We have friends, Patti and Steve, who ran a high end design and build firm. They had done some terrific work remodeling our house. The Washington Post even featured the renovation on the front page of the Real Estate section. They were getting back from a trip to Costa Rica as we completed selling the firm. Steve called me and asked me to come by. There was an unusual tone of urgency in his voice. He was pouring over a set of architectural diagrams when I arrived. He pointed at a three ring binder beside him saying only, “Have a look.”
Steve and Patti are some of the most well-travelled people we know. And Nancy and I have always admired their style and taste. They are not flashy in the money sense but they live with elegance and attention to detail. I asked Steve how he liked Costa Rica before opening the book. “It was great. As good a place as we have ever been. In fact we liked it so much, we bought a place.” He nodded again to the binder. “Have a look.” The binder contained a collection of photographs, brochures, floor plans and maps. The map showed a long stretch of beach, noted only as ‘Turtle Preserve’.
“I found these great cabañas grandfathered into what is now the Parque National Marino Las Baulas. It means ‘Leatherback Turtle National Marine Park’. It is the largest nesting colony of Leatherbacks on the Pacific coast. These things are amazing. Five feet long. 1,500 pounds.”
The photos showed a small group of bungalows gathered in a jungle garden around a common pool. Terra cotta roofs and titled porches, everything finished in burnished hardwoods. I looked at him in disbelief. He and Patti knew that Nancy and I had been scouting exotic locales for the past fifteen years. We always kept an eye out for a vacation home in a rustic beach setting outside of the first world. “Goddamn it Steve,” I said, “You know Nancy and I have been looking for this very thing for years.”
He smiled and nodded. “I know. That’s why I got you the bungalow next door. They’re holding it for you until tomorrow.” I was dumbfounded. “Count us in,” I blurted out. We made our down payment the following week. It would be several months before we got down there to check it out.
A group of German investors owned the units and the Costa Rican put up some conditions for the sale. The Germans agreed to our using the place while they worked the final details out.
We managed to get down there a couple of times a year. We returned from each visit knowing that we had lucked into a little slice of paradise. But, as time wore on, we found ourselves no closer to settling on the deal. Then, on one visit a few years later, I noticed a ‘for sale’ sign on a medium sized house. It was on a large plot fronted by a lovely titled pool. I had always admired the house, which we passed on our way to the beach. I was fairly sure that it was beyond our means. Still, I knew the realtor and I figured it was worth asking about. He said he’d be there to show it to me in the afternoon.
Nancy and I were smitten as soon as we saw the place. It was decorated in colorful Spanish tiles. A large veranda surrounded it looking out over a well-kept garden. The place was open, airy, and lush. He told us that the owner wanted $250,000 for it. That was half the figure I had in mind. I said, “We’ll take it,” without a moment’s hesitation. He shook his head sadly, “Sorry. There are two offers ahead of yours.”
“When did it go on the market?” I asked.
“This morning,” he said.
“This morning and you already have two offers?” He nodded solemnly. “Look, you know me,” I pleaded. “I’m good for it. I can wire the money by the middle of this week.” He looked at me thoughtfully, nodded again, and said, “I’ll take it to the owner. I’ll let you know what he says.” We took possession of that lovely place by the end of the following week. As it happened, it was the same day we heard that the sale of the bungalow had finally gone through. Not exactly ‘two for the price of one’, but we’ve never regretted having both places. We’ve had over a hundred friends and family stay there and it has proven to be one of life’s great joys.
Washington Post: Renovating From Afar; With the Right Builder, a Project Can Be Steered to a Happy End. Even From Africa.
Nancy and Michael Gehron had their Falls Church house renovated while they were out of town. Way out of town — with the Peace Corps in Madagascar, an island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa.