In many ways our visit was better than we expected, except for the parts that were worse than we could ever have imagined.
Let’s begin with a positive: we stayed at the Puerto Real Inn, a small, comfortable hotel located in the middle part of the island. We’d eaten at the hotel’s restaurant a few times on previous trips and had been impressed not only by the cuisine and general atmosphere but also by the owner, a charmer named Carlos.
As for our real estate adventures, I’ll let you be the judge.
First up to bat was Clara. Her office was on Route 997, about halfway between Isabel and Esperanza. We arrived Thursday afternoon straight from the airport, aching with fatigue but excited at the prospect of finally seeing some properties.
She was working with several other clients when we walked in. And when I say “working with” I don’t mean showing them brochures. She was teaching a yoga class.
She looked up from her gyrations and flashed us a brilliant smile. “Yoga or real estate?”
We couldn’t help laughing. “How about both?”
A half-hour later she dismissed her limbered-up acolytes and loaded us into her un-air conditioned Volvo. “I’ve chosen three properties to show you. All of them are pretty perfect for you guys, I think.”
This sounded promising.
The first was a mildew-infested hovel with no view of anything except the hovel next door. In an excess of politeness we let her give us a tour of the place, picking our way gingerly through the stuffy, over-furnished rooms.
“You like it?” she asked as we climbed over the owner’s dirt-smeared clothes piled on the kitchen floor. “It’s a good buy.”
“It isn’t quite what we had in mind,” I said quickly, thinking that what I really had in mind after ten minutes in this slum was a bar of lye soap, a wire brush and a scalding shower.
The next place was marginally better. It was trim and clean and even boasted an ocean view. Unfortunately, it also featured a panoramic view of a house trailer standing in the middle of the front yard.
“What’s that?” I asked.
Clara laughed good-naturedly. “That’s where the owner lives now. He wants to stay close by.”
“So, he’s planning to live on the property after it sells?” Michael asked.
“Right,” said Clara. “This is a pretty common thing in Puerto Rico. He was born in this house and he doesn’t want to leave it.”
After a quick tour of Clara’s third choice (“see, it has a taco stand right out front, a real money maker”), I decided to take her aside for a one-on-one.
“I’m afraid these houses aren’t really what we’re looking for.”
She stared at me uncomprehendingly. “No?”
Her tone turned on a dime from incredulous to vaguely hostile. “Not good enough for you?”
On the way back to her office she offered us both free yoga classes.