Why you really NEED a Realtor when buying property in Costa Rica

Sometimes being a Realtor is not the most respected profession.  I understand that there are lots of people out there, and especially in Costa Rica, who are not professional, are crooks, and don’t know what they are doing.  And therefore, I halfway understand when a local says they don’t need a real estate agent and will go directly to the owner.  However, when I hear a foreigner say that they want to buy a property directly from a local with no agents involved, I shiver.  What can go wrong?  After 18 years of living here and hearing horror stories, here are five things that can go VERY wrong.

1)       You could end up paying WAY more than the property is valued.  You don’t know the value of the land.  Every local will tell you that the property is “ganga” or cheap, even if they’ve priced it at $1,000,000.  I adore this country, but I have been told so many times by locals that they will put a high price on it and eventually someone will come along and pay it.  A good realtor will know the value of the land and other properties in the market.

2)      You might have bought a property that can never be transferred into your name.  Well, maybe NEVER is an exaggeration, but it could easily take 10 years in the courts.  You don’t know if the person who says they are selling the property is truly the owner in the registry.  Sometimes, it could be someone out to fraud someone, but often it is people who honestly believe they own the property and don’t.  How?  A grandson has inherited his grandfather’s property, but nothing was ever changed in the registry, and the grandfather has passed away so there is no one to sign over the property to you.  Or, there was a divorce and the property is no longer in the person’s name who is trying to sell it.

3)      You might have bought a property with liens and mortgages attached.  You could have bought a property that only has rights to half of it, or a mortgage that hasn’t been taken off the registry.  Even if a mortgage is paid, it must be requested by a lawyer for it to be taken off of the registry.  These must be cleared before you consider buying a property.

4)      You might have bought a property with concessions, allowing roads to be widened or high tension electrical wires to run right through your property.  Sometimes these are on the registry papers and sometimes they aren’t and it’s important to know what is going on in the community to know.  Imagine buying a property in Orotina that will be directly next to the new airport. 

5)      Can you live without water?  Unless you have been in the area for an extended period of time, you don’t know which areas have good access to water and which ones get shut off for hours at a time.  You very well could be buying into a development with no water rights at all.  And forget building anything if you don’t have water approval.

Now, it’s true, not every agent out there will check on these things in advance.  They should have, but not all will.  So, it is important to know your Realtor, get recommendations and ask these questions.  If they can’t produce a copy of the registry and plano (plot) for each home you want to see, be careful.  But to say outright that you don’t want to use any Realtor for the transaction is like going into surgery without a surgeon or going into court defending yourself in a murder trial.  NOT recommended.  Will you save money if the owner doesn’t have to pay the commission?  Look at number one.  If you are paying the market rate or better, wouldn’t you prefer that to paying double?  The seller pays the commission so even if you look for properties with an agent and decide not to buy, you don’t pay anything.  So, do your research and select someone who can truly help you and guide you in the Costa Rican jungle.  It’s worth your weight in gold.

Tina Newton who is part-owner of Tristan & Newton real estate is always glad to help you in the search for a home, to sell a home, or even to just answer any questions you have about living in Costa Rica.  Check out the website, facebook page, or send a direct email to find the home of your dreams.

Needs versus Wants

Have you ever seen the commercial about the guy that goes out to buy a new car and drives his new, red, 2-door, sports car into the driveway where his wife and three young children are waiting?  That’s what I mean…need versus want.  It’s the same with houses.  You have to find a good balance and a good Realtor will help you find that.  You LOVE the two story home with the huge backyard, but you are over retirement age.  Stop and think.  Are those stairs going to be a problem or a big headache for you in a few years?  Is the large backyard a lot of work?  Maybe your needs are more in line with a smaller home with no stairs and a yard that is maintained by someone else.  But maybe you just don’t like that.  Well, it’s time to find a balance or sacrifice one for the other.  Maybe that doesn’t make me the best “salesperson” who would push you into the largest, most expensive home of your dreams, but it’s what makes me a good Realtor.  A good realtor understands both your wants and your needs and can help you find that perfect match.  And if you are lucky enough, you might just find exactly what you need AND exactly what you want in the same property.

