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Living & Retiring in Costa Rica Last Updated: May 23rd, 2012 - 17:32:56

Living & retiring in Costa Rica: Living on a Costa Rica Hillside
By Kevin Brass
May 6, 2009, 14:57

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Living & retiring in Costa Rica: Living on a Costa Rica Hillside

After building and selling four houses in Michigan, Mike and Karen Schneider thought they were ready for anything two years ago when they decided to build a house on Costa Rica’s northwest coast.

Living, Retiring Costa Rica

But soon after construction started, their contractor disappeared with what Mr. Schneider would describe only as a “considerable amount of money.” Then they learned it was their responsibility to house and to feed the work crews, a local custom.

“Challenging” is the word Mr. Schneider uses to describe the process. “It’s so different than I’ve ever experienced,” he said.

The result was a two-story, five-bedroom house with tall windows that, on the ground floor, retract to allow the Pacific breezes from the Gulf of Papagayo to cool the rooms. An infinity pool extends to the edge of the property, overlooking a tree-covered hillside that is home to roaming groups of howler monkeys.

The Schneiders, who worked in marketing and advertising in Detroit, discovered Costa Rica on vacation. As a place to semiretire — he is 55, she is 51 — it suited many of their goals, primarily their urge to “get out of the cold,” Mrs. Schneider said.

The Schneiders also liked that Costa Rica is politically stable, and while petty crime is a problem, there is little violence. Plus, there is no capital-gains tax and annual property taxes are relatively low, often only a few hundred dollars a year.

Costa Rica Playa Hermosa Home
The Schneiders settled on Playa Hermosa, a small town along a pristine sandy beach that is about a 20-minute drive from the international airport in Liberia. Although there is a Four Seasons resort on nearby Peninsula Papagayo, many of the roads in Hermosa are unpaved and the town consists of little more than a smattering of small shops and restaurants.

The hillside above the town is covered with a few dozen large houses, many built by Americans, who are increasingly common in town. All the local businesses accept United States dollars and an air-conditioned supermarket recently opened in nearby Coco, catering to the expatriates and tourists in the area.

In 2005, the Schneiders paid $425,000 for a one-acre parcel in the gated community of Monte Paraiso. To design the house, they hired Diane Hancock Designs & Associates, a firm based in White Lake, Mich., which they had used in the past. The couple started with plans for a 2,400-square-foot home but ended with up 4,800 square feet when, as Mr. Schneider described, things “just kept expanding.”

The Schneiders quickly learned how building in Costa Rica is different from Michigan. All the walls had to be made of concrete to meet local earthquake codes, but the standards for basic plumbing and wiring are, were at best, vague, Mr. Schneider said.

And local crews were unfamiliar with many of the features that the Schneiders wanted to install, like the 12-foot-high mesh screens that are motorized to open and close between the living room and the back patio.

“You have to be very exact in explaining what you’re doing,” Mr. Schneider said. Neither of the Schneiders spoke more than a few words of Spanish, further complicating the process.

A self-professed “tech geek” who now runs a small audio/video security company in Hermosa, Mr. Schneider wanted to integrate music and video capabilities with the house’s lighting and security systems. But the workers had “never done a smart house,” Mr. Schneider said. “I learned a lot of electrical terms in Spanish.” Now most of the rooms are connected to a central server, complimented by a 400-DVD changer and Internet-based music systems.

During the most hectic times, Mr. Schneider was on site, supervising construction and overseeing details like the installation of the kitchen garbage disposal.

The couple and their two dogs eventually moved into the house in April 2008, 20 months after construction started and 10 months behind schedule. Ultimately, Mr. Schneider said, they spent about $1.6 million for construction and landscaping, about 20 percent more than they initially budgeted.

The finished house has marble and granite floors, large rooms filled with dark wood furniture and a 30-foot-high entranceway. The Schneiders use one of the five bedrooms as a gym and there are three full bathrooms and two half-baths.

All the furnishings, from the bookcases to the coffee tables, were custom designed in the United States and made in Costa Rica. There also are individual touches throughout the house, like the round shower stalls and ceiling-mounted speakers in the gym that rotate for optimum sound quality at each of the workout machines.

“If you’re doing a custom home, why not do something different?” Mr. Schneider said.

The couple also installed three 1,100-liter (290-gallon) water storage tanks and a generator to cope with the country’s frequent power failures.

Despite all the problems, the Schneiders say they already are thinking about building another house here. “We enjoy the process,” Mrs. Schneider said.

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