Culebra Puerto Rico
Culebra is known to those who cherish it as “the Spanish Virgin Island”. It is a tiny three by seven mile unspoiled treasure of the Caribbean located 15 miles off the northeast coastal town of Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Officially, Culebra is part of Puerto Rico, so visitors are within a commonwealth of the United States. Passports are unnecessary and the currency is U.S. dollars. There are approximately 1,800 residents and most will return a smile or hola. The official language is Spanish though a majority of the people speaks English. Culebra caters to eco-tourism providing great opportunities for turtle watching, sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, flats and off shore fishing, sea kayaking, bird watching, and hiking. You won\’t find any major hotels, casinos, fast-food chains or night clubs. “Open Some days, Closed Others” is a common theme with many establishments on island.
What you will find are some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. The coral formations around the pristine shoreline and the surrounding Cays make up an underwater forest of uncompromising beauty and adventure. Culebra includes the island of Culebra and many smaller offshore islands. Culebra is largely undeveloped with approximately one third of its 7,000 acres are designated as wildlife reserves.
Unlike many Caribbean islands that have over developed in the past 30 years, Culebra has maintained its rural dignity. Indeed, there are few places left that can offer the pristine beaches, diving, snorkeling, fishing, and naturalist opportunities such as turtle watching and bird watching. This is an island that has not caught up to the stress, pressures, marketing, materialism, and crime of modern day.
LIVING IN CULEBRA, PUERTO RICO
Culebra is a semi-autonomous municipality of Puerto Rico with two small health clinics, a fire station, small police staff, a handful of restaurants and gift shops, three small grocery stores, one bank with the only ATM machine, two gas pumps and zero traffic lights. There is a public school, grades K-12, two day care centers and a small private school grades 1-8. Many families choose to home school. The average driving speed is about 25 mph. Some neighborhoods require four-wheel drive for access while others are completely accessible by golf cart. For animal lovers and pet owners, we have a visiting veterinarian usually every month for wellness visits. It is often that you will encounter rogue chickens and roosters, iguanas, casts and dogs, the occasional peacock, goat, white tail deer and horses in your path as you drive around island.
The main economy in Culebra is tourism of which a major driver centers around vacation rental homes. Of roughly 1500 homes, nearly 27% are listed on Airbnb. This does not include other channels such as VRBO, HOMEAWAY, Booking.com, etc. Homes with multiunit rental capability do not stay on the market very long, and finding long-term rentals (greater than 90 days) is very challenging. Consequently, the majority of jobs in Culebra are centered around the tourism and service industry, such as restaurants, water sports, gift shops, vacation rentals and guest houses.
Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 74°F to 88°F and is rarely below 71°F or above 91°F. Water temperatures usually drop to 79°F during the Winter months and can approach a balmy 91°F during Summer. Hurricane season begins June 1 and extends through December 1 with the peak in September. For this reason, it is common to find that many homes with concrete construction and have cistern capacities ranging from 10,000 to 40,000 gallons and have converted to solar energy. Municipal utilities including water and power are literally piped from the “Big island” to our neighboring sister island, Vieques, and then to Culebra. We are the last in line. The island does have an 8-Megawatt diesel generator which can power the entire island for such emergencies.
Access to the island is via a 15-mile open ocean ferry ride or by small puddle jumpers. Both can be quite an experience! There is access to the big box stores such as Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy, Costco and shopping malls on the “Big Island”, and services including USPS, UPS and Amazon Prime deliver “regularly.’ With limited infrastructure, you have to be flexible, resourceful and have a pioneering spirit. You will become an aficionado at watching YouTube videos and at learning how the fix things on your own…automotive, appliances, construction, etc. Wi-Fi was introduced to the island about 12 years ago. My current internet speed averages 1.2Mbps! Good enough for Netflix! Satellite television is available, and it’s very rare to find an operational land line for telephone service.
REAL ESTATE IN CULEBRA, PUERTO RICO
Culebra is divided into six barrios, or districts including Flamenco, Fraile, San Isidro, Playa Sardinas I and II, and Culebra proper. These sectors are further subdivided into neighbors and developments such as North View Estates, Southeast Harbor Estates, Zoni Estates, Punto del Vientos, Fulladosa, Clark, Muneco, etc.
The island of Culebra presents some fantastic opportunities for your dream house in the Caribbean and the realization of growth on your investment. Culebra was zoned in 1974 and is divided into various land zoning requirements for agricultural (R0) and residential-only (R1) construction. Over 60% of Culebra is zoned R0-25 (25-cuerdas per house), and much of the island is zoned R0-5 (5-cuerdas per house). The east half of Culebra is the most popular for property purchases and new construction. This half of the island is zoned in one, five, and 25-cuerda sections. A cuerda is .971 of an acre. It is not possible to subdivide these parcels. This helps to maintain a distinctive consistency to the value of your property, while maintaining the ecology and environment of the island where deer and ospreys cohabitate with us. Most of the available properties are located within a development that has restricted covenants that assure quality residential building and prohibit commercial influences. Home prices range from $80,000 for a complete tear down on a 1/10-acre lot to $7,000,000 estates on a 5 or 25-acre lots.
Residential-Commercial Real Estate:
The legitimate Residential-Commercial (RC-1) market on Culebra is extremely limited. Legitimate refers to titled land and appropriate construction. A prospective buyer must realize the zoning on Culebra has severely limited the available land use for housing and commercialization. This same high-quality zoning however is what has kept Culebra from being overbuilt and commercialized like so many other Caribbean islands.
