How we limit our Personal Growth by Being Judgmental

How can we improve our personal growth?  By not being so judgmental.

Let’s face it.  We all feel superior.  We feel that our culture and our ways are better than all others and we look down our noses at other ways of doing things.  Admit it, we all do.

Why?  Because we feel comfortable with our way of doing things.  We were taught the way to do it or discovered our way of doing it and therefore, that is the RIGHT way to do it.  Everyone else is silly or stupid because they don’t do it our way.

Well, living in another country has taught me that I don’t always know the best way of doing things.  What I found out is that you should first watch, then ask, then try, and then decide.

When my daughter was a small baby of about two months old, I was walking in the neighborhood, slipped on loose gravel, and went down with her in my arms.  I put out my elbow since I couldn’t let go of her, and my elbow took the brunt of the fall.  However, her forehead lightly brushed the ground and everyone from the neighborhood came running.  Being that they were all Costa Ricans and speaking Spanish and I had only been in the country a short time, I had no idea what was being said.  One of the ladies went running into her house and came back with a jar of honey.  I looked at her as if she were nuts while she put honey on my daughter’s forehead.  Knowing that the honey would do no harm, I allowed it, but really did think they were crazy.  Later, it was explained to me that honey keeps the swelling down, reduces bruising, and is a natural antiseptic.  I googled it, and yep, it really is.  Good stuff.  But there I was judging something that I didn’t understand.  Had she been standing there with hydrogen peroxide or an antiseptic spray, I would have never thought about it.

When I built my house in Costa Rica, I insisted on wooden baseboards and our gypsum ceilings, both to save costs and because it was what I was accustomed to.  Luckily, one of the ladies explained to me that since we have to mop to clean the floors, the baseboards would get wet and nasty and that the bugs in Costa Rica love to get into the wood and eat it away.  She suggested putting a baseboard of the same ceramic tile and she was exactly right.  Unfortunately, I didn’t ask for advice on the ceiling and we’ve had to repair it several times as it just doesn’t work well in the humidity and with the movement from the earthquakes.  My superior thinking just didn’t allow me to consider other options.

Over the years, it has been a process of give and take.  I have shown the lady who helps me deep clean my house a few things and she has taught me way more.   We come down to Costa Rica thinking we can help or maybe just enjoy the lifestyle.  Very quickly, we get frustrated because things aren’t done in our ways.  We try to help and show them how things can be done better.  And in many ways, we do help… a lot.  I know that in Atenas, we have put on a lot of events to raise money for charities and to help the community.  The locals see this and have commented about how great this is and as a consequence, I’ve seen other groups start to try to discover solutions rather than just asking the government to fix it.  I’ve seen growth in the arts since I had the community center, Su Espacio, 15 years ago.  Now, Su Espacio no longer exists, but there is a new dance studio with far more students than I ever imagined and it is run by young ticos.

From traveling around the world, I like to think I have adapted little pieces from many of the cultures I have visited.  I have selected those things that I thought were great and even better than I would have normally done and incorporated them in little ways into my daily life.  I have simplified my life in some ways and enriched it in others.  I find it hard to see things in black and white anymore, everything is in a different shade of gray.

To grow as individuals, we have to stop being so judgmental and be open to new options in our lives as well as knowing when we may not have the solutions to all of the answers.  You must experience the unknown and the uncomfortable.  It is something I work on daily in Costa Rica, but I think it’s also something that can be taken and used within our own culture.  Even within our own culture, we are quick to judge others and I think it leads to much of the discomfort and anger that we see within the United States.  So, maybe we can take that same thought process and apply it everywhere:  watch, ask, try, and then decide. 

As a side note, in the university, I had to read a book called, “The Rise and Fall of Nations” (amazing that I still remember the name of it).  Interestingly enough, it actually dealt with the same issue but at a country level.  Once a country who is more advanced, stops improving and stops learning, because it feels it is the “best”, and other countries who are still struggling to figure out better ways to compete advance, you see the fall of the great nation and the rise of the other.  I think for us as individuals to continually grow, we also have to keep challenging ourselves and stop thinking we are superior.  Constant innovation is what it is all about.  Stop judging and start growing.  