How can you help your Realtor help you?  Determine these things first and let your Realtor know.

What are your needs?

  1. How many people are in your family?
  2. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
  3. How often do you have visitors?
  4. Do you need indoor space or more outdoor space, such as a patio?
  5. Do you have pets?
  6. How much care can you give to a yard or pool?
  7. Do you need easy access to town or a highway?
  8. Do you need to be able to get to the main city or hospitals?

What are your wants?

  1. Do you want a guest bedroom or house?
  2. Do you want a large yard or a small one?  Are you willing to pay someone to keep up a larger yard?
  3. Do you want a pool?  Are you willing to pay someone to clean it or are you willing to do it yourself?
  4. Do you want to live in a gated residential community or in a smaller local community?
  5. Do you want a new home or one that is a more established neighborhood?
  6. Do you want to live in a secluded rural area with no neighbors?
  7. Do you want to never drive on a dirt road?

How can you compromise the two or make a tradeoff?

  1. Do you want the guest house, but only have visitors for one week out of the year?  Would it be worth to live close to a small hotel or short-term rental where you could have them sleep there instead?
  2. Would a pool that is available to the residential community work so that you don’t have the personal maintenance?
  3. Could you buy a smaller house and build a separate guest home in the future?
  4. Would you want to get a secluded home but still close to the city?
  5. Would you be willing to drive on a good dirt road if it meant living in the home of your dreams?
  6. Do you love the beach but hate the heat?  Could you then live 30 minutes away from the surf but up where the air is cooler?
  7. How do you get a home with a view over the whole valley without driving on a hill?

 The more inline that your wants and needs are, the easier it will be, but sometimes compromises or tradeoffs can be made between the two.  It can make it even more complicated when two people have very different ideas of what they need and want.   For example, a wife who likes to be close to town in a home with very little maintenance and a husband who likes to be out in the country with no neighbors in shouting distance.  So, then you have to try to line up two sets of needs vs. wants.  The more you can know this about yourself before you start and let your agent know, the quicker you will find the perfect home. 

Tina Newton who is part-owner of Tristan & Newton real estate is always glad to help you in the search for a home, to sell a home, or even to just answer any questions you have about living in Costa Rica.  Check out the website, facebook page, or send a direct email to find the home of your dreams.

Don’t Be Scammed

 One truly sad fact about the electronic age…anyone can fall prey to a scam.  As much as we constantly hear, “Don’t give out your account information, the bank will never ask for this information over the telephone, keep your passwords safe, etc.”, people fall into the trap every day.  Thieves keep getting more and more sophisticated.  I have had several clients who were in the process of selling a car when a great buyer appears (never in person), offers to put down a deposit and then needs the bank account to do so.  Of course, they think.  If someone is going to make a deposit, they need my bank account number.  I often have given my account number for someone making a deposit, but if you don’t know this person, don’t do it.  They can give you a cashier’s check.  Sometimes they even call you with an “agent” from the bank to show that it is legitimate.  This often happens after bank hours so that you won’t know you are getting scammed immediately.  First of all, bank agents NEVER call you by phone to confirm your information and have you ever known a bank employee to work after hours (sorry to my banking friends)?  But yet, it is amazing the amount of information strangers can already know about you.  Remember that your name and identification as well as date of birth can be found publically in the registry.  This is not private information.  So don’t be convinced if they know it.

Second clue…they call on Friday afternoon and want to make a deposit right away to move in over the weekend.  Again, if they haven’t come in person to see the rental, home for sale, or car, but yet, they want to put down a deposit.  STOP.  No one buys or rents a home without seeing it first, unless they are working with an agent who has been designated to find something very specific and this agent knows them personally.

