A U.S. real estate giant has turned its eye on Costa Rica.
ERA, a global company with 3,000 franchises around the world, is opening its Latin American franchise headquarters in San José and looking to sell 30 franchises throughout the country in the next two years.
In addition, the company will be developing three projects worth a combined $100 million, including the Guanacaste Country Club to be located just north of Liberia, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
Though ERA is held by the same umbrella company as Century 21, Coldwell Banker and Sotheby’s International Realty – all of which have a presence in Costa Rica – Craig Williamson, CEO for ERA’s Latin American division, said ERA will bring a different flavor to the market with its emphasis on technology and small offices.
“We can go into a market where there might be one big office with 20 agents in it, and we’d rather put in four offices with five agents in each,”Williamson said. “We can do that because of the technology, frankly.”
That technology,Williamson said, includes an ERA multiple-listing service and a network designed to connect all ERA franchises, giving agents tools to schedule showings, make referrals, manage sales and share property listings.
Williamson said ERA also has sophisticated online training tools. Some of the technology development had been in the hands of local software developer Tenta Solutions, but that wasn’t enough, he said.
“It’s really the foundation of the business,” Williamson said. “So we bought (Tenta), and now we’re their only client.”
ERA has already been present in the Costa Rican market for a year, with 12 franchises scattered about, most of them in Guanacaste. Moving the headquarters from that province to the Central Valley is part of the company’s renewed focus on the country as a whole,Williamson said.
With the move, the gaze has also been lifted to the regional level. ERA has in the last few months opened a handful of franchises in Mexico and Panama, and Williamson will be supervising the opening of many more from San José during the next few years.
In addition to franchise expansion, ERA will be managing property developments worth about $100 million. Topping the list is the 1,000-hectare Guanacaste Country Club, which Williamson said will reforest sugarcane fields, build a golf course and include 1,300 lots that will sell for between $100,000 and $200,000.
With an investment of between $40 million and $45 million, the project is representative of what Williamson said will be the company’s development strategy: middleclass, accessible housing built in places with strong “fundamental growth.”
“I don’t chase the winds of tourism,” Williamson said. “You’re not going to see us do mega-hotel projects on the coastline. That’s not really our thing.”
Williamson said there are two other development projects in the works – an 800-hectare project also nearby Liberia and a luxury beachfront development – but he declined to give details.
For that latter project, ERA is bringing its luxury International Collection brand to the country, and the properties will have a value of at least $1 million each.