Beachfront property is protected from development and practically non-existent. Beaches in Culebra are all public beaches (PP) and mangroves (B2) are federally protected. There are four expansive ocean beaches on Culebra. They are Flamenco, Resaca, Brava, and Zoni. Each beach is a mile long, pure sand, and incredibly beautiful. There are two factors that have preserved the pristine beauty of Culebra. They are the zoning regulations as mentioned above and the Leatherback Sea Turtles. The Leatherbacks have used these main ocean beaches of Culebra as their nesting grounds for thousands of years. Because they are on the endanger species list this has stopped the development of beachfront properties from occurring on these beaches. It is what keeps Culebra very special.
Property taxes are very affordable on Culebra and in Puerto Rico. A home with a resale value of one million dollars would have property taxes of approximately $2,500/year. So, property values are based on the 1957 cadastre values, essentially a comprehensive recording of real estate …. which remain very low. In order to be taxed the property must be assessed by the government. In many cases properties, especially with improvements, have never been assessed and the value is simply based on the value of the land itself. If one declares the property as their primary residence they exercise Act No. 195 known as the Homestead Protection Act (the “Homestead Act”) providing for the protection of the principal residence of every Puerto Rico domiciled individual or head of family. Under the Act the first $150,000 of value is exempt from annual property tax which is collected by CRIM (Centro de Recaudación de Ingresos Municipales). Anything above that is subject to the annual tax, which again is based on values of 1957.
BUYING A PROPERTY IN PUERTO RICO
Buying a home in Puerto Rico is similar to that of the mainland U.S with some exceptions. While typical VA, FHA, Conventional and Commercial loans are available just as in the States, the Buyer must use a bank in Puerto Rico. Unless the purchased home is declared as a primary residence the Buyer will traditionally pay a 20% deposit in lieu of a 10% down payment as a primary residence. Purchase and Sales Agreements, Escrow deposits, Appraisals, Inspections, Surveys are typical as well.
All closings require a Notary to draft Deeds and complete the transaction with the Registrar. Unlike a Notary in the U.S., a Notary in Puerto Rico is a practicing attorney. Puerto Rico law follows Civil Law when it comes to family, real property, and contract law, to name a few. All Notaries in Puerto Rico are also practicing lawyers. To avoid travel expense many Buyers both U.S. and International clients), choose to close using Power of Attorney (POA). The average closing usually takes 60 to 90 days rather than a quick 30 days. Things in PR just do not move quickly. “Island time” as they say.
About the Author – Culebra Puerto Rico Real Estate Agent Todd W. Plaia
Michelle & Todd made the tiny island of Culebra their home in 2012. They spent the last two decades in the Washington DC/VA Metro area; actually meeting while both were working in the Biotech industry. One of their first trips together was to Culebra, in 2000. They searched for houses to rent in the Caribbean; a quiet place, a beach house, off the beaten path and found Culebra by total happy accident. They instantly fell in love with the friendliness of the locals, the laid back, no-rush attitude and pristinely clean island. They joked on their flight home, as many do, about how great it would be to live there….
Fast forward several years and several visits later, Michelle & Todd decided definitively that they wanted to live in Culebra and put together their long 11-year plan to get there and finally leave the grind & commutes of corporate America.
One of their major decisions was having to completely reinvent their careers. There were no jobs in Culebra in the Biotech industry and they knew they would need skill sets that were actually marketable. So, they both quit their biotech careers and took new paths. Todd managed a dive shop in the Northern Virginia area for nine years and worked to become a full SCUBA Instructor w/PADI, NAUI & SDI, and also became a licensed USCG Captain. Michelle entered into the Hospitality industry; working in hotels in the Washington DC Metro area; starting in Sales and Operations and then as a Corporate Troubleshooter for distressed hotels. They were on their way!
Several years later they were lucky enough to find a great house in Culebra to buy. The puzzle pieces were falling into place! Slightly earlier than planned, Michelle had a “bad day at work” and told Todd she was done. She didn’t want to do “this” anymore. No more hours of commuting, no more seventy-hour work weeks, no more fast food meals, no more stress. So, they contacted their Real Estate agent, put their home on the market; figuring it would sell within six to eight months. Three days later they had a cash offer, closed on the sale, and twenty-two days later they were in Culebra! To the utter disbelief of all their friends and family who had been listening to them talking about Culebra for over ten years, within three weeks, Michelle & Todd sold nearly everything they owned, turned off the cable, sold their cars, booked a one-way flight, arrived on island and started laying roots in the Culebra community. It was exciting and terrifying!
Todd worked in the dive industry for several years as a Scuba Instructor and USCG Captain before obtaining his Puerto Rico Broker’s license and establishing Island Realty, LLC. Michelle obtained her Puerto Rico Sale’s license and has been in property management and vacation rentals for the several years and has established a strong reputation as a “get-it-done” person. They spend their spare time scuba diving or relaxing with a cocktail; Michelle in her garden, Todd playing his guitar and both of them giving & getting lots of love from their small cat colony of twenty-three cats… or is it twenty-six now? Neither of them can imagine leaving Culebra; never back to the grind. Their plans of working for themselves and living in a place where every day is spectacular fulfills every dream they’ve ever had and they couldn’t be happier.
They hope you will join them in Culebra and experience all the beauty and peace that Culebra has to offer.
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