Sitting in my dining room with the first cup of coffee of the day I look at the pictures mounted on the wall by the table. Six shots of our vacation back in November 2006 to Loreto, Baja California, looking out over the Sea of Cortez. The fishing boat we took to our own little island with lunch caught fresh from the crystal clear waters, the tree lined streets, the palapa roofed beach hut, the golden red sunset. Now just distant memories but also a reminder during the dark, cold days of winter just what awaits my wife and me when we retire.
A year round warm climate and spectacular scenery. It’s just that it will not be to Loreto, Baja California that we will be moving to. Yes, we had a fantastic vacation, great hospitality at the bed and breakfast we stayed at, lovely weather, awesome scenery and views. The thing that put us off was that we realized having viewed a number of plots of land in and around Loreto we felt that eventually it would become just another American ‘sub-division’, albeit with a little more sunshine. Now let me explain something here. I am English, my wife is American, a native of Sherwood, North Little Rock, Arkansas. It was she who made the comment about the town of Loreto becoming a ‘sub division’. This is what put us off buying in Loreto:-
‘Opening 2010 The Villa Group Begins Construction on Villa del Palmar LoretoLatest Project Encompasses Hotel, Timeshare, Fractional, Whole Ownership Real Estate. Owen Perry, a partner in the highly successful “Villa Group”, has announced that it has broken ground for Villa del Palmar Loreto; the new 5 star resort is to be built as part of a spectacular 1800 acre resort development in Loreto, Baja Sur, Mexico’…… ‘Villa del Palmar Loreto will feature 161 one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas, all with views of the Sea of Cortez and the five islands. The first phase is slated to open in January 2010, with a complete investment of $60,000,000.00. Each villa will be decorated with elegant furniture and will include a living room, dining room, full kitchen with granite countertops, modern appliances and electronic equipment, and a 10’ wide spacious terrace in each Villa’…………… ‘The Nature of the area will be the main feature designed into the property, complete with an activity center designed for the calm ocean of the Sea of Cortez, also low level lighting with Fire pits on the beach will provide for a spectacular evening………….. ‘the master development eventually is projected to have 2200 rooms, divided into seven projects, with a variety of real estate products covering the spectrum of affordability and lifestyles. Included in the overall make-up are timesharing, fractional ownership, whole ownership, restaurants, recreational opportunities and commercial retail operations, including a wellness center. A high-end hotel to be named shortly is also on the books’………. ‘ An 18-hole golf course, designed by Rees Jones, will be part of the development, scheduled to start construction in 2010. Guests and owners will have access to a wide selection of amenities, including a state of the art 40,000 sq ft spa and gym, activities onsite include various restaurants, bars, convenience stores, full-service water activities center, swimming pools, tennis courts, golf, breath taking hiking trails and horseback riding’.
The information above can be found in full on the website www.loretomexico.com. Not something I would like to be near or overlooking, so where to after Loreto? That was the question on our lips having arrived back in to a cold, wet and dreary Ireland, our home for the past four years. By January 2007, Loreto was a fading memory, only jogged back to life when looking at the photos in the dining room.
One day I happened to have the TV on, I guess one of the many travel channels, when a comment by the presenter caught my attention. A ‘shack’ with a little land around it could be yours for as little as £1,000/$3,000. I thought I had mis-heard at first, then a few weeks later I caught the same episode being repeated. I waited for the end of the programme and saw that it had been made a few years before. Where had they been talking about, the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. I mentioned what I had seen to my wife. Her reply was, ‘we need to Google that’! So, that’s what we did. I have to say right away that we didn’t find any plots of land quite so cheap although there were definitely some bargains to be had. How did we come to choose Sosua to be were we wanted to spend our retirement? Well, firstly, the plots of land for sale were within our price range. Secondly, the descriptions of Sosua on various websites and forums gave us the impression that it was a little smaller and more intimate than say Puerto Plata, along the coast. Yes, like most places in the Caribbean it has its fair share of ‘all-inclusive’ gated resorts, but where these days doesn’t. From reading through a number of internet forums, it appeared to have a good mix of expat nationalities, from Canadians, Americans, Germans and Brits. However, we are more concerned with integrating with the local population as much as possible, rather than just stay within the expat community, once we are there.
‘The North Coast of the Dominican Republic is called the Amber Coast, because of its rich deposits of semi-precious amber. This is where Columbus landed on his first voyage of discovery. It is comprised of an assortment of beach towns, resorts and communities, nestled between the Atlantic and a chain of majestic coastal mountains. Puerto Plata is the largest city. About 25 km east of Puerto Plata is Sosua, which was originally settled by Jewish refugees in the early 1940’s. Here you will find a number of types of accommodation, everything from a basic room to luxurious villas, to all-inclusive resorts, as well as many restaurants, bars and discos. One of the main attractions here is Sosua Beach, a 1/2 km of beach in a small cove with soft white sand and clear turquoise waters, surrounded by high coral cliffs. Many snorkeling and diving excursions take place in this area. There is also a large vendors market behind the beach where you can bargain for souvenirs’.
