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181 Interior designs impact on vacation rental returns

181 Interior designs impact on vacation rental returns
181 Interior designs impact on vacation rental returns

Podcast Transcription

[Richard Bexon]
Good afternoon, Sarahy. How are you doing?

[Sarahy Flores]
Good. How are you? Good afternoon.

[Richard Bexon]
Very, very good. I appreciate you taking time out of what I know is a very busy schedule of interior design to come and join us on the podcast.

[Sarahy Flores]
You're welcome.

[Richard Bexon]
Well, the question I like to always kind of just, you know, ask people is get an understanding of kind of what you're seeing happening in the markets just because, you know, late 2023 in North America was a bit of a flatline decline in some markets. You know, how would you give us an idea of what your work was like in 2023? And how does 2024 look for you?

[Sarahy Flores]
Well, there was definitely a boom kind of end of 2022, all of 2023. And I feel like we're still on that same roll. So entering 2024, building everywhere.

And I've talked to some realtors lately, too, that say that a steady kind of incline is still happening. So not much has changed. A lot has changed since after COVID, but 2022 to now, still kind of steady going up.

And in this area, buildings are everywhere. So it's all construction right now.

[Richard Bexon]
That's great for you. Because again, we'll get into interior design. I never really saw the benefit of interior design until I basically built a house and started trying to do the design and realized I was not great at it.

But anyway, I mean, you've been part of the design process in many homes. What are the things that architects and homeowners sometimes overlook, which I'm guilty of and that you've pulled up as well, when designing a house?

[Sarahy Flores]
Well, I think I look at things differently. I think of things of how you move around in the space, how you utilize the space. So I envision myself in this space.

How do I walk from here to the kitchen? How do I move around? What will bother me?

What makes for weird turns, weird spaces, spaces that are not usable? How do we use every inch of the space in the best way possible? So I think for an architect, it's more of a macro.

And I go to the smaller spaces all the way to the chair, how close to the wall, things like that. So I look at it more in a smaller scale and the spaces from the inside out. So the opposite of what an architect does.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah. Again, as I said, I saw the huge value in it once we started actually bringing you in, because again, a lot of the time I'm bringing people on the podcast that I've worked with, but we brought you in kind of towards the end of a project, should I say. I would love to have you in the beginning, because there were just mistakes that we made.

I'll put my hand up and say, yep, we made mistakes. It's still going to be beautiful because you'll make it beautiful. I mean, that's what interior design is.

But I mean, you know, and I think I probably answer this question, but why do you think an interior designer is necessary? Again, I so know the answer, but like, you know, people are always like, oh, God, do I really need it? Is this an expense that I need?

[Sarahy Flores]
Well, I think especially here in Costa Rica, there's different reasons than maybe somewhere else in the world. I think the main thing here, besides, you know, the floor planning and the layout and things like that, which is important just because, you know, that's what I do. That's not necessarily what an architect does interior wise.

But mostly here in Costa Rica, because the logistics are very different. So what we normally do or what I did before when I used to work in the U.S. was, you know, I would put everything together in beautiful mood boards because I had access to everything online. Here, that is just not a thing.

So you have to physically go to the shops. You have to shop for things. And this is not only furniture.

This is finishes. This is things as simple as a kitchen sink. You have to know exactly where to go.

There's not that many places to go. And then you have to get it here because the logistics of transport, all of that are just very different. And like I said, nothing is online.

So you have to physically shop, physically go. So you have to know where to go and it becomes complicated. And there's also there's not that much to choose for.

So you have to use your time wisely, know exactly who to ask, where to find things. And it's not something you can do from behind a laptop. So for a client to come in and leave the interior kind of to the end or choosing the materials, it leaves you with even less options just because it would be impossible to know exactly where to go for each thing.

And then it all kind of gets left to the very end. Decisions are rushed because the builder needs the materials right now to install them. So all those things is just an added stress.

And also it becomes more expensive if you have to run around, pick things and choose things locally, because here in the coast area, at least where I am around Tamarindo, there's not that much. And it becomes more expensive than if you travel to San Jose to buy all these items. And it's a lot of choices that the client needs to make, that the builder needs the client to make in that moment.

