Who are the 3 Amigos?
I get this all the time, but actually we have about 18 Amigos and Amigas now and we are one big family, as corny as that sounds and we are expecting number 19 soon. It just keeps growing and growing, as agents from other competitors close their doors and join our team. As they say, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” But we have to go back about more than 20 years to tell the whole story.
The original Tres Amigos were a husband and wife, Les and Cheryl and their partner Gary. They came from Canada to Playa Hermosa with their sons, to do a small project on the top of the hill. It was one of the original residential developments in the area, along with Vistas del Pacifico built by Corbin and Tatiana Vandruff. There is a great story about how they bought the mountain. It seems there was this woman, who owned a hill that was so steep the cows couldn’t even stand on it. From a farmer’s standpoint, the property wasn’t very good. After selling it to Les and Cheryl, the story goes, she ran into Coco laughing hysterically that she sold this useless property to a couple of stupid Gringos and proceeded to buy everyone drinks in the bar. What she failed to realize, is that this useless property had some of the best ocean views anyone has ever seen in their life and Views Sell!The 3 Amigos and their sons built a little sales office of about 150 square feet, and proceeded with a back hoe to cut into the mountain. They worked so hard, that even the local workers shook their head at the crazy gringos. Even they couldn’t keep up with the pace of Les and his sons, as they pushed wheel barrels themselves, up and down the mountain. Many of the local workers couldn’t hack it and quit, but the family never lost their determination. After a couple years of torturous work, the development Monte Paraiso (Paradise Mountain) was complete. With underground utilities, brick paved roads, a beautiful gate and a huge water tank at the top, they started selling lots to the gringos that rolled through town.
Each of these lots sold for more than they had bought the mountain for, so I am sure the woman was singing a different tune then. Life is all about Vision, and that is something that they definitely had. Most of these early buyers had it too, as there was nothing going on in Playa Hermosa back then. There wasn’t an airport or any luxury hotels but something told these people, THIS IS IT! And the view from the top of this mountain sure made the decision easier. I know. I bought two lots myself in 1999 and had to take draws off my credit cards to do it. But I had a little of that Vision too and there was no way I was leaving Costa Rica without a little piece or two of paradise. How did I come to Costa Rica and wander up to Hermosa? You already know – that’s for another story.
Around that same time, Chris Simmons and his wife Bonnie moved to Tamarindo with their daughters from Vancouver Canada. They started building houses and opened one of the first North American Real Estate franchises in Costa Rica, Ocean Surf. Tamarindo was one of the first markets to get “hot” as they had a small commuter airport, so you could fly relatively easily from San Jose on a puddle jumper, land on a dirt strip, and start your vacation at the beach.
But as time went on, the growth of the Papagayo and the potential in this area, became more obvious. There was talk of a big resort being built (which is now the Four Seasons hotel) and rumors of the airport in Liberia finally opening to commercial flights, 20 years after Oliver North built it. Oh yeah, that part is true. The runway was built in the early 80s by the CIA when we “weren’t” running guns to the Nicaraguans during the Contra / Sandinista war. So in 2002 Chris came up to Playa Hermosa and met Les and Cheryl. He had brought a couple clients up who purchased lots from the sales office. Monte Paraiso was finished now and mostly sold out and the 3 Amigos were ready for their next adventure.
They never wanted to be real estate agents, they were developers, but now their cute little office, with the famous statues out front, had become a regular stopping point for photos. And of course many of those tourists did what they still do, and stopped in to talk about the market. They get the fever and the bug, and the next thing you know; they are the proud owners of a little slice of Pura Vida pie. Chris and Bonnie bought the 3 Amigos, paid a big franchise fee, and Tada!!! Los Tres Amigos was born.
It was about this time that I had come back for a visit. I used to come every 6 months or so because I had the fever too. Something kept bringing me back to this town, and I used my lots as an excuse to make a couple trips a year. “I gotta go check on my property in Costa Rica and make sure nobody is squatting on my lots” I used to tell my employees. I still find it funny when people ask me if they have to worry about squatters in Costa Rica. I always laugh. You have been on the internet too much. I promise you, nobody is going to set up a tent on your ocean view or your golf course lot, in a gated community and squat your property. I think you are ok. Now if you have 1000 acre farm in the middle of nowhere, then there are precautions you should be taking. I will gladly send you more information, if you are lucky enough to have a big chunk of land like that.
On one of my visits Chris and I met. Obviously he couldn’t run two offices at one time, especially when they are over an hour apart, and I was ready for my next adventure in life. I had just gotten out of the electronics business I had been in for 15 years, and Costa Rica was SCREAMING my name. Over a couple of Pilsen beers (La Rubia or the Blonde), the partnership was formed, and I was on my way. It turned out to be the greatest decision of my life.
