That’s not a bug…

…THIS is a bug:

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Cost of Longterm Housing in San Juan del Sur

Thinking about a move to San Juan, but don’t know how much to budget for a rental?  Your monthly rent will vary widely depending on your needs, comfort level, and amenities.  Here are a few examples:

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When we first moved to San Juan, we rented a small one-bedroom, one bath home in Nicovale, a quiet community of 8 or 9 homes owned and managed by a Nicaraguan/Italian couple.  Located up a rather steep hill, the neighborhood was still walking distance to town (under 10 minutes), and a great workout on the way home.  Though we didn’t have a view, we loved the area for its proximity to town without being right on the main roads.  We could still hear the bumpin’ Semana Santa parties, but we were far enough removed from the main streets to escape the hourly announcement from the fruit and veg/scrap metal/politico trucks.  The owners were also very dedicated to their properties and managed repairs and ongoing maintenance swiftly.  Five years ago, we paid $450 per month, which included rent, electric (no a/c), water, twice weekly cleaning, security, parking, cable tv, and wifi.  The house came sparsely furnished, with basic kitchen utensils, and also included linens that were washed and changed twice a week.  The landlord also had a backup generator that he turned on during nighttime power outages.  The apartment served us well until we outgrew it and moved here:

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When I learned I was pregnant, two years later, we upgraded to a 2-bedroom, 2-bath newer construction unit in the same neighborhood.  This home had modern appliances and nicer furniture, as well as air conditioning in both bedrooms.  It also had the added bonus of a large balcony overlooking the bay.  We paid $700/month, which included all of the above amenities, minus electricity.  We averaged approximately $150/month on our electric bill, running both a/c units nightly.

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Two years later, our growing family prompted a third move – this time to a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house that also includes a fifth bed/bath in the pool house.  And it goes without saying that a pool house also suggests a pool (a large lap pool).  The house is a stand alone with large rancho, grill, as well as a two-car garage (we use one side while the other is reserved for the owners).  It sits in a small development of other standalone homes, each with different owners.  It’s nicely located within a 10-minute walk to the town beach and a 20-minute walk to town center.  Rent is $1,000/month and includes water, satellite tv, wifi, caretakers who maintain the grounds (excluding the pool) and provide security.  The house does not have backup and the water is on a pump system, so when the power goes out, we not only lose power, but water, too.

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To find out how we achieved the rental rate that we did, check back soon.  I’ll be offering more details and info on how to get the best rate for your rental.

To give you a sense of other options:

These 1 bedroom, furnished apartments, located right in town, rent for $350/month

This small development offers a variety of options sleeping 2-6 people and renting for $400 and up.

This studio, located just a few minutes walk from the beach currently rents for $550/month.

This 3 bedroom, 2-bath stand-alone home, in-town, rents for $600/month.

This 2 bedroom, 1 bath is a short walk to Playa Marsella and rents for $800/month.

This 2 bed, 2.5 bath condo, located a few minutes north of town rents for $1,200/month.

This stand-alone three bedroom home, located in the hills of the Pacific Marlin development, appx 10 minute drive from town rents for $1,500/month.

Ultimately, your decision on where to live will come down to your priorities.  Do you need a room with a view, a yard with a pool, or are you willing to sacrifice space for location and be closer to town?  How many rooms does your family require?  Can kids share bedrooms?  What amenities are you willing to give up and what are deal-breakers?  Do you want to live in a community or a standalone home?  Do finishings matter or can you make anyplace a home?  Keep in mind that power is expensive in this country.  You may think you want a home with central air (which is actually not too common here) until you receive your first electric bill.  Pools are fantastic to have, but you may prefer a rental with a shared pool that doesn’t require your time and energy.  Stand alone houses are great and private, but would you be happier in a neighborhood setting?

There are myriad ways to find your perfect rental.  When we moved here nearly 6 years ago, no one had long term options listed online.  We were lucky to find vacation rentals at that time.  But a lot has changed since 2008 and now you can do a large chunk of your search online at one of the many real estate/rental companies.  If that doesn’t work for you, it’s worth your time to skim the vrbo.com listings.  More often than not, owners there are looking for short-term vacation tenants, but you might get lucky.  Don’t forget to check local classifieds found in the Del Sur News.  You might even have luck checking Craigslist Nicaragua and Encuentra24, but these sites tend to focus on Managua and not San Juan del Sur.  And while it’s hard to imagine moving to a new country without home base, if you are traveling solo or have some flexibility, your best bet may be to stay in an inexpensive Guest House your first few weeks and spend some time simply wandering the streets.  You’d be amazed at what you can find just by asking around and showing up.

When you do find your dream spot, don’t forget the details.  Most rental companies will have you sign a rental agreement and pay some form of deposit.  If you rent direct from a homeowner, they may require a lease, but many don’t.  And be sure to ask the right questions:

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-Is electricity included?  Find out if they have old bills or can provide estimates of monthly usage if you will be paying this bill.

-What else is included? wifi, cable, water, security, parking, housekeeping, pool maintenance, etc.

-Any recent security issues?

-Who pays the caretaker salaries?  What happens if I am unhappy with the caretaker?

-Do you have backup power/water?

