As yet another “Snowbird Season” draws to a close, newbies are no doubt planning the next trip to Florida.  Many are looking for the perfect place to winter over from all points north and cold.  I’ve lived in coastal areas for several years, and have witnessed the Snowbird Season up close and personal.  There is such a thing as a snowbird starter home. And, there’s one particular place many of them will choose a second, and eventual retirement home — The Villages.  As active senior developments have grown in popularity, The Villages is unique and absolutely fascinating.



Because really, who doesn’t love Paris? If trans-atlantic travel just will not fit into your busy schedule, the gorgeous ranch at 632 County Road 43400 in Paris, Texas, just may be the perfect locale to get you and the family out of the hectic city. This property is so much more than a vacation home, it is truly an estate. Located on 22 sprawling acres complete with a six-acre lake, attention to detail abounds on this stately compound.

Gated entry with stained concrete circle drive.

Gated entry with stained concrete circle drive.

Designed with friends and family at the forefront, the main house is absolutely built for entertaining. Featuring three living areas, the kids, teens, and adults can all have their own space. No fighting over the television here! MainLivingArea


It’s hard to say what kitchen you’ll like more – indoor or outdoor? Both spaces are state-of-the-art with Subzero and stainless steel appliances.



The crown jewel of this property is really the outdoor space. The property has an astounding total of seven (yes, seven) fireplaces, including one outside, and a firepit for marshmallow-roasting lovers.


The sparkling 60-foot saltwater pool is overlooked by a cozy outdoor seating area, perfect for sipping cocktails and watching the sunset.



One of the major standouts of this outstanding property is the choice of both the 1,800-square-foot carriage house or the newly constructed 2,000-square-foot guesthouse for lodging. The simpler carriage house is perfect for kids or teens, while the guesthome features a stone fireplace and full master suite.

Carriage House Apartment

Carriage House Apartment



This peaceful, quiet property is such a gem, it is not to be missed. The ultimate in private family compounds, this ranch is just waiting for your friends and warm summer nights.

Your new weekend paradise is offered for $1,098,00.00 by Ebby Halliday Realtor Dee Evans.

“…You could say goodbye to everyone and retreat to your land, hunkering down and living off it.” – Jeanette Walls, Half Broke Horses

Kathryn Roan 1Kathryn Roan is an Ebby Halliday Realtor focusing on farms, ranches, and equestrian properties. Kathryn lives in Poetry with her 7 horses. Contact Kathryn at

Faithful readers may recall when I wrote about a beautiful fractional ownership property in the heart, and I do mean the heart, of Santa Fe called El Corazon de Santa Fe. It was fabulous then, and it is even more fabulous now!

The property has been renamed “Fairmont Heritage Place, El Corazon de Santa Fe”. El Corazon is now in the same “family” of projects as Fairmont’s Ghirardelli Square, which you may see mentioned on this blog soon as I am kicking the tires there in August!  Last year, Fairmont took over the management of El Corazon de Santa Fe and it became a member of Fairmont’s huge family of exchangeable residences across the globe. So buying a fractional ownership — remember fractional is NOT time share, as we have told you — in this Santa Fe property now opens up the world — Acapulco, San Francisco, Telluride, Whistler, British Columbia even Zimbali, South Africa!

I stayed at El Corazon de Santa Fe two or three years ago and LOVED it: there are 16 two-story, two bedroom and I believe 2.5 bath units were beautifully furnished, as I recall, it was extremely comfortable and secure. The master closet was larger than what I’ve seen in some Dallas condos.

Now Rob Harper with Unity Hunt tells me they have actually upgraded El Corazon — didn’t think it needed it. But since I was there they upgraded all of the furnishings and fixtures  in all the residence club units to meet Fairmont specifications.

They expanded the clubhouse to add a fitness room, a second floor outdoor deck and an expanded reception / owners’ lounge area, and then they added an owner’s park on what used to be owners’ parking. I’m assured there still is plenty of that.

“The feedback we have received to date to has been really outstanding,” says Rob, “and with the affiliation with Fairmont we can offer our owners tremendous benefits for travel to Fairmont hotels and resorts worldwide that were not available before.”

It’s really one of the smartest moves ever, because Fairmont offers fabulous options, a growing network, from Ghirardelli to 1oo-plus beautiful hotels world-wide. I’ll have more for you on this come August and the total scoop on Ghirardelli, a chocolate factory turned into beautiful residences.

