A Stable Retirement Business in a Tropical Paradise

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on April 24, 2020 in Make Money

Tim Dwyer was born and raised on a farm just outside the town of Stratford in Ontario, Canada. In some ways, he had a typical agricultural upbringing, learning to milk cows and birth pigs. But he was also shaped by the outsized cultural resources in his local community.

Though a small town with a modest population, Stratford is a cultural hot spot. Named for the English town of Shakespeare’s birth, it hosts museums, art galleries, and an annual Shakespearean festival, which attracts visitors from across the region and overseas.

Tim would find success as an independent businessperson serving these tourists. After high school and a stint in the seminary, he studied and worked in the education and design sectors. However, he was always more interested in service work, and in 1996 he opened his first bed-and-breakfast in Stratford. He’s been in the B&B business ever since. 

This willingness to change direction and follow his heart has been a hallmark of Tim’s life, and would ultimately lead him to establish a new business on sunny shores overseas. “My father’s death when he was only 63 showed me that life is short, so live where you want to be and be who you want to be,” he says.

In 1998, Tim went on a weeklong trip to Costa Rica and immediately fell in love with the country. The following year, he went back for two weeks. And the year after that, he signed up for a one-month Spanish immersion course in Costa Rica that included time living with a local family. In 2001, he returned for another month-long course. By the end, he was virtually fluent in Spanish. 

Having acquired the language, Tim bought property in stunning Manuel Antonio National Park on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast in 2002. At that time, the property consisted of a main house, a couple of two-bedroom apartments, and two studio apartments. He named it Nelda, after his mother. At the age of 43, he was in the B&B business in both Costa Rica and Canada. 

For many years thereafter, Tim split his time between Stratford and Manuel Antonio, but he always struggled with the idea of being an absentee landlord for half the year in each locale. Eventually, he sold the Canadian operation in 2013 and moved full-time into the main house in Manuel Antonio. He has since expanded Casa Nelda, adding three more apartments for a total of seven. 

While Tim is far from a real estate mogul, this operation now provides him a steady income…even in these uncertain times, when the country is in lockdown and tourist revenue has completely dried up. 

From his decades in the industry, he was keenly aware of the ups and downs of the tourism sector and so years ago, he decided to reserve several of the apartments for long-term renters rather than tourists. As a rule, accommodation owners make less from renters than tourists. But with a few permanent tenants, he’d always have some money coming in…a decision that has paid off in a big way amid the current crisis.

In addition to running Casa Nelda, Tim is a member of the Quepos-Manuel Antonio Writers Group. He authors a blog on self-improvement and regularly contributes articles to the local Playita magazine, a monthly newsletter directed toward LGBTI tourists. 

Tim, now in his 60s, attributes his success in Costa Rica to a willingness to talk with locals and get on-the-ground information. “To this day, most of my friends are ticos (slang for Costa Ricans), I am not limited to just the expat community, although I know many of them well also,” he says.  

Written by Bob Normand