And I think it can get convoluted. It's a lot of decision making. And that's where I come in to kind of ease that aspect of it.

[Richard Bexon]
I agree. But I also think that you guys, I say you guys, but interior designers and you personally bring something, which is that when you look at art, you can tell whether it's right or not. Like you look at it and you go, OK, that is, when you look at something and it's not right, you know, or like something was chosen here and a little bit over here and a little bit like there's no congruent like design aspect throughout everything.

[Sarahy Flores]
Yeah. A global vision for your space.

[Richard Bexon]
That's it. That's it. You know, from the inside to the outside.

Yeah. You know, so you have these contrasts sometimes between modern and colonial orientated stuff. And it just it just it looks OK, but it doesn't look great.

And I always go, look, I'm always looking at stuff because a lot of people are investing in Costa Rican vacation. If it pictures great, it will rent much better. Meaning that like and I'm going to ask you the question, you know, how do designers make their money and how much does it cost in a minute?

But like when you put that over a year, the investment you make on an interior designer pays for itself tenfold.

[Sarahy Flores]
Oh, 100 percent for sure. You want to stand out, right? There's a lot of choices for someone looking to rent.

So you have to stand out. It has to look, to put it in that way, picture perfect. Just to, you know, you want your house to be the one that gets chosen.

And that's basically it.

[Richard Bexon]
I agree. I agree. So, I mean, how do designers make money, you know, and how much does an interior designer usually cost?

[Sarahy Flores]
Well, it depends. I think there's different design here in Costa Rica. There's not a law saying, OK, this is how much you charge.

I think for architects it's different. It's always kind of percentage based. So it's it's a very streamlined process for interior designers.

That's not the case. So there's different ways to do it. There's cost plus, so a percentage on everything that gets purchased.

I personally don't like to work that way because I want my clients to know that what I'm choosing for them, what I'm showing them is what is best for their space. And that that's the only reason I don't want to show them things. And, you know, for someone to think, oh, this is maybe expensive.

But, you know, she's probably showing it to me because it's cost plus. I want to avoid all of that. So what I do is I look at the space, I look what the space needs.

So that's either from floor plans or visiting the actual home if it's a remodel or something like that. And then I set a set fee per space. So to set that fee, I sent a list of everything that is needed, everything I would do.

The client looks over it. If that's agreed upon, then I give you my quote per space. So this is for either just furnishings or more if it's, you know, picking all the materials.

And there's a range, right? So if the client has a builder and I'm not involved in executing, I just have to bring everything to the site. Then it's going to be different than if I'm in charge of the overall project, which is also a possibility.

So it really depends. But it is a set fee that I set per space and for your home.

[Richard Bexon]
It's a rough idea. I mean, what's it ranging in from like, I don't know, because people are going to ask, like, you know, they want to know. They're asking right now, like, how much is that fee?

So just give us an idea, you know, is it 10,000, 30,000, 50,000? Like, how does it.

[Sarahy Flores]
Well, I think if you have, let's say, like a three bedroom home or a four bedroom home, it will probably start at like around 10 and go from there. So then it's just a matter of size and what the space needs, because I do things that are small remodels where we maybe just change cabinetry in the kitchen. We change some materials, we furnish, or sometimes we tear it down to the concrete and start from scratch.

But that will be kind of the starting point for a home with three to four bedrooms.

[Richard Bexon]
And look, I think it's worth every penny.

[Sarahy Flores]
Right. Thank you. And that includes everything, right?

So I handle everything and I give you basically the keys and it's done, which is also right. And which is also a nice part of the process, because the installation of everything is setting everything up. I have clients that are not in the country, so everything I do for them and then they come and it's done.

So that's one of the perks.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah, I mean, I personally prefer to pay a fixed fee because then I know how much I'm paying. Like I think when I pay a fixed fee, you're on my side of the transaction. But like when you're chasing commissions, now you're pushing like I make my money when you buy stuff.