Then, too, there are those four daily America Eagle non-stops from D/FW International Airport to Santa Fe Municipal Airport. I mean, no more fly to Albuquerque and keep a car — you can fly right to Santa Fe, the Concierge at El Corazon will pick you up, and with the center of town location you may never need a car. When I visited, El Corazon had a luxury courtesy car that chauffeured us around to wherever our hearts desired.

How much? Prices start in the $100,000’s for a six weeks fractional ownership. Yes, I know, it sounds too good to be true so I am totally interested. This is a great time to buy a second home, and I think fractionals make so much sense. Six weeks is about all the vacation I can handle in a year. I’ll be investigating Fairmont’s product with a fine tooth comb as if I were buying myself because who knows, I just might!

“I have never been so close to the sand while sleeping in a luxury bed.”

I have been to Costa Rica now twice, first as the guest of Hillwood, Ross Perot Jr.’s Fort Worth-based company, second as the guest of The Palms Private Residence Club. Guess which spot I love more?

Guess which one I can actually AFFORD?

Hillwood still owns 13 prime, half-acre, beachfront lots in the uber-exclusive enclave of Peninsula Papagayo, located in a dry tropical forest on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica not too far from The Four Seasons, in the northwestern part of Costa Rica called Guanacaste, which has the best climate and the least rainfall in the country. It is also one of the least-developed areas, since there was no airport here before the one in Liberia opened in 2002. In May of 2008, Hillwood fueled up its private jet and whisked several Dallas real estate agents and me, as their scribe, for a 24 hour look/see that made me vow to return (and fly private!). I was a little sad, however, because I knew I’d never be able to afford one of those Hillwood lots, much less build a home on it. The price tags back in the boom were a cool $1.1 million to $4.5 million, or about $2 million per acre. (Note: asking price has gone up since 2008, now $2 to $5 million.) Cashing out in the U.S. and camping on my beach-front lot was not an option:  Costa Rica’s famous “howler” monkeys might keep me awake at night.

Spring ahead to last November, 2011. I arrived at The Palms, a gated private residence club on Playa Flamingo in Guanacaste, south of Papagayo. Sole ownership of one of the 34 villas will set you back $1.2 million – ha, but at least that includes a 2300 square foot luxury structure. But get this: with fractional ownership, I could own  a one-tenth share on a 2300 square foot condo for just $129,000.

Now we’re talking!

Fractional ownership can succinctly be described as like living in a New York CoOp, or  a condo. But instead of everyone owning a part of a space in a whole building, fractional ownership gives you undivided deeded ownership in a certain residence or villa. There are various arrangements: in some, you always stay in the same residence, in others you have access to multiple residences with similar finish-outs and and floor plans, but it is not necessarily the same structure you were in last visit. Some fractionals are Residence Clubs, which is like joining a country club: you own the property but rather than being assigned fixed or rotating weeks, you make reservations when you choose, similar to booking tee times.

Do not confuse these with timeshares, as many do. First of all, time -shares are now highly regulated and have come light years from their early, not-so-great days. Second, timeshares usually assign fixed weeks, are often not deeded and follow the same depreciation patterns as a car does.

Are there plusses and minuses? You bet, just like everything. You buy a certain “fraction of time”; in The Palms case, the $129,000 buys a one tenth interest in a two-bedroom plus loft villa at The Palms.  You have to share the property with others, and there are rules — like maybe no dogs allowed, no smoking. But here’s my argument, and why I am a fan of some fractionals: we working lasses cannot vacation more than a few weeks per year anyhow. It’s like pulling teeth to get my husband away even for a weekend! Each owner reserves two weeks at the beginning of each year, and has the opportunity to use the Villas any other time based on availability. Owners can even reserve short notice trips.

And that’s the dirty little secret about vacation homes: even the wealthiest are starting to figure out that you just don’t have enough time to spend it on an eternal vacation. Children, school, sports, family: there are times when you just have to be home or even travel to another destination. Then there is the upkeep, repairs, sometimes hiring someone to live in the house for you. Which is why what The Palms is doing is, I think, quite brilliant.

We landed at the same Liberia (Costa Rica) International airport as we did in Hillwood’s G450, only this time we were on Delta. American also has many direct flights, depending on the season, a quick 2 hour flight from Houston. The airport was still cooled by enormous ceiling fans and is known for