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196 How investing in Costa Rica gives back to local communities

196 How investing in Costa Rica gives back to local communities
196 How investing in Costa Rica gives back to local communities

Podcast Transcription


[Richard Bexon]

Good morning, Maria Marta, how are you?

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Good morning, Richard. Thank you for having me in your space. I'm delighted to be a part of your, of your projects.

I've heard amazing things about you and amazing things about your projects. I didn't realize you were involved in so many things that have affected positively Costa Rican community. It's, thank you.

I, I really admire that about you, and I admire that you're bilingual.

[Richard Bexon]
Not at all. Not at all. I mean, well, to live in Costa Rica for so many years, I mean, it's, very difficult not to be.

I think if you're going to do anything in this country, you need to be able to speak Spanish anyway. And, you know, I don't think it's that difficult a language to learn. French was definitely a lot more difficult, that's for sure.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Oh, if you went through French, Spanish is much easier.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, well, appreciate your kind words, Maria Marta.

I mean, let me get straight into the podcast here. I mean, you know, markets have, I suppose markets of 2024 kind of been a little, you know, they've been okay. They've been pretty good, actually.

You know, real estate though has not been great kind of worldwide, you know, with raising, rising interest rates or what now I would say stable higher interest rates, you know, we're not seeing the movement that we did in the real estate market before. I mean, what's happening here in Costa Rica and especially in your area of the country?

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Well, what's happening, I think in, in investments around the world, it's that people are realizing the importance of diversification. And so if you have your money invested only in a certain kind of asset, or, or if you if you're, if you're to invest it in just one industry, one country, one region, that makes you vulnerable. And more and more people want to have a worldwide diversification that makes them strong.

And real estate is always going to be a good investment. So if you are short on that side, Costa Rica presents an amazing opportunity, just because we keep being keep being like the best social democracy in the world, with great social institutions, and things that can be implemented, that practically protect the and beyond what they can imagine. I think that Costa Rica is to international investors, like what my Mac computer is to me, I know I underuse it, because I'm not qualified to use it.

But it does such marvelous things for me, that if I only talk to the experts, I could be using more of my Mac computer than I do, for example.

[Richard Bexon]
That's a great way to look at it. I've never heard that kind of expression. But yeah, I mean, I agree.

You speak to the experts in Costa Rica, and there's a lot more that you could be doing here. So I mean, give us an idea of the work that you do, if you don't mind me asking.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Well, I could tell you like, what in real estate does that we have like the best properties and that we're client oriented, and that we're service oriented, and that will get to know you and take you by the hand and pamper you and, and just make things simple for you. But what we do different in my venture that I cannot yet tell you the name, because we're starting this venture is my associates, my associates, and I better point me right now, my associates and I are we orchestrate and we specialize in having connections in with all the different experts in the different areas, because what was lacking in the market was somebody who was connected with everybody and everything.

So what we do different is we consult in not only in construction development, but we consult in community development. So that expertise makes us different because we when we get to know our clients needs, we know what kind of community they want to live in. And we know the social democratic tools that they have to be happy here.

So taxes, for example, that's something that everybody is concerned about. So they are concerned about taxes. And, and they are only wanting to talk to lawyers to know how do I do this with my taxes from the country I come from, and then the taxes in this and that.

And then they say, Oh, my God, Costa Rica has such a high sales tax, it's 13%. But they have no idea that they have a human rights treaty that protects them into being part of a community. And that by law, 2% of that sales tax goes directly into communities.

And if they organize, they can get advantages for that. And they can have their own corporations working for their own things, like for example, transport, waste management, whatever they're interested in their communities.

[Richard Bexon]
Wow. I mean, can can you give us an idea of some projects that you've worked on kind of work that you do? I mean, you've mentioned that, you know, kind of community I've saw, you know, that you're involved in a few NGOs here.

