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Is a $12,000 shipping container home your key to owning a vacation rental in Costa Rica?

February 23, 2017

Buying a vacation home in Costa Rica and renting it out on Airbnb is an increasingly popular way to gain a home away from home and generate year-round cash flow. But so far there’s one thing missing in the vacation rental market here — homes made of shipping containers.

For as little as $12,000, you could be the proud new owner of a 20-foot shipping container home that you can place on any level lot where there is electricity and water. With a foundation that varies from cement tubes to wooden blocks, your turnkey home just needs to be plugged in on delivery day.

Home sweet home away from home.

The Tico Times thanks everyone who responded to our reader survey in late 2006. Winners of the five one-year print-edition subscriptions in Costa Rica are Dirk Booij of Santa Bárbara, Heredia, north of San José, Matthia Knecht of Puerto Viejo de Limón, on the southern Caribbean coast, Ramon Schlabach of Heredia, Luke Rodríguez, also of Heredia, and Robert Richards of Abangares, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.

Winners of the five one-year print-edition subscriptions outside of Costa Rica are all from the United States: Don and Paulina Autry of Okemah, Oklahoma, Cheryl Kern of Aston, Pennsylvania, Dean Howarth of Richforo, Vermont, William Tyler of Bokeelia, Florida, and Donna Cianciulli of Flagler Beach, Florida.

Here’s a look at the highlights of the responses:

_ The overwhelming reason for reading The Tico Times continues to be to get the best news in English of Costa Rica and Central America.

_ About half of the respondents live in the United States and half in Costa Rica. A small percentage live Canada and other countries.

_ The Tico Times is truly a national newspaper – of the readers living in Costa Rica, all nine provinces were represented.Nearly 10% of them are Ticos.

_ Our readers are highly educated – more than 85% have a University degree or higher.

_ Readers spend an average of 71 minutes reading each issue of The Tico Times.

_ The average annual salary of readers living in the United States is $86,800 and living in Costa Rica $41,000.

_ Of those readers living in the United States, 80% are men and 20% are women, while in Costa Rica 56% of readers are men and 44% are women.

_ Most readers living in the United States prefer political and environmental news. Those living in Costa Rica prefer political, business and economic and tourism news. Letters to the Editor are among the favorites of both groups.

_ Nearly 80% of our readers say they read The Nica Times, the eight-page publication with Nicaragua and Central America news on sale in Nicaragua and inserted in The Tico Times each week.

_ In the “Weekend” section, “Exploring Costa Rica” continued to rank a clear number one among all readers.

_ Readers who have our “Exploring Costa Rica” travel guide, provided free with a oneyear-subscription to the newspaper, said they find it very helpful. Respondents listed San José and the beaches – the Caribbean coast in particular – as their favorite destinations.

_ Part of the survey was about our Web site, ticotimes.net. Our online readers continue to increase, and 40% of our print edition readers said they also read our Daily News page online.

The Tico Times recently revamped its Web site and added improved graphics, easyto-navigate menu bars and new features including a Letters to the Editor section. Based on the survey feedback, upcoming plans for the site include incorporating a photo gallery, discussion forums and inviting guests to “chat” with readers on topics of interest.

As we conclude our 50th anniversary year, we continue to be the leading English-language newspaper in Costa Rica and Central America. Again, we thank everyone who participated in the survey and encourage you to continue sending us your letters, news tips and suggestions. Your contributions help make us a better paper.


Home sweet home away from home. (Courtesy of ContainerHomes.net)

But how nice can a shipping container home be? You don’t want to live in a trailer park.

The shipping container home idea has been around for a long time. Just Google “container homes,” click on images, and be amazed. You will find a wide variety of attractive designs and configurations. But as with any type of construction, you want to be sure your builder’s skills match your expectations. This is why your first step would be to consult an architect.

Invest the money to have a professional draw out your plans and then create a 3D model video of your home. This is actually very inexpensive and would give you a clear idea of what your future home will look like.

Tiled bathroom.

“Which is worse in Costa Rica… the roads or the robberies?” So reads the first sentence on a new Web site dedicated to collecting data on thefts and robberies along the Pacific coast in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.

Mindy and Mic Grumb, the creators of the Gold Coast Crime Database (www.goldcoastcrime.com), are asking anyone from the area who has been a victim of a theft or robbery to submit his or her information to the site.

The Web page allows users to enter a long list of details about the robbery in different fields, such as location; whether the robbery was successful; whether weapons were used; what was stolen; whether police were notified and what their response time was, if any. All data collected will be used in summary form, the site reads, and no personal information will be shared with the public in any way.

