Interview with George Lundquist About Tours and Truths of Costa Rica
Like many here in Central America, when I first came here I tried to figure out a lot on my own. For a young man, it might be fine. But as I think about what I would recommend to someone 50 or 60 years old – I certainly wouldn’t recommend the same thing. I recently ran across a website for a business that I think is worth investigating for anyone considering moving to Central America.
The website is www.costaricaretireonss.com. Today I spent a half-hour talking with the owner, George Lundquist, and I share here the transcript of what we talked about (I was typing as we talked). He runs short tours to get to know Costa Rica. He’s also a developer. While I think it would be foolish for anyone to talk only to developers, I also think it would be foolish to ignore someone just because he’s a developer. And the price of the tours looks very reasonable. Just keep your head on your shoulders, and learn from anyone you can. Here’s my conversation with George.
George: I’ve lived here seven years, and I’ll die here. Now I’m living in Barbacoas de Puriscal. By the way, there’s also a video on my website to take a look at.
Peter: How many tours do you do a year?
George: 1-2 a month, with normally 8-10 on each tour. It’s four days of intense exposure to whether or not you really want to live in Costa Rica.
Peter: What goals do people have in the tours?
George: To expose them to actually living here. Our first words are, “You must open your mind. You don’t know what you want, it’s a very different life and a different culture. I’m going to introduce you to all kinds of people actually living here in lots of stages of moving here – building a house, been here ten years, just got here, and so on – and all kinds of new places; it’s easy to fall in lust with Costa Rica, you think everybody’s perfect – but you really don’t know whether you can live here. So we try to be more realistic and find out whether you really want to live here at all and if so, full or part time.”
Peter: Where do your tours typically go?
George: My first time here was in 1989, and I fell in lust with the country. I have eliminated lots of places for lots of reasons, and so we don’t go to those. The goal of the tour is four days, and during that tour you get exposed to the differences in views, the different altitudes. We give you the chance to experiences the various elevations and find out what you like.
Peter: How many of each 10 or so from your tours later move to CR?
George: Hard to say – I don’t do follow-ups – sometimes all do, but not for sure, maybe 70%. When I came here, I didn’t know anything. I took the ARCR seminar, and that wasn’t very helpful. They promote Escazu and Santa Ana and the gated communities, and I found that the life in rural Costa Rica is way superior to the traffic and the vulgularies that is going on in the high-dollar places. There are some people who just cannot live out of their comfort zone – the main factor is, we find out – how seriously do they take themselves. We the typical USAan – we think the USA is the measure of all things. Well, if after four days, after seeing the hospitals, and once they get past the basic questions about drinking the water and malaria shots (seriously), we see if their way of thinking has opened up, and we know if they’re the kind of person who can make it here.
I don’t pull any pull any punches, and I don’t try to get ‘em to move here, so yeah, 60%-80% move here, and most of them stick. The tour has prepared them – gotten them a network and the knowledge.
This contrasts with those who just come and fall in lust, buy a condo, quickly get pissed off because the Ticos don’t speak English, a higher percentage of those fail.
Peter: Do you work with any real estate agents in any way?
George: I am a developer myself, and I have developers who can do turnkey things. But in general I don’t work with them. Once they’ve done the tour, they’ve got a good idea of the benchmarks and can find the right thing for them on their own. They’re qualified and competent to know whether something is a good value for them.
Pretty much everybody I introduce people to came like me to be retired and later ended up building and developing because it was fun, and somebody had to do it. Many evolved into doing development because there wasn’t anybody building.
Peter: What experience do you have with Panama? Nicaragua?
George: Been to all of the above. Because o the lack of infrastructure and lack of culture and the political b******t, I wouldn’t even think of living in either one of those, especially Nicaragua.
Even here, there’s a lot of people I’ve met who’ve gotten their ass into big trouble – who come complaining to me, who buy something that is cheap but cheap for a reason, and they find the cheapest contractor, and try to **** the contractor over, and then they get into trouble.
I meet people who decide not to take the tour because they’re going to save a thousand dollars, and they later come and complain about what happened. Well, there’s nothing I can do about it.
On another note, I’ve got my reputation on the line. I’ve got people who call me and say they’ve got this property and they are places that I think are not as good a quality to live, and they offer me a 20% commission, like at Parrita, and I tell them forget it, I will not bring my people by there, those places offer no quality of life. Jaco? You might as well move into the slums of New York City. I’m trying to teach people about the good life you can have here. “But we give big commission,” they all say. “I don’t care.” I say.
By the way we’re on social security and we can live really, really well on social security. Peter: How much do you need to buy a house and then live on a monthly basis?
George: To give you the number is really difficult because some will tie onto that. But you can buy a livable house for 55k and livable means it has a light bulb in the center of the ceiling. You can move up from there. For instance on my website, we live in a house that anywhere else would be a couple million dollars, and our house cost me $220,000 with the $10,0000 hot tub included, with marble outside walls, and counters, granite counters, German hardware. And I could duplicate this 4,300 square feet, now could build it for $250,000, materials has come down a bit recently]. Lots typically ½ or ¼ acre with million dollar views and the lots start at $50,000.
Peter: What percentage of the people who go on your tour buy property from you?
George: I do have people I recommend who do developments all over the country. But that’s always after the tour. They are FORBIDDEN during the tour to negotiate a property. All I do is show them benchmarks. The percentage of people who buy from me and my people is most of the ones who decided to live here. Most who take the tour and decide to stay buy from me or one of my associates.
Peter: Do you earn a commission from the other referrals you make?
George: Yes I do, and that’s all announced at the front end. For instance, if someone buys a property from someone in San Ramon, I’ll get like 2%. Those are the only commissions I get. I promote attorneys and hotels and builders and I get no commission. I’d rather get the cheaper price for the people; that’s my job.
Peter: How far in advance do people have to plan ahead to go on the tours?
George: Go to my websites, and the tour dates are scheduled. There are still some openings in February this year, but March looks full.
Peter: Anything I might have missed?
George: I’m trying to train backups, because I think what I’m doing is really valuable. There’s a lot of b*****t in the books – like that Atenas is the best climate, so much b*******t. The tour is about reality, and about whether your lifestyle will blend with the climate and what I consider the biggest asset which is the culture.
Another thing I’m doing is a price guarantee for the next year. If you go on my tour and I or one of the people I recommend give you a price quote, that’s guaranteed for one year. You can go back and think about it you can explore other options, that price is good for you for one year. It’s not a high-pressure sales environment.