One company that caught my eye was ‘West-Indies Real Estate’, based in the town that we had been looking at, Sosua. On their website they had advertised plots of land up in the hills overlooking Sosua ranging in price from $6,000 up to hundreds of thousands. I found their website to be well written and very easy to navigate. The property listings are available to view in US$, £sterling and €Euros. Just go to the ‘listings’ page, type in your ‘Property Search options’, mine being land for sale in Sosua priced between $0-$100,000. The next page lists plots of land for sale, with good, clear photos, the price below and a link for more information. Having read through the pages with details concerning relocation and residency to the Dominican Republic. I emailed the company explaining that I was enquiring about a piece of land they had advertised on their website. The plot was priced at $6,000 for a plot of 600m2. We left things for a few months and then in April 2008 I decided to email the real estate company and ask about the plot that was still advertised on their site for $6,000. Of course, I received an email back saying that the plot was not available, prices on a website as we all know are only there to entice you in! I then asked for details of similar sized plots and received an email back from the estate agent, explaining who she was and how long she had lived in Sosua. She was Dutch and had lived in Sosua for 12 years.
After a few more emails she sent me details of four plots of land that someone was selling. They were for 644m2, 506m2, 822m2 and 2710m2. The largest plot was out of my price range, however the plot of 822m2 was a corner plot and nicely priced. I emailed the real estate agent back saying that I was interested and could she send me photos and a plan of the area. A few days later I was printing a plan of 24 plots of land with the plot I was interested in clearly marked with an ‘X’, making it seem like I was on some exciting treasure hunt, and this being the Dominican Republic, who knows, as during the 17th and 18th century the North Coast was a hotbed of pirate activity. Also attached were six photos showing a swath of land covered in very long grass, bordered by shrubs, bushes and an assortment of trees. From the photos the land appeared to be relatively flat with a gentle slope up towards the back boundary. I fired off an email saying that I would like to purchase the plot of land, No17, 822m2, asking what the next step was in the procedure. I heard back that the plot could be reserved for a few days. This was a little disturbing to me as at the time I was on vacation visiting my in-laws in Little Rock, Arkansas. A flurry of emails ensued over the next couple of days, with me explaining that I would not be back in Ireland until the 25th May, therefore I would not be able to send the deposit until then. Thankfully, the person selling the land, who happened to be from the UK, agreed to wait. Before I had even had time to unpack the suitcases I was at the bank transferring the deposit of $1,234.30. I then made a full and final payment of $11,108.70 bringing my purchase to a total of $12,343.00. I now had copies of the ‘Real Estate Sale’ document detailing who was selling what and to whom. I also had a copy of the ‘Offer of Purchase’. This was then signed by myself, the seller and the real estate agent. This was sent to me in both Spanish and English. I then sent the lawyer her fee which was $500.
Once the funds had cleared I then received an email on June 12th 2008 telling me; ‘Congratulations, the land is yours. We did the closing this morning. The Title stays with ‘Lisa’ (the lawyer), she will change it to your name, and this will take some time’. Now, this was not a cause for celebration rather a sense of optimism that maybe things had gone smoothly and between them, the real estate agent and the lawyer were actually doing what I had paid them to do.
The lawyer’s job was to make sure the all important ‘Title’ was transferred to my name. I was assured this would take approximately four to six weeks. Then, and only then could I relax a little and know that I did indeed own my small piece of paradise. Further emails ensued, personnel at both the real estate and the lawyer’s offices both changed so I was now on my second person at both. Finally on the 3rd February 2009 , somewhat longer than the four to six weeks I had been promised, I received an email from the new lawyer telling me the all important ‘Title’ was in her office and I could come and pick it up anytime. . A little difficult given that I am living in the Republic of Ireland and can’t just hop on a plane like hailing a cab. A final few emails between agent and lawyer and I received a scanned copy of the ‘Title’ with my name clearly on the top of the document, and clearly signed by the Registrar.
Now, I may be the most gullible person on the planet, a complete fool and have been a victim of a scam, but my gut feeling is that maybe there are still some good people in this world, not everyone is a ‘Bernie Madoff’ or an ‘Allen Stanford’ and not everyone is out to rip you off! and just maybe I do actually own a plot of land in the Dominican Republic.