“Facts about the number of crimes are hard to come by in Costa Rica as many go unreported. A difficult process to report crime, coupled with the inability of local police to even respond to crime calls is starting to shake the foundations of our communities,” reads the Web page. “By collecting data about thefts and robberies, we will build knowledge about crimes in our area and use the data to impact change through our local community associations and local governments.”


Tiled bathroom. (Courtesy of ContainerHomes.net)


What are the pros and cons?

One of the benefits of container homes is the permit processing. Most so-called “tiny homes” are under 200 square feet and are mounted on blocks or wheels to avoid municipal bylaws such as taxes and permits.

In some parts of Costa Rica, a 20-foot home may not require any construction permits because of its size and portability. In other areas, regardless of the size of the construction, you will need to have all the required building permits and signatures.

View into the kitchen.

Officials with Costa Rica’s Social Security System (Caja) might offer as much as ¢100 million ($195,000) to the families of those who died in the 2005 fire at the Calderón Guardia Hospital, in San José, the daily La Nación reported this week.

Nineteen people died in the fire, including three nurses. Many have blamed a lack of safety measures at the hospital for the deaths, and repeated warnings about fire safety from the Firefighters Corps to the hospital appear to have gone unheeded over more than 10 years (TT, July 15, 2005).

The Caja has declined to reveal details of the negotiations, but most of the families have said they would be willing to settle out of court to avoid the drawn-out proceedings, the daily said.

Only two families have refused to negotiate, one being that of 16-year-old Alfonso Pérez, who died in the blaze.

“I do not agree with them using the money of the Costa Rican people to hide the irregularities that were and still are in the hospitals,” the boy’s father, also named Alfonso Pérez, told the daily.

The actual amount of each family’s settlement will depend on various factors, including the victim’s age, income and health, and ranges from ¢15 million ($29,182) to ¢100 million.

Meanwhile, the trial against the former nurse suspected of intentionally starting the fire – identified by the Judicial Branch by the last name Ledezma – is under way.


View into the kitchen. (Courtesy of ContainerHomes.net)

Another advantage of a container home is its portability. This box can be moved around as your needs change. You can also add on, putting another container next to it or on top.

Some of the disadvantages are size, temperature and style.

Container homes come in two sizes, 20 feet and 40 feet long. They are 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall. The square footage for the smaller containers is 160 square feet. But by adding a rooftop deck you can double your livable space.

Spiral staircase to rooftop deck.

Incoming sixth-graders getting ready to start school in February got a pleasant surprise this week: Public Education Minister Leonardo Garnier announced that starting this year, the students will no longer be required to take national tests in order to graduate.

Instead, the exams – now worth 60% of the overall score educators use to determine whether a sixth-grader gets promoted, with the remaining 40% coming from their average grades – will be given to a randomly selected group of students each year with the sole purpose of giving the ministry data about what students are learning.

Garnier, who made the announcement during President Oscar Arias’ Cabinet meeting, held Wednesday in Alajuelita, a mountain town south of San José, said the National Council for Superior Education made the decision this week after studying the issue. The minister said his visits to schools last year and conversations with teachers and students showed him that because preparation for, and execution of, the standardized tests varied wildly from school to school, they required a huge investment of time and money without providing reliable results.

Also, because students’ classroom grades were worth only 40% of their yearend score, students and teachers alike were neglecting the sixth-grade curriculum in favor of drilling on test content, Garnier said.

Results from the test given to a random sampling of students will be used to identify students’ weaknesses and design teacher training courses, according to a statement from the ministry.

Public school students also take mandatory graduation tests, called exámenes de bachillerato, at the end of high school. Though these exams are controversial and teachers’ unions have called on the ministry to eliminate them, Garnier has expressed no plans to do so.


Spiral staircase to rooftop deck. (Courtesy of ContainerHomes.net)

These containers can get hot, especially near the beach. Therefore, make sure your home is insulated and has air-conditioning. The home will need a roof to keep the water off and the temperature down.

So when will you make your investment back?

My professional advice is to begin small, starting with a 20-foot home. This can be rented out easily and sold quickly. Container homes maintain a very high resale value (100 percent and up), and they can be carried on a truck and delivered anywhere. And your investment of $12,000 is less than the cost of buying a car.

Living room.

It started just before Christmas with a pulsing behind the eye sockets – like an icecream headache but worse. Then intense fever, dehydration, an itchy rash on his legs and the sensation that his arms and legs were being severed from the rest of his body.

Lyle Watson, of the northern Pacific beach town Tamarindo, would have preferred a bag of coal to dengue fever – especially after community efforts to suppress the spread of the mosquito, usually Aedes aegypti, that transmits the virus.

In the past year, residents of this booming coastal community instituted a program to clean up neighborhoods and educate locals and tourists alike, in response to a near record outbreak of dengue fever the year before. They started education programs in schools, worked to eliminate the standing water and trash piles that serve as breeding grounds for the mosquitoes, and helped finance fumigation efforts.

