Things to think about before you buy a farm in Costa Rica
Not everyone comes to Costa Rica with a pension, finds an awesome condo right over the sunset studded Pacific Ocean and lives happily ever after. Some people seek out a different lifestyle all together. Some people choose Costa Rica for the cheap farm land, year round harvest and abundance of wildlife. I am writing this based on our own experience or experiences of people we know.
Which Farm to Buy?
My advice is to know yourself and your habits. For example, I can be easily distracted socially. To change from a city girl to a farm hand I needed to be far away from other expats. If we lived in a little beach town that had all the things I love within walking distance, I could easily find myself ordering dinner and having drinks with friends, EVERY NIGHT. It would be easy to slip into old ways and spend all of our money on experiences and good conversation. As much as I would love this, it doesn’t fit into our master plan of living frugally and off the land.
When looking at a farm, does the terrain have problems with erosion, nutrient loss or has it been compacted by cattle for the last 25 years. This is important! The weight of cows over time can ruin perfectly good soil. So if the farm doesn’t have really tall overgrown plant life, chances are cows are keeping it clear and you can plan on working the soil for the next 3 years before anything good will grow.
Where is your water coming from? Sure, it’s a great source but are you downhill from a mono-culture farm. There are a lot here. It took a whole bunch of people getting sick before people in Pocora, Limon realized that the pineapple plantation had ruined the towns water supply by putting chemical- laden waste into the ground. The company ended up paying for a new source but that was after they were forced to do so, at first they denied the claim. We use a spring that comes down in a plastic tube about a kilometer long from up in the mountain. It’s a very clean and reliable source but when we have downpours and our filter bobbles and fills our line with air, it is us who have to travel through the dense jungle (in the middle of the downpour) to submerse the filter once again. When I say us I mean Barry.
This Farm is SO Beautiful
There are many “unimproved” lots available here. You must be able to afford it. If there is one farm available in the area there are 50. Do not feel like the property that you are looking at is a once in a lifetime great deal. However, we did get an awesome price on an awesome farm that has everything we want.
At first, it’s SO beautiful. You are wearing your rose colored glasses. It’s because you are not responsible for taking care of it yet! Make a list of the care this farm will need. Do you know that the land in Costa Rica has a lot of rocks? Unless you clear all the rocks off by hand you can not use a riding mower to clean it. You must use an industrial weed whacker or you could opt for horses, cows or goats but then you will not have any if the pretty flowers that made this place so attractive to you in the first place. A farm here is a commitment in time and physical labor. This picture shows what I wear when I cut our grass.
Road Access and Access to Utilities
If you are from the U.S. you know that the seller of a piece of land would have to tell you that your farm was land-locked and there was no available public road access. You would be told if there is no available electricity, septic, etc., all before the sale. Not here, you can buy a lovely 50 hectare mountain top and have no way to get the necessary utilities or road access. We know some people that are in that exact situation. They “trusted” the seller with a crap load of their money to buy their dream farm, site unseen. They are currently looking into hydro-electric and solar but still can’t drive on to their farm. You might think “I would never do that” but for some reason this place puts a crazy spell on many people.
Your must-have farm may need a a $5000+ bridge to get to on to it. This happened to us. We have a lot of road frontage but it is on the other side of the creek. When we bought we were assured by the current owner (car-free) that “by law” we should have land access to the public road. We should have asked a lawyer instead of taking the guys word for it. Later after we bought, we learned that the guy who had the property next to us, along the public road, wanted $8000 for less than the 1/4 acre of land that we needed for access. We opted for the cheap route and to drive through the creek. We can’t leave the farm a few times a year when the river gets really high. This has actually turned in to a benefit for us. Barry has a moat around his house like he always wanted and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have to leave the pamphlet at the gate because they don’t want to get their dress shoes wet.
So the next question is, what kind of gate does your property have? A gate is essential in keeping unknown vehicles off your land, without a lockable gate all of your stuff can be loaded up and taken away. That leads to the next question, does the fence encompass the entire farm and does it need immediate maintenance? If some of these things are missing you must factor that into your initial costs.
No matter how big your farm is you will have neighbors. In fact, your neighbors will play a crucial role in your new life. These people know what and when to plant, they know which offices to go to for what and they can find you peons to help with projects when the need arises. In hard times, they will bring you food and if you are a good neighbor you will help someone with English. These will be the people (just like in your current neighborhood) you wave at when you leave, that know when your house is alone, invite you to baby showers and fight with you over property lines. You, more than likely, will not have your entire family down here so these people become your closest support system.
There is no way to properly test all your neighbors before buying your farm but you can visit every single one. Ask them what they know about the farm you are looking to purchase, who lived there before, etc, etc.
These are our closest neighbors Don Israel and Dona Virginia and I at their New Years Eve party last year. The video is here.
I have a lot more that I could say about buying a farm in Costa Rica and I may in a future post.
You might also be interested in the Value of $4.50 in 2012.