Feb. 7-12, 2005 // CONSTRUCTION LOG #18
As in past weeks, several new names have been added to the
mailing list. If someone no longer wants to receive this progress
report, let me know and I’ll remove you from the list.
NOTE: THIS LOG WILL BE A BIT DIFFERENT THAT THE PREVIOUS
LOGS WHICH HAVE FOCUSED ON THE CONSTRUCTION. THE THREE AREAS
WHICH DIFFER ARE: A “MARRIAGE MAKER”, “THE
PERMITTING PROCESS TO DATE”, AND “MARKETING—THE
NORTH AMERICAN RETURNS”.
THE “MARRIAGE MAKER”
It occurred to me that there might be someone in the readership
who had the same problem I did: how to develop and maintain
a website. I have already introduced the person I use to two
people —they have been as happy as I’ve been with
Background: Maria and Gaston —a young Argentinean
couple who lived on the property for about 18 mo. I never
got to know them very well —we each had our agendas
and Gaston worked long hours and Maria took care of now 2
year old Adriana. Gaston had helped us on several occasions
and I subsequently hired him to design and install the wireless
LAN system. On the cusp our returning to Canada and of their
subsequent return to Argentina to be closer to family and
friends and to participate in Argentina’s economic rebirth,
I came to know Maria for more than a wonderful person and
mother but professionally as a website designer.
In June I started working with her and WOW!!! was I surprised
that this talent had been living next door to me all this
time and I didn’t know it. While I provided the overall
design of the website and the content (text) including many
of the pictures, she put it all together and made a number
of editing contributions which better displayed the content.
She made it so the website works, it loads fast, it is easy
to negotiate, etc. She chose the colors and layout of each
page. She translated all the English into Spanish and she
continues to upload my construction log, pictures and translates
the log into Spanish. She has done other translations for
me as well. She is fast, efficient, accurate, reliable, and
gives excellent turnaround service. She is very, very reasonably
priced and wonderful to work with.
What I continue to find amazing is that distance is NOT a
problem. She is in Argentina some 3,000-4,000 miles apart.
We never see each other. It makes no difference. It is as
if she is in my office.
Maria’s e-mail address is: email@example.com
THE PERMITTING PROCESS TO DATE
This is a progress report; the story is not yet finished
nor is the outcome known. I do, however, have some observations
and experiences which might be of interest and or useful to
Situation: The application was rejected at the Regional
office of the Ministry of Health because it was considered
by them to be a “condominium” even though the
Governmental body of Architects and Engineers which is the
first step in any application process has classified it as
a non-condominium. Who’s got the ruling authority??????
Background: I purposefully tried to avoid the condominium
classification for a number of reasons:
(1) When I started the planning of this
project several years ago, I heard a number of reports that
bribery was a common and necessary element to expedite the
process. My neighbor developer related a story to me that
he had to buy a certain pipe from the brother of one of the
government officials as it was the only one “approved”
for the application. It cost him an additional 3,000,000 colones
which, at that time, was about $7,500 USD. If one didn’t
play these games, then the application process was even longer
than long. Having just come from a project in Toronto where
I had to wait a year to get a building permit and incurred
thousands and thousands of dollars in costs and mean while
watched the economics of the project melt away, I was looking
for an alternative.
(2) Condominiums are fairly new to CR. The
laws are frequently changing, contradictory, and they never
really get it right. When I started several years agon, there
was a big scandal. Builders had submitted plans and the projects
built often differ significantly---there were no site inspections.
The result was that the government was receiving much criticism
from purchasers that what they thought they were buying was
significantly different than what was developed. I really
didn’t want to be part of this in any way, shape, or
(3) There were some requirements which I
really didn’t want to comply with because the economic
result would have been to destroy the concept that was really
at the heart of this development—to live in a garden
and to be surrounded by nature. I didn’t want to see
or hear a car. The economics of building a big roadway and
the shape of the lot and the location of major plantings and
trees conflicted – I would have to put a huge roadway
down the center of the property, through the heart of the
garden and then I would be like every other bloody condo development
in CR. Thank you , NO.
(4) In addition, there were some other
requirements which added no value to my product. I calculated
that the total additional cost per house constructed was about
(5) I therefore, devised a strategy whereby
I could avoid some of the government review agencies, the
whims and experimentation of the development of condo law,
and the roadway requirement which would largely destroy the
heart of the development. That strategy was to use a legal
structure in CR law—a co-operative—where purchasers
would buy shares in the corporation which owned the land and
improvements and the shares purchased would give exclusive
right of use in perpetuity to the owner of the shares. The
day to day operation would look and feel like a N. Am. condominium.
