When a group of real estate investors partnered with former New York City developer David Comfort last fall to acquire 800 lush acres of fertile Costa Rica farmland for just $4 million, they became part of a project that represented diversification not just in their real estate portfolios, but into an entirely new lifestyle. “$4 million was a stellar deal on that kind of property in and of itself, but the price definitely was not the only thing that piqued our investors’ interest,” said Kathy Fettke, founder of the Real Wealth Network, a primary sponsor of the project. “RISE represents diversification into a new kind of lifestyle — one that’s based on sustainable living within a conscious community. It’s like merging the dreams of the 60’s hippies with the technology, education, and funding power of today’s hipsters.”
Diversified Investing Through Life Experiences
The RISE property is located in the Talamanca mountains near the city of San Isidro. When completed, it will be a multi-use community of residents and tourists who are seeking “life experiences” within a community environment. RISE’s website describes the development as “a gateway of opportunity to shape our individual and collective evolution through participation and contribution.”
Thanks to Costa Rica’s tropical climate, there’s a major emphasis on outdoor living and tribal connectedness at RISE. The concept is the brainchild of Comfort and RISE co-founder Ryan Leslie. Comfort says, for him, the concept began with a life-altering experience at a Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert several years ago. There, he realized he wanted to shift his priorities from a life based on “accumulation” to one based on “service to others” in addition to creating a healthier environment for his first child.
Comfort envisioned a Garden-of-Eden concept, a paradise where children could walk to school through organic farms, picking fresh fruits and vegetables on their way. He wanted them to drink the purest water and breathe the cleanest air. He wanted real life to be much more interesting than what they might see on their electronic devices.
Comfort teamed up with Leslie, who had spent years exploring cutting edge wellness programs and seeking the wisdom of Zen masters, gurus, shamans, and other thought leaders. Leslie’s interests lay in creating a world-class wellness resort for travelers seeking ways to improve mind, body, and soul.
Comfort’s vision and real estate experience combined well with Leslie’s passion for an experiential lifestyle, and the RISE concept of healthy, sustainable, service-oriented living and development was born. The two recruited sustainable living architect Jason McLennan, one of the world’s most influential leaders in the green building movement. McLennan founded the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) and created a certification program for living buildings, communities, and products that is widely used today.
Sustainable Living and Community on Multiple Levels
McLennan works as the chief architect on the project to help integrate sustainable-living concepts into all aspects of the RISE sub-communities. One such sub-community is a residential community of families who will live in RISE full-time. The website describes these residents as not just neighbors, but more like a “tribe.” They have use of a “common house” with a communal kitchen, a play area for children, co-working spaces, exercise areas, and a pool. There’s also a community school and other benefits of a co-dependent living arrangement.
Another sub-community area consists of “branded residences,” which are homes for people who want to be part of the community but are not there full-time. These homes are professionally managed as rentals when the occupants are gone. All the homes cater to the outdoor lifestyle with indoor/outdoor living areas.
RISE also includes a world-class retreat for residents, visitors, and travelers in need of rejuvenation. The development provides various kinds of bodywork and wellness classes, from acupuncture and light therapy to shiatsu and yoga, all with the aim of promoting healing and inner balance. It will also foster an “inclusive learning” environment with classes on things like healthy cooking and the power of meditation.
Another part of RISE is something called “The Settlement” for people who want to get even closer to mother earth. There are stylish and luxurious “tent homes” for visitors and a large event space for presentations and/or celebrations. Settlement visitors will enjoy exquisite cuisine by chefs who pluck fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden, and are devoted to healthy eating.
Why Investors Look Abroad
The project is much different than what many investors have in their portfolios. Lately, more investors than ever have been considering buying property outside the United States. Not all opt for investments as experimental as RISE, but the attraction of international investing is undeniable.
“[Investing abroad] may not be for everyone, but it has some big benefits when you consider all the ‘what if’s’ that many people are feeling today,” said Fettke. She explained that the RISE project’s capital raise took place during the United States’ 2016 presidential election, a time of uncertainty regardless of which side of the aisle investors prefer. Some people worried about the political volatility as a result of that election and felt that owning property elsewhere might be wise. Some even thought they might move out of the country after the election results were in. “Whatever the reason, the project was popular and met funding goals very quickly,” Fettke said.
Costa Rica is generally considered “safe” for Americans thanks to an affordable health care system, clean water, and a perfect climate. The country abolished its military in 1949 and has an agreement with the U.S. for military help, should that ever become necessary. Many U.S. expats have already picked Costa Rica as a great place to retire, so there is a large population of Americans already living there, and it’s only a short plane trip (about 3.5 hours) away.
The Challenge of Growth
McLennan likes to compare the concept of living buildings, such as those he designed for RISE, to a flower. Buildings are rooted to one specific place and thrive on water and energy they capture from their surroundings like flowers. They are also adaptive to their location, and pretty to look at, like flowers. He often describes “living buildings” as places that can heal the soul as well as the environment.
The entire RISE development is intended to function as a living building or a living development. “The challenge is to come up with an innovative way to integrate the building’s design into its natural habitat and to restore the relationship between humans and their environment,” Fettke explained. “When considering an investment in any company or property, it’s important to consider how the project will improve the lives of others,” she added. “Offering a much needed-service, sometimes one that people don’t even know they need yet, is the secret to success. Plus, it just feels good to use your money and energy to help make a difference in the world.”