WITH crime on the rise and citizen security on the decline, major developers in the Greater Metropolitan Area are continuing full-speed ahead with the neo-feudalistic model that says owning a piece of paradise means living behind gates and armed guards.
Like modern day fiefs equipped with swimming pools and tennis courts, residential communities are dominating housing development to the north of San José in Heredia, and east of the capital in communities such as Curridabat and Tres Ríos.
Developers say now that the popular western suburb of Escazú is over-saturated and has lost its hillside community charm to the neon lights of consumer culture, more home and property seekers – Costa Ricans and foreigners alike – are looking north and east.
REAL estate prices on the east side of town, near the new Multiplaza del Este and Terramall shopping centers, increased in value by 25% last year, compared to prices on the west side of town, which have leveled out after years of growth and more supply than demand, according to Marianela Penorio, sales director of residential development firm Urbanizadora La Laguna, founded in 1967.
As a result, Penorio said, more middle and upper-middle-class buyers are purchasing lots as investments and for future development in La Laguna’s eight planned communities in Curridabat and Tres Ríos.
Lot sizes range from 200 square meters to 10,000 square meters, and sell for an average of $80 to $145 per meter, according to Penorio.
All of the planned communities are landscaped with green areas and recreation areas, equipped with underground electrical wiring and, of course, 24-hour guard service.
LA Laguna’s deluxe Monterán urbanization in Curridabat is complete with playgrounds, pools, tennis courts, a soccer field and a nine-hole, par-three, USGA approved golf course.
Lots range from 2,000 to 10,000 square meters, with prices starting at $90 per square meter.
La Laguna, the only development firm that is part of the national stock exchange, is affiliated with real estate agency Century 21. La Laguna does not, however, sell homes, just lots.
Although La Laguna has a gated community in Escazú and one in Santa Ana, and is starting new development in Heredia, the firm has focused most of its 20 urbanization projects on the east side of San José.
WHEN it comes to development in Heredia, Fomento Urbano, with more than 30 years of experience, is a main player.
It has four residential housing projects in San Joaquín de Flores (Villas Luisiana and Hacienda Las Flores) and San Pablo (Rincon Verde II and Valle Claro). The 900 lots and homes, available in 15 different models and sizes, start at $68,000 and go up to $145,000 for a four bedroom.
In the case of Valle Claro, which sells lots without homes, prices range from $14,000 to $24,000 each.
About half the homes and lots have already been sold, according to Guillermo Bonilla, general manager of Fomento.
Bonilla said his company first made the move to Heredia about five years ago, after selling approximately 40 residential projects on the east side of San José.
He said at first Fomento was “timid” about moving to Heredia, but the market interest in the northern region has already exceeded the company’s expectations.
Heredia is attractive because of its location – about 20 minutes from San José, depending on traffic – and general perceptions that it is safer, cleaner and más tranquilo than the big, stinky city.
FOMENTO sells lots and homes at about the same rate, Bonilla said, adding there are different advantages to purchasing one versus the other.
Advantages of buying a home are fixed cost and ease on the nerves, Bonilla.
One of the main reasons for divorce in Costa Rica is the stress and tension that couples go through when they have to build a home, according to him.
Advantages of buying a lot are: cheaper initial investment, and greater control over the design of the home.
A third option offered by Fomento is to purchase a lot where a home is currently being built, allowing the new owners to make slight modifications to the house-inprogress.
However, Bonilla warned, there is a misconception among many aspiring homeowners that it is cheaper to purchase a lot and then build a home. Construction problems and other hidden costs often make the build-your-own-home alternative just as expensive, if not more, he said.
BONILLA said the model used for gated residential communities has changed during the last 10-15 years to adapt to changing security needs.
For example, he said, a decade ago families looked to buy homes on or close to the main road, so residential communities were built closer to main roads and with more access roads.
But with a rising crime rate, gated communities have now become more closed off to the outside world, with homes built well inside the walls and with access to the community limited to one or two guarded entrances.
Fomento has an interactive Web site (www.fomentourbano.co.cr) that allows users to type into a search engine a specific price, location and home features and see what housing recommendations the program comes up with. For more info, call Fomento’s offices in Sabana Norte, 290-5560.
For more info about La Laguna, visit its bilingual Web site www.urlaguna.com, or call 258-0346.