San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

After 22 Years in Real Estate, Les Nunez Knows

BEING a real estate agent is a bit likebeing a doctor. Real estate agents, like doctors,are bombarded at parties with questions.Only, instead of getting the ‘Ooooh,you’re a doctor? Well, I have a weird funguson my foot’, they get the ‘Ooooh,you’re a real estate agent? Well, I wasthinking about selling my house …’Real estate agents, like doctors, areconstantly bracing and consoling theirclients when they sell a home. ‘Now, this isprobably going to be painful. This is whatyou can expect …’And real estate agents, like doctors,also make loyal, long-lasting relationshipswith their clients.Les Nunez, for example, is president ofRE/MAX Costa Rica, the biggest grossingreal estate franchise in Costa Rica. About99% of RE/MAX clients are foreign. Nunezcannot drive through Escazú without seeinga client. Black BMWs honk at him and sunglasses-wearing silver Mercedes driverswave. Some clients give him hugs.“When can we take you out fordrinks?” they ask.NUNEZ, a short, bespectacledCanadian with graying hair, has X-rayvision. He can drive through neighborhoodsand tell you what the inside of ahouse looks like: three-bed, 2500-squarefeet, large patio. Vaulted ceilings, two-cargarage, Jacuzzi. Lots of tile, Spanish-style,newly remodeled.He points out buildings and namesprices.“Those houses cost a million two.”Or he’ll announce, “There’s not a homeon this street that’s less than half a mil,” orhe’ll point and say, “Those condos overthere cost 320 for 280 square feet.”HE knows the families: CubanAmericans that lived in Miami and movedhere 10 years ago. They’ve got two kids. Hegolfs and she is an interior designer. U.S.citizens from Phoenix, Ariz. who justmoved here last week. She’san ex-realtor and he’s aninvestor. They’ve got a dogand their two kids go toCountry Day School.There’s a secretive-type of-guy from Los Angeles,Calif. living in a three-bedroomin Escazú that hedesigned. It’s got a killerview and he’s looking tomove to Santa Ana to benear family.“After nine years here Iknow all the houses in thesethree neighborhoods –Cariari, Santa Ana andEscazú – and if I haven’tsold the house, I saw it or I previewed itwith other realtors,” he said.New buyers-to-be meet with Nunez inthe mornings to be profiled and after aquick interview he knows their buyingpotential, the area they’re looking for andhow serious they are about buying. Withthat information Nunez knows what housesto show them.NUNEZ spends other mornings drivingaround what he calls the golden triangle– Cariari, Escazú and Santa Ana – andthe afternoons filing paperwork, going tomeetings and answering the 180 e-mailsthe office receives each day.“We get so many e-mails a day that wehave to prioritize them,” Nunez says. “Thelowest priorities are the ones saying,‘We’re thinking about moving to CostaRica when we retire in the next five years.What’s it like?’ I mean, come on. E-mailme in five years.”On the selling end, he visits homes todo “comparative marketanalysis,” which is realestate talk for evaluating arealist price of the home.Nunez lugs his digital cameraaround the home snappingphotos for theRE/MAX international Website. If a seller is asking fortoo much, Nunez says, “Getreal.”Too often, he says, foreignerswith no idea ofCosta Rican home valuesoverpay for their homes andwhen they need to sell, theymay end up losing money.This happens fairlyoften because real estate agents don’t needto be licensed in Costa Rica.“Any old Joe or José can wake up oneday and decide to be a real estate agent, butwithout the proper training it makes it very,very tough for the general public to understandwhat they’re getting into,” Nunezsays. “It’s unfair to the public.” And it bugshim to no end. Nunez is licensed inWashington, Colorado and BritishColumbia and he renews his license everyyear.AFTER 22 years in the business, Nunez can take a family he doesn’t know to a house hedoes know and he knows exactly what they will say.It’s the light in the living room or the backyard pool.He’s gotten to the point where he now hands newclients a sheet of paper with 10 questions.“You’re going to ask me these 10 questions and solet’s go over the answers,” he tells them.ONE day when Nunez was struggling to get over acold he caught on a business trip to Panama, he visitedthe Cubans who build three homes a year in Cariari tosell them through RE/MAX. They decided they didn’twant to sell the house they were living in four daysafter Nunez put it on the market. But they assured himthey had another home that would be ready in aboutthree weeks.The commission rate on a house like that usuallyruns around 6-7%. On a house like that that means$27,000. That’s when people say, woah. That’s a lot ofmoney, but out of that money the franchise fee has tobe paid once a month. RE/MAX also gets one and ahalf percent of the commission, Nunez explained.That might leave Nunez with a bit over $20,000,which he says, is “nothing to sneeze at” but for example,the Cubans’ house, which wasn’t even on the marketfor a week before they changed their mind, hasalready cost him $600 in marketing. Whether or not thehouse sells, he still has to pay for the advertising.EARLY that afternoon he sat outside the newlyrented Escazú home of the couple from Arizona whoare looking to buy.“I know of a large four bedroom in Cariari in the$450,000 range that you should look at,” he said. Thewoman’s eyes raised, obviously interested.“Is it nice?” she asked.Nunez gave her a look as if to say, ‘come on.’

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