Tina Newton is a Realtor in Atenas, Costa Rica, and owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate.  She is there to help you in all of your real estate and non-real estate decisions.  Any questions about moving to Costa Rica are welcome.  You can contact her at tina@tnrealestatecr.com and check out the website at http://www.tnrealestatecr.com as well as on Facebook.

 

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Doing Costa Rica on the Cheap

People come to Costa Rica for many different reasons and with many different budgets.  Costa Rica offers all levels of living from basic to ultra-luxurious.  If you are coming to retire in luxury and have unlimited funds, this blog post is not for you.  But, many people ask me how they can do Costa Rica on a strict budget, so that is the focus here.  Costa Rica is not the cheapest place to live, but most of the locals live on salaries ranging between $500 to $1000 per month, so if they can do it, why can’t you?  This is the most common question I get.  How can I live in Costa Rica on a minimum amount of money?  So, here is your answer.  Live like a local.

If you think you will come down and rent an American style home with three bedrooms, a pool, and a view on a minimum budget, think again.  If you truly have a strict budget, you have to be willing to give some things up.  How do the locals do it?

They own.  They don’t rent.  Most Costa Ricans own their land and have built a house on it which has been handed down for generations.  That eliminates the cost of housing which is a huge part of a budget.  When Costa Ricans do have to take out a mortgage in order to buy, you are looking at interest rates of over 10%, typically closer to 15%.  What that means is that the monthly payments are very high and if you happen to rent, you shouldn’t expect to pay less than what that mortgage payment would be.  Of course, unfurnished, basic Costa Rican homes will rent for far less than American-style homes, but you will give up hot water, gated residential areas, and the pool. 

So, what can you do?  If you have to rent, you can select older Costa Rican style homes, but you will have to buy some furniture.  You can often buy some used pieces from others in town or used furniture stores.  Also, get used to the “suicide showers” which are the nickname we use for the instant hot water showerheads.  The good thing about them is that you will never run out of hot water. 

Most Costa Ricans use minimal electricity.  Gas stoves are common and dryers are not, so the main electricity uses are the washer, lights, and refrigerator which should add up to no more than $30-40 per month.  Forget using an air conditioner, pool pump, or hot water tank which will quickly take your electricity bill up over $200.

Cook at home.  Food is expensive whether you go to out to eat or buy at the grocery store, but you can lower your costs by limiting meats and choosing local fruits and vegetables.

If you have the savings and plan on staying long-term, buy a home.  You can buy a local home and make improvements.  Many people will advise not buying if you are wanting to flip it quickly and that would be true.  But, if you will be here for a while and have enough saved up, invest it in a small home, make improvements, and let go of the luxuries.  You will save an immense amount on rent.  Make sure that you use a legitimate real estate agent who can advise you on the local prices and values so that you don’t overpay and can make sure that the home is legally owned and can be put into your name.  This will easily eliminate $1000 or more from your monthly bills, and if you are looking into luxury homes, it will save between $2000-$4000 per month.  That is huge.

I would never tell you to try to survive on $1000 per month.  Costa Ricans often live with multiple incomes under the same roof, so there might be two or three incomes chipping in.  But, if you are willing to give up a few luxuries, you can do it on a limited budget.

And if you have no budget, but kept reading anyway?  We have a lot of luxurious homes that will let you relax in splendor, whether you decide to rent or buy.

Tina Newton has lived in Atenas, Costa Rica for over 19 years and was a licensed Realtor in the States with Weigand and Sons.  Her business partner Cecilia Tristan is a bilingual lawyer and was one of the forming members of the Chamber of Real Estate of Costa Rica.    Their commitment to honesty and full service is their promise. You can contact Tina at tina@tnrealestatecr.com, check out the website at http://www.tnrealestatecr.com and see the newest listings on Facebook.

