Looking at Dome's Beach from El Faro Park

Friday, August 28, 2009

Destiny Strikes Again!

So it is the next to last day of our vacation and we know exactly what we're looking for; a house or land in the Puntas area of Rincon for under $100k. We drove the 3 streets that go down the hill from the 413 to the beaches and saw plenty of Se Vende signs with phone numbers, but mostly no answers or prices way beyond our means. At 10am we met with our realtor, Greg to look inside the house we drove by the day before.

He didn't have much nice to say about it. No one had lived there for awhile, it would take upwards of $20k to get it in livable condition, the driveway and condition of the house itself was questionable and he couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't slip down the hill the next hurricane season. But we liked it. The main part of the house had 2 small bedrooms and 1 bathroom. There was a small kitchen and 3 other rooms. In a seperate apartment downstairs was another bathroom and 2 more rooms with a kitchenette. The condition was terrible, there were cracks in the concrete and spots where rebar ws showing through. The roof needed repair and water damage was everywhere. Nothing upstairs was salvagable, it would have to be gutted.

But near the driveway a large Flamboyan tree shaded the south side of the house and gave off vibrant red flowers while hiding any view of the southern neighbors house. The veranda was a small walkway on the east side of the house that looked down over a small valley of jungle and the sea beyond. Down the hill, what once was a terraced landscape was overgrown with Flamboyan saplings, weeds and banana trees. I knew the view alone was worth the $139k asking price. As the cliche of a million dollar view came to mind, this house was beginning to seem like a bargain.

Later we ran into Steve, the owner of the Lazy Parrot and asked him if he knew anyone who could give us a quick assessment of the condition of the structural elements of the house. We were just looking for assurances that it wouldn't fall down the hill in the next hurricane season. He told us he had done construction work in Texas before he came to own the lazy Parrot and would be happy to look at the house for us. 15 minutes later we were at the house and Steve was telling us how he had put in the tile floor of the lower apartment for a woman who was renting it and working at the Lazy Parrot.

Now usually when things come together like this, I run away. There are too many coincidences, nothing is coincidence..., blah, blah, blah. But as I linked the dots to us getting to this point, it even sounds crazy to me, but it seemed clear that it was our destiny to own this house! Once Steve assured us of the house's relatve stability, we began working with the numbers.

The original asking price was $178k, recently reduced to $139k. We could come up with about $90k cash, but didn't want to have to take a loan out. Speaking with the realtor who had the listing, we wondered aloud if a $90k offer would be insulting. He didn't seem to think so and we went to Island West to make up an offer.

That night we packed our bags for the trip back to Los Angeles. Not wanting to set ourselves up for a big let down, we didn't put much hope in the offer being accepted, but we did wonder how long it would take to hear back. We discussed various scenarios; what kind of counter-offer could be made, how could we come up with more money, was this the right thing to do? We've only been here 4 days, this is CRAZY!

The next day we drove to San Juan and spoke of little else other than the small slice of paradise that was just within reach. If only! We leaned against each other at the American Airlines terminal waiting for our flight to board, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for something to break up the spell we had been put under. And then the phone did ring, I watched Cyndi's face as tears welled up and she began to jump up and down. The offer was accepted, the house on the hill in the middle of paradise was ours.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rincon Real Estate From The Pueblo to Puntas

Once we decided we were interested in living in Rincon we stopped at a real estate office called Island West Properties, located on the 413, "the Road to Happiness", the small looping road that connects Rincon's surfing beaches and hillside neighborhoods to the 115, the main highway into and out of Rincon. They had some property listings on their walls, mostly condos and houses in the $200k to $300k price range, a little out of our budget. We were looking for a condo or house for about $100k or possibly land for that price which we could build on at a later date.

We spoke to a realtor, who pointed out a few pieces of land at that price, a tear down house and another house that was a little more than we could afford. We got the directions and drove out. The first few places we looked at were in an area called the Pueblo, which is off the 115, close to the main town plaza and the public beaches and is mostly flat. We liked the proximity to the beaches, but we noticed it was considerably warmer down here, away from the hills, and also the beaches in the southern part of Rincon don't have the great surfing that is found around the point to the north.

