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In Puerto Rico, High-End Buyers Find a Tropical Island That Feels Like Home

In Puerto Rico, High-End Buyers Find a Tropical Island That Feels Like Home

Collectivo Group

In the past few years, Puerto Rico has attracted an increasing amount of attention from wealthy individuals, families, and developers — and they’re making major investments on the island. In 2022, a $14.6 million property at West Beach in the Dorado Beach Resort set a new record for the local market when it sold for $5,600 per square foot.

To outsiders, that number may sound surprising, but it makes sense to Richard “Ricky” Santana, founder and managing partner of Colectivo Group, the company behind that sale and countless others on the island. Last year, MLS named Santana the #1 producer in Puerto Rico, and Colectivo Group is the top local firm, but he doesn’t take all the credit for his success. He says, “Puerto Rico sells itself.”

Instead of thinking of himself as a real estate agent, Santana considers himself a “business person with a real estate license,” as well as an ambassador to Puerto Rico. He explains, “I really don’t sell. I’ll educate, I’ll present opportunities, and the sales happen organically.”

Many of Santana’s clients come from the United States, and he sat down with The Real Deal to share insights on what is drawing home buyers, developers, and investors to the island. He says, “One of the reasons that I’ve done really well in real estate in Puerto Rico is because a lot of my clients are stateside. I went to an American school, and I’m fully bilingual.”

The Magic of Puerto Rico, Explained

For clients and investors from the United States and all over the world, Santana has a wealth of knowledge about Puerto Rico. He was born in New York, but has lived in Puerto Rico most of his life — and he speaks about it with passion and enthusiasm. His business background gives him a keen understanding of the changes happening in the market and the unique opportunities they present. He says, “I can go down the rabbit hole with sophisticated clients and explain how Puerto Rico has transformed in the last 10, 20, or 30 years.”

His clients are often captivated by the island’s beauty, but ultimately, they base their decision to buy a home or invest in real estate on more practical considerations. He says, “The weather is usually the number one thing. It plays a significant role in why people move to Puerto Rico.”

The tropical climate means that outdoor activities, from golf to tennis to watersports, are available year-round. “Puerto Rico is a world-class destination for windsurfing, surfing, and boating,” he adds. “We don’t have to hide three or four months of the year because of the cold.” Beyond the beaches, Puerto Rico’s natural environment has even more to offer; it’s home to the only rainforest in the United States.

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The island is also popular with foodies, with Santana among them. “Our food is outstanding. The culinary experience that we have in Puerto Rico is a mix of American, Caribbean, Spanish and Black cultures.”

While many newcomers to Puerto Rico are looking for a big house or an oceanfront property, others simply seek a standard of living comparable to the one found on the mainland. In addition to fine dining experiences and top golf courses, Puerto Rico has state of the art hospitals, elite schools, and endless opportunities for recreation. When that’s a priority, his clients are looking at Dorado Beach, Condado, and the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort.

Potential home buyers also appreciate the special relationship that Puerto Rico has with the United States. Because it is under U.S. jurisdiction and only a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Miami, Americans can easily travel to and from the island without passports. It also offers an infrastructure that some of the other islands in the Caribbean don’t have. “When you visit or relocate to Puerto Rico, you don’t feel like you’re in a foreign country,” Santana says. It feels familiar to people from the United States, but at the same time, they’re in the Caribbean. He thinks of it as “the best of both worlds.”

“We’re a modern tropical island in the Caribbean,” says Santana. “I compare it a lot to Miami because there are a lot of similarities. If you go to Condado, which is our equivalent to Miami, it feels the same.”

Another similarity: Some American families and companies are relocating to places like Florida and Texas to benefit from favorable tax circumstances, while others are choosing Puerto Rico. “People are moving from the West Coast and New York to Miami because of the taxes and the weather. Well, Puerto Rico’s weather is actually better than Miami — it’s warmer,” he points out.

He understands that tax incentives attract people’s attention, but he doesn’t think taxes on their own are a reason to move to the island. He says, “Tax incentives may ignite the conversation and bring you to the island, but if you’re miserable, you won’t stay here.”

One Family’s Story

Chad Sharpe, a residential luxury developer, was drawn to Puerto Rico by the tax incentives and the fact that he was ready for a change of pace. He says, “I was the workaholic guy that’s in the office before anyone and leaving last, and I knew if I didn’t make a change, I would be doing that the rest of my life.” He and his family moved to Puerto Rico from North Carolina expecting it to be a big adjustment, but he recalls, “From day one, we loved it.”

Sharpe and his family live at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, and he says, “As soon as we went in the gate, I knew. I thought, ‘Well, this is home.’”

Sharpe has seen the luxury real estate market evolve during the years he’s lived in Puerto Rico. He says, “Prices have at least tripled since I’ve been there. That’s new development plus existing development.” He understands the appeal.

Tropical Island

The Sharpes originally planned to stay in Puerto Rico for a few years, but they like it so much, they’ve now lived there more than ten. They spend time outdoors all year long. Sharpe says, “We enjoy boating. That’s one of our favorite hobbies. Living at the St. Regis, we’re close to the biggest marina in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico doesn’t get sold on its boating much, but it should.” His kids love surfing and efoiling, and Sharpe has become an avid kiteboarder. “I fell in love with kiteboarding, and Puerto Rico is one of the best places in the world to kiteboard.”

One benefit he and his family hadn’t anticipated: the close friendships they continue to make. “We get together at least once a week for dinner at someone’s home,” he says, “Our friends love the island as much as we do which makes living here so much fun.”

At the same time, he emphasized that island life hasn’t sidetracked his career. “I’m still busy enough for two people, but it’s completely different. I’m still driven, and I’m getting the jobs done. It’s just a more relaxed way of doing it.”

Strengthening the Local Economy

Thanks to Colectivo Group’s continued success, Ricky Santana is considering expanding the full-service luxury brand beyond Puerto Rico into the rest of the Caribbean — and beyond. But he can’t imagine ever wanting to live anywhere else.

Santana cares deeply about his local community, leading him to team up with Karla Barrera and Happy Walters to cofound the Puerto Rico ICON Institute, a nonprofit which supports local entrepreneurs and propels economic development in the area. The organization hosts events like the Puerto Rico ICON Conference, which brings together leaders from various industries with the goal of supporting the island’s economy and positioning Puerto Rico as a hub of innovation.

Attendees come from all over the world to discuss topics like artificial intelligence, regenerative agriculture, and biotechnology. This year’s conference and inaugural award ceremony will be celebrated on November 28-29 at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico located in San Juan. Santana says, “Puerto Rico ICON is an opportunity to come down to the island once a year and get a better understanding of what the island is all about.” Ever the ambassador, Santana is happy to introduce visitors to everything Puerto Rico has to offer.

To learn more about residential and commercial opportunities in Puerto Rico, connect with Colectivo Group.

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