-What kind of water system does the house have, i.e. gravity tank, pumped well, town water.  This is important to ask because the type of water you have will determine when and how often you could be without.

-Are pets allowed?  Children?

-Who manages the property and to whom do I report maintenance issues?

-Who pays for repairs on the home?

It may seem complicated at first, but once you’re settled in your new place with a Nica Libre and the most beautiful sunsets, you’ll know that it was all worth it.  To learn some tips on how to save on rentals, check back soon for more exclusive info.

I am a big fat liar…

I am a big fat liar.  Really, I am.  Yesterday, I re-read the “About the Ex-Pats” page of the blog and I laughed out loud and thought, “what a crock of shit.”  The honest-to-God-truth is that I didn’t love anything about this country during our first visit here, which ironically was two years ago to the day.  The landscape was brown and dry.  Mosquitoes feasted on my ankles.  Chirping geckos kept me awake thru the night.  The heat was so unbearable that we stayed indoors between 10 am and 3 pm.  When we were eventually lured outdoors, it took us a minimum of 2 hours (but usually closer to 4 hours) to get anywhere thanks to pot-hole laden roads and ox-cart traffic jams.  And of course…everyone spoke Spanish.  There was no way I would be able to learn a foreign language AND make new friends.

While I am no Phileas Fogg, I am no stranger to travel either.  From a young age, my parents ingrained in me a spirit for travel and an appreciation of culture.  When my sister dropped her backpack halfway down Copper Canyon in the middle of The Sierra Madres, my mother turned to us with a smile and cheerily called, “Now isn’t this an adventure!”  She continued to use this phrase throughout our travels including the train ride when a ninety-five year-old goat farmer offered to purchase my sister in exchange for cheese and when said sister fell out of our river raft in class 4 rapids.  Hmm – perhaps we should have considered additional travel insurance for my sister?  In any case, my family now lovingly uses this “momism” to refer to some of our more challenging of travel experiences as exactly that – experiences.

 

at the dentist in León, Nicaragua

at the dentist in León, Nicaragua

 

So why did I detest this trip so much?  A little sweat never bothered me before. Well, for one thing, I had a toothache of colossal proportions the day we touched down in Managua which resulted in a root canal on day three of our “get-away.”  The pain was so unbearable that I found it hard to see beauty in anything other than a Vicodin prescription.  In addition, halfway into our trip, I learned that a dear friend and mentor had passed away after a long battle with cancer.  I wanted to be anywhere but in Nicaragua.

 

But less obvious at the time was that this wasn’t a vacation, this was an evaluation.  And every negative encounter was another opportunity to add a check under the “stay in Boston” column.  Because the truth was that as intrigued as I was by the prospect of living abroad for the first time in my life, I was also scared shitless.  

Incredibly, Justin and I just celebrated our one-year Nicaraguan anniversary a little over a month ago.  So how did this come to pass?  Well, the visit here handed us a huge dose of reality, which was exactly what we needed in order to determine if we could realistically live here.  We learned that we could get quality health care (cheaper and better!), we could get home for emergencies if necessary, and we could make friends that would prove to be not only great resources, but a second family.

I guess the most notable thing here is how quickly I forgot the negative. Or how I began to see it as beautiful.  As the pain of the toothache melted away, the dry season transformed into a lush, verdant landscape, each day offering a sunset more stunning than the last.  Though the drive to Managua still feels long, I now spend it gazing out the window upon the grazing cows and the billowing volcanoes.  I have come to appreciate the dichotomy of Mac trucks and ox carts sharing the same highway and I can’t fall asleep without the chirp of the geckos, my beloved friends, who keep the mosquitoes at bay.

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 And now with the economy tanking, I could not be more grateful to my husband for encouraging this adventure.  Though we have not fully escaped the economic fall-out, we are certainly enjoying a more relaxed and comfortable lifestyle here in San Juan.  Am I wearing rose-colored glasses?  No.  But I certainly like that I get to wear sunglasses everyday.

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Gratitude Journal, day 1

Homesickness is inevitable when living abroad, at least for me.   Being far from family and friends back home is difficult, especially around the holidays.  I was fortunate that with the exception of an occasional tear, I managed to all but avoid this sadness until our return from our last trip home…in September.   

Since then, I’ve found it easy to ruminate on the things that make me miss home – New England’s fall colors, my adorable niece and nephew, Thanksgiving dinner with my family, snow.

Yet, I also know that one day, I will look back on this experience in Nicaragua and find myself missing nacatamales for Sunday breakfast, the view of the Pacific from my front door, and the good friends I’ve made here.  So, I have decided to begin a gratitude journal, in order to focus my energies on the amazing things in life:

Things for which I am grateful…

~My Family, including Justin, Mom, Dad, Cathy, Paul, Gracie, Paul, Diana, Matt, Mary, Collen, Tina, Caitlin, and my entire extended family

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Our wedding day

 

 

~My Husband for being so understanding, supportive, and loving

~My Friends, both in the States, and here in Nicaragua (who have become my second family)

~Cooper

~My Health

~Being able to sit outside my house, atop a hill, under the shade of the trees and feel the warmth of the sun on my back – in November!

~Fatima for cooking us tasty lunches everyday

There’s plenty more to list – for another day.