The main difference was that the purchaser would not have
title to the property and therefore could not get a mortgage.
Subsequent analysis said that while mortgages are technically
available to non-residents, the requirements and terms are
more rigorous, time consuming and expensive than for residents.
My target market was/is the N. Am. retiree, the 2nd. Home
owner, and investors. Many of my clients were likely to pay
cash and for those who couldn’t, I would provide the
financing more easily than they could otherwise get. I speculated
that Ticos would not buy into this cco-operative structure
but I also didn’t expect Ticos to buy my product for
a number of other reasons.
Speculation on my part: The rules of the game have
changed in mid process. With so many presidents and high profile
people in jail or with pending charges of bribery and corruption,
the small bureaucrats, who in the past may have been guilty
of the same charges, are now running for cover. No one wants
to make a decision which requires any thinking, If a situation
even gets close to the line, it is rejected and moved up the
line to someone else.
The bureaucrats are not making the distinctions that exist
in law. They seem to say that if it walks like a duck, quacks
like a duck... It is a duck regardless of significant differences—they
don’t really want to look at the nuances—they
either don’t have the training or they are afraid to
make a decision.
What has happened? and What is in progress? I’m following
two parallel paths. (In what follows, I’m going to be
a bit vague with names and places.)
Path A: is to return to the decision maker
in Min. of Health and try to explain to him why this project
should not be so classified. It is my belief that the decision
maker never reviewed the plans but was advised by an subordinate.
To follow this path, I was referred to a lawyer who will be
drafting a letter and making my case. Thru contacts, I have
spoken indirectly to his former boss. If I do not get satisfaction,
I have been invited to return for a second conversation.
The referral to the lawyer working on this strategy was an
interesting experience. I went to a very secure government
building to see an important person in the legal department.
It was explained to me that “one does not got to the
wolf’s den unless you know the wolf.” My contact’s
wife did. Upon entering the building the two men were instructed
to empty their pockets and we were “waned” for
security. The woman accompany us was not nor was her hand
bag searched. She asked the security people why not and the
response was that they do not wan nor search handbags of women.
Evidently women don’t pose a threat. I can think of
any number of places where others think differently and with
good reason—but not here.
Path B: A favor was called in and I was
lead to another influential person who reviews all condominium
plans. The question was asked: how can this NOT be classified
as a condo project? And: If it must be classified as “condo”
what alternations need to be made and what can we get variances
for? This person visited the property on Wednesday. He was
very impressed with the entire project. He liked the way we
had handled the black water, the quality of the construction,
the green area we had provided for, and recognized and accepted
the target market of purchaser, etc. On Thursday I was told
that if I were to give him the disc with the drawings, he
would rework them and I could expect to have my permit in
30 days. I bit and that is now one of two possible directions.
I emphasized the “30 days” so I’m expecting
to return to full construction by mid March.
This story is to be continued...
MARKETING—THE NORTH AMERICANS RETURN
The following are simply my observations and I don’t
claim they are accurate or universal in CR.
The fact is that we have seen a significant increase in interest
in this project. People who are serious —people who
have decided to move to and/or purchase in CR. These people
are not just tire kickers but they are good quality purchasers
with money in their pockets and conviction in their decision.
They are just looking for the right place for them. In the
last three weeks, all of our renovated units are spoken for
and I have a waiting list of about 8 who either hope one of
the existing deals falls apart or that I can, in two undefined
remaining areas, design a unit for them. Some of these people
want to throw money at me so they can be first on the list.
I don’t work this way so I have politely declined; I
prefer to see what I can design and have committed to keep
their preferences in mind and to keep them advised. When I
am able to focus my attention on the two remaining areas (currently
the area around and including Unit 106 and Unit 102) . I’ll
be in touch with those on the list.
We currently have three people seriously interested in new
units. Whether anything will happen with these people, I don’t
As soon as we have a rental vacancy, we lease it at our asking
price. (Today, we had two parties interested in renting our
most expensive unit—No. 111.) We were only able to consider
leasing this unit because the tenant in 107 left as he was
bothered by the construction noise (he worked evenings and
needed to sleep in during the morning. Grinders working their
way thru steel makes for a lousy sleep.) My friend Keith will
move there —he’s awake with the birds so not a
problem.) Certainly one can find less expensive places to
live than Residencias Los Jardines but I don’t think
one can find better value considering the amenities, finishes
In a conversation with my lawyer, he said that he had noticed
a significant increased interest from Americans over the past
month. He also said that it seemed to him that some of these
were dissatisfied Democrats who just wanted to get out of
I have received numerous inquires from my website and from
my mailing list. People are now beginning to ask serious questions
to determine if this is the right place for them.