We had 2 more properties to look at on our list, both were in Puntas, the northern part of Rincon which is looped by the 413 and contains all the great surfing beaches. Our first stop was a piece of land on the side of a hill with beautiful views, the asking price was $110k. Very nice location, but the property was a sloped piece of hilltop and would require alot of grading and money before we could do anything else. The other property was a run down as-is house with the price cut from $178k to $139k. We knew it was more than we could afford and would need more work and money, but what potential!

The house was built into a hillside, made from concrete with a large concrete driveway and a small veranda overlooking a valley dense with jungle, palms and mango trees. In the distance, the next town of Aguada and further, the town of Aguadilla could be seen, along with a small portion of the sea. All around the house was overgrown and peeking in through the windows all we could see was headaches and the dollar bills we would need to spend to make it livable.

That night, while sipping Mojitos at the Rum Shack, the bar at the Lazy Parrot, we talked about what we saw and our options. Maybe we could buy the land and put a trailer on it, use it for vacation. The tear down house in the Pueblo would be perfect for that. But the views from Puntas and the beaches made our decision for us; we would focus our search on that area. The next day we made plans for our realtor Greg to show us the run down house on the hill and we would drive the hillside streets to see if there were other properties for sale.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why Puerto Rico, Why Rincon?

Living in Southern California has alot of advantages; the weather, the beaches, but the longer I live there the more I see how the traffic and high costs of living take the joy from what could be paradise. My ,wife Cyndi has lived in Cancun and the Bermuda and wanted to get back to the Caribbean and we have looked into moving to Hawaii (too expensive) and Mexico and Central America (too risky).
So in February 2009 we planned a weeklong trip with the $400 roundtrip ticket probably the biggest deciding factor in choosing Puerto Rico. Of course the fact that Puerto Rico is part of the US and the currency is the same and there aren't any problems with purchasing real estate made us want to see if we could be happy there. We didn't really know what to expect and things got off to a bad start when our flight was cancelled out of LAX. We almost decided then and there not to go, thankfully we didn't.
The first night we stayed in San Juan at a small, B&B type of place that was cheap, but somewhat depressing. We ate dinner at a restaurant specializing in Puerto Rican food and I had my firs taste of Mofungo, the natonal dish that is mashed up plantains and garlic and it was ok, but the whole experience of the first day was underwhelming, I was looking forward to getting out of San Juan and seeing the rest of the island.
The next morning we drove to Ponce, on the southern side of the island. The road was a nice wide toll highway (get quarters before you leave San Juan) and it took us about 40 minutes, but we decided to keep driving and get to our next destination which was a place called Combate Beach, also on the southern side of the island, but west from Ponce.
Finding the Combate Beach Hotel was a little difficult, but the proprietor gave us great directions and fed us a fantastic meal. He was very nice and the room was much better than the previous night in San Juan. The beach was beautiful, perfect for swimming and a 2 minute walk from the hotel. The water was warm and the surf was nonexistent, great for families and older folks, but not what we were looking for.
So the next morning we set out north for Isabella, with a short stop in a town called Rincon. The drive was beautiful, small two-lane roads, but amazing scenery and the turnoff to Rincon was a road with a canopy of Mango trees. When we stopped at a small bakery called EC Bakery to get some coffee, I wasn't sure if we had reached Rincon or not. Looking around the flyers we saw one for an inn in Rincon called The Lazy Parrot ( Little did we know it at the time, but this was one of those moments that would change our lives forever. We decided to check out the Lazy Parrot's rates and after a phone call and another beautiful drive along palm studded coastline and into the hills overlooking the beach, we found ourselves at this "mini resort" with reasonable rates and a pool and bar that we couldn't resist.
We spent the next 2 days in Rincon, discovering the surf town we've always wished we could own a home in, but could never afford. The beaches had it all, beautiful waves, sand, palms, sunsets and warm water. There were trees everywhere and winding roads through hills that gave way to incredible ocean vistas and a large North American population that seemed to blend well with the locals.
After 2 days we decided to head to Isabella and the beaches and surf that we had heard so much about, just north of Rincon. We stayed at the Parador Villas Del Mar Hau, a bunch of bungalows spread along a beautiful bay with a swimming beach and surfing nearby. They also have horse riding and a beachfront restaurant. Any other time, we would have been happy there, but we had just come from our destiny and we knew it. We spent 2 nights in Isabella and drove back down to Rincon to finish our vacation and possibly look at some property.