suggest you wait. Not just on the buying, but
on moving to another country altogether. You will probably
become one of the 60% who hightail it back home within the
When we met our builder, Jeremy, we sensed his
genuine enthusiasm about the possibility of us living in the
same neighborhood. He had no spiel for us and was mostly
interested in us as people. Wow, what a concept.
And when it
came time to furnish our home with appliances, Jeremy and
his parents (SEE
PICTURE ON RIGHT) took two days out of
their busy lives and took me to Golfito, CR where I was able
to buy appliances and other items tax-free (import taxes can
be quite high).
JEREMY, RUDOLFO AND
Another important factor in our success, we
believe, is what went on before we ever even came to visit
or committed to buy. Iíll make a bullet list in an effort
to hold on to the male readers.
When we heard that our
17-year-old daughter was going to Costa Rica for a
Spanish immersion we read everything we could about the
country. Before we ever set foot here we had learned
about some important cultural differences.
We had been thinking and
scheming about our retirement plan for about 10 years.
Climate ended up being the
most difficult hurdle in deciding where to retire. We
immediately ruled out our current location, Dallas, TX.
California would be ideal but we would have had to wait
until we were about 80 to afford to move there. I like
it cold and John likes it warm but not hot. We were
stunned to find that the Central Valley of Costa Rica
has an average temperature of 65-80 year round. Bingo!
We were not running away
from a bad life in the U.S. This is very
important... If you are running from
something, it is likely you will never stop running.
Moving away from all that is familiar, facing a language
barrier and unexpected cultural quirks will send you
into a black orbit. If you have a bad life, stay where
you are and fix it. Then, if you still want to move to
another country, go for it.
We were committed to
learning Spanish. You can move here and hole up in a
gringo/expat enclave and never speak a word of Spanish
but I do not for a second believe you could possibly
experience the fullness of the adventure of moving to
another land. Ticos can tell what kind of expat you are
and may not embrace you. Our builder and others who
helped us along the way could see us trying to learn the
language and understand the culture. If you canít do
that, I say, Yankee go (stay) home.
We can never underestimate
the value of networking. The couple we stayed with
during our first visit introduced us to several really
great ticos who became part of our helping and
friendship network. This couple helped us get started
at the bank, showed us good shopping areas as well as
places to go and not to go, etc. Without their help,
Iím not sure we could have built our house while living
in the states. There was always someone watching over
things for us.
In a nutshell, we feel we
used our heads as well as our hearts to judge our
situation. We were willing to wait on our dream move if
other situations took precedence, and we did.
Now that weíre on our own
we have met many of our neighbors, some of whom have
become like family, sharing graduation celebrations and
birthdays with us, showing us how to use the bus and
train systems, stopping by just to say ďhi." We are so
Maybe you think Iíve digressed from the point
of our story about building before we moved to Costa Rica
but I donít think so. If you have trouble making sound
decisions, have a habit of running away from problems, or
are easily dazzled, then building a home in Costa Rica is
not for you.
This Latin American country is very different
from what we are used to in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Understanding the Costa Rican (Tico) culture may take some
getting used to. Adhering to schedules and promises
are not the same as we have become accustomed to in North
builder might have agreed to install recessed lighting in your
living room, he may just completely forget to do it.
We ran into some
of that when building our home. That doesnít mean we got screwed,
it's just an example of life in different culture. Iím
living without that recessed lighting now and am doing just fine.
However, Jeremy (our builder)
recognized the need for better drainage on our property so
he installed a French Drain. He did this without
asking and we are so glad he did. Had he not done
this, we may have encountered serious water problems come
And, when we came to see the finished house,
Jeremy had installed a beautiful handmade wood and glass
chandelier on our terrazza Ė as a gift. He had also put
flower arrangements in the bathrooms. Things went so well
that about a year after we built our first house, we
decided to build a second right next door. The
plan was to build it for John's parents.
Unfortunately, that never came to pass, however we
have one really fantastic place to put our guests.
Our story is an example of how itís actually
possible to be successful in building a home before
retirement. In fact, in our case, there was so much in
Dallas to potentially hold us there that we might not have
even retired and moved here when we did if we hadnít built
In the end, Allison was rightÖwe do ďjust
love itĒ here Ö Ok, time to get my gloves and head out to
the veggie garden. Later, I plan to roast a large
free-roaming hen stuffed to overflowing with fresh herbs
from our garden.
Life is good...
Janie and John built in the town of Quizarco, a barrio (local
neighborhood) of Santo Domingo de Heredia. It is a very nice,
primarily Tico neighborhood consisting mostly of doctors, lawyers,
judges, engineers and educators. Santo Domingo is much quieter
than most of the cities near San Jose. There are no American
restaurants and the only fast food nearby is pizza and chicken!