Interview With a Luxury Real Estate Broker in Costa Rica: Cristina Jones of WeRCR

I first met Crissy Jones when she was doing public relations for high-end properties in Costa Rica such as Alta Gracia and Mangroove. We met up again recently while I was working on a real estate story about the state of the market there and seeing properties. I got her take on the market there for expats and investors and what it's looking like from her desk at a luxury Costa Rica real estate agency.

I know your tourism industry beginning was in South Beach, Miami. Tell us about your start there.

I started bottoms up and grew from there. I ended up in Miami by vacational coincidence, only after leaving Costa Rica for an extended vacation did I realize I was going to make it my home. Within a couple weeks of being in the States, insurance-less, I got appendicitis and ended up with a few tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. So I decided to find a job to pay them off and pass some time, this at age 18, and it soon became a passion and driver of all the other things I did.

I'm an industry rat and brat no doubt! My way of thinking was forged by these beginnings as my first job was for the infamous Ian Schrager, who is credited with being a pioneer in the boutique hospitality industry and revolutionizing all normal schemes. He believed in hospitality based on the fundamentals of entertainment, and I still carry this with me in my actions and ways.

How did you transition from hospitality PR and marketing to real estate after moving back to Costa Rica?

I opened WeRCR—for We Are Costa Rica—in 2000 but the real estate office came into play at the end of 2016. I moved to Los Reyes, which is in this area called Guacima outside of San Jose, the capital, and I found that there was an opportunity and a lack of professional Realtors in the area. Guacima in the past had been more of a short drive getaway place for San Jose residents, a place you'd come for picnicking on the weekends. It had really gotten developed and it had started to be attractive for expats working in the region.

I have an international background and I was already connected with the expatriate market. I really thought that the expat market was going to gravitate to this area. Over time, that's exactly what happened.

I started on the third floor of my house when we opened the agency, and it was very reactive. It was right after the Zika virus hit and that was all over the news. And then COVID happened a couple of years after that. So coming from a hospitality background, falling into an area that was starting to take off because I just moved here out of coincidence, I put it together and opened WeRCR and a brokerage serving an underserved market. I was the only one concentrating on this development I lived in called Los Reyes and they started calling me La Reina de Los Reyes (The Queen of The Kings) because after COVID-19 Guacima really started booming and I got credited as being the person who positioned this area.

Now everybody in this business thinks of our agency when Guacima comes up. That doesn't mean that we only operate in this area, as we also do a lot of business on the coast, but it's how our name got out there and known. Now after years of closing deals with happy clients, I can see that this hospitality background and a certain level of service that goes above and beyond selling a piece of real estate has helped me develop a good reputation with foreign buyers of real estate in Costa Rica.

Let's talk about the market in general. Who is investing in Costa Rica these days and why there instead of Mexico, another Central American country, or even South America?

I'm seeing a major exodus out of Canada and the United States. One of the biggest markets right now is what we're calling Plan B. Before, Plan B might have been the retirement community that wanted to downsize or chill more and just live a slower-paced life. Plan B now is more people that have done well and are moving their money abroad. I would say that the main bracket is everywhere between your mid-30s to mid-50s. Some of them are young families that still have children but they're just tired of the taxation in North America, or how volatile politics are becoming. Maybe they're concerned with the deterioration of safety in the USA with all the guns and random shootings. Costa Rica is seen as a safe haven.

We have a lot of people coming to invest for residency. After the pandemic, the fact that you could hold the Costa Rican residency was a big factor. That allowed you to still travel when, for example, the Canadian borders were closed. If you held the Costa Rican residency, you were still able to travel. Plus we're a short hop to a lot of other countries by plane and a wide variety of airlines land in our two major airports.

You're starting to see some self-sustainable communities here too. They grow their own food, they're off the electric grid entirely. But with like-minded people. You have some of the biggest names in tech living in these communities. They have exited and sold their companies and they are coming down here to continue their Plan B. This is their next phase in life and I would definitely say that asset security is huge. Some are afraid of putting their money into the formal banking system in the United States or Canada for a variety of reasons.

Some people are coming down with kids and they want to give them just a different cultural experience, but we're really being ranked frequently as the #1 spot for investors like nomad capitalists and expats with money they want to move abroad.

How does the process start with clients who don't know much about Costa Rica?

Sometimes we are like a private investment organization where you come down and we take care of everything from the intent to the transactions to the business set-ups. We'll host customized real estate investment tours. We will show you around to give you a look and feel for different regions. We'll walk you through the process of investing in real estate and becoming a legal resident. With a minimum $150,000 investment you can apply for residency, and we have investors right now that are buying residences for 4 or 5 million dollars that would be $22 million in the Canadian market now.

We are catering to nomad capitalists and investors who want to pull their money out of North America and invest it in Costa Rica in real estate as a more secure asset. We offer an easy way for people to diversify their assets in a country that has great lifestyle advantages as well. We offer full relocation service for those who want it and take people through the whole process from the research phase to settling in.

How do you apply your hospitality background to the process once buyers are working with you?

That's very important and it's one of the things that makes us different in this market. This is not about just buying a piece of real estate, a piece of real estate is a means to an end. It'll get you the residency and it will get you out here, but this is not your traditional move.