I once had someone call and insist on moving in right away to an expensive rental without seeing it and they wanted to do it on Sunday and sign all of the paperwork on Monday.  Nope.  I told them they had to see it first and we would do the paperwork and have the deposit made before they moved in.  He was going to call me back.  Thinking maybe I was being too cautious, I saved the name and number in my phone in case they called back.  About 2 weeks later, the same number popped up but asking about a different rental.  When I asked the guy his name, he responded with a different name than was registered and when I told “Alfonso” that it was interesting, because he was “Eduardo” the last time, he hung up and has never called back.

We once had a buyer from “France” who even sent a photo of his family and started by giving lots and lots of details about why he wanted to purchase a specific home, but wanted to put down the money without seeing it and then move in later.  Again, he asked for a bank account.  The owner was desperate and wanted to believe this was all on the up and up and was actually angry with me for doubting this incredible buyer.  So, I told him we could set up an Escrow account with Stewart Title so he could make all of the financial arrangements through them and his money would be protected.  Never heard from him again.  Later we heard that someone out of Manuel Antonio had been scamming homeowners in this way and they were trying to capture him.

What happens?  These thieves convince you to confirm or give them certain information, then they quickly transfer money right out of your account.  You can be left with nothing and since you gave them the information, the bank is not held responsible.

Point….you cannot be too careful.  Don’t get overly anxious to make a deal and trust too quickly.  If someone really wants something, they will do it the right way.  These scammers have a way of making us all feel so stupid.  We know that we should have been smarter.  But they are really good and they get better every day.  They find information that no one should have access to, but they do.  Always stop and think, get a number to call someone back, ask for payments in an official, non-digital way at least until you can confirm that this person is legitimate.  And NEVER EVER give your information over the phone or internet especially if someone calls claiming to be from the bank. 

Tina Newton is a Realtor and part owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Atenas, Costa Rica.  She is always glad to answer any questions about living in Costa Rica, travelling abroad, or housing options.  You can contact her directly by email as well as through the website, or Facebook.

Satisfaction in Your Life

Where do you get your satisfaction?  Maybe it’s a bit of a funny question, but if your life revolves around positive things that give you satisfaction, the happier you will be.  Personally, I have surrounded myself by the things that give me lots and lots of satisfaction and only run around singing “I Can’t Get No…Satisfaction” just for fun, not as my anthem.

1)      Watching my kids.  Observing my children in their day to day lives (not in a stalker way) and seeing how they have grown up and behave in situations gives me a ton of satisfaction.  In general, they are just great kids, but I feel satisfied that I have guided them in a good way.  When my son tells me he doesn’t want to sell off his used soccer cleats, but instead give them to a child who needs them, it gives me a real sense of pride.

2)      Social involvement.  Whether it is working with the Angel Tree project for needy children, assisting in the Chili Cookoff for the Children’s Home, putting on events such as the Climate Fair or the Christmas Fair which bring entertainment to the town and allow young people to exhibit their talents, or heading up the swim commission to promote water safety to the community, these things give me so much satisfaction.  I feel I am making a difference.

3)      Making dreams come true.  It’s why I enjoy real estate.  For me, it’s not the wheel and deal of the transaction, it’s matching up someone with the home of their dreams.  When I take someone to a property and they turn and say, “this is EXACTLY what I want”, it makes me so happy.  That is why I do what I do.  I got out of my field of study (economics) because of that.  I was good at it, but didn’t feel the satisfaction from it.

4)      My network of friends and family.  When things happen (for good or for bad) and I have all of these helping hands there to assist and fix whatever it is or lend an ear, it’s a great feeling.  It’s a satisfaction in knowing that if I can’t figure out, I know who can. 

5)      Giving advice. When I feel that I can share my experiences to help guide another person and make their life easier, it just feels good.  I enjoy it.  For that reason, when I give someone my card and say, “Contact me for any questions you have, whether it’s about real estate or not”,  I really mean it. 

