Simply Live

Snapchat-8279613881128782041 (1)This summer I have had the pleasure of living in Costa Rica. While the first half was focused on academics pursuits, it was the second that truly changed me. I became a ´tica´, living in Atenas and integrated into the life of everyday Costa Ricans.

One of the things that I love about this place is ‘Adios.’ You might be wondering, what does saying good bye have to do with anything? Well, being here, it has a common place as a greeting especially when you pass by someone down the street whether stranger or friend. Throughout my many walks through the streets of Atenas, I have had the pleasure of giving and receiving this salutation. From someone coming from the States, I love that people here recognize, smile, and greet you. In the States, we all have a place to go and things to do that we become so caught up in schedules that we forget the simple mannerisms that define us as human beings.

To build on from the previous paragraph, everyone here is kind but they also know each other. You may say that is common especially of little towns but for me it is a contrast between day and night compared to the States. There were many mornings when my ‘tico’ parents would take their children to school and me to my internship that they encountered at least a half a dozen people that they know. Recently, I was walking back home with a new friend from my neighborhood, or here it is called barrio. I asked her if she knew all the people that lived in the vicinity and their names. She confirmed that she did and as we passed each house, she told me a little about them. I could not help but compare my own lacking situation: I do not know the names of my neighbors, nor are we friends; we simply did not have that kind of familiarity. We do not visit each other; rather offer lukewarm greetings when we encounter one another. Here, on the other hand, my ‘tico’ neighbors would come in and out of our house, from early morning during the breakfast hour to late at night. And they did not have to call to receive permission. Our front door was always open, ushering people in and out from the time it was opened to until bed time.

It was also during this time that I made my runs around the neighborhood. I met Maria, a woman who makes crafts by sewing whether it is blankets, pillow cases, or art work to decorate a wall. I spent time learning from her as she helped me make gifts for my friends and family rather than buying all my gifts from the gift shop. I had the pleasure of going to a family reunion up to the mountains where I met a family that lived off of their land. While there, we cut the corn that grew on the farm to make tamales. We ate meat from the pig they grew. While to some that my sound foreign, I embraced it! I saw where my food came from and I helped make the food. We worked for half a day to prepare the meals for our guests and ourselves. We tried to use every part of the corn and if we did not, it was not thrown away rather reserved for compost. We ate fruits that we picked from the trees. We recycled the banana peels and that of every fruit or vegetable that we ate. Compare that to the States where a majority of our food comes from groceries stores. We have become so out of touch that we do not know where the most basic of our products come from and how it grows. We do not know the process behind it, but take for granted that it solely there for us to eat.

Being here has taught me about the value of cherishing what you make. For many, money is not as disposable as it is for us Americans. There were many times in discussions that I heard the phrase ‘no mucha plata,’ in our case not enough money. However, where money lacked, their creativity soared. If they could not buy food from the market they would grow it on the land. If they could not find work, they would work with their hands. If they have ripped or old clothes, they do not throw it away, they mend it or find another purpose for it.

Learning these simple but powerful values have done much to teach me more about life than sitting in a classroom. I cherish my accomplishments from learning to make tamales or ‘cornbread’ out of scratch more so than the highest grade I ever made. I witnessed something done that ultimately benefitted others.

We took care of each other. When one of our neighbors got sick, we cooked her lunch and watched over her. My ‘tica’ mom to me exemplified this characteristic the most. She has a friend who works two jobs that has two children of the age of five and under. A majority of the time, while I was here, she took care of them while their mom worked. I was impressed. She already has children of her own that are in their late teens but she chose to take care of them anyway. She even involved me in the process and I helped her to care for them as well. She embraced a stranger from a foreign land and treated me like I was her daughter. She and others trusted me and I became a part of their life.

I am not claiming that these things do not happen in the States, rather they are so few and far in between. I came here and was exposed to it all day every day. I have learned to live here, with a schedule and without and have enjoyed every moment. To some, they come here on vacation to escape the demands of life in the states for a week or two. For me, it was not an escape rather I learned to live beyond the defined norms of society. I regained back something that was lost in the myriad demands of student life that I became a robot and not a living being. I learned to cherish everyday here, both lows and highs. I learned so much about life and what it means to enjoy it every single day.

*This was written during my last week in Atenas.

Ruth lives in Oklahoma and attends Oral Roberts University in Tulsa.  She is originally from Kenya and volunteered for 5 weeks on a marketing internship with Tristan & Newton Real Estate.

Security Tips for your Home

Living behind bars is something that few people want to do.  The fact is that someone who really wants to get into your home can do it.  However, the majority of thieves are going to look for “easy” targets, places that have valuable items and require little work or risk.  If someone wants to take a lot of risk, they will probably be looking to break into a bank, not your home.  Therefore, there are several options to making your home more safe and allowing you to sleep in peace.

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1)      Bars on the windows.  No one likes them, but they do provide a high level of security.  It makes it very difficult to get in.  There are also removable bars available which if removed, trigger an alarm.  Unfortunately, they still look like bars, but they don’t prevent someone from getting out in case of an emergency. 