The 10 Secrets to Happiness

Living in Costa Rica, which has often been rated as the “Happiest Country on Earth”, has taught me a few things about finding happiness.  It’s not about living in a tropical paradise.  It’s about finding peace within.

1)      Don’t wish for a different path in the past.  Use the past only to help guide you in the future, not to keep you stuck there and wishing for something that is gone.  Don’t sit and wish how things should have been done differently.  Again, let past mistakes give you experience to apply in decisions for the future, but changing one decision in the past would prevent your present and no one knows what that other present would be like.  Let it go.

2)      Don’t live only for the future.  Although it is important to set aside funds for the future, don’t forget your present by denying yourself everything for the plan of enjoying the future.  We don’t know what the future will hold.  We don’t know if we will be around to enjoy the future.  We don’t know if the people we care about will be around to enjoy the future with us.  Don’t wait until “tomorrow” to give the time needed to a loved one.  Life is short.  So, don’t leave all great experiences for the “future.”

3)      Live in the present.  Don’t live for the past nor for the future, but open your eyes, ears, and heart to the present.  For example, how we treat a child each and every day affects the child’s future.  Taking time each day to look around and be “here”, in the present and being your best each and every day.

4)      Don’t wish for someone else’s life.  The grass is always greener on the other side.  Don’t think that everyone else’s life is so much better.  Everyone has problems and until you have walked in their shoes, you have no idea the trials that person is going through.  We see it every day with suicides of the rich and famous, in these lives that appear perfect.  Celebrate the successes of others so that it makes you happy instead of letting jealousy bring you down.

5)      Enjoy what you have.  Right along with living in the present means appreciating everything you have.  The people you have and the life you have.  Find something every day to be happy about and give that significance in your life.

6)      Get rid of anything and everything that doesn’t allow you to be happy.  That means cutting off contacts that make you feel bad and blocking Facebook people who get you all riled up.  My great-grandmother stopped watching the news because it was only about wars that were happening around the world or other terrible things that she couldn’t do anything about.  So, she stopped stressing herself out and never turned on the news again.  She focused on local efforts and within our family where she made a difference every day.  I doubt any of us could be quite that absolute with our need for news, but you get the idea.

7)      Surround yourself with people who love you and encourage you.  Positive people who both help you see the great things in your life and are willing to be with you in all of the low times but to see you out of the rough times, not to keep you down in it.

8)      When something bad happens, see the good side in it if possible.  If I am waiting in a long line at the bank, at least I am in air conditioning in a chair instead of standing in a line in the heat.

9)      Spread happiness.  If something hasn’t happened to make you happy, send something nice to someone else.  Giving creates happiness.  Saying something nice to someone or helping someone naturally gives you a sense of happiness.  Being grumpy spreads negativity.

10)   Pura Vida!  C’est la vie!  Sh– happens.  That’s life.  The ability to get hit with an unpleasant situation and to be able to throw up your hands and use one of the above expressions is one of the reasons that Costa Ricans can be so happy.  Don’t get mad.  Shake your head, laugh, and move on.  Pura Vida!

 

Tina Newton is an Oklahoma girl who has spent the last eighteen years living in Costa Rica.  She has raised her two children and wonderful grandbaby there.  She originally studied international relations with an emphasis on the Former Soviet Union and then finished with a Master’s in International Economics and Development at Oklahoma State University.  After working as an analyst for a while, she felt the need to get out and help people and so she got certified as a Realtor in Kansas.  Upon moving to Costa Rica, she opened and ran a community center, “Su Espacio” for 10 years, tried out another stint in the corporate world at Proctor & Gamble, and then came back to doing what makes her happy in the field of real estate.  Finding homes and guiding people in the process is what she enjoys.  She is always available to answer questions about living in Costa Rica.  You can send her an email, catch her on the Facebook page, or send a message through the website for Tristan & Newton Real Estate.