So maybe I might not show you stuff that I'm not making commissions on, meaning that like Monhey, like I don't make money if I take you to Monhey, you know, but I do make money if I take you to, I don't know, Euromobilio or something like that. So, you know, I'm now pushing you towards Euromobilio, which, you know, is a lot more expensive than Monhey. And yeah, so it's interests always need to be allowed.

[Sarahy Flores]
Yeah, so that is what I want to avoid for my clients. And I think that happens in that sense of commissions. And it also happens because a lot of interior designers here are tied to a specific store.

So the store, it's furniture, decor, they have interior designers working for them. But then, of course, they want to sell you everything they have in stock at the moment or even overstock. So I think with the set fee, the client knows that what I'm showing them is only because it's the best for their space within their style.

[Richard Bexon]
Hey, I think it's a better model. It's how I work. So yeah.

I mean, what are some of your favorite things to do in design that make like your designs unique?

[Sarahy Flores]
I think the beauty here is that there's beautiful craftsmanship. So I love to do anything custom for the space. It's more affordable, I feel, here to get custom things made than maybe in the US.

So that's an advantage I 100% like to take. And there's beautiful craftsmanship as long as you tell them exactly what to build. Because that is the thing, right?

There's great furniture makers. There's all kinds of artists. But you have to tell them exactly what to build, how to build it, what it needs to look like.

And they will. But as long as they have that guidance. Because what they maybe sell or offer you doesn't look that good.

But they are good at their craft. So anything I can do for a space, any custom furniture, even art, anything like that is my favorite thing to do, especially here in Costa Rica.

[Richard Bexon]
Fashion's kind of coming and going. I always like to ask this to designers. Because, you know, I mean, you know, 15 years ago, we were in the world of colonial kind of more design.

Now we're in the more modern tropical. I mean, what's currently in and what's currently out of fashion in the design world?

[Sarahy Flores]
Well, we're actually going through a transition. I think the past few years, it was a little bit more minimalist, very natural, very boho. But more minimalist, light colors, light woods, a lot of white.

And we're actually now transitioning to the exact opposite. And that has happened throughout history. So now we're going more towards darker woods and color on the walls and wallpaper again, things like that.

And we just came for a few years where it was neutrals and natural materials, which I still love. And it works for this area. But we are transitioning into the opposite.

So think bold and color and also a bit more moody, darker spaces, darker ceilings, things like that. So we're actually going the entire opposite way. But it depends.

It's completely up to the client. I will work with them and whatever, you know, their style is and go from there.

[Richard Bexon]
What do you think is the best design to use in? I mean, you're in Guanacaste. I mean, knowing that the climate there, like what the outside is, because Costa Rica is about the outside and seeing it differently.

Like when designing a home, you don't need huge social areas in like lounges and like because we don't spend much time inside. Like a lot of the focus needs to be outside. So but I mean, what design do you think is kind of best adapts to Guanacaste?

[Sarahy Flores]
Well, I like to do a lot of just simple materials. So think concrete, hardwoods, things like that, that will withstand, you know, the weather because it's not only very humid here part of the year, but also very dry others. So you have to have materials that work with that.

So local woods, 100%, always local woods, even the difference between woods in Guanacaste to woods in San Jose. You can't just bring things from one place to another. It doesn't work the same way.

So that is super important. And then, you know, things that are low maintenance. So outdoor fabrics, anything concrete works great.

All of these kind of materials that look beautiful, but also thinking of longevity because the indoor outdoor living, it is particular and it is, you know, we have crazy weather. So I like to, you know, get things that I know are not going to cause the client issues. And a lot of things that get used are maybe not that suitable.

There's a lot of, you know, faux decking that gets used and it gets very hot. There's a lot of materials around pools that get used that get very hot. So I like to think of it like that, right?

So not just how it looks, but is it going to get hot on the feet? Is it going to get, is it fabric that's going to get sticky when you sit on it? So there's a lot of aspects to think about, especially for this indoor outdoor lifestyle.

[Richard Bexon]
Where are you seeing the most development in Guadalajara? Why do you think?