I mean, give us an idea of some of that work.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Well, for example, I have owned a property in Playa Hermosa since 2007. And I bought it knowing that I was going to come and live here when my children grew up. So I sold my property in I used to live in Montaña del Sol in the Santana area, I sold my home there.

I used to have a farm in Barba de Heredia, I sold that as well, because I knew I wanted to leave this stage in my life here. But I also came with the idea, if you come to a community, very much like your philosophy, Richard, is like if you come to a community, you have to make it better, because you're working for your future. So I said, I want to live in a place that's nice to live from now on, into my elder years.

And so I started looking at what was different in Playa Hermosa, what was lacking. And unlike our neighbors, from Playa del Coco and Playa Panama, Playa Hermosa did not have an association, and Playa Hermosa did not have an emergency committee. So I founded both of them.

I led the foundation of both of them in Playa Hermosa. And now Playa Hermosa has even had the recognition of the United Nations, of UNESCO, for being a tsunami-ready community. So when you understand these social instruments that are in Costa Rica, you can get a lot out of a community.

So for example, children from 12, ages 12 and above, can conform a specific association, and they can be concerned that they do not have a skate park. And they will receive funds from the government, from this law that allows them to receive funds, that is 2% of the sales tax. And they can have their own park, and they can manage it.

And it can be sustainable, because the park gives them an earning, because they charge the entry, or they're charged for the bathrooms or whatever.

[Richard Bexon]
You know, not even I knew that 2% went back into social work, to be honest with you, Maria Marten, that you could again, you know, if you had a development group in the area, I mean, that's really nice to know. But I think it takes people like yourself that understand the inner workings of that stuff, you know, of that stuff within the government here, you know, in municipalities, of like, how that works to get that work done. Because again, Costa Rica is not simple, it's beautiful.

But there is, unfortunately, nothing is ever easy. But every so often, you'll be surprised.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
So that's what makes my firm different. Yeah, we, we are very much involved with the institutions and with all these community, community things that you can do in Costa Rica. And by just knowing you're right, it's like people are maybe too accustomed to just, okay, how can I deduct from my taxes, this, that and the other.

So you, you look into foundations and opportunities and everything. And you start doing this. And once you have an association, you can link it to foundations.

Like, for example, the Costa Rica USA CRUSA Foundation, from CRUSA Foundation, another foundation was born that's called Amigos of Costa Rica. So if you have your, if you have your association, your association can affiliate with Amigos of Costa Rica. And then a, the donations that come from expats from the United States, or from anybody in the United States are eligible for tax deduction.

So all these little nuggets of knowledge of how to handle foundations, and social institutions and human rights and everything does make a difference in the investor that comes to Costa Rica, because you're going to say, oh, wow, but to benefit from all of these, you have to live in Costa Rica. But these, they are protected by law, even if they only own in Costa Rica. And they can take a part of this.

So if you are an owner in a community, or you live in a community, you can benefit from institutions like the emergency committees and the associations of development.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah. Well, let me just change gears a little bit into into kind of real estate and investing in that area of the country. I mean, you're up there in Hermosa, I'm sure that you see it all the time.

I mean, what is happening in the real estate market there? Because I mean, what we're seeing in other areas of Guanacaste is, you know, I mean, we're seeing some heavy price reductions, not in the main areas, but like, you know, on the outside, peripheral areas, you know, Portrero, Villarreal, Huacas, you know, Avianas, like not the main Tamarindo, you know, Playa Grande, Flamingo, etc, like the cores. I mean, what are you guys seeing just a little bit further north?

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Well, here, we're seeing the contrary, we're seeing like a rising prices, we're seeing a lot of movement, we have huge developments coming, a lot of new hotels, chain hotels, with a lot of prestige, like the Waldorf Astoria, and the Discovery Project in Zapotal, etc, etc. And all of these projects are bringing opportunities, because who's going to service these projects? Who are going to be the managers?