Let's use my most recent client as an example. A Canadian sold his company for $40 million plus while still under 50. And his total taxation rate is about 58%. He's saying, "I need to get out of my country and get my assets out of out of there." He was looking at Costa Rica and Panama. So he reaches out and we start this with a conversation, then an in-depth real estate tour, which is not about buying a particular property, but it's about getting your boundaries set. Do you want to live on the beach? This is what it's like. Do you want to live in the city? This is what it's like.

He ends up wanting to live in the outskirts of the city because he's close to medical services, he needed fast fiber internet that's stable, access to amenities. We've got our trusted legal partner which will start all of the relocation process and hold the client's hand, everything from opening their bank accounts to getting their residency paperwork straight. Then we will help them open their escrow, nationalize their money, set up what they'll need for their dream lifestyle.

Once that transaction is finalized, we will stay on for six weeks to help with the transition. Maybe the buyer needs to buy a car. Maybe they don't know where to start for buying furniture. Do you need decoration services? Assuming they want the services, we walk in there with what we call a home installation, which is really a home deployment. We go in there with 17 industrial professional cleaners that scrub everything from AC vents to the stones in the water features. We buy all new linens for the entire property. We set up the beds so they're up to the caliber of The Four Seasons. Obviously this is a luxury service; there are people that are purchasing investment products that are for Airbnb and we'll do all that on a smaller scale.

So it really depends on if you're an investor that is coming to live in Costa Rica or you are an investor that is just looking to put your money here and get some sort of return on it. In any case, we will stay with you and offer you assistance with everything related to not just the transaction but the transition. We'll line up plumbers if needed, we're validating all the guarantees on the house, we're arranging a hold back amount for six weeks that we've negotiated with prior ownership to ensure that if anything goes wrong that wasn't disclosed or didn't come up during the inspection, that we have the means to fix it. We simply take care of what needs to be done, like installing the curtains, showing them where the grocery stores are, helping them buy carsv or arranging school visits to find the right one. If they need to extend that service beyond six weeks, we can offer an extended relocation services package.

If somebody's got a million or two dollars to invest in Costa Rica real estate from a windfall or after selling their house in the US or Canada, where would you take them?

I do think Costa Rica is a country that has it all in terms of options. There are towns here that are very lipstick hippie that are laid back. There are towns here that are very developed and luxurious, like Las Catalinas. Las Catalinas is a pedestrian-focused community, but seaside. We've got some incredible properties there that range between $400,000 and multiple millions plus and this is a place that is all about community. You have everything within walking distance, from your grocery store to the surf shop to multiple restaurants. And it's really about being friends with the neighbors. There's a fantastic vacation rental return because it is a major destination but it's very contained.

The other area that I would highlight is the one I originally mentioned, Guacima, which is outside the general metropolitan area of San Jose. We have listings there from anywhere from half a million to about $3,000,000. You get panoramic mountain views and with the square footage of these homes you could easily pay five times as much in North America. It's just 20 minutes from the international airport. The three best schools that are in the capital have now relocated to the area.

It's also about 10 minutes from a major international corporate park with a lot of major international companies like Boston Scientific that have high-paid workers. This is also a really good fit for people who want to leave the United States or Canada and come see Costa Rica for what it's known for, like its nature, its greenery, its fresh air, its security safety—but not feel like they're in the boonies. You can still go to the movie theater, you know?

Another area that we're very keen on right now is the Central Pacific. We are selling units in a unique project at Faro Escondido. It used to be all Costa Rican family money, but it has recently been developed in an area that wasn't available previously, right over the water. For about $1.5 to $2 million with panoramic 180° views in this exclusive project called Nerea. (See the details here.)

We also have a fantastic product in Manuel Antonio called Los Altos, which is more of an investment product. You buy a large condo unit that you're going to use for a few weeks out of the year, but it sustains itself through vacation rentals. It produces an income that stays safe in Costa Rica, so it's a low-maintenance investment that you can enjoy sometimes.

It seems like there is a real estate agency everywhere you look in Costa Rica. Why should expats work with someone like you as opposed to one of the big franchise types of places?

We are an independent agency and the fact that we are not branded by a franchise means that we have a lot more flexibility in the way that we operate. We're not tied into franchise fees so we're good negotiators. We call the shots and that's important.

I'm also on the Board of directors of the International Global Association of Realtors. I'm an international realtor with credentials. I'm certified as in as a Realtor in the USA and I'm part of NAR, which is the National Association of Realtors, and that means that I understand how real estate is done on international level. We cater to expats and know their standards.

We deliver a much higher level of service here than you would normally get from a real estate agency. Going back to my hospitality days, we try to inject that into our operations as much as possible. Being an expat at times myself, having lived abroad for so many years, I know what it's like to pop in somewhere as a foreigner and that enables me to relate to the clients differently.

Crissy Jones is the owner and head broker at WeRCR, a luxury real estate agency serving foreigners relocating to or investing in Costa Rica. To discuss what you can get for your budget of $300K to $35 million (an entire hotel with space to build villas with panoramic ocean views), get on her calendar here to set up a no-obligation consultation call.

Interview conducted by Luxury Latin America editor Timothy Scott.