What Do I Need to Bring to Costa Rica?

So, you’ve decided to make the move to Costa Rica.  You’re looking at a house full of things and are debating, what do I really need to bring?  What can I find there?  What can I not live without?  Of course, each person will have to make individual decisions on whether to bring the whole house and car or just the necessities, but here is my opinion:

Don’t Bring:

1.        Leather.  Leather anything—shoes, bags, etc.  Unless you use them on a daily basis, they will collect mold and get gross very fast.  I’ve put on a pair of leather shoes and walked right out of the soles.

2.       Car.  Now, there is an exception.  If you love your car, it’s less than 5 years old, paid off, and of an American or Japanese brand, you are probably ok.  You will still pay import taxes on the value that the CR government says it is worth and your shipping and import costs in general.  However, if it is a much older car, you will have higher taxes to pay or might not be allowed to bring it in at all.  If it is a European brand, you will have a hard time finding good mechanics and access to parts.  Yes, cars are way more expensive here, but I calculated on buying a 1-year old car at a good price, paying for the shipping, paying for the import taxes (54% on the value that CR values it at, not at the price you bought it), and the hassle, and I MIGHT have saved $500 over just buying the same car here, so it wasn’t worth it for me.

3.       Printers.  I brought a printer new from the States, thinking I would save money and then found out that the cartridges for same printer which is sold here, are configured or programmed differently and weren’t recognized by my printer.   I then spent the next two years buying the cartridges in the States and having people bring them down to me.  Then I finally realized I could buy a new printer here cheaper than doing that.

4.       Furniture.  In general, you can find most furniture here.  From used pieces to find hand-crafted wooden pieces in Sarchi, it usually isn’t worth the cost and hassle of bringing it down.  And most nice rentals are furnished, so then you have to find a place to put the furniture.  Also, many houses are sold furnished or with the furniture negotiable.

5.       Most of your clothing.  Leave or give away your suits and heavy coats.  I brought all of my suits down only to discover, I would never wear them again and the mold and moths finally wore them out.  If you go back to visit family in the winter, leave a couple of coats with them for your trips back.  Do bring clothes that you might have a tough time getting the fit you are used to here such as jeans or bathing suits.  I have a hard time finding jeans that give me the space I am used to (read as non-skinny, tight ones) and bathing suits that cover a little more of my behind.  It’s just not the style I am accustomed to.

6.       Food.  Bringing a few snacks (I have to bring Ranch dressing packets every time) is good and if they confiscate them, you aren’t out a lot of money.  But, the customs agents vary from day to day and sometimes, they are in a bad mood and will make you throw out anything at all related to food.  I was told tea bags are illegal to bring in and had to toss them.  Fruits and anything not sealed is definitely a no-no.

 Definitely Bring:

1.       Laptop.  As long as the airlines still allows you to bring it, pack it in your carry-on.  Laptops are twice the cost here.

2.       Your memories. Photos, etc you will want with you.  I rented a storage facility in the States for awhile and first it flooded which destroyed many things and then it was broken into and the “valuables” like my wedding photos were stolen. Who wants someone else’s wedding photos, I have no idea but bring those things with you or be able to leave them in a truly safe place.

3.       Documents.  Bring all documents you think you might or might not need:  birth certificates, bank account numbers, marriage and divorce certificates, etc. If you are applying for residency, you will need originals stamped by the authorities and you can bring them when you come. 

4.       Small electronics or kitchen appliances that you use frequently.  Don’t bring down the waffle iron if you only have used it once in the past 5 years.  However, if you do make waffles daily, bring it because it will cost 2-3 times as much here.

5.       Sunblock.  Although you can find sunblock, you won’t have as many choices and will pay around $30/bottle here, so bring it with you.  Lotions in general fall into this category.  They are expensive and you should stock up.

