Drawn by the sun and the international reputation as a hot spot, home shoppers and long-term investors have been scouring Costa Rica for good deals on property for decades.
But with the word out, and property prices plummeting in the United States, the deals just aren’t the same as they were 10 years ago.
In some areas, at least.
Those in search of the best buys can still find rock-bottom prices, but would be wise to look at more than just the price of the land, according to a spectrum of real estate agents consulted by The Tico Times.
Services, infrastructure and future developments in the region are all important to take into consideration, and could determine if your investment is going to pay off down the line.
“If someone is looking for a virgin area where the dirt is cheap and there is a tremendous upside, I would say you’re over on the east side, in Limón or Cahuita,” said longtime real estate broker Les Nunez of First Realty in Playa Hermosa, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
“If you want an established area, I’m partial to Guanacaste, up where we are in Hermosa and Playas delCoco,” he added, “Certainly it will hold value over time.”
Though prices have risen dramatically in Guanacaste as development there has boomed, Nunez says his region is still a good buy.
“The DanielOduberInternationalAirport (outside the provincial capital of Liberia) still remains a hub,” Nunez said. “If you look at stats from the Urban Land Institute, tourists want to drive no more than 30 or 40 minutes. Draw a circle around Liberia, and that falls right where we are: Coco, Ocotal, Playa Panamá, Hermosa and Papagayo.”
But a more long-term investor hoping for dramatic returns on his money should look east, he said.
Limón, the Caribbean coastal province with an industrial, gritty capital city of the same name, has long been overlooked by both international investors and the Costa Rican government. However, there are signs things could be changing.
Last year, China announced its interest in expanding the government oil refinery in Moín, a port just northwest of the Caribbean city and port of Limón.
This year, the Costa Rican government announced the World Bank had approved a $72.5 million loan to improve the city of Limón. The government will add $7.5 million of is own funds, which will be put toward broadening social programs and overhauling the Limón and Moín ports into one enormous mega-port.
But Nunez is particularly encouraged by Isla Moín, a massive real estate development planned for the Caribbean coast.
According to the developer’s Web site, the project just north of Limón will feature a 500-slip marina, 600 low-rise resort condominiums and approximately 100 beach and waterfront condos, spread over a stretch of 208 acres along the coast. Developers have also set aside part of the property for a luxury hotel.
“I would wait and see that Isla Moín is taking off,” Nunez said, referring to the project receiving its environmental approval and construction permits. “If that flies, I would say good night, pal. That is the same concept as Los Sueños, and look what happened there.”
Los Sueños, a marina-hotel-real estate project on Playa Herradura, is largely credited for having touched off the central Pacific real estate boom.
Currently, prices in the Limón area are much lower than on the Pacific. Nunez says a single-family, Tico-style home goes for as low as $40,000 or $50,000, while raw land prices average between $10 and $30 per square meter, even for ocean views.
“You cannot buy dirt at that cost anymore out here, it just does not exist,” Nunez said from Guanacaste. “You cannot get dirt near the water for $10 a square meter. The cheapest I know out here is $150. Right on the beach, if you can get it, it’s damn close to $1,000 a square meter.”
Meanwhile, homes in the area go from the upper $300,000 range up to millions of dollars.
Nunez also recommends looking south of Limón, near the laid back, Rasta-flavored beach towns of Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo.
Tim Kopatich of Crystal Clear Properties, based in the central Pacific town of Jacó, says Limón is not a bad idea, but recommends the still undiscovered area east of the Gulf of Nicoya.
“Absolutely the Caribbean is going to hit. It’s just a matter of when,” Kopatich said. “If you want shorter term, you have to look on the Pacific.”
Kopatich said low land prices – which he expects to rise dramatically in the future – can be found even for ocean-view property along a stretch of the country beginning near the port of Caldera, just south of the Pacific port of Puntarenas, heading up to the Tempisque Bridge, at the top of the gulf.
Kopatich said he has seen beautiful property, particularly near Chomes, which is close to the water, and Miramar, in the Tilarán foothills northeast of Puntarenas, for prices between $5 and $30 a square meter.
Lot prices at a project Kopatich is developing near Miramar called Colinas de Miramar are to run between $40,000 and $120,000, he said.
“You have ocean-view properties and the weather is not as hot as the beaches,” Kopatich said. “The downside is it is undeveloped.
There is not a lot of infrastructure … but what you do have are the Pan-American Highway and theCaldera Highway
The Pan-American, also known as the Inter-American, runs the length of Central America, passing through Liberia in the north, and San José in the center of the country. Along the way, it comes within a few miles of Miramar.
, meanwhile, has been in the planning for decades and appears to have finally gotten off to a promising start this year (TT, May 30). That highway will connect San José to Caldera in a route promised to be much faster than the existing road that winds its intestinal way down the mountain to the coast.
Another infrastructure project that has real estate agents talking is the planned marina in Playa Flamingo, in northern Guanacaste.
The simple, low-budget marina that had long been operating there, fueling the rise of hotels and restaurants on tiny Flamingo Point, was closed in 2004 for environmental violations.
After years of delay, the municipality of Santa Cruz awarded the concession to build and operate a new, $91 million, state-ofthe-art marina at Flamingo to Desarrollo de Marinas Matapalo Demm, a consortium of U.S. and Costa Rican investors (TT, April 18). However, one of the losing bidders for the concession has filed an appeal, freezing the process.
In the meantime, the nearby towns of Potrero and Brasilito have seen rapid growth, as real estate development has spurred new housing projects, businesses and commercial buildings in the area.
Larry Albright of Pacific Coast Realty, based in Flamingo, says his area is poised to see an upswing in value.
“Prices have stabilized, but I expect them to skyrocket in the next couple of years,” he said.