It was not easy, but after 10 months of trying we finally did it! We bought and registered a beachfront concession lot in the city of El Viejo in Northern Nicaragua!!!
There are two types of land available in Nicaragua to both nationals and foreigners: freehold titled land, which you can buy, own, re-sell etc. and concession “leased” land that the city owns, allowing you to buy and sell the rights to the yearly lease but only with their approval. We had always shied away from leasehold land. Why lease when you can buy? But, if you want beachfront property that is not inside of a development, for the most part it’s lease or nothing.
We run women’s surf and yoga retreats primarily out of Coco Loco Resort in Northern Nicaragua. Coco Loco has an awesome setup, located a 10 minute walk along a gorgeous empty beach to a bay with really great waves for teaching surf lessons. The walk is mellow but no one wants to do it with a big longboard under their arm and carrying a cooler that distance is unrealistic, so during retreats Kim loads our 4Runner aka “the Beast” with about 12-15 surfboards, a packed cooler, and our video camera tripod and makes the 15 minute drive over the bumpy dusty or muddy (depending on the season) rocky road to the bay.
The bouncy drive is hard on the boards that are jammed into the back of the Beast and it’s a pain to have to load, unload, re-load and repeat every session, every day. Once at the beach, we all cram under a ramada – a temporary shade structure made out of 4 posts and palm fronds that gets moldy, termite infested, and falls down every 4 – 6 months. Ok, I’m making it seem worse than it is. It’s actually totally fine and has worked for several years of running retreats, but lately we’ve been thinking it would be nice to step it up a bit.
About a year ago we started thinking about maybe buying a beachfront lot at the bay to setup a beach camp for use during retreats with a bathroom, fresh water shower, place to store surfboards, and elevated shaded surf viewing platform. I called up my local friend who works for one of the big real estate companies in the area to check out the options. I jumped on the back of his motorbike and he showed me a few lots for sale. The lot directly behind our ramada was for sale but he said the owner was asking $30k, which was more than I wanted to pay for the rights to a lease. We put the idea on hold.
A few months later I got a facebook message from a guy from New York praising my old blog for its wealth of information on building in Nicaragua. He said he had bought a couple of lots in the area and might want to email me with more questions. I was interested and asked for more details and was totally surprised when he said one of the lots was at the bay. I called up my local real estate friend to ask for details and he confirmed that the New Yorker had paid $17k for the lot I was told was priced at $30k. This renewed our motivation to find a lot in the area. I asked around for more options and a local farmer showed me a lot that bordered the estuary – bigger than the one the New Yorker had bought, but further along the row with more difficult softer sand vehicle access and more susceptible to potential global warming/tsunami flooding. He was only asking $12k though which was more in line with what I had expected to pay.
Then, in mid March Kim found a listing on craigslist for a lot at the bay for $20k. It was hard to tell from the description which lot it was, so we emailed the owner. He replied immediately and said that he already had one offer on the lot but it was not too late for us to put in an offer as well. At this point we started to wonder if this was the same lot the New Yorker had claimed to have already bought. But if the owner was still accepting offers, the New Yorker must not have actually completed the purchase….right? We thought that lot was exactly what we wanted so we offered $19k. The owner responded that he would love to accept our offer but already had a sales contract and deposit from the New Yorker. However, the contract stipulated that the sale had to close with the full purchase price transferred by April 15th. If he didn’t pay by the 15th, the contract was void and the owner would be free to accept our offer.
Enter the Alcaldia of El Viejo into the story. For some reason that is still unclear to us, the government office responsible for approving the transfer of land leases was temporarily not approving any transfers. Some said it was just a hold on leases transferred between foreigners, others said it was any lease transfer, but in any case the rumor was that they would not start approving transfers again until June – just before they began campaigning for re-elections. So that meant that whoever bought the rights to the lease would have to pay the amount in full and then wait nervously until June to see if the Alcaldia would then approve the transfer. Risky. We wondered if the New Yorker would be willing to do that. We wondered if we should if he didn’t. We figured we’d just wait a few weeks until April 15th and see what happened then.
On April 16th, I got an email from the Owner saying the New Yorker had not paid, the contract was null, and he had accepted our offer, but that at that point the first person to pay would get the rights so we’d better pay ASAP if we wanted it. I was in El Salvador at the time running retreats. Kim was in Nicaragua. We had a short phone conversation to decide if we were willing to gamble or not. Then I wired $19k to the Owner’s account in Costa Rica, agreeing to meet at the border when I got back to Nicaragua to sign the sales contract. We met, signed, and then kept quiet about the whole business to wait ‘til June and the Alcaldia getting back to work.
At some point, word got back to the New Yorker that we’d snuck in and bought the lot out from under him. The Owner claimed it was the New Yorker’s fault for not paying on time. The New Yorker claimed the Owner had stalled and made excuses so that the New Yorker would miss the deadline. We’ll never know exactly what happened, but in June the New Yorker took a trip to Nicaragua, went into the office of the Alcaldia and made a fuss, claiming the Owner had violated his contract which flagged the lot as having an issue so that when they finally started looking at approving transfers, the transfer would be denied. Bummer.
It was a frustrating time for us. We were worried we had just lost $19k plus the time and energy and money spent on signing the sales contract, lawyers’ fees, etc. I tried to put it all out of my mind, but it weighed on me whenever I’d be at the bay and look at that lot. Then on a Wednesday in August, our Real Estate friend called to say that the Alcaldia was finally going to look at approving transfers and if we could get all the paperwork in order by Friday they would approve the transfer. But one of the papers we needed was a letter signed by the New Yorker saying he relinquished his claim on the property. I got in touch with him immediately. He had started to lose faith in the Alcaldia. The other lot he bought back in March still had not been registered in his name. He decided that since we live and work in the area, we probably had more use for the lot. He agreed to walk away from it if we would reimburse him for everything he spent in trying to buy it at a price tag of $2k. That covered the SA (Nicaraguan corporation) that his real estate agent convinced him to set up to own the lease, his lawyers fees, AND his plane ticket! We agreed to pay the fees, but not the plane ticket – “didn’t you use that same plane ticket to enjoy a week in Nicaragua, buy another lot, etc.?” He wouldn’t budge and we were out of time, so I wired him $2k (better to pay another $2k than lose the whole $19k) and we rushed to the Alcaldia.
And then began the series of mini natural disasters. That morning there was a strong earthquake in Costa Rica, which prompted a tsunami warning for Nicaragua, which cancelled the all-important meeting. The following week Volcan Cristobal erupted. A few days later there was a sudden powerful windstorm dubbed a “mini-huracan”. In the local lingo, it seemed Dios did not want us to have that lot. Once the natural disasters passed, there were holidays, baseball games, elections, and every other possible excuse for postponing the meeting. We drove the 40 minutes to El Viejo every weekday morning for 10 days, hoping the meeting would happen, and each time drove home frustrated. The excuses extended for three more months of waiting, wanting, and hoping.
Finally in mid December, 10 months after beginning the process, our local real estate friend called to say this time he was serious, they had signed the approval. The lot was ours. We still didn’t totally believe it. And in reality, it didn’t happen that day, but the following, but eventually we got the lot transferred into our names. We had to spend another couple hundred bucks as a “tip” to the government officials who made it happen and also paid our friend for all his help.
But now, it’s ours!!!!! Well, it’s the Alcaldia’s of course, but we get to occupy it! Woo hoo! We have commenced plans for construction and hope to be updating soon!