Maybe I require more confirmation and satisfaction than the average person, or maybe not, but that sense of accomplishment keeps me going every day and inspires me to do more.  What keeps you going? 

Tina Newton is a Realtor and part-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate, located in Atenas, Costa Rica.  For information on homes in Costa Rica or just to answer your questions about living there, contact her at her email, check out the listings on the homepage or follow on Facebook.

How the banks are killing tourism and investment in Costa Rica

So, you think you want to visit the beautiful country of Costa Rica with your family and don’t want to tuck cash in your socks and underwear to do it?  No problem, you’ll just use an ATM for your cash, right?  Remember that first you have to notify the bank that you will be using your credit or debit card abroad.  Okay, you’ve done that.  Then remember that you will have daily limits on how much can be withdrawn in order to protect against fraud.  Ok, you can live with $500 per day.  But then you get to the ATM at Banco de Costa Rica and you realize that the ATM won’t give you more than $100/day.  At this time, Banco Nacional and private banks still allow more, but $100/day?  What family of 4 can vacation on $100 a day?  Not in Costa Rica.  So, what do you do?  For now, you go to every bank you can, pay withdrawal fees at each of them and unfortunately, waste a lot of time on your vacation.

Why this sudden restriction?  The answer I got is that the Hacienda (or the tax agency in Costa Rica) wants to track payments that previously have been done in cash and therefore, not reported as income.  I’ve also heard to avoid money laundering, although I’ve never heard of any money laundering that happens with only $500.

What if you want to bring down a student group for a trip?  They’ve paid for their trip and you need to figure out how to bring the money down to pay.  You can’t bring more than $10,000 without reporting it and who would want to carry that much cash anyway?  Forget the ATM (see note above).  You’re only here a week so opening a bank account is out of the question (and see the limitations below).  And third parties are not allowed to accept your money to give you here on this end due to money laundering concerns.  What do you do?  Do you have to make international transfers to each and every hotel, national park (which doesn’t accept bank deposits for payments), and restaurant?  Just how do you pay?  Make each child carry their own money?

What if you want to move down and buy a home?  No problem here.  Costa Rica allows foreigners to buy property and if you invest in $200,000 or more, you qualify as an investor for residency.  Just go open a bank account and move your money down, right?  Hmmm.   Banco de Costa Rica no longer allows anyone without a residency to open a bank account.  They have set up an easy to open account system for foreigners, but it limits the amount in the account to $1000.  Not going to buy a house on that money!  And with housing rentals at typically $1000 and up, how is a family going to live on this?  They aren’t.  Honestly, who decided on a $1000 limit?  So, you would actually have to make the transfer down from your home bank on the day of the closing, but make sure you have someone back home authorized to make the transfer for you.

So, once someone has their residency, they can apply for a bank account (at BCR), but the trick is that you can only apply for investor residency after you have bought a house (with no bank account) and have waited the approximately 6 months for your residency to be approved.  Of course, you might qualify for residency in another way, but you will still have to wait for the processing and approval before you can open the account.  What a mess!   Banco Nacional still allows people to open accounts on a passport, but yes, there is a lot of paperwork to have ready before you hit the bank.  Best to consult your local lawyer on that one so that you don’t waste your day just to find out you don’t have all of the papers.  And be prepared to sit in the bank for hours while the account is being opened (even though you have every document ready).  Then, once the account is opened, make sure you can verify why you are bringing the money in or it will be frozen.  Be able to present a contract to buy something at the time of the transfer to prove the reason for this influx of money.

I personally have my account at BCR and like the fact that the website is in both Spanish and English, but the recent restrictions have made new accounts and ATM withdrawals impossible at this bank for tourists and immigrants.  They claim that the other banks will soon be following suit as it is a government mandate.  I really hope this isn’t true because it is already difficult enough to travel or live internationally without these restrictions.  For the moment Banco Nacional is still opening accounts for foreigners with the proper documentation and Scotiabank has confirmed that they also are available to open new accounts.