2)      Properly placed plants.  If bars on the windows are too much for you, spiky plants placed under windows can be a great deterrent.  It might not stop someone prepared for it, but for someone looking for a quick and easy entry, it would make someone think twice.

3)      Alarms.  Many types of alarms exist along with different levels of sensitivity.  Everyone hates when an alarm continues to go off for no reason, but not only will it usually scare off burglars, but it will wake you and your neighbors up.  The importance is to have it adjusted to the level you want and mainly have it for windows and doors.  Motion sensors are great, but it’s true that random animals will set them off all of the time.

20160608_070135 (Copy)4)      Cameras.  Cameras may not stop someone breaking in, but they can catch them afterwards and is a big deterrent.

5)      Signs.  Even just the signs that state you have cameras or alarms can be deterrents.  Does someone really want to test and see if they are true?  Just the possibility that you have alarms or cameras can make someone move on to another location.  Guard dog signs can even make someone think twice.

6)      Lights.  Making your property well lit outside can deter thieves.  In addition, leaving lights on inside so that thieves think someone is awake can be a good idea too, especially if you aren’t going to be home.  Basic timers can be found in hardware stores so that you can set lights to come on at certain hours.  Motion sensors on exterior lights are great and not as annoying as an alarm going off.

7)      Stop posting your vacations on Facebook.  It’s important to let a few close people know so they can keep an eye on your house, but as great as it is to post when you are leaving and returning, thieves LOVE this even more.  “Leaving for New York for a week” means they know they have a week to get in and get out.

8)      Leave someone in charge of your home, to house sit or at minimum check in on your home and pick up the mail or notices left in your gate. 

9)      Make sure all workers (gardeners, maids, etc) are fully trustworthy.  Anyone with a key to your home can be an asset or a direct ticket into your home for a thief.

10) cropped-20160229_083028.jpg  Lock your doors and windows.  This sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many thieves enter through open doors or windows. 

11)   Be aware and report strange vehicles slowly patrolling your neighborhood or people looking suspicious.  Police may not be able to do anything if they can’t catch the burglars in the act, but being reported may make them move on and provides a suspect as well if anything happens later.

12)   Have a secure room where you can lock away your valuables if you are going to be gone.  Also, don’t leave expensive items out in general areas of your home.  Laptops left in the living room or right inside a window are easy targets as thieves can “grab and go” often without fully entering the house. 

13)   Backup computers.  It stinks to get a computer stolen but usually it’s the information and work that is much more valuable than the physical computer itself.

14)   Keep lists of identifying features of valuable items or even photos so they can be identified in case the items are located and also for insurance purposes.

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There are many more, but these are some of the things that we all know, but should be reminded of once in a while.  No one should live paranoid but making basic precautions can help keep you from being a target.   Please feel free to add additional tips as comments!

Contact Tina by  email or on the Facebook page or check out the listings on the Website.

Is Costa Rica really going to hell in a handbasket?

I hear people all of the time complaining about how bad Costa Rica has gotten, it seems in every way.  Of course, I hear the same things about the States as well. Since I’ve been here for 17 years, I want to shed a little light on changes that have actually occurred over the long run here in the land of Pura Vida.  Just as you should never determine the stock market in the short term, neither should one evaluate history based on a couple of years.  My comparison begins…

1)       In 1999, ICE was the only phone company.  The waiting list for a land-line phone in Atenas was 5 years. There were no prepaid cell phones and regular cell phones were few and far between with reception being near zero.  Now, you can get a land line in about 2 weeks, often less, and you can buy a prepaid line from at least three major companies instantly.

2)      Internet was dial up only and only available from Racsa, the sub-company of ICE.  Part of this is just a general advance in technology, but now there are multiple companies to choose from and at different speeds.  We may still be behind the US, but it’s way better than it used to be.

3)      My temporary residency took 3 ½ years to get, even while married to a Tico.  Now, residencies can take 90 days if you have all of the paperwork.  And forget anything being computerized.  You had to go and stand in line all day to make a reservation for a renewal of the residency. If you got to the front of the line by the time they closed, you could be given an appointment for six to eight months in the future.  Then you went back, stood in line for the appointment, all day, and when you got in would be given a date in the future, usually another 2 months when your residency renewal would be ready.  At which time, you would have to go back and stand in line, all day, to pick it up.  It would need to be renewed in about 6 months again (one year from the time of the first appointment) and it all would be started again.  Now, you can make an appointment at the bank, walk in and walk out with your renewal.  Whew!

4)      Tampons could not be found in any grocery stores, only in pharmacies and forget about having any options.  This was a HUGE one for me.

5)      The central park of Atenas was dark and now it is filled with beautiful lights as well as security cameras to keep everyone safe.

6)      Volunteer groups have made major progress in helping the community.  Dogs ran rampant around Atenas and now Animales Atenas has been able to help protect and castrate hundreds of animals.  Hogar de Vida was just beginning and now it is a steady, thriving center for children with a strong group which raises thousands of dollars to support the center.