6.  Prescriptions.  If you are on prescription medicine, bring enough with you to last for a while.  There are many medicines that have equivalents here, but you may have something that is not readily available.  Extra sets of eye contacts and any solutions for those that you need should also be brought with you.

7.       Patience and a good sense of humor.  You will need it, especially as you adapt to the “Pura Vida” lifestyle.

Once upon a time, my list of things to bring would have been larger.  It used to be very difficult to get fluffy towels and nice sheets at a reasonable price. But with the opening of Walmart (as much as we claim to hate it, sometimes you just have to go), I just found really nice, fluffy towels for $8 each, so not too bad.

Something else to consider…leave someone you trust with the authority to access your bank accounts or who has a power of attorney to handle emergencies or things back home.  Even though most things can be done on-line, bank transfers will need a signature in person and it’s way easier to have someone there do it for you. 

I hope this list helps and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.  I will be glad to give you my opinion.

Tina Newton is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Atenas, Costa Rica and has lived there for 18 years, raising two children and a grandbaby.  She is always available for consultations, whether in buying a new home or just general questions.  You can contact her by email, through Facebook, or through the website.

A Utopia in Costa Rica

Have you ever dreamed of living in a sustainable neighborhood with organic permaculture gardens in which the community shares the harvest each week?  20160223_092533 (Copy)

Being able to practice yoga with your neighbors on an open-air platform with a view of nature in every direction and swim in a large shared saltwater pool? 20160223_092839 (Copy)

Having the perfect combination of being one with nature and yet with the ease of modern living?  MLW-triskel-2616 (Copy)

What if we threw in an alternative school of international recognition?   Casa Sula, was created and maintained by this community, and is the only alternative school of its kind in Costa Rica.  Imagine learning where children absorb materials through experiences and let their desire to learn guide them in their studies.

If this is something you have always wanted, then the community of La Ecovilla is for you.  There are currently five homes for sale in this unique and amazing international community and you can be as elegant or as “close to nature” as you would like to be.  All ranges are to be found. 

1)      Metamorphosis.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a home that was designed in the shape of a butterfly?  This three bedroom home with an office has an incredible view, a jacuzzi on the balcony, and a guest home on the side.  You feel such peace that you will never want to leave.

2)      Triskel.  Open to nature. Who says you have to live within four walls?  This 6 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom home has the main living area open to nature which can only be done in the perfect weather of Costa Rica.  Four of the bedrooms have private entrances as well so they are perfect for a B&B in a free spirit living style.

3)     The New Moon.  Stone elegance.  The use of nature through stonework and natural woods bring an elegance which blends in with the nature around.  Three bedroom, 2 bath home in the shape of a new moon.

4)      Luxury living.  All of the luxuries of life were combined with the ecofriendly environment of this community.  Three bedrooms with exquisite bathrooms, plus an office and oversized garage.

5)      Low maintenance and high tech.  This home uses technology to provide comfort for its human inhabitants while being very friendly to the environment.  Solar electricity, special wall structure to keep everything cool, and a flooring which is above ground to allow air flow and keep the home flexible.

Having lived in Costa Rica for 18 years, I have never seen community living combined with environmental awareness and human comfort so perfectly intertwined.  Located only 30 minutes from Atenas, 30 minutes to the beach, and 20 minutes to the new international airport that is being built, it is conveniently located to everything and yet, you would never need to leave if you didn’t want to.  Forty homes make up this very special place that is only awaiting your participation.

Tina Newton was a licensed Realtor in the States and has lived in Costa Rica for over 18 years.  She is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate with her business partner Cecilia Tristan who has been a broker in Costa Rica for 40 years and is an attorney and notary public with the firm Gomez, Tristan, & Tristan.  They are always available to answer your questions on real estate and life in Costa Rica in general.  Relocation is their specialty with everything under one roof.  Check out the website, Facebook page, or send them an email.

A special thanks to the professional photographers who took the photos for the owners of these beautiful homes.