Costa Rica is still one of the most amazing countries to visit and live in, but the banking restrictions are making it harder every day for the average tourist and immigrant.  If anyone has discovered legal ways to get around these restrictions, please comment on the blog as it would be very helpful to many.

For more information on opening a bank account and what you need to have with you, Cecilia Tristan, at the law firm of Gomez, Tristan, & Tristan can help you every step of the way.  Email her at Cecilia@gomeztristanytristan.com.  Tina Newton is co-owner of Tristan & Newton and you can contact her at tina@tnrealestatecr.com as well as through Facebook and the website.

A Successful Campaign

What makes some social campaigns succeed and others fail?  Is it just having someone who is inspirational leading it, or a lot of money supporting it?  None of that hurts, by any means, but the most important aspect is to involve as many different aspects of the community as possible. Why?  Because, the more people and agencies who back a project and feel that is relevant and important, the more people will be informed which increases the rate of success. This support typically includes the Municipality, the Ministry of Health, and other government agencies as well as the private sector including businesses who are both directly affected and interested in the campaign. This also includes involving the education sector and the general public.  When all of these sectors can be brought together to support the cause, then that cause will be more likely to succeed.

The Atenas Swim Campaign is kicking off to a strong start. To see how it is measuring up:

1)      Business Support:  The swim instructors in Atenas were gathered first and they will be presented to the public during the Christmas Fair the weekend of December 16, 17, and 18th.  They are offering the regular classes and vacation swim classes with reduced prices for those children who are being sponsored.

2)      Institutional Support:  The project was presented to the Ministry of Health and then to the Municipality of Atenas.  Even though this is a campaign that obviously will directly benefit the private swim instructors, the focus is on the general security of the public around sources of water and both institutions were completely supportive even giving the Municipal symbol to put on flyers.   The Municipality also said that they would make the swim campaign a priority for the Sports Committee which would provide some funding in the future.   The Ministry of Health feels this is an important initiative and has agreed to have a representative on the Swim Commission which will be formed in January after the holidays.  There is already a specific group in the Ministry of Health formed to use sports in general as a tool to keep kids healthy and out of trouble and this initiative will fall in line with this need and also lower the risk to our children.  Due to this alignment, future funding could even be possible from this collaboration.   

3)      Public Awareness:  Flyers have been created to hand out to the public during the Christmas Fair on December 16, 17, and 18th. These flyers include general information about safety around rivers, the ocean, and pools during the Christmas break and stress the importance of learning to swim.  The flyers contain the Atenas Municipality symbol and the copies were sponsored by Tristan & Newton Real Estate. 

4)      Private sponsorship:  As the general public is being made aware of the need, 120,000 colones have already been donated to sponsor children not able to afford lessons but who wish to learn.  This currently will cover 6 children in a three-week swim program during vacations and we are aiming for the ability to provide a total of 20 children in need with the lessons this January.  To do this, we would need 280,000 colones more (which can be through complete sponsorship of 20,000 colones or shared sponsorship of 10,000) but it is a goal that I am sure we can reach. 

5)      Education:  As soon as the schools are back in session in February, water safety information will be distributed there as well and the Commission will coordinate with the schools to provide presentations about water safety.

The more organizations that support a project ensure that it will be projected out to more of the public and will be better received than with only an individual effort.  Since the swim campaign already has the support of 2 major public institutions, private businesses, and individuals, I have no doubt that this campaign will be an ongoing effort with far-reaching results.

To be a part of the commission and the swim campaign or to sponsor a future swimmer, please contact Tina Newton at tina@tnrealestatecr.com.  Tina Newton and Cecilia Tristan are co-owners of Tristan & Newton Real Estate and proud sponsors of the swim campaign.  They can answer all of your real estate and legal needs.  Check out the website at http://www.tnrealestatecr.com and the Facebook page for listings and more information.

