John Kumpel, 48 years old and from Tuckerton in southern New Jersey, had always dreamed of living in the Caribbean.
John adores the ocean, but, as he puts it, “The New Jersey shore isn’t quite the same as the Caribbean Sea.”
The former U.S. Army paratrooper lived for a short time on the little island of Canouan in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines archipelago, and that is where the seed was sown. From that time onward, John knew that the Caribbean was where he wanted to be.
John found Canouan too small for long-term living, though. Plus, he liked the idea of lush mountains along with the long, white, sandy beaches he dreamed of.
That is what first attracted John to the Dominican Republic, the second largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba—the island’s size and diversity.
John got on a plane to go see for himself what else the Dominican Republic had to offer… and he knew he had found the perfect spot for him to settle when he discovered the beach resort of Sosúa, a 30-minute drive to the east of Puerto Plata on the DR’s Atlantic north coast.
Sosúa ticked all the boxes on John’s list of requirements. It has five excellent beaches, an international airport with numerous flight options, interesting investment opportunities, good medical facilities, an international supermarket that carries imported products, and a strong expat community.
“I found a good real estate agent and bought my first property, a condo, in 2010, for US$74,000,” John remembers.
“I used that place for vacations and loved it. The only problem was that, when the time came to return to my real life, I never wanted to go back.
“For me, from my first visit, Sosúa was paradise on earth. I felt deliriously happy all the time I was there.
“I started racking my brain for a way I could move to the DR full time without having to wait for retirement. I needed a way to fund that plan. Then, bingo! I realized I could generate cash flow to fund my life in Sosúa by taking advantage of the real estate investment opportunities on offer there.”
John bought another property, this one with eight units. He did the math and figured that renting out these eight condos could generate enough income to support the lifestyle he wanted.
“I had a budget of US$100,000 to US$150,000 for the purchase,” John explains. “I knew I couldn’t afford to spend more, but I didn’t want to compromise on the quality of what I was buying either. I had a vision in my mind of how I wanted my units to look—high end, with solid mahogany and granite finishes.”
John had experience renovating Victorian houses in New Jersey. He thought he knew what he was doing, but he found that experience in one country isn’t always directly transferable to another.
“Just because it works in one country doesn’t mean it works in another,” John explains with a smile.
“If you want to buy, build, or develop property overseas, before you invest your capital, invest your time.
“I recommend renting in the area where you’re thinking of investing before you commit. This gives you the opportunity to learn where and where not to buy.
“It also gives you the chance to become part of the community. Social contacts are everything. You hire the wrong people, and it will cost you more than you will believe. Like they say, ‘shady people hang in sunny places.’”
John wanted his investment property to be within walking distance of everything—beaches, bars, restaurants, casinos, discos, etc. Budget and target location in mind, he sat back to wait for the right property to come on the market.
Casa de Compai, a rundown block of condos, was listed at US$155,000. John purchased the property for just over US$100,000.
“Compai,” John explains, “is the shortened Dominican version of the Spanish word compadre, which means both godfather and buddy, or pal.
“So the complex is the house of buddies or mates.”
When he bought it, the building needed total restoration.
“All the work I put into the place was state of the art. I invested in new mahogany kitchens and bathrooms, granite work surfaces, new air conditioners, a pool, new mahogany windows and doors, excellent WiFi, flat-screen televisions, an American water purification system, and a generator.
“Seeing new life being brought to old property excites me,” John says.
Property renovated into eight high-end rentals, John set up a website, CasaDeCompai.com, and a Facebook page and registered his condos on vacation booking sites such as Airbnb. Within no time at all, he was receiving a regular stream of bookings.
John’s advice to anyone considering making the kind of move he’s made?
“Overseas investing is different than investing in your home country. There are more challenges but also more rewards.
“Try to understand the culture and adapt as much as you can. Swimming upstream will kill you; going with the flow is much easier. Above all remember you are a guest in the country. Learn the language. Be respectful but firm. A smile goes a long way.
“Most important, don’t be intimidated by the idea of taking such a big step,” John continues.
“Just do it.
“But make sure you do the groundwork and due diligence. Ask yourself if you are willing to break out of your comfort zone and experience new things.
“You’ll have to be flexible and roll with the punches. Keep your mind open. Don’t expect your new country to be like the one you left. Expect to take time to adjust to your new environment.”
John is already evolving his plan. He wants to expand Casa de Compai with more condos. The demand he’s seen to date gives him confidence that he will be able to keep more condos rented short-term at rates that translate to strong investment returns and good cash flow.
“When I sit at my favorite beach bar drinking a beer with my guests, gazing at the ocean… the thing that was the inspiration for my journey… I can’t believe I’m living the life I’m living,” John says…
Lindsay de Feliz