Raising a Family in Costa Rica

After living 18 years in Costa Rica and raising a family here, would I do it again?  You bet. 

We live in the small central valley town of Atenas, and like many small towns around the world, everyone is somehow connected to each other and is keenly aware of what everyone else is doing. So when word got out that a red-haired gringa and her Tico husband had moved to town, we were warmly welcomed by everyone and immediately became family.

They opened their homes and hearts to us like a long-lost relatives, even though I didn’t speak a word of Spanish!  I grew up in the small town, Perry, Oklahoma, so this kindness and hospitality felt very familiar, and ultimately helped me avoid ever feeling homesick.

Costa Rica is a country that is very focused on children and families, so pregnant women are treated like goddesses. They get to move to the front of the line at the bank, are offered help with everything, and are relentlessly given advice. I became pregnant shortly after our arrival in Costa Rica, and having come from a 1st world country, and being in my 20’s, I ignored a majority of that advice. I would later discover that much of what I’d been told was accurate and could have really helped me through that time. That’s when I began listening instead of assuming I knew everything. 

I had both of my children in private hospitals at about ¼ of the price of hospitals in the U.S., and the care was fabulous.  I hit the button to ask for a pain killer after my daughter was born, and before I could even think about how I should ask for it in Spanish, the nurse was there offering exactly what I needed.  The nurses immediately assisted me with breastfeeding and when needed, took the baby away for a while so I could get some sleep. Both children slept right beside me at night in their little hospital cribs, and a bed was also provided for my husband! I can’t imagine how my experience could have been any better. 

Costa Ricans really love babies.  My daughter was only 2 weeks old when I had to attend a funeral and a lady came up and took her right out of my arms.  I froze and was ready to panic when the lady next to me, said, “No worries, she is a nurse and is allowing you to have some time in your mourning.”  Waiters would often take my baby and walk around with him/her until I finished eating. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about this, but when I saw how they adoringly held my little munchkin and showed him/her off to the other employees, who would exclaim, “Preciosa!” and “Que guapo!” I knew I had nothing to worry about, and I really appreciated the break!

Children of citizens of other countries who are born in Costa Rica, are granted dual citizenship.  This has helped our children as they’ve travelled around the world, because they can choose which passport to use when they travel, each one with its own benefits. 

Not only are my children bilingual, they are also bi-cultural. They are fully immersed in the Tico (Costa Rican) culture, but being raised by a mom from the U.S., they’ve also inherited lot of their mother’s gringo-isms.  Having a Costa Rican father and family on that side, they eat their share of rice and beans, but get a more international cuisine at my house. 

Costa Rica is a country that is very we” oriented. Ticos (Costa Ricans) are more concerned with the common good, rather than the desires of the individual. One of the first times I witnessed this all-inclusive attitude in our children, was when our five years old daughter stopped in front of the candy section at the checkout counter, staring at all the colorful options. After examining the selection she asked, Mom, can I have five candies?  Baffled, I asked her why she needed five, and she said, So I can give one to each of my friends.”  I don’t think I could have bought them any faster. 

Our son also shares this generous attitude, and instead of selling the soccer cleats he regularly outgrows to help pay for his next pair, he insists on giving them to kids in town who need them.

Our kids don’t understand consumerism. When we visit the U.S., they’re shocked at the the more, more, more attitude and just shake their heads.  However, my son really would have 10 pairs of shoes if I let him, so I suppose a few things truly are genetic!

As I mentioned, the small town we live in is very much like an extended family. I was reminded of this as I led a cultural activity in the central park, and I heard (in Spanish), Matthew, get down out of that tree!”  This might have upset some parents, but all I could think of was how incredible it was to have a whole town watching out for my kids.

When my daughter turned 12 and wanted to hang out with her girlfriends on her own, I knew I didn’t have to worry because they were eating ice cream at the local shop where the owner would keep an eye on them.  I have eyes in every corner of this town.  My kids know that their mom really does know everything they do, and I think that is incredibly cool!

