Are traffic jams changing the Central Valley real estate market?

It is no fun to get stuck in traffic jams twice a day. The average travel time to work in the United States is 25.4 minutes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Costa Rican Census Bureau can’t deliver numbers on that. We’d probably be surprised at the outcome.

I know a family where the mom, dad and two kids each has a car. That is because they each have a reasonable income and good credit, so they can afford it. Although they live in the same house, they all work in different locations in the Central Valley. They are looking to buy a house that is located in the center of the four workplaces. Right now, the four of them spend 60 hours a week on the road to get to work and home again. Crazy? Yes it is.

How much is commuting in the Central Valley becoming an issue? Instead of spending so much precious time in traffic jams, I think a change in the market is imminent. Soon more families will try to relocate to a better location closer to their workplace.

Ivo Banner American-European


The cost of commuting

Commuting has a huge cost to society — in car payments, gasoline, tires, tolls and mostly on the nerves. A lot of people can’t stand it anymore. Therefore, change is coming. Our office already receives requests from families who moved to Ciudad Colón some years ago, because it was so nice and quiet. Now, they spend hours on the road to get the kids to school in Escazú and then get to work. And pick up the kids on time from school, drop them off at home, and back to work again. Crazy? Yes it is.

Waste of time

A while ago, I was interviewing people for a job in my real estate office in Escazú. I received over 200 résumés. But those that were interested in the job lived in Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia. That’s a 1½- to 2-hour commute. I couldn’t find anybody in Escazú or Santa Ana, though I really tried. I ended up hiring Shirley, who now does a 3-hour daily commute, five days a week. Crazy? Yes it is.

A change

In 1982, my first wife was working at the headquarters of a large soda drink producer in La Uruca. La Uruca is an industrial/commercial area northwest of San Jose. I remember the company carpenter living right next door. His colleagues would comment that they would never want to live right next to the office. But deep in their hearts, they would have loved to be in his shoes. The man was the only one not eating lunch out of a lunchbox.

In those times, you could drive from Escazú to Cartago in a little over 30 minutes. There were no traffic jams and in Costa Rica, we were not used to spending much time on the commute — quite the contrary to other countries.

Lack of infrastructure

Traffic jams will never diminish in Costa Rica. Even with the best intentions, the government will not have the money to build the much-needed infrastructure.

The middle class is already accepting its fate of a long commute every day to get to work. It is what it is and as long as the Costa Rican government doesn’t find a solution in public transport, the middle class will just have to live with it.

Nevertheless, there are a large number of upper-middle class workers who can afford to move closer to their jobs. Unfortunately, Costa Rica doesn’t have any well-organized multiple listing service, where you could see everything that is for sale in each neighborhood. With an MLS in place, we might even see some people swapping houses in the future. Real estate developers will have to find more central locations closer to the workplace, and that might help lessen the traffic jams.

Do employers care?

Virtual jobs are becoming more available now. But with bad internet connections in many homes, this is not always possible. In some countries employers try paying employees to live closer to the office but I doubt that will happen in Costa Rica.

I honestly doubt employers in Costa Rica care much about their employees wasting so much time and energy to commute. I suspect that will soon have to change. Commuting wears people out and is a detriment to anybody’s job performance.

Increased demand in older suburbs

The older suburbs are becoming fashionable again and I suspect we’ll see an increased demand for some centrally located areas in the future. Locations like Tibas, Sabana, Guadalupe, San Francisco de dos Ríos and Barrio Dent will stage a comeback. Many homes and apartments in the older suburbs are starting to become interesting again. That, of course, doesn’t mean that sellers will be able to ask outrageous prices for their 50-year-old homes.

Can real estate investors take advantage of this and take part in this urban renaissance? Yes they can! Not everyone wants to live in a condo. Buying and rehabbing older houses can be profitable if purchased at the right price.

Ivo Henfling founded the American-European Real Estate Group, the first functioning MLS in Costa Rica with affiliate agents from coast to coast, which has been in operation since 1999. Read his blog at or contact Ivo at (506) 2289-5125 / 8834-4515 or at


    Tom Rosenberger | May 4, 2017

  1. You’re correct Ivo, with the high cost of land in Costa Rica, buying and rehabbing older houses and buildings is very practical.

