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By Gary Youngman | Agent in Boca Raton, FL
  • Tree house community.... Very Interesting...

    Posted Under: Home Selling in Colorado, Curb Appeal in Colorado, Investment Properties in Colorado  |  August 26, 2012 1:23 PM  |  875 views  |  2 comments

    How This Colorado Couple Built a Spectacular Treehouse Village in Costa Rica
    Business Insider
    By Mandi Woodruff | Business Insider – Wed, Aug 1, 2012 1:32 PM EDT
    • Finca Bellavista is an epic undertaking that's become a thriving treehouse village.View Photo

      Finca Bellavista is an epic undertaking that's become a thriving treehouse village.

    Erica and Matt Hogan never intended to walk away with 600 acres of wild rainforest when they went shopping for a little piece of Costa Rica to call their own in 2006. 

    That was until they happened upon a slice of land that was marketed as a potential harvesting site (i.e.: prime for deforestation) and decided to save it from the chopping block.

    "[The land] felt really sacred from the get-go and we felt like this would be a travesty to let this be deforested," Erica told Business Insider.  "It was bigger than what we were intending to purchase initially. And one night I just thought, well there are some really cool trees on that property. What if we built treehouses?"  

    The idea became Finca Bellavista, a thriving treehouse village tucked into the country's dense rainforest, where the locals bounce door-to-door on ziplines and dinner is grown in everyone's backyard.

    [Related: 10 great outdoor adventures for families]

    "It's a labor of love and it's more than just our business," Erica says. "It's our life."

    Used with permission from Erica HoganFinding their place in the forest

    Before they could interest prospective buyers to invest in their land, the couple focused on establishing a presence of their own. The property's base camp and community center were built as the heart and center piece of the finca, equipped with a dining hall, an open-air lounge, a WIFI zone, a rancho, a bathhouse, a campfire ring and a wedding garden.

    Erica, a former local newspaper editor, was no stranger to getting press. But in the interest of keeping their project as private as possible––they didn't want tourists peeking in at homeowners 24/7––the couple eschewed traditional billboard advertising for word of mouth.

    It wasn't long before interested buyers (many among their friends and family) started lining up. They were in business.

    The treehouse challenge begins

    "We have pretty limited seasonal ability to do construction just given the rainy season," Hogan says." Realistically, the amount of building time is between four and six months maximum."

    Once homeowners buy their plots (typically between 1/2 and 4 acres), the real work begins.

    "It's a rain forest and it's a dynamic environment," Hogan says. "When you get up there and there's branch going through your living room, you can't just chop off a limb. You have to work around those situations and be willing to accept changes in the design."

    Photo by Tim Hussin

    Matt heads up the finca's construction management entity, which works step-by-step with prospective homeowners. "Most owners want to be involved in the creation and construction of their treehouse," Erica says. "We haven't had an owner yet that's simply cut a check and said, 'Oh, build me a treehouse.' It's a very hands-on process."

    Since not every tree is suitable for building, homeowners have two buildling options: either support the house on trees or stilts. In five years, the couple has sold 51 parcels of land and built 25 structures, including a community center, base camp, and five true treehouses. It's a perpetual work in progress.

    "Treehouses are like snowflakes. No two are alike."

    These aren't anything like what Mom and Dad might cobble together for their kids in the backyard. Each treehouse functions exactly like homes, with indoor plumbing, WiFi, running water and fully operating kitchens.

    Plumbing is made possible by collected spring water and gravity-fed water systems. "We're really lucky," says Erica. "The highest producing mountain spring is geographically on the top part of the property and can feed down the mountainside and into homes." It also doubles as a local playground.

    Each treehouse owner is free to rent their space to outsiders. The Hogans didn't anticipate running a village of renters, but they changed their minds when owners expressed interest.

    [Related: Ideal Retirement Haven You've Never Heard Of]

    One of the most eye-popping perk of life on the finca is how treehouse-dwellers get around. The finca boasts an intricate web of zip line cables (called SKYTrails), which are used as a sort of private transportation network.

    Staying true to Costa Rica's roots

    "A lot of people look at the make up of our village and they say oh, well it's just a community of expatriates, so whatever," Hogan says, which is why they treat the land with as much respect as possible and try to keep a low profile. "We're in a transition where we're getting a much more locally-based ownership. [Locals] have shown a lot of interest."

    Part of that acceptance has come from how they treat the land, which include dozens of acres worth of harvesting opportunities. In addition to planning a future community garden, they've built a cafe-like area where homeowners can feast on food grown in their own backyard.