So there's a lot of possibility investment in real estate, in housing for all of these people that come to work in these hotels, that there's a lot of land here, it's Guanacaste, and specifically the north has a lot of farmland, and a lot of that's just there for construction, and you have beautiful views of the ocean, you have beautiful valley views, and you have the possibility to work with urban planning in a way that you don't have in other parts of the country, just because there's so much land.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah, yeah. Well, and you guys have pretty good water infrastructure, but I say you have pretty good water infrastructure, I'm working with an Asada up there in Playa Hermosa at the moment, it's not that great, but anyway, in some areas it's great, in some areas it's not, but like I think out towards all those kind of those areas, it's pretty good out there. So I mean, I think that that's the one thing that is lacking in Costa Rica, is more affordable living for people that are working in those areas, and it's everywhere.

I mean, a lot of people in, I would say hotel owners and people that work in Asada, Santa Teresa, Tamarindo, but Tamarindo I think you've got a little bit more out in Villarreal and Huacas, but really around that area, it's lacking.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
It is, but exactly where things are lacking is where you have the opportunity of business and investment.

[Richard Bexon]

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
And there's a lot of research going on on sustainability and what you can do to bring projects and sources of water and to bring all this nature into the different developments. So if you look, if you look into developments that are giving this kind of housing, but it's not only like housing, housing, housing, but it's like full-on services. And I'm not talking your typical convenience store and bank teller.

I'm talking about things that go beyond that. Like for example, shelters that are also hotels for, so we are starting to see phenomenons here. I'm going to give an example, like the amazing, the past school here in Carrillo where children that can afford to pay the tuition, families that can afford to pay the tuition are paying tuition for families that are not so fortunate.

So you're going to see those phenomenons happening in animal care, in schooling, in homes for the elders. So that, for example, elder homes that are like, everybody's looking to very good places to where to have the golden years for their parents. What if that was something with a Costa Rican philosophy that those with a need are helped by those who have the possibility.

And so you have different kinds of institutions. So if you have urban planning that involves these kinds of services, then you're making a difference. And the North Pacific has the potential of this urban planning just because of the size of the lands here.

[Richard Bexon]

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
You have, practically everything the light touches is your kingdom in Guanacaste.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah. I mean, you mentioned something there, which was interesting. You mentioned golden years.

I think there is a huge opportunity in Costa Rica for that development that you see up in, you know, up in Florida that, you know, when you want to move into, I'm not saying a community, you know, and there are certain stages in that, you know, depending on where you are in those golden years. But I think there's a huge opportunity in Costa Rica to do that just because healthcare is pretty good here, but like, you know, the attention that you could get in healthcare as well, and just the quality of life and living here in Costa Rica could be interesting.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Yeah, it is interesting. It is interesting because of very good health services and very good health practitioners. And just because of nature giving you health and also this interaction with the community.

So what is the, what is what everybody's talking about the blue zones? What is it that makes blue zones places where people live to get to be a hundred years? And it's this concept that involves communities in which you have children interacting with pets, interacting with the elders, interacting with the families that have to go to work.

So it depends on the kind of person that wants to retire here, because the retiring years are changing. The people that are coming are healthier and living longer and more interested in sustainability and more interested. You see a change.

The people that are starting to come to Costa Rica are people that are interested in service, sustainability, community, ocean, forest, nature. Even the elders are changing just because of a different approach to the golden years or to becoming old. It's like those of us who are getting into our sixties, we feel like really, I don't really feel like I'm going to be 60.

I feel like I'm younger. Right. And I feel like I have a lot of life ahead of me that's happening to those in their seventies.

And that's happening to those in their eighties. They, I didn't realize I was going to have so much energy at this stage in my life. And so it comes to a point where, okay, golf's okay.

Golfing is okay, but I'm really enjoying the community fair. And I'm really enjoying being a part of these and going to the community church. And I'm really enjoying the pickle ball and I'm really enjoying this.

And so it's a great time of opportunity in Guanacaste. The next 10 years are going to be amazing. And it's the place to be.