What is driving this? I don’t know. Perhaps because
it is February in North American or ???? I know I’ve
introduced 5 people to CR, two is now living here part time,
two are moving here for thewinters, and the other one is seriously
I expect that if we have to go the “condo” route,
that after I sell 5 of the new units, I will increase the
price to help recover the costs.
Synopsis: A normal pace.
Unit 104: This unit will be done and mostly furnished
by Wednesday of next week. Curtains and sofa will take a few
more days. The doors are being hung as I write; kitchen cabinetry
is installed; built-ins in the closets are yet to be finished.
Tiling is nearing completion. All windows and screens are
installed, Plumbing fixtures will follow next week. This is
a gorgeous lots of character—large terrace behind the
house, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, lots of windows, etc.
Unit 108: We spent the first part of the week re-welding
all the previous welds and installing cross bracing to stiffen
the structure such that it is rigid. The roof was removed
and structural steel added; the cupolas were built and the
metal substrate reinstalled. The exterior was cladded with
densglass and the first coat of stucco was applied. Rough
in plumbing and electrical is substantially advanced. I expect
this unit to be fully framed with virtually all exterior cladding
and all rough-in plumbing and electrical done this time next
week. We will be getting a detailed kitchen plan and master
bathroom designing approved by the purchaser early this week.
Unit 106: I’ve asked one of the two architects
I’m working with to submit to me a proposal for the
area which includes Unit 106. I’ve requested two story
houses, detached or semi detached, one bedroom w/ den, 1 1/2
baths, lr/dr/kitchen, terrace. I’ve said a minimum of
three but if 4 fit, then o.k. I also would like additional
parking. Let’s see what he comes up with.
We leveled the window sills, graded the road, and began making
ready the forms for the arched windows and reinforcing columns
which will be poured the day after we get the building permit.
We designed and began installing the remaining walkways in
the garden which will connect residents in the new homes to
the parking lots, each other, and to the garden and grounds
We are buying a substantial quantity of roofing material;
it has to be imported, it is soon to be here and the next
shipment is expected to be more expensive. The last time we
needed this product, the bloody ship it was loaded on ran
aground in some Venezuelan port. We waited.
We’ve also ordered 15 front doors. They are a special
design which are not always available.
When we have the permit (target of March 15) I estimate it
will take about 2 2 1/2 months to finish the 7 houses currently
under construction and probably 3 1/2 to 4 mo. To finish the
three yet to be started. When the houses are completed, the
project will be completed as all ancillary work is now being
Lita. She takes it to bed with her and sleeps have the night
with it curled up in a fetal position. I’ve got my back
to her guarding my “loins”. This is ridiculous!!!!!!!
Lita has also determined that the parrot the latin salsa beat
better than Johnny Cash. The two of them have a wonderful
time dancing —the bird hanging on to her shoulder having
a grand old time and Lita, not hindered by my clumsiness,
does just fine on her own. She’s also decided she needed
to go to a fitness studio. She has a driver who picks her
up most of the time and takes her to the fitness center. At
the fitness center, they know she’s blind so they help
her on the machines. How long this will last I don’t
know and I’m not taking any bets. Its surprising she
doesn’t take the bird with her. (I’d like to see
it get squashed between some weights!)
Me. I’ve been preoccupied with braking this impasse,
getting the design and construction moving for 108 and in
seeing that the finishing details and materials are available
for 104 not to mention the furnishings and decorations for
that unit as well. In addition, we had to relocate Keith,
and complete the decorations of No. 111 for the new tenants.
All this as well as figure out the walkway design and what
I wanted and did not want to occur. And lastly, communicating
with those people who have shown an interest in the project.
I’ve certainly been ready for a drink at quitting time.
Pool: after nearly a 2 mo. absence we returned to
the pool hall last night. It’s amazing how the bad can
get so much worse. It was awful, pitiful, painful... We were
virtually all as bad as Lita... but we still had great laughs
and that is what it’s all about.
Weather: it’s been REALLY, REALLY windy these
past couple weeks. Even the old timers are commenting. (I
was slurping my favorite chocolate milk shake the other day
when this almost ancient guy started commenting on the wind.
I comment on the coolness of the evenings.
After my ex —workmate and his wife left on Monday,
we’ve actually had the week to ourselves.—to rest,
relax, and catch up with friends here. It was an experience
—my blind wife and his wife who has Alzheimer’s
disease and the two of us realizing that neither of our situations
are what the four of us expected —certainly life is
full of surprises. Fortunately Lita and I made some lifestyle
decisions which seem to be working for us.
Brian, Lita, Vicka and Hugo