Similar efforts took place throughout Guanacaste, where nearly 41% of dengue cases nationwide occurred last year, according to Health Ministry statistics.

It worked – at least, in places where residents remained diligent. In 2006, cases of dengue dropped 73% nationwide, but only 11% in Guanacaste (TT Dec. 22, 2006). The most recent outbreak, including Watson’s case – began in late November and has continued in force through the New Year – perhaps indicating a relaxing of these health and sanitary standards.

Residents and tourism officials throughout the region – among Costa Rica’s most popular beach destinations – are concerned; not only for themselves, but also for the effect such an outbreak might have on tourism.

“We’re worried, but we’re also a little angry,” said Watson’s wife, Stacey, who tended to her husband through his nearly three weeks of fever and sickness. “They should have been spraying for this.”

Stacey Watson says she’s one of the only people she knows in Tamarindo who hasn’t contracted the illness, which often leaves people bedridden and with high fever for three weeks or more.

She believes the situation is quickly getting out of control.

“We need some help out here.Most people I know have had dengue,” she said.

Dengue Outbreak

The recent dengue outbreak in Guanacaste has inundated EnriqueBaltodanoBriceñoHospital in Liberia, leaving officials scrambling to find the enough beds to accommodate new patients.

Cira Viales, the nurse in charge of the dengue ward at the hospital, said she’s seen nearly 300 cases of the virus in the past three months, but that the figure didn’t account for patients who checked into local clinics instead. “What we know for certain is that we are seeing far more hospitalized patients than the year before,” she said.

Viales said she gives the same speech to each patient admitted to the ward with dengue. She starts with an explanation of how the virus was likely contracted – by mosquito – then goes on to explain how important it is that people take this problem and its relatively straightforward solutions seriously. And she says it’s not just about wearing bug spray at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.

“I think the government needs to take a stand to eliminate the holes in the street that collect water, to do a better job cleaning up garbage, to fumigate,” she said.

Her frustration is clear when she talks –more with the people than the government.

“People need to become more conscious of this – all of us. Not just one neighborhood, or one city, but everywhere. This mosquito doesn’t respect color, or cleanliness, at least not if there are dirty places around where it can reproduce.We live in a tropical country. It rains a lot. People need to keep their houses and the roads clean. We will

always have it until the people of Costa Rica change their habits,”Viales said.

Serious Development

Henry Wasserman, a doctor who works in Epidemiological Surveillance for the Ministry of Health, said there’s no reason to panic yet, though he is concerned with the rise in cases of hemorrhagic dengue, a more severe strain of the virus that causes bruising and bleeding of the nose, gums and other orifices. This strain is sometimes fatal, though the ministry denied press reports that the recent death of Juan Valdavia, a patient admitted to the hospital in Liberia with symptoms of the virus in late December, was caused by hemorrhagic dengue.

In 12 days of the New Year, Wasserman said they’d recorded 13 cases of hemorrhagic dengue – a breakneck pace considering that last year saw just 72 cases total nationwide. The reasons for the sudden spurt are unclear, but Wasserman suspects it has to do with the high number of cases of dengue fever in the country over the past few years, and particularly in 2005.

“What we do know is that when a person has had dengue in the past, he’s at an increased likelihood of getting hemorrhagic dengue in the future,” Wasserman said. “We’ve had so many cases the past few years, this may be elevating the numbers.”

Wasserman said the government is “encouraging sanitary measures,” and added it is most important to take care of garbage and not let fluid accumulate in containers.

Such measures, said Mauricio Céspedes, executive director of the Guanacaste Chamber of Tourism, will help insure that unsuspecting tourists don’t get sick, and then spread the bad word back home – a situation that could negatively effect this region, which has seen continued tourism growth even as the rest of the nation stalled last year (TT, Jan. 12, 2007).

“Realistically, you have to do something before people get infected, not after,” he said. He said the tourism chamber is ready, and willing, to help the government in any way it can.

Stacey Watson – who’s seen both friends and family in Tamarindo infected with the virus – couldn’t agree more with this philosophy.

“We need some help out here. They’re killing the golden goose that’s laying the egg of tourism,” she said.


Living room. (Courtesy of ContainerHomes.net)

Based on average Airbnb rentals, a range of $45 to $75 per night equals a return on investment in 160 to 266 rental days. That’s roughly 18 days a month for just one year, and you’ve recovered your investment.

James Lee has lived in San Ramon, Costa Rica, for 17 years. He is a chiropractor and container home builder. He has built dozens of container home projects in the past 11 years. See more at ContainerHomes.net, or contact James at info@containerhomes.net.

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