Of course we have problems, but now, because again, our social democratic institutions, and because of a better law that came into reinforcing our democracy in which now we got rid of all the corruption, for example, in Carillo, we had a for 20 years. So Carillo said no more and corruption is gone. And now we have decent people making things happen, changing the things.

And once you see that's possible, then that it's like taking a truck, taking the piece of wood where I was not allowing the water to flow. The water is flowing into better times to come in the Carillo area in which you will have much better relationships with the municipality into when things are going to flow and it's going to be possible to work and invest in this area.

[Richard Bexon]
Wow. I mean, what do you think of some of the misconceptions people have about investing in Costa Rica, María Magda? Beyond it's cheap.

You know, I mean, a lot of people think Costa Rica is affordable and it can be in certain areas, but I mean, it's not the country it used to be, you know, 20 years ago, 30 years ago.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Well. Misconceptions always come from expectations and false expectations come from not doing your homework, and it doesn't make any sense anymore with all the artificial intelligence in hand and with all the information in hand is like you can do very specific homework on what interests you and make sure that you don't have the wrong idea when you're coming to invest here. So it depends on what kind of investor you are.

If you are an investor and if your approach is a wholesome one or you're just only interested in the money rotation. And so, of course, there are areas in which that works, but there are also areas in which you can say, well, I'm going to enjoy this and use it and live the life because we do have the life here. We do have the life here just because of nature and services and the wholesomeness of Costa Rica.

And then when I'm ready to let this go, it's going to sell so quickly. And so it depends on what spectrum you are. Are you just a numbers investor?

But we are in the eyes of the world, and we're not only in the eyes of the world of North America and Europe like we used to be, but now we are in the eyes of the world because we are in the eyes of the world of mainland China and Arab Emirates. So, of course, we are in the eyes of the world. We're still this beautiful jewel despite everything that's going on, but a lot can be done if you are interested in Costa Rica and you are hands on.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah, I mean, I think it's difficult to make a quick buck in Costa Rica, if that makes sense. It's not like the U.S. where you can just go in and kind of buy something and then kind of do syndication style deals, etc.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
I completely agree with you. Costa Rica is not a fast buck place. We're not a fast crop country, but here is where the best hardwood trees are going to grow if you're investing.

[Richard Bexon]
I agree. I mean, I think it has to be a long term investment, but you have to, as you mentioned from the beginning, you have to be part of that community because this country is built on relationships. Like you can come here with as much money as you want, but if you don't have a great team and a good network here, you're not getting it done.

Like, I mean, you know, I mean, I mean, take, you know, oh, I mean, I can't even remember his name now, Steve from, you know, the Cacique project. I mean, that took a long time to get moving, you know, the previous owner of AOL. And I mean, that guy's a billionaire.

And like sometimes it's just not that easy in Costa Rica, unfortunately, like things take time and you need to be willing to take a 20, 30 year vision on big developments.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
See, but what things had to do with Costa Rica and what things were the 2008 blow to the world markets and what was COVID. So certain things absolutely have to do and what was corruption. So COVID has COVID happened to all of us.

Corruption happens to all of us, but we have a lot of advantages here in Costa Rica, both. We had a lot of advantages 2008. We had a lot of advantages COVID wise, and we have a lot of advantages corruption wise.

So what I'm thinking is my father used to say, Costa Rica is like a funnel. He has a very wide opening and a very narrow escape or in terms that some people will get better is some kind of a suite hotel, California, right? It's like you check in and it's hard to check out or you can't check out.

But it's like Costa Rica is going to own your heart. If you come here just with your mind, eventually it will get to your heart. And some things will be frustrating, but it will depend on you and the homework you do for it not to be frustrating because all of the tools are there.

All of the good main things that you need to make it what you want it to be. For me, this is the place of opportunities right now. Guanacaste is the land of opportunity right now, but you have to do your homework and you have to be hands-on and you have to put your heart and your spirit and your head on it.

