Palmas del Mar Review is part of the TPOL Moves to PR Trip Report and a continuation of the series House Hunters (Semi) International: Where to Live in Puerto Rico.
I hope you are enjoying binge watching this season of House Hunters (Semi) International. When we first met TPOL yeas ago, he was on a mission to find an apartment in Mongolia (see House Hunters Ulaanbaatar). Now, he’s moved to Puerto Rico and has had no luck finding a place to live. No thanks to viewers like you, he can’t afford Dorado (see Dapper Dorado?). He also fancies himself not to be a namby-pamby, so he eliminated the expat trap of Condado (see Say No to Condado). Dead set on making his golf dream a reality, he learned about a community called Palmas del Mar. While it is about an hour southeast of San Juan, making it inconvenient to get to the airport, it advertised the Dorado lifestyle without the Dorado price tag. Will this be the place TPOL calls home? Let’s find out.
Cue Theme Music
Host: Hi TPOL. I know you were mad about Condado and are still shaken by the prices in Dorado. What if I told you there’s a place where you can get a brand new 3 bedroom condo for $259,000, join a golf club for zero money down, and use a golf cart as your primary means of transportation? How does that sound?
TPOL: That sounds like a dream come true. Where is this magical place?
Host: It’s a community called Palmas del Mar. Before we go, I have to warn you that the place is a bit strange.
TPOL: What do you mean?
Host: Well, it is a giant gated community. Within it, there are a dozen or so housing developments. There’s a bank, a grocery store, and even restaurants inside. It was built to be an island utopia. Here’s the copy from their website:
TPOL: Hmm, clever or cultish? Let’s go take a look.
Arriving at Palmas
Host: What did you think of the commute?
TPOL: That was terrible. I got lost twice. Where are the exit signs on the freeway? The roads here have more potholes than Detroit.
Host: (mumbling) Here we go.
TPOL: Let’s go in and check it out. Unlike Dorado, let’s check out the facilities first and deal with the housing later.
Palmas has two 18 hole golf courses. TPOL played the palm course. Though they have done a nice job cleaning it up, the devastation of Maria was apparent. Indeed, the course was “palm” in name only as most of the greenery was gone.
It is frowned upon to bring your own booze. You should buy it from the clubhouse.
Close to the ocean, the course is noticeably windy. There used to be a bar on the third hole but it was literally swept away by the storm.
The 4th hole provided more opportunities to see the ocean.
The back nine had many great views as well.
Golfing was fun. After a few drinks and a few good shots, I thought I could live here.
Then I learned that there is a cart fee per person and like everywhere else in Puerto Rico, you can’t use your own cart. It’s $31.22 (morning), $24.53 (1PM on) and $16.73 (3PM on). It’s also $270 a month for the membership. This news was the first chink in the armor.
Palmas is a giant gated community that has gated housing communities within it. On the one hand, the place is secure. On the other, living behind walls and going through security checkpoints isn’t my idea of paradise.
Some of the communities have multi-million dollar homes. Like Dorado, those properties were out of my price range. On this day, I went to visit Harbour Lakes PR, a housing development owned by former Secretary of Treasury Paulson, a billionaire who owns many properties and developments in Puerto Rico. For the fair price of $259,000, Harbour Lakes has 3 bedroom villas with 2.5 baths and a rooftop terrace. There is no property tax for five years, and there’s even a discounted golf membership if you buy a unit.
Harbour Lakes’ website does a great job of marketing the property. If the property was like the website, I would’ve bought without hesitation. In person, the property is a far cry from what the site purports it to be.
If you’re looking for an ocean view, do not look here. The only view is of a man-made lake, a parking lot, or the mountain.
The villas are not quality. It looks like they were thrown together quickly in an effort to sell them quickly and move on to the next project. After the economic crisis and after Maria, many of the units remain vacant. Indeed, many of the units are occupied by government contracted relief workers who have been there ‘temporarily’ for months on end. If you’re looking for a sense of community, look elsewhere.
The only reason to live here is because it is has a tax incentive and because it’s dirt cheap. Conversely, there are so many units available that it would be difficult to sell the properties for a profit should you want out.
Everywhere I looked, there was a golf cart zipping by. Many were operated by kids. I couldn’t imagine raising little TPOL behind gates and having he or she think that this life is normal. Living there is like being part of an isolated tribe. As soon as someone left the compound or interacted with someone from the outside, that individual would be unprepared and overwhelmed by life on the outside.
TPOL: It looks like there’s nowhere to live on this island if you want to play golf and aren’t a millionaire. At this point, I’m beginning to think I should give up on my golf dream and just find a place in San Juan. I’ll golf in my next life.
Host: I understand your frustration. Maybe you won’t be able to find a place on a golf course, but maybe we can find you a place with a better view.