Many people don’t realize that Chris’ last name is Simmons and mine is Simons, so they just assume that he is my father. We have an inside joke. He tells me that when I sell a Billion dollars of real estate I will get the other M. So when people see me working early in the morning or on a Sunday afternoon and ask me what I am doing, I always say “I am working for the M, man, working for the M.”
I showed up in Costa Rica on June 1, 2003, with no intention of ever going back. There is a saying in Costa Rica. If you are going to move here, bring two suitcases. One suitcase filled with Cash, because you will need money and the other suitcase filled with Patience, because nothing moves or happens quickly here. NOTHING. Now with the Patriot Act and the Customs agents questioning you as you board the plane in Houston, I DON’T recommend bringing cash. Wire it to your bank account LOL.
I showed up with 6 suitcases. I have never been able to travel lightly. I pack like a girl. And besides, I was never going back, so I better make sure I had enough Tank Tops and Flip Flops to hold me over for a while. Now, let me tell you about Playa Hermosa 9 years ago. It was the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. The roads were dirt. There was no airport, no hospital and no Do It Center. The grocery store was more like a food stand you might see in China somewhere. It took an hour and a half to get to Liberia because the highway had so many pot holes. There were maybe a total of 30 gringos living here, and I imagine 10 of them were running from the law. One of them actually did get caught and dragged back to the USA for trial a few years back. Good riddance, he was a prick.
There were all these shacks that were illegally built, up and down the beach front. The power
went out 8 or 10 times a day, and it was a miracle if water came out of the faucet. If you had to dial 911 for some reason, nobody answered, and if they did answer, the police would tell you how they couldn’t come, because they had no car. When they were lucky enough to hustle a truck for the day, they would come by the office and ask for gas and cigarette money, like your teenagers do back home. There was a 3 year waiting list for a Home Phone Line. Seriously! There was very little cell service and it took months to get a number and people would sell them as if they were front row tickets to the Rolling Stones concert. There was no wire less or any cable TV and only a handful of restaurants to eat at. Playas del Coco was a dump and it took forever to get to Ocotal as it was an unpaved one lane road, used mostly by bicycles. Playa Panama was considered BF Egypt and the golf course where I live now, was a cattle farm and a melon field (this is also a phenomenal story about the beginnings of this crazy little place but you gottta stay tuned to the Bat Channel if you ever want to find out). There was one bank in Coco and the average wait time was 4 hours. You couldn’t even find a blender, without spending a couple days searching, as if you were looking for the fountain of youth. Don’t even think about sprinklers or garden hoses. BBQs were as much as cars, and rarer to find.
There was only dial up internet and we had one phone line at the office. Now remember, this office is only about the size of most people’s bedrooms, and there might be 3 or 4 of us trying to work in there. So we would have to take turns sitting at the computer. We would download the emails and then unplug the old clunker and plug in the phone. If we heard a fax tone when we answered the phone, we had to dive over the desk and try to plug it in before the line went dead. Once we were done with writing emails, we would plug the computer back in and hit SEND. We would then go to lunch, as it took about 2 hours for the emails to go, and we would pray to God that the power wouldn’t go out while we were away.
People would ask us for photos of a property and my answer would always be “how about ONE”? I will never forget this one particular week. All week, we smelled this horrible smell. Like something had died in our office. You know that smell, right? We moved everything around and couldn’t find the smell. So we just kept working away, drinking coffee, writing emails, hoping it would go away. One day, it got so bad we were determined to find the smell. It turns out a little Gecko had climbed down the top of the coffee pot through the little slits. He fried on the water heater and continued to lay there for probably 6 or 7 days. Of course we kept making coffee, commenting about how unique it tasted. There is nothing like cooked Gecko in your Costa Rica java. I still chuckle thinking about those early days.
There was nothing in the grocery store that catered to gringos, and my personal addiction is Pretzels. There was a great couple here back then, and they loved pretzels as much as we did. Whenever someone would come from the USA, we would beg them to smuggle some into their suitcase. We would have pretzel parties, and we rationed these babies off like we were stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean, and didn’t know if we would ever find food again. Within time, the grocery store realized that gringos will pay anything for their little favorite treats. So sure enough, some items starting arriving slowly, a couple of boxes at a time. One day, I get this call, that pretzels have made it to the store in Coco. I dropped everything I was doing, and raced there as fast as I could. It only took me 10 minutes to get there, but already you could see dozens of gringos in line with 10 or 20 bags each. They were sold out in minutes. The Super Bowl doesn’t sell out this fast.
There were just a handful of real estate offices then and it’s kind of ironic. When the market went nuts in 2005 and 2006, dozens and dozens of offices opened and hundreds of realtors moved to the area. But by 2008, they had all closed and moved back to wherever they came from. Now, we are back to the original handful. Amazing how the strong survive huh? It always comes full circle.