    "We do community meals," she says. The cafe basically operates like a restaurant. People pay for meals, but all the food is grown on-site (they have four full-time gardeners on staff) and prepared by Finca employees.

    "It certainly takes a certain type of person to be open to [treehouse life]," Erica says. "But we found most people that want to build a treehouse in the rainforest are pretty laid back," Hogan says.

  • 'How we're losing our multi-million dollar home'

    Posted Under: Market Conditions in Colorado, Home Selling in Colorado, Foreclosure in Colorado  |  March 7, 2012 2:50 PM  |  560 views  |  No comments

    'How we're losing our multi-million dollar home' 


    By Jessica Dickler @CNNMoney March 2, 2012: 11:33 AM ET

    NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Like millions of Americans, Joanne and John Buchanan are facing foreclosure. But at a value of more than $2 million, the home they stand to lose isn't your average delinquency.

    For the Buchanans, it's the dream house they built from the ground up in a resort community near Breckenridge, Colo., in 2003. It took them almost two years and about $2.2 million to build -- and soon they will have to move out.

    For years, homeowners at the high end of the housing market were able to postpone the foreclosure process, but now multi-million dollar homes are becoming more commonplace in America's foreclosure pipeline. In fact, America's wealthiest families are now losing their homes to foreclosure at a faster rate than the rest of the country, according to RealtyTrac.

    Out of all foreclosure activity, the share of foreclosures on multi-million dollar properties -- or homes valued at more than $2 million -- has jumped by 273% since 2007.

    For the Buchanans, losing the six-bedroom estate they helped design was unimaginable at one time, but now it seems unavoidable.

    The couple moved to Colorado from California where John had worked as the director of business development at a high-tech Silicon Valley firm. They came seeking a less stressful life. John took a buyout package and the couple opened two wine and tapas restaurants, using their new dream home as collateral.

    See inside the Buchanan's $2 million dream home

    Things went well, for a while. "In 2008, we were hit up here with the slowdown as much as anybody," John said. But "we were on the wrong end of the market," he said. High-end restaurants like theirs were quickly without customers.

    John was forced to shutter the restaurants in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.

    Meanwhile other expenses were also piling up, including the couple's mortgage payment, which was more than $7,000 a month. They had gone to their lender, CitiMortgage, to ask them to modify the mortgage on their home, which was then valued at $3 million. But the bank refused.

    Eventually, the Buchanans just stopped paying their mortgage. John said he hoped it would get the bank's attention. It has been almost 30 months since they last made a payment, meaning the couple is more than $210,000 behind on their mortgage.

    Sean Kevelighan, a spokesman for Citi, said the bank could not comment on specific cases. "Our first priority is to keep families in their homes," he said.

    Since 2007, Citi has helped more than 1 million homeowners avoid potential foreclosure, he noted. "Unfortunately, that is not always possible, and some cases proceed to foreclosure," said Kevelighan.

    As part of the bankruptcy filing, the Buchanans have agreed to sell their home and hand over the remaining assets to the restaurant lender after Citi recoups the $1.7 million that it is still owed on the mortgage, according to John.

    "We had a lot of our savings tied up in the house and we'll end up losing all of that," he said.

    If the house doesn't sell soon, CitiMortgage will proceed with a foreclosure, which will further destroy the Buchanan's already damaged credit. But selling is looking less and less like an option: The market for high-end properties in the resort community has largely dried up. The Buchanan's house was first listed for $3.3 million in 2008. Now it's listed for $2.3 million, and there have been very few interested buyers, according to Joan Moats, the listing agent on the property.

    "Transactions dropped, sales volume is lower and prices are down 25% to 30% since 2008," Moats said. Houses over the $1 million mark, like the Buchanans' property, are particularly hard to move, she said. "We've reduced it by over a $1 million now -- we're trying to get it sold but I'm racing against the bankruptcy and the foreclosure."

    "There's no traffic, there's no market at this level. If we find a buyer they will have difficulty getting a loan," John added. "The foreclosure will happen soon."

    8 multi-million dollar foreclosures

    And things just may get worse before they get better. More than 36,000 homes valued at $1 million or more were foreclosed on -- or at least served with a notice of default -- last year. That number is likely to rise in 2012, according to Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac.

    "The longer the tough economy persists, the more of these high-end homeowners will eventually succumb to foreclosure," Blomquist said.

    After the Buchanans lose their home, they plan to move into a small rental property they can afford. "We probably won't be able to buy anything for a long, long time," John said.  To top of page


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