Real estate shoppers who aren’t into strip malls and condos are turning away from the northwestern province of Guanacaste and turning toward the relaxed charm of the southern Caribbean coast. Wildlife, deserted beaches and natural wooden houses are part of the allure that’s sparking a growing real estate market in this corner of the country, known for its reggae vibes and unique Afro-Costa Rican culture.
“In the past year, we’ve seen a significant increase in single-family house sales,” said Manuel Pinto, co-owner of Caribe Sur Real Estate (759-9138 or 826-3998, www.caribesur-realestate.com), a company that sells houses and property in the towns of Cahuita, Bribrí, Puerto Viejo, Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva and Manzanillo, and surrounding areas.
The southern Caribbean region is appealing to baby-boomer foreigners looking to retire or buy a second home, Pinto explained. The main draws to the area are its whitesand and turquoise-water beaches, he said.
Additionally, people head to the east coast for “quality of life,” which translates into less development and a relaxed lifestyle.
“You go to a café in Guanacaste and everyone is talking about buying real estate,” he said. “You don’t have that here…there is a boom, but it’s not developers’ craze, and we want to keep it that way.”
Anna Petin, co-owner of Sunrise Coast Realty (750-1902, www.sunrisecoastrealty.com), agreed the region’s laid-back vibe is its main appeal, along with its pleasant climate and two wildlife preserves, the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge and Cahuita National Park.
Amazing nature, snorkeling and good dive shops are other draws, in addition to beaches where “you can spend half the day without seeing another person,” she added.
Petin, from Poland, said she and her husband Gregory, from France, are a testament to the region’s international appeal.
“Here, you see people from all over, really,” she said.
Colorful, Caribbean-style wooden houses in the area’s characteristic jungles, dense with greenery and home to monkeys and sloths, tend to be more popular than those on the beach, though most houses in the areaare within walking distance of the beach.
A single-family home averages between $140,000 and $200,000, depending on size and amenities, Pinto said.
Caribe Sur also rents houses through its property management services, which take away the hassle of owning a second home. The company pays bills and oversees gardening, cleaning and other routine work, as well as painting and minor repair work on the house.
Renting out clients’ homes while they’re not using them is a good way to offset expenses as the investment continues to gain value, Pinto said.
“(Homeowners) can count on at the very least breaking even, but we wouldn’t say they’re going to get rich from rentals,” he said.
Sunrise Coast Realty sells both property and houses, and a variety of options are available to meet each buyer’s needs. Hot spots include Playa Chiquita, Playa Negra and Punta Uva, Petin said.
Beachfront land is available to build on, as are lots containing small, run-down houses that can be torn down to build new ones.
However, Costa Rica’s Maritime Zone Law regulates building on the nation’s shores, and buyers should do their homework if they’re looking to build on the beach (see separate story). Under the Maritime Zone law, the first 200 meters of land from the high-tide line belong to the state. The first 50 meters are considered public terrain and cannot be developed. The remaining 150 meters can be developed privately, for hotels, restaurants or homes, through concessions granted by municipalities.