According to all the so-called experts on the property programmes you are supposed to do ALL of the following; 1-Visit the area you are thinking of buying in. 2-Contact a number of real estate agents to show you the homes/plots available within your price range. 3-View a large number of properties. 3-Go home after having had a good week of sunshine and house viewing. 4-Go back a few months later, do just a little more house hunting then buy your dream home and live happily ever after. That is maybe how most people would go about buying abroad. Not me, as I am not like most people. I like to gamble, take a risk, life is too short to just sit back and hope things will happen. Well, that’s how I went ahead and bought a plot of land in the Dominican Republic relying on gut instinct and a whole bunch of emails between myself, the real estate agent and the lawyer. Now that the deal is complete I have still to see the plot of land in person. It was relatively painless, didn’t give me too many sleepless nights, and was kind of exciting, a nice little adventure. Yeah sure, if things had gone wrong, and believe me they could of gone very, very wrong, I would now be writing an article entitled, ‘How NOT to go about buying property abroad’! Maybe it could still be entitled that, according to the so-called ‘experts’ I broke all the rules. I have to say that I didn’t do too badly, as I have read recently that a couple of people who presented programmes on television about buying property both in the UK and abroad have recently filed for bankruptcy and have put their companies into administration. There is something to be said for the amateur property investor!
So, would you buy a piece of land on-line? Probably not, its risky yes, but hell, if I had just sat on my butt thinking about doing something like that I would not be writing this article now. So, if you want to own a piece of paradise anywhere in the Caribbean, I suggest you take a risk, it’s your money, do with it what you want, not what others ‘advise’ you to do, and finally go with your gut instinct. A little plot of land in paradise is now awaiting my arrival. Due to the ‘credit crunch’ it may be some time before I get to see my purchase in person, although one day I will be able to start a new life in the sunshine of the Dominican Republic and not have to rely on a set of photos on my dining room wall for my sunshine ‘boost’, I will be experiencing it for real every single day of my retirement.
The word ‘retirement’ though is somewhat of a misnomer. Both myself and my wife do not have such a thing as a company pension. Nor do we have private pensions. Oh, maybe I had one when I first started working in the Lloyds of London Insurance market, but that was more than twenty years ago, and I’ve had a number of occupations since then. Although at the moment my wife does actually have a company pension, it will certainly not be enough to support our dogs, let alone anyone else. So, what will we being doing in our ‘retirement’? Like a large number of people these days we will continue to work, albeit for ourselves and doing something that we want to do, not working for others.
Our plans involve opening and running a bed & breakfast business on our plot of land. The idea is to build a ‘courtyard living space’ with cob built buildings housing the bedrooms & bathrooms. There will be four of these buildings. We are also planning on using a freight container as a living area, converting it into a master bedroom. This will enable us to use the roof of the container for the solar panels to generate our electricity. Everything else will be outdoors, from the lounge areas to the kitchen and dining areas, covered by a ‘floating’ roof structure. Also, we will have a cob built oven and a cooking pit. All this will be surrounded by a cob wall to enclose our land. From the details received about the plot of land, we will have access to a fresh water well that is shared with two other properties. The toilets will be compost and we will also have a tank to collect rainwater. We also plan to grow our own fruit and vegetables. We will use recycled and locally made furniture as much as possible. At the time of writing, no electricity is in place and the roads have only just started to be paved. To generate further income, my wife will be hosting baking courses for people staying at the bed and breakfast, and I will be transferring my on-line t-shirt printing business to our new home, with lots of new designs to sell as souvenirs to tourists.
My only fear is that there will more than likely be another devastating ‘hurricane season’ such as 2008 when four hurricanes ripped through Haiti in the space of six weeks. According to most reports, the North coast of the Dominican Republic was spared the worst of the weather. Most of the time during the hurricane season they form down in the Caribbean on the south coast, the mountain ranges of the central area protecting the North coast most of the time, but hey we will be waking up every morning to glorious sunshine so I can live with the hurricane season.
The hope is, that by the time we move, the so-called ‘credit crunch’ will be but a distant memory and people will once again be taking their vacations in far flung, exotic locations. We also hope to get involved with local charities helping the children of the local area whose parents do not have the finances nor the means to education for their children or the most basic school supplies for those that can afford to send their children to school. So, all in all, our ‘retirement’ is looking rather busy.
So from start to finish the whole process of buying a plot of land in the Dominican Republic has taken 11 months from the initial contact with the real estate agent, to signing all the documentation, transferring funds and finally getting a copy of the ‘Title’ in my name. Would it have been quicker had we been in Sosua in person. I’m sure it would but I now own a piece of land in the Caribbean without ever having left the comfort of my own home. Ah, the power of the internet.