In Hermosa, there is Tres Amigos and our friendly competitors C21, who were here when I moved. Scott and Jeremy are two of my good friends, and I can honestly say I never would have succeeded without them. They welcomed us, even though we were competitors, and made us feel like we were part of their community, when many others tried their best to scare us away and put us out of business. It’s been a joy doing business with those guys all these years. They are mostly out of the sales side of the business now and building some pretty nice custom homes, so if you are getting that fever, I will introduce you
There are some other great builders here too.
Tom Terry http://constructom.com/
Mike Brussock http://www.costaricahousebuilder.com/
But we sure did a lot of business out of that little 3 Amigos office, Tens of Millions of dollars in sales, and built our new office next door. We now have a third office up the street in Playa Panama and a beautiful office in Playas del Coco in the PACIFICO Retail Village.
Prestige Ocean Properties www.prestigecostaricaproperties.com
Coco Office www.playasdelcocoproperty.com
It’s a whole different world now in the Papagayo area. Hundreds of homes have been built, half a dozen hotels, a couple golf courses and a marina. The airport just had an $18M face lift and many new private hospitals are open in the area. All the roads are paved, even a brand new one into Playa Panama, so over night it became the closest beach to the airport, instead of one of the furthest. There are hardware stores, and dental /medical offices, half a dozen banks and 5 grocery stores. A brand new police station is being built to go along with the fancy post office that opened last year.
When you go into Playas del Coco now, you have dozens of restaurants to chose from, all kinds of bars and even a casino. The beach front is all cleaned up, and there is a brand new boardwalk. You can sit at any number of beach front cafes and watch the families walk back and forth with their kids and strollers. We have smoothie shops and boutique stores, gourmet restaurants and brew pubs with live music.
The electricity rarely ever goes out any more, as they have upgraded to the best infrastructure money can buy and when it does it is usually because a dump truck ran into a telephone pole. Every where you go has WIFI, hi speed internet and cable/satellite TV is available in every home. Your Ipad will work and so will your smartphones, as the 4g network is strong. But do yourself a favor and turn it off, and enjoy life a little.
New Coco Boardwalk
The last real infrastructure hurdle are these new water lines that have been in the works for the last few years, and when they complete these in the next year or so, we will finally be over the hump. But it’s still a quiet little paradise and still keeps its flavor of Costa Rica.
As you sit at Coconutz bar for happy hour, there are dozens of monkeys hanging out in the trees – http://www.coconutz-costarica.com/ You see thousands of birds and occasionally get stuck in a Costa Rica traffic jam when the cows wanna cross the road. We have our Tope (horse parades) and the Toro run, and we never miss one of the dozens of Costa Rican holidays, that they so love to celebrate. There are the little Sodas on every corner, that make the best friend chicken and empanadas you have ever had. You can still go directly to the local fish market and buy the catch of the day, just moments after they haul it off the boat.
Every weekend is the farmers market where the tastiest fruits and vegetables are peddled from the back of a truck. There are jewelry stands on the main drag in Coco, and you can always catch a soccer game at the town field on a Sunday. The local flare is everywhere and the people are without a doubt, the friendliest in the world. I love Costa Rica. It is truly the best of both worlds, as we have Pura Vida Costa Rica, and the first world infrastructure everyone so desperately craves. By the way, when you stop at Bar Coconutz, notice that on the top of his menu it says, Be Careful, you might get drunk and buy a bar. That’s exactly what happened to Dan. He came in on a Friday, got drunk, and we sold him the bar. He closed the sale on Monday. There are dozens of stories like this… You guessed it, coming soon to a Newsletter near you.
Monte Paraiso, Monte Bello, Palo Alto and many other fine communities, have seen some of the nicest homes in the country being built, the last few years, and you can still get a tremendous amount of bang for your buck. It’s a little easier now to see the Vision of where this place will be and properties are still a fraction of what they are in other resort destinations, like the Cayman Islands or Hawaii. But they won’t be for long. Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being positive about everything that could go right. Paradise is waiting. What’s stopping you?
The old 3 Amigos office is now our guard shack. Some of the Amigos have come and gone, but we still got one heck of a team and the train keeps a rollin’. The statues are still there, just with a new fresh coat of paint. Stop by anytime for a picture and feel free to come in and talk. But be careful, you might get the fever and the bug, and realize that THIS IS IT!
From little acorns, BIG OAK TREES GROW.
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Is there a story behind Tank Tops and Flip Flops you ask? Of course. But you have to stay tuned for another Newsletter. I hope all is well. Stay healthy. God Bless you and your families. Stop Procrastinating. Hurry back.
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