7)      Transportation has improved.  It took eight hours to get from Atenas to Uvita (and eight tires as well).  Now, it takes about 3 hours.  Highway 27 was just a thought on a piece of paper.  Now, it isn’t perfect, but it allows for a 25 minute drive to the mall and the movies (although some may see that as a setback).  It’s true that the transportation planning has not kept up with the number of cars on the road.  Traffic jams are still prevalent in the city and coming back from the beach after the holidays.  I’m not claiming perfection.

8)      Required schooling was until 6th grade, now it is 9th, and the graduation rate from high school (11th grade here) has gone up tremendously (at the time it was only 50%).  (Personal note– I couldn’t find exact numbers on current graduation rates, so you have to take my observation only on this one as a mother of high schoolers.)  Night schools are also full with adults are going back and to get their high school diploma.  In 1999, it was common for me to hear, “She’s not very good in math, so we’re going to let her drop out and help around the house.”  Graduation rates from the university are actually higher now for women than men and I think having a female president (whether you liked her or not) has been a big  push for women recognition.

9)      Banking by internet.  Thank goodness!  Before, we received all of the bills at different times of the month and had to go and stand at the bank for hours (okay, yes, some things haven’t changed) and at the time, there were no chairs and no air conditioning in the banks.  Now, I can log in to my account and pay everything in five minutes.  Whew!

I may sound a little bit like those grandparents who talk about walking to school in snow, uphill, both ways and proclaiming how much easier we have it now.  However, this is not me declaring that all is perfect in paradise because it’s not, but these are exact experiences and in comparison to now, we’ve “come a long way, baby”.  It’s important to see what is not working in order to try to change it for the better or to keep it from getting worse, but it’s also important to keep a long-term perspective.

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You can contact Tina at tina@tnrealestatecr.com or on Facebook with any questions.  Feel free to add your comments to the blog. Pura Vida!

What happens when you tell an agent that your home is for sale?

20160325_120347 (Copy)When you call up an agent and say that your property is for sale, it just magically goes out to the world, right?   Nope.  The number of steps that it takes to get your property out to the world depends on your agent.  Some agents might just hear of a property and start publicizing, but it is very important that certain steps be followed.  Does it take more time?  The amount of time actually depends on the owner and what documents have been gathered in advance.

1)       Call the agent and inform them that you are thinking of putting your home on the market.  It is very important to have someone who is a member of the Chamber of Real Estate of Costa Rica so that you have someone who follows the appropriate steps and can be held responsible.

2)      The agent should visit the property, make suggestions for preparing your home for sale, and discuss price.  If further market research needs to be made to give a good market value, that should be done after this first viewing of the home

3)      The plot of the property (plano) and name and i.d. number that the property is registered under should be given at this time to the agent   This is one of the most important steps.  Why?  The property needs to be confirmed that all is legally in the system and matches.  If this is not done, then you could have a buyer who cannot legally purchase your property due to an error in the system or a previous sale never being updated.  On the buying side, it is very important that you are working with agents that have done the due diligence and made sure that everything is legally correct and ready to sell.  If everything is up to date and correct, then the property can be sold immediately.  However, if not, then this can take time  so it is important to have it checked up front and not when there is a buyer standing on the porch.20160401_142426 (Copy)

4)      Photos can be taken during this first meeting if the house is ready for sale or at a later appointment if things need to be fixed or cleaned.  Remember these photos will go out to the world, so taking photos when the house is not ready for showing will give a bad image to potential buyers and limit the number of people who will want to see your home.  Having professional photos or drone photos can be a great option as well, but make sure they are realistic.  Gorgeous photos followed by disappointment at the reality of a home rarely results in an offer.

5)      A contract should be signed by the owner and agent determining commission, ways of advertising (sign or no sign, internet, etc), and giving permission to the agent to publicize and sell your property.  Whether you decide to go with an exclusive contract (where you have one agent who represents you) or a non-exclusive contract (where you contact all agents and only the one who brings the buyer gets the commission), this should be done so that there are no misunderstandings at the time of a closing.  All costs should be mentioned in the contract including commission and sales taxes.  The contract should be very specific about the owner and property as well so there is no confusion later.

6)      As soon as the contract is signed, the property can be placed in the MLS (Multiple Listing System) and other advertising methods and your home is out to the world.

pool at night (Copy)How long does this process take?  If you have your home ready for photos and the documents on hand when the Realtor visits, it should only take a couple of days maximum to get everything ready and put together.  So, it all depends on you and the follow-up of your agent.  So, get the right Realtor and get everything ready and you will be on your way to the sale of your house.

Tristan & Newton Real Estate works directly with the Consortium Gomez, Tristan, & Tristan Legal Firm to make sure everything is ready for your sale.  For further details, feel free to contact Tina at Tristan & Newton, tina@tnrealestatecr.com, or through the Facebook page.  The website and YouTube videos have more information about Tristan & Newton Real Estate and properties as well.