Dengue, to Fear or Not to Fear?

The Scare.  A friend of mine, who is headed back down to Costa Rica, asked me about the dengue situation in Atenas because they had read that the cases in Atenas were sky high.  I was surprised about the question because I’ve only heard of a couple of cases recently.  I’m not sure exactly where my friend read this information, but after searching the internet, I did find an article about dengue in “La Prensa Libre” which publishes online and listed Atenas at the top in Costa Rica (http://www.laprensalibre.cr/Noticias/detalle/81094/atenas-encabeza-cantones-afectados-por-dengue). 

Time to put it all in context.  First, the way this article was reported was incredibly misleading.  Statistics can be used to influence people in many ways.  For the average person, who may not be professionals in economics, these stats without explanation or improperly stated can be alarming (which is probably the intent in the first place).  This specific article states that Atenas leads  with the highest percentage of cases for the first 31 weeks of the year 2016.  It reports that there are 3,134 patients.  But if you read closely, that number is per 100,000 inhabitants.  Since Atenas doesn’t have 100,000 inhabitants, but only around 15,000, the actual number of cases would be closer to 450.  Still terrible, but a truly different number.  Also, the director for the country states that at the beginning of the year, they were getting reports of 1000 cases/week (for the country, not Atenas), but since it was stated right after the statement about Atenas having the most cases, with a quick read, you might think he was talking about Atenas.  And he goes on to state that currently (August), he was at about 100 cases/week for the country.  We are now in November.

Fighting dengue.  Atenas had a large fumigation campaign several months ago.  It was recognized that mosquitos and dengue were a problem and addressed (although probably not totally eliminated).  But people are reading these statistics, now, in November, and are getting scared to come now. 

Dengue transmission.  Dengue and the other mosquito carried diseases are transmitted when one infected mosquito bites another person.  The distance that mosquitos travel is usually not that far (typically no more than 300 feet reported by mosquito.org), so it is the biggest problem between families and people living or working close to each other.  It’s also more common in the lower altitudes where more mosquitos thrive rather than up where it is cooler.

Symptoms of dengue.   Dengue is terrible.  I have seen true cases of dengue where people run high fevers for 5-7  days straight, are in extreme body pain, and break out in rashes with an extreme tiredness that can last for weeks.  Unfortunately, it seems that every time someone here has a fever, immediately it is proclaimed that the person has dengue.  Even if they get better in 48 hours and discount it, they already made the announcement in the community that they had dengue and that is what people remember.  Fact, the regular labs don’t do dengue exams.  Only the Ministry of Health can run a dengue exam which takes 1-2 weeks for the report to come back.  Therefore, no one waits for this report and instead, the doctors request blood exams for platelets counts which can be returned the same day.  The labs check the levels of platelets in the body and if they lower to an extreme amount, it is assumed to be dengue.  Regular viruses will also lower the platelets.  So only after multiple days of platelet testing and counting will a doctor declare that it APPEARS to be dengue.  Treatments for these viruses are the same with lots of liquids, medicine to control the fever, and rest.  Antibiotics do not work as these are viruses, not infections.   

So, what to take from this?  Be careful and a bit suspicious with health reports in unofficial news sources.  You need to check the source, understand the stats, and put it in context.  Atenas does have flair-ups with dengue, so use repellent or long sleeves to help prevent mosquito bites and but don’t give up your life just because of rumors or badly-stated statistics.  

Tina Newton is the co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate and has lived in Atenas for 17 years.  Feel free to contact her at tina@tnrealestatecr.com with any questions, real estate related, or not.  Check out the website for current listings and the Facebook page for updates.  They look forward to helping you find the home of your dreams.  Names to Trust…Homes to Cherish.