  2. Jerry Smith, Tamarindo Real Estate | May 4, 2017

  3. And there are also many families relocating out of the congested, high crime, polluted Central Valley and moving out to Guanacaste. New urbanizations are cropping up all around Liberia and are well subscribed.

    From a long term prospective, capital cities can and do move, following the money. It may take another generation, but the fact of the matter is that Liberia does have the potential to become the capital city of Costa Rica. Tourism is flourishing and the agricultural sector is strong in the northwest and there is an abundance of vacant land for the time being. a warmer, drier climate has great curb appeal as well. 4WD no longer required!

  4. CR Captive | May 6, 2017

  5. There is one obvious solution, which will never be considered: STOP PADDING GOVERNMENT PAYROLLS & ELIMINATE VESTIGIAL AGENCIES LIKE RECOPE.

  6. Arthur Dufresne | May 6, 2017

  7. Ivo
    Perhaps the smart money builds offices in the outlying areas where the workers and families can enjoy a better quality of life.
    Do you dare walk the streets of San Jose at night?

  8. Krysia Peterson | May 7, 2017

  9. Many of us that live here in Ciudad Colon and surounding areas really love it and perhaps another point of view might be the positive advantages of living in a rural setting with the convenience of all the necessary amenities and even fiber optics of 100 megas for those who work from home. Not everybody commutes on a daily basis! Just saying….

  10. CARL Y HENFLING | May 7, 2017

  11. Arthur, I agree with you that San Jose is not so safe anymore at night that you want to cross town on foot

  12. CARL Y HENFLING | May 7, 2017

  13. Krysia, I wish small and beautiful towns like Ciudad Colon would promote businesses to move to Ciudad Colon, so they can hire local employees. I have not seen any commercial zoning in Ciudad Colon for office buildings to promote that, have you? I have a meeting with the mayor or Mora soon and will discuss this with him if I have a chnace to throw the subject in there

  14. Jim | May 7, 2017

  15. When i married almost 3 years ago, i sometimes drove my hijasta 2 miles to her private school. Immediately upon seeing 400 cars bring their princesas to school, I proposed a car pool. Shot down! “Costa Ricans dont do that” I was emphatically told. Recentlyl i wrote to a friend re my suggestion that the Federal government impose a small tax, collected by the schools, to charge those who arrive with 1 child, give a bonus to families and mini buses that form car pools. I dont know how much it would help, but perhaps. I have thought about relocating back to the U.S for many reasons, but traffic here is a real hindrance to ones life.


  16. Julieta Starr | May 15, 2017

  17. KRYSIA PETERSON. I don’t think Ciudad Colon will be able to offer highly qualified workers for the industries you think may want to relocate to Ciudad Colon. And besides, then your little town won’t be little any more, and there would be plenty of traffic too. Better keep low profile for now and enjoy the quiet.

  18. Charles | May 15, 2017

  19. “It is what it is” doesn’t account for technology. Autonomous cars “see” better than humans, so they actually can make do with *less* infrastructure. Autonomous cars will soon have the ability to link up to the car in front; when it hits its brakes, it is also causing the following car to brake. Tailgating (within centimeters!) will squeeze 5 times the space out of an existing highway. And autonomous cars don’t slow down to rubber neck.
    If the government plans on doing any building for the future, don’t build according to specifications and needs of a bygone era.

  20. Jerry C | May 17, 2017

  21. Why not rebuild the train infrastructure to help get people from one end of the Central Valley to the other?

  22. Suzy | May 22, 2017

  23. MOPT says it will work on the rerouting of the busses to diminish traffic. If drivers continue to use the streets of San Jose as a parking lot, then all the change in bus location will not help.

  24. Kathi | July 1, 2017

  25. We are thinking of moving to Costa Rica and are very interested in the Central Valley. Is there a general idea of how far out the radius of congested traffic from San Jose extends?

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