Last week I spent four of the longest (and, surprisingly, some of the most interesting) days of my career in the real estate course offered by the Cámara Costarricense de Corredores de Bienes Raíces (Costa Rica's Chamber of Real Estate Brokers). If I'm going to plunge into Costa Rica real estate (and I am), I need to know what I'm doing. Or at least get a head start on knowing.
The course is remarkably similar to the one in the states. Good thing, because it's all in Spanish. At least I knew the topics. I understand way more than I can speak, especially when I'm familiar with the topic. I missed some of the rapid-fire personal stories and anecdotes. But when the instructors were talking about real estate and how it works in Costa Rica (or how it's supposed to work), I did pretty well. I also recorded all of it so I can re-listen to it in chunks.
This is the year I learn Spanish. I'm over not understanding what my maid says, what the clerk is saying, what jokes people are telling at parties. I know enough to get by, I'm on the verge of knowing. I just need to push myself over the edge. Here's the plan: 30 minutes a day of Spanish TV, Spanish you-know-what meetings (they got a million of them), talking a lot to anyone who will listen, and re-taking the acupuncture course in Zapote I started the first year we were here. Immersion, time for immersion.
While this course was remarkably similar to U.S. courses, there were distinct differences. The main one being that, here, there is no test to graduate the course. No test? When I found out there wasn't a test, no way to certify that the information got into my brain, I thought, "How silly to have a real estate course to certify brokers and not have a test!" But, in actuality, it's a much better system. Here's why:
I have pooh-poohed real estate courses in the states. I spent 7 days in the course in Florida to become a salesperson, big test at the end of that, then the Most Important Test in Miami to become Licensed. A year later, I spent 7 days in an almost identical course for brokers – you learn all the exact same stuff except they add in investment analysis – passed a test at the end of the course, then passed the M.I.T. to become a FL Licensed Real Estate Broker. Yippee.
Pooh-poohed because, in truth, you don't learn anything except the facts you need to know to pass the test. You certainly don't learn anything useful about selling real estate! The classes were only bearable because they were taught by Curtis Wild, the Yoda of Key West real estate. Entertaining, funny, cute, adored him then, adore him now.
Nonetheless, all that time was spent learning otherwise useless facts needed only to pass the test. Curtis taught to the test, he had to. Nothing I learned made sense and what I came away with were the rules one needs to know to stay out of jail: if there's an escrow dispute, you have 15 days to notify the appropriate authorities. You have to turn in escrow checks within 3 days. Your ads have to have your full name in them. All b.s. stuff you could learn from a pamphlet. NOTHING about how to sell real estate. NOTHING about why you need to know this crap. Just cram in the facts so you pass the tests. Anyone with passable short term memory storage can take the course and pass the test. As evidenced by all the scam artists with a real estate license.
And don't talk to me about the Code of Ethics. The foxes are guarding that henhouse. Otherwise scam artists and cheats would have lost their licenses and been scorned by their fellow man. But they are slapped on the wrist, if anything happens at all, and set loose back amongst their potential victims. But I digress. As usual.
Here's the biggest difference between the U.S. course and the Costa Rica course: the energy in the room. In the U.S., we are silent, staring, forcing in facts, nervous as hell about the test and possibly wasting the $400 we paid for the course. Looming large is the possible humiliation of possibly flunking the test and having to repeat it. The horror of possibly flunking it three times and having to repeat the entire course (I know people who did). The worse-than-death possibility that we might be too stupid to ever pass the test despite knowing plenty of stupid people who did. Serious anxiety. Flop sweat pre-flop. The U.S. course is all about the test.
But in Costa Rica, the room is alive! No test anxiety here. Everyone is interested, asking questions, telling stories, mostly paying attention. And the instructors got to teach their subjects! What a concept. Not teach to a test, not just repeat the critical elements you'd need to know to pass a test, but the entire subject. It was invigorating, and the very thing that made those four long days (8:30a to 6p) bearable and interesting. Very, very interesting.
Here's another thing: cell phones rang and people would answer right there in class, chat for a minute, then hang up! Neither the instructor nor anyone else batted an eye. That was funny in a peculiar way, but very tico: "Chill. I'll just be a minute." A cell phone rang at least once every 30 minutes. After a while, I stopped noticing, too.
Plus, there was internet available in the room. So, out of the 60* people in the class, about 10 of us had our laptops. I used mine mostly to take notes and look up words**… and occasionally Skype the boys at home. I admit, on the last day, I was so overloaded with Spanish, I couldn't begin to pay attention so I surfed the web, read my political articles and answered email. It's ok, I didn't miss anything. The entire last day was spent selling us on the benefits of membership in the Chamber. But there is no real benefit which is why almost no one joins. The Costa Rica MLS system needs serious work and an MLS system is the major benefit to being in a real estate organization. Besides bonding with your competitors.
My favorite part of the course was the first morning when we learned about property rights. Costa Rica's property rights' laws are pretty good for owners. In many ways, Costa Rica is still a third world country – take squatters rights, for instance. And I know as soon as I write this next sentence, I'll hear stories to the contrary, but, it seems to me that, as long as you can secure your property from trespassers, you have more than a reasonable expectation to enjoy it relatively free of government hassle. I like that in a government. Too little of that these days, especially in the land of the free where allodial*** title is a thing of the past. However: thanks to a certain liberty movement in the U.S., we could be seeing a return to Constitutional government there. Ojala!
Till then, I'm hanging out here. With my chickens. And my tilapia. Oh, yes, we have a budding tilapia farm now. Wait till you see that set up. You are definitely going to want your own pond! Meanwhile, enjoy a few minutes with Eva, Ethel and Lucy. They are getting to be big gorda girls. Surely there's an egg or two in my not too distant future.
*Excellent dictionary if you have enough Spanish to use it. You learn the
definition in Spanish. If there's a word in the definition you don't
know, you click it and that takes you to the definition for that word. If I get too lost, I go back to Webster's Spanish/English, but I use this one as much as I can.
**60 people in my course and they offer this every month. But they weren't all salespeople taking the course. There were attorneys, architects, interior designers, writers, a host of other businesspeople. They were taking the course because they wanted to know the information, to be educated about the system! Since there's no test, the door is really open to any interested party. I love that.
***The word "allodial" is not in Webster's online dictionary. Putting on my tinfoil hat and screaming conspiracy. But not too loudly… don't want to disturb the girls bathing outside my window…