Spring Cleaning in Costa Rica

Now that “winter” or the rainy season is heading out and “summer” or the dry season (and high season) is heading in, it’s time to do some serious spring cleaning. The rains can do damage and leave everything smelly and moldy.  So, to prepare your house for the high season, it is important to do a little “spit shining”.  What to do and where to start?

Start from the top and work your way down.

1)      Check the roofs and the gutters to make sure all is in good shape and that there are no left over blockages in the gutters that will produce mosquitos until everything dries out completely.

2)      Check the ceilings for any spots that might have been caused by backed up gutters in the heaviest rains or from mold which can build up just from the humidity in the air.  Replace, clean, or repair.

3)      Check the paint inside and out.   Are there areas that might have been damaged or need a bit of refreshing?  Even a good scrubbing can take away some muddy dog prints that might have been left on the walls.

4)      Check in and behind the furniture and closets.  ALL of it.  Especially with wooden or leather furniture, mold can hide behind from the humidity and smell really bad.  For some people, they won’t even know what is wrong but will get a sudden headache from being in your home and it might be something you don’t see but is lurking behind the furniture or inside drawers.  Personally, I wipe it down and Lysol it as that is supposed to kill most mold spores.  I’m sure there are other options out there as well.

5)      Air everything out.  Things just get stuffy in the wet season.  Air out mattresses and covers.

6)      A deep down scrubbing on the floor will get the tracked in mud out and then you will be back to just sweeping and mopping dust again.  Don’t forget the entry way and the front and back porch areas as well.  The cleanliness of your home is seen long before anyone steps in the front door.

Now you know why the locals call the rainy season, winter.  So, in the transition month of November, get your cleaning gear out and prepare for the sale.  Spring cleaning, here we come!

Please add your own best cleaning tips and share them with everyone.  Tina is a Realtor and half-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate.  Feel free to send her any questions at her email and check out the properties in Costa Rica on the Facebook page (like to see the newest updates) or on the website.

Swimming, the Most Important Sport to Learn

This topic may seem way off base for a real estate blog, but our little town has just been shocked and saddened by a tragedy this week in which two adolescents drowned in a local waterfall.  My own children are the same ages and we are all in mourning for the loss of these young lives. 

This tragedy occurred in a waterfall that we swim in frequently.  However, I know what the reaction will be…close off the waterfall; don’t let your children near the rivers, and more.  The opposite needs to be happening; we need to make sure that every person and every child knows how to swim and how to swim well.  I have seen and heard so many tragedies with water over time, boat wrecks, rip currents, swimming pool accidents, tsunamis.  Now, I am not saying that even the best swimmer could overcome some of these acts of Mother Nature (including this one) and there are always many more factors to consider such as being hit directly on the head by objects or diving into rocks, but I am always saddened when in light of such events, one of the main things I hear is, “They didn’t know how to swim.” 

In many cultures, even ones based directly next to the sea, it is not common for people to know how to swim.  In Costa Rica, this is also the case, and yet we see people playing in the ocean who don’t know how to swim.  I have been told, “We don’t go too deep. We stay at the edge.”  What if a wave comes and pulls you further out?  What if the boat you are on goes down and you can’t get to a life vest?  Swimming is the only sport that if you don’t learn it, you could die. 

We must make an effort to get every child in swimming lessons.  In addition, it is important to teach the strength of nature.  Don’t swim in rip currents, know how to identify them, but also know how to get out of them.  Know the strength of a waterfall and which ones are fine to play under as if you were in a tropical movie and which ones are just too strong for the human body. 

I am not in any way placing blame or judging anyone in this current tragedy, but with every tragedy, we have to learn for the future.  What do we take from this?  Do we let their lives be in vain?  Do we follow our gut reaction and just close off swimming pools and all access to rivers?  My suggestion is to teach every child how to swim from the very earliest moment and also teach them to recognize danger.  Children will be interested in water.  Accidents happen. 

