Saturday, July 30, 2011

Costa Rica;Pura Vida!

I love Costa Rica, so far one of my favorite places on the planet, it's all about the life style! I am all about balance; balancing what makes me happy and healthy and the work necessary to achieve it. When I really want to chill out I head South to this beautiful little country in Central America. We have traveled through out the country, but usually hang our pareos in Playa Hermosa on the Central Pacific (3 miles South of Jaco and just a 1.5 hour drive from San Jose). This little sliver of a town has some of the best and most consistent surf in the country along with a small but diverse selection of hotels to stay in, most directly on the beach with dorm style accommodations starting at $15 dollars a night, to very deluxe rooms with central AC and spa like bathrooms from about $150 dollars per night.

We also bought a piece of land in a gated community just on the Southern fringe of "Hermosa" and plan to start building our little casa in paradise very soon. Just like the real estate bust we experienced here in the US, Costa Rica, after their own boom also went bust. There had been an abundance of new development, from vacant lots in planned communities to Miami style glass high rises in some of the more popular beach communities like Jaco and Tammarindo. I am primarily writing about the beach here though many expats and Costa Ricans alike live in the capital, San Jose or the communities in the surrounding area known as the Central Valley
Just as things have started to stabilize here, Costa Rica is also starting to stabilize and there are many good opportunities for the careful buyer looking for a retreat in paradise.

I think what I like most about Costa Rica as compared to the Caribbean is it is a country first, tourist destination second. You can go just a few miles from Jaco and enjoy miles and miles of deserted beach lined with coconut palms, perhaps some small fishing boats and not much else.

Above photo taken by Keith 2009

The primary type of tourism here is serious "Eco Travel", where you can explore vast primary rain forest, cloud forests, volcanoes and an abundance of wildlife, including 2% of the worlds birds. There is also more traditional resorts including a beautiful Four Seasons (we honeymooned there)along with the sprawling Los Suenos resort with world class fishing and golf

When we go on our annual trip we usually set up our base camp on the beach at a wonderful little hotel called "Costenera" run by an Italian couple who came to Hermosa and never left, Nada and Stephano. Rooms start at about $35-40 US dollars a night, right on the break, simple but get the job done. we usually take a little apartment with a very basic kitchen, then lay in the hammock and watch scarlet macaws eat the almonds in the trees out front and just stare at the ocean, never gets tired!

I also married my soul mate and partner in crime in Costa Rica in 2008 at a wonderful, small boutique resort called Xandari by the Pacific. This very eco conscious resort was built and designed by a California architect and his artist wife. They have a sister resort in the Central Valley and grow their own organic coffee and many of the fruits and vegetables used at the restaurants.

If you are a surfer or looking to learn, there is no better place than Loma Del mar surf camp where local Freddy Quirros runs the show and will take excellent care of you. Freddy is a world class surfer and can guide you to the best breaks in the area. He is also a real estate professional and can help you find your little piece of paradise.

This is just a little glance into a small part of this beautiful country! I love all things Costa Rica and would be more than happy to answer any of your questions regarding travel and investment. Pura Vida!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Direct interaction between buyer and seller sounds good in theory....but how does it work in practice?

Anyone who knows me knows I believe that whatever works best for you when buying or selling real estate, just go with it. But I occasionally hear or read the opinion that a broker is just unnecessary, that they clog up the works of a clean transaction. I remember one poster on StreetEasy (a FSBO) who vehemently stated that he liked to do deals directly; he didn't want a broker on either side getting in the way of the transaction. In his case it did not work out quite that smoothly but I did respect his point of view since you are free to operate any way you choose. There are a couple of other posters on SE that are also very anti-broker, convinced that they only get in the way and simply add to the transaction costs of buying/selling a property.

In my own experience I find that a broker can be a great asset to the buyer or seller by doing just what some think is the actual problem with broker services: acting as a buffer between both parties. In a perfect world one would ask a price for their home and a counter party would bid, and after a little back and forth they would agree to a price, shake hands, then hand the deal off to their attorneys.

In practice, however, when bidding on an property in NYC, it's never quite that smooth. Buyers and sellers are not rational machines. They are carbon-based units filled with emotion and ego and often let those traits leak into their business dealings. Most buyers I know are not comfortable having the sellers present during a showing. So why would they want to call them up, present an offer that is 10% below what they are asking and then critique the property to justify their valuation?