Many people who move to Costa Rica decide to homeschool. In my opinion, I think those people are completely missing the point of raising children in another culture.  Why take children to another country if they aren’t going to play with the locals or learn the language?  But I suppose everyone has their reasons.

I did choose private schools over public schools. Public schools in Costa Rica provide a good education, but children are often sent home if the teacher is out for the day, and as a working mom, that just didn’t work for me. 

My daughter is now in her last year of high school and she is currently taking Physics, Biology, and Chemistry in the same year.  I wouldn’t have been able to take all three sciences at the same time when I was in high school, so yes, I feel the education my children are receiving is excellent. 

Next year, she’ll hopefully get accepted at one of Costa Rica’s five National (public) Universities. Her tuition at the National Universities will be…..yes, wait for it……$300/semester, and that’s without the many scholarships that are available to students! 

The National Universities outrank the country’s private universities in academic rating, because they are so selective about their incoming students. The private universities were established for students who could afford college, but didn’t have the grades to be accepted into a National University.  My fingers are crossed that she will score high enough on her exams to be accepted at a public university next year.

The temperate year-round weather means my kids spend most of their time outside. I often have to ask my son to sit down and play video games for a moment, because his running in and out can drive me crazy! 

He would rather be out playing soccer than doing anything else in the world and my daughter loves to swim. I’m not saying they don’t chat with their friends (that would mean they weren’t teenagers) but they love to be outside. When we’ve visited the U.S. in the winter, they’ve been shocked that the sun could be shining so beautifully and yet it be too cold to get out and enjoy it. They can’t imagine being stuck indoors for days at a time.

One of the downsides being here is that there aren’t many options for organized activities outside of school in this small town.  Fortunately, my son loves soccer, and soccer, karate, swimming, and volleyball are all offered here in Atenas.  However, if someone really wanted their kids to play baseball or other sports, they can be found in the bigger neighboring towns, it would just take a little more work logistically.

Costa Rica isn’t like the U.S. where kids can be involved in four or more after-school activities each week, but maybe that is a good thing.  Enjoying a little free time is part of “Pura Vida”.

Are they missing out on anything else?  I don’t think so. 

Do they have fun?  Yes. 

Are they safe?  Yes. 

Do they have good doctors?  Yes. 

Do they have friends?  Yes. 

Do they have every fast food restaurant?  No, but they can go for homemade food ready at any soda” or small café and get rice, beans, and meat, or hand-made empanadas.  Do they have everything they need in life?  I think so.

When we moved to Costa Rica, we said we would take it two years at a time and see what we thought.  After 18 years, running a community center, having two kids, getting divorced, remarried, and starting  my own business as a real estate agent in Atenas, I can’t imagine raising my kids anywhere else. 

At 17 and 13, my kids have had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world. I think growing up in Costa Rica, and having travelled around the globe, has made them empathetic, confident, and optimistic global citizens who would be capable of handling almost any situation, and could be content on any continent. 

Being a parent in any country gives you an insight into the culture that you just would never get as a childless adult. You plan field trips, class parties and go to games with other parents. You watch each other’s kids and get to know everyone’s extended family. All of these things give you common ground with the locals. Living in Costa Rica has not only been a great experience for my children, but for me as well. 

I may still be the crazy gringa, but I am also a mother and in Costa Rica, that makes me family.

Tina Newton is a real estate agent and co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate.  She is an entrepreneur and community leader in Atenas.  She was asked to write this article for a new blog page called Penny’s Pura Vida and will be posting more articles in the future.  You can check it out at http://pennyspuravida.com/raising-children-costa-rica/ .  See the FB page or email Tina with any questions you have about real estate in Costa Rica, living in Costa Rica, or helping with activities such as the Swim Campaign for Atenas, the Angel Tree, the Chili Cookoff, or the Chamber of Tourism of Atenas.

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.