If you're just, yeah, I'm gonna drop some money there. I have millions of dollars and I can give some millions of them. You're going to go down the drain.

But if you come here with a hundred thousand dollars, but you bring your heart, then you're going to see them grow.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah. What products do you think are missing in Guanacaste? Like what type of services?

I mean, businesses, products. I mean, people are constantly looking to move or potentially invest.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Parking lots. We need parking lots. We desperately need parking lots.

Absolutely. So whoever, okay, forever, forever, when I was a little girl, if you would go to the coast, people built in an intelligent way. Below the house, you would have Las Lanchas, the boats and the cars.

And all the housing was on the second floor. So what are we lacking here? No parking lots.

Whoever brings in parking lots is going to make the box here because no parking lot.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah. But you're talking about in main areas though, right? I mean, I can even say it in the point of La Sabana, you know, you see all this development in Romaso with these towers and stuff, but like, and everyone's parking out in the streets.

I mean, they were just to do a multi-story car park there or something like it would do really well.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Parking lots. Definitely.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah. Wow. Never even really thought about that, but okay.

I've kept you long enough, but my last question for you, which I last asked, love to ask everyone, if you inherited $500,000 and you had to invest it into a business or real estate in Costa Rica, where would you invest it? And what would you invest it in? And why?

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
I would invest it in, in not that prime real estate. That's just like La Jolla type. I have the best view of the whatever, but I would invest it in, in these housing for the management that services all those high-end housing and hotels, because that's going to have, you're going to, you're going to have good tenants.

They're going to be working all day. They're not going to be damaging your spot. You're going to have, you're going to make sure that it's always rented.

It's going to be such a nice quality that even if you had to end up living there, you could live there and have a great life because it's going to be close to the, close to the beaches, to the best beaches of the world, to the best volcanoes of the world, to the best vacation or lifestyle in the world. And, and you, and you see the rotation of the money and it's going to have all the servicing and, you know, good, good companies that will do that, the cleaning, that maintenance, that everything is going to be, it's going to be professionally handled. You are going to be close to, to good airports.

And, and then you have a great investment. I definitely do that. I would invest in three or two, three or four units in, in that kind of housing.

Absolutely. Because that's where the opportunity is. That's where, especially if they have good parking.

[Richard Bexon]
Yeah. I mean, look, it's not a sexy investment, if that makes sense. It's not ocean views or ocean, like, but it's, if it's an investment.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Ah, okay. Now you said that perfect word. Now you said that clue word for me.

[Richard Bexon]

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Because if, if, if you have, you said remit, I think his name is remit. I might have it wrong, but he talks about this. And I have been two decades, more than two decades in the offshore investment business and sexy investments are an illusion.

What makes the box is the, the boring ones, all that cost averaging regular savings and investment throughout the years. And these investment I'm talking in real estate is that kind of investment. You're not going to make a quick buck here, but you can have solid investments that are going to, that you're going to sleep well at night, every night and be at peace and everything's like, just put out here.

[Richard Bexon]
Awesome. Well, that's a great way to end the, end the podcast. My name, I really appreciate you taking time to come on and anyone that wants to get in contact with you, I'll put all your descriptions and contact details down below, but thank you very much.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Thank you, Richard, for the opportunity. I look forward to getting to know more about you and the things you do in Costa Rica. Right now, I'm impressed by your Spanish, by everything you've been doing and by the scope of your influence, because it's nationwide.

So thank you very much.

[Richard Bexon]
Not at all. The pleasure's been mine. Thank you.

[Maria Marta Alfaro Chamberlain]
Okay. Bye.

Let's Get in Touch!

Today, we chat with Maria Marta Alfaro, Board Member of the Playa Hermosa Development Association and Real Estate Advisor for Pacific Coast Real Estate. We talk about the impact investing has on communities and where she believes the opportunity lies in investing in Costa Rica.

Free Consultation:

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