I think we just need more options for both buyers and sellers. That is why I started The Burkhardt Group. Not everyone is interested in our model, just as not everyone is interested in a large firm's model. And of course some will still not be interested in ANY model, they'll go it alone regardless and deal with any social awkwardness associated with a direct transaction.

If you take the time to find a good partnership, I think you will find having a qualified real estate broker on your team will add value to your real estate experience. In my case, we use rebates as a very powerful tool to capture more value for our buyers along with a comprehensive analysis of potential properties. I pull no punches when I give an opinion on a property and I enjoy working with my clients to understand value, review all the pros/cons, and put together a solid bidding strategy. I have years of real estate experience and usually catch any negatives they may have missed. A good broker can be a great asset!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Zoning - New York City Department of City Planning

Zoning - New York City Department of City Planning

This website was extremely useful in helping me understand the potential uses of a large parking garage just behind a building that a client wanted to buy in. We actually had an accepted offer, but this garage was nagging at him and we really didn't have any concrete answers regarding the possibility of it being torn down and a larger structure being developed.

I called the Department of City Planning and left my contact info along with the lot/block # of the building in question. Of course I was very skeptical that I would get a call back, but a few hours later a very helpful woman called me with all the information I had requested. She even answered my question about a "HAZMAT" designation the building in question had; quite common and not really an impediment to build on the lot (in this case old buried gas tanks are on the site).

Well I hope you find this useful, along with sites like UrbanDigs, StreetEasy and ACRIS you have more tools than ever to help you make a smart, informed decision about your next apartment purchase.

Friday, July 22, 2011

UrbanDigs: Manhattan Pending Sales Starts To Slow (click below to go to article)

UrbanDigs: Manhattan Pending Sales Starts To Slow

This is some great stuff, time will tell if we are setting up for a weaker market or this is just seasonality doing the thing it does. Last year we saw the same thing happen, the "seasonality" effect kicked in earlier and stronger than was typical (Came in early July versus August) then leading us into a very strong 2011.

There is quite a bit of compelling macro stuff in the pipe; debt ceiling, US dollar/debt issues, the Euro/EU mess (will we see some big bank failures under the re-capitalization standards?)

What happens when this band-aide they are putting on Greece falls off? Do they allow Greece to go into a technical default/default? Portugal, Spain....Italy? I am a total layman here, but even to my very far off observer eyes, the potential out comes are mind boggling.

This certainly is not the data points sellers want to see (though it may just be normal seasonal stuff). But it strengthens my view that sellers should go away in July/August. Buyers should use the opportunity to negotiate hard and exercise patients.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Do agents prefer a direct deal? This may surprise you...

This from a very senior broker at one of the big firms;

"Thanks, you know -i'd rather do a co-broke then a direct. The owner wants to cut your commission to a cobroke commission-you do twice the work and its hard because you relate to both buyer and seller.
With a cobroke- its so much easier- and hey-you have to do the board package!!!"

I could not have said it better myself! This in response to an email I sent letting an agent know that a buyer whom had contacted her directly about a listing, had now engaged me as their "Buyer-broker".

Monday, July 11, 2011

This is why I love golf!

I was at the Barclay's when Steve won at Westchester Country Club; it was the beginning of his triumphant return to the game. Steve was a rising star in 1996 but after winning twice and being fourth on the money list, he lost his game. Golf is like that because it is so mental, and when you lose your confidence the swing goes with it. It can take years to get it back, if ever, ask the once great Ian Baker-Finch.

Strick fell hard, losing his playing privileges and never rising higher than 151st on the money list until that win at Westchester. Strick is a solid Midwestern guy who still calls frigid Wisconsin his home when most pros wind up relocating somewhere warm like Florida, Arizona or Texas. He practices in the winter in a heated garage, banging balls into a corn field.

The game the pros play is a different animal from what the average weekend hacker can do. I play to about a 10 handicap these days, not too bad for a hack. When I'm in a fairway bunker, I'm happy just to advance the ball anywhere up the fairway. With the pressure of the match on him, no more holes left to play unless he pars, Strick has driven the ball into a left side fairway bunker. The lie is impossible, he can barely see the green, and is totally off kilter. This shot is difficult under the best circumstances! See, golf is all about balance and timing,that is why a fat, out of shape guy/gal can compete with a buff guy like Tiger. At the moment of impact if the club face is just a degree off one way or the other, your ball will fly off in a wildly incorrect trajectory/direction.

So have a look at what Strick does on the last hole after watching the leader one hole ahead of him miss a kick-in putt to bogie, opening up the door that only moments ago seemed shut.