[Sarahy Flores]
Well, Tamarindo still is a hotspot. So, but what's happening Tamarindo is a lot of remodeling because so much has already been built. So a lot of people are buying, renovating, which I personally think is great.

I think just it's already there. There's it's good location. You know, it's downtown, like all of those things, even condos.

I think it's a great thing to do to just take them, bring them back down to the concrete and start over. So Tamarindo for sure is more of that. And then areas like Playa Grande, Reserva Conchal, there's a lot of building.

There's still Hacienda Pinilla. So those gated communities, I think are getting right now kind of the most, just for safety and people that know that they're not going to be here year round. So they like the gated community.

So those are still very big in the area. And Playa Grande is definitely right now, I think growing the fastest for sure. Because a few years ago, it was minimal houses.

And now it's getting this huge growth spurt. And it's still a place where you can kind of get in for reasonable prices. But it's so close to Tamarindo.

You can go everywhere. It's beautiful beach, but still reasonable prices. And I'm sure that five years from now, it's going to be a whole different story.

So I feel like that is the place to kind of get in now.

[Richard Bexon]
Well, I mean, I've been saying it since I started this podcast, which was two or three years ago. What are your favorite areas of Costa Rica and why? Like not as an investment, but your favorite places to go.

[Sarahy Flores]
Oh, here. I love it here. For me, it's maybe different.

It's a bit nostalgic because I've been here since I was little. I've lived other countries, other places. But there's a certain nostalgia.

But what I like about this area is that it's remote. It's a beach town. It's still kind of quiet towns.

But you can get anything you need for everyday living. So if you're going to be here longer term or full time, even, you can go to the doctor. You can go to hardware stores.

Everything is available. And for me personally, I like that. I like the quiet, sleepy towns.

But I like to have everything I need. There's other places. I'm thinking Nosara, Santa Teresa, beautiful towns.

Same kind of vibe maybe as these. But if you need anything, you have to travel. You have to drive.

You have to go to the city. So I think that's why I like this area so much. Because everything is here that is needed.

And it's growing a lot. But still has that same kind of slower lifestyle, beach lifestyle.

[Richard Bexon]
My last question, I'll catch you long enough. If you inherited $500,000 and you had to invest into business or real estate in Costa Rica, what would you invest in?

[Sarahy Flores]
I would buy properties in Tamarindo with the best view. That were built in the 90s, in the early 2000s. Which there's so much of.

Because there was a huge boom kind of in the early 2000s. Think 2000 to 2008. Huge boom.

All these places, nothing has been done to them. They have the best location. The most fantastic views.

They rent out the way they are right now. Most of the year. Even in rainy season.

Even in low season. So I would take those and make them now again.

[Richard Bexon]
That's what I would do. I mean, you mentioned it. I've done quite a few of those.

So yeah, it's great. I mean, if you know what you're doing, I think it's great. We got some clients before as well.

[Sarahy Flores]
Yeah, I mean, I think it's just... If you have the location, why not take something... I think it's maybe a little intimidating.

If you see something that is just... That there's nothing about it. That looks good.

That is functional. It's super dated. I think it's intimidating.

And I think people maybe don't think they can get it to where they love it. Because it's so far and maybe hard to visualize. But you can.

And you might... You still will spend the money. You have to tear down to the guts and start kind of fresh.

So it's not going to be necessarily like a much cheaper project than starting over. But you get these locations that you can't get anymore. And these locations are great.

So that's, yeah, 100% how I would spend that half a million.

[Richard Bexon]
Awesome, awesome. Well, Sarai, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on the podcast. I appreciate you taking the time to come on and chat with us.

And anyone that wants to get in contact with you, I'll put all your contact details in the description. But thank you very much for your time.

[Sarahy Flores]
Thank you.

Let's Get in Touch!

We talk to interior designer Sarah Flores about her experience designing layouts and interiors in homes from New York City to Guanacaste, Costa Rica. She tells us about mistakes that many architects make and how interior design can be used to increase your vacation rental income in Costa Rica.

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