Giving our children the skills to at least try to avoid or survive these accidents are vital.  Sponsor a child in swimming lessons.  Our little town of Atenas, with the “Best Climate in the World” should be producing Olympic swimmers as we can swim outside, year-round.  There are lessons from Wednesday to Saturday in all hours at the local swimming pool (Balneario El Cerro) for little ones up to adults.  It’s great exercise and it can save lives.  Learn to swim, teach young ones to swim, and sponsor others in swimming lessons.  Have certifications in lifesaving techniques.  It might not have prevented this current tragedy, but it can prevent others in the future.  I plead with you all, in every town and every country, to recognize the importance of water safety and teaching swimming to our children. 

Side note:  Although I focused on swimming for children, it is never too late to learn. You never know when it could save your life or the lives of others. 

Tina Newton is half owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate and has lived in Atenas for 17 years.   Check out their Facebook page and “like” it for more information or see the website for their listings.  Feel free to contact her for any questions about living in Costa Rica.

Get Involved

No matter where you live or how you live, the more you get involved in your community, the more connected you will feel, the better you will feel about yourself, and just think of how much can actually be accomplished.

In Atenas, we are very lucky to have a lot of people who get involved and volunteer to help.  Whether you want to help children, the poor, or animals, there is something for you.  Below are just four of the groups that are organized to help others.

1)       Animales Atenas.  This group has gotten stronger every year.  This group of dedicated animal lovers do their best to find homes for abandoned animals, castrate animals so there are fewer on the street, and rescue animals which are being abused or have been forgotten.  What can you do?  Support the foundation directly by being a member or donate money, time, or food to the cause.  They are always in need of foster homes for the animals.

2)      CATUCA.  This is the Chamber of Tourism and Commerce in Atenas.  This group puts on the large fairs such as the Climate Fair in April and the Christmas Fair in December.  They are also trying to work with the community to form a Cultural Center.  Of course, they also participate in tourism fairs to promote  Atenas and Atenas businesses.  If you like cultural activities, this is a great group to join.  You don’t have to be a business owner to be a part of this group and you can make a real difference in the direction of activities in Atenas.  The more people who are willing to help, the more activities that can be done.

3)      The Chili Cookoff.  This started approximately eight years ago as a simple bet as to who could cook the best chili.  The funds raised (just a couple of hundred dollars), went to benefit the local children’s home.  Each year it has grown and is now one of the major sources of funds for the home.  Normally held in February of each year, 2017 will be the only year that the Chili Cookoff will not be happening, but it is to gear up and expand for 2018.  The Cookoff has gotten so big that it will now be benefitting multiple organizations in the town in addition to the children’s home.  This is always a fun and exciting event and volunteers are needed year-round for planning and making it happen.

4)      Angel Tree.  This will be the twelfth year that this event has benefitted the needy children that live in Atenas.  Each year, over 300 names are gathered and descriptions of the children (age, sizes, and likes) are put on angels to be selected by community members.  It is all kept anonymous and each sponsor selects a child (or more) and purchases a gift for that child.  In December, the Christmas party is held and the gifts are distributed to the kids with food and entertainment.  Volunteers are always needed for the planning, organization, and cookie making as well as the day of the event to usher children in the door, hand out the food, and make everything run smooth.  Participating in this group can be as simple as you want by only buying a gift or donating money for the party or as involved as you would like to be directly with the planning.  Look for the trees this year at Kay’s Gringo Postres and Balcon del Café.

These are only four of the groups in Atenas and the more Spanish you learn, the more involved you can be in the community as a whole by attending town meetings, working on the water committee, recycling committee, and more.  Get involved.  Make a difference.  Feel good.

If you are interested in any of the groups above or have a specific interest not addressed, let Tina know and she can put you in touch with the right people.  Tina is half owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate and has lived in Atenas for 17 years.   Check out their Facebook page and “like” it for more information.