Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Canton Coto Brus Real Estate Tour

The little mountain town of San Vito is part of a larger canton, or county, called Coto Brus. The canton includes three other towns - Sabalito, Agua Buena and Limoncito - but San Vito is the largest, with a population somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000.

Tracy was curious about real estate values here in San Vito and the surrounding area, but we had not seen a real estate agency - we later learned there are two in San Vito - so we stopped in at the office of an attorney that said Bienes Raices (real estate) on the window.

The receptionist turned to the lawyer in the back office, a portly, baby faced fellow, and said, "We don't do real estate, do we?" "Yes, we do," he replied, and she turned back to us with a big grin on her face, and I read her thoughts clearly, "My crazy boss says yes because he can't bear to turn any possible customer away."

We went in anyway. The lawyer couldn't have been more than 30 years old. I later learned he was 28. In Costa Rica, as in Panama, a real estate transaction cannot be completed without a lawyer, so although the attorney - whose name was David Salazar - does not sell real estate himself, he has been involved in several transactions. He told us about those, showing us photos and detailing for us how much the properties sold for. So we got what we were looking for. Turns out property in San Vito proper is surprisingly expensive. A 1,000 m2 property with a small house might go for $150,000. Outside of town is a different story. A hectare of coffee-producing land or of cattle land can be had for as little as $2,000 if it's part of a larger finca or ranch. A stand alone hectare might go for $10,000.

David said he knew of one finca for sale, and offered to take us there. I wasn't too keen on this simply because I knew it would tak all afternoon, but Tracy jumped at it. So we went to David's wife's optometry shop to get the car they share. It was a very comfortable Mitsubishi SUV with leather seats. We headed out of town and along the way David pointed out to us various houses and properties that had sold in the last few years.

San Vito is full of banks, clothing stores, electronics shops and other businesses. Much more than you would expect in a small town. Tracy asked David where this money comes from. David said, "This is coffee country. So there is money for six months, then no money for six months. San Vito is the center of all of Coto Brus, so all the stores are here."

David pointed out a huge house with modern styling that he said was his father-in-law's house. Later on he indicated vast areas of hillside and forest that belong to his mother-in-law. I began to realize that David had married into money. I never heard a word about his own parents. He took us 15 kilometers outside of town to a large sawmill owned by his father-in-law, and in fact we met said father-in-law, who apparently buys and sells the coffee from the finca that is up for sale. The father-in-law said to us, "Let's play a trick on David," and he rushed us out to David's SUV, where the father-in-law got in and started the car, then began to pull out. David came hurrying out and got in the passenger seat.

The coffee finca was quite large, but on a sharply sloped hillside running down to a river. The coffee trees stood in orderly rows, with occasional patches of yucca and corn. The hillside was blanketed in a heavy afternoon mist, giving the area a remote, isolated feel. I would never live there, though David says there is an American couple with a dairy farm nearby, and another wealthy conservationist American couple who have bought an entire mountainside and are reforesting it. Supposedly a jaguar killed someone's horse, and they wanted to hunt the jaguar, but the American said, "No, we'll buy you more horses."

David drove us back to town and dropped us off at Lilliane's pizzeria. I felt a little guilty, as if I had taken up three hours of David's time by pretending to be something I'm not. I tried to give him some money for his time or at least just for gas, but he adamantly refused. "It was my pleasure," he said. That was very generous of him, but hey - can you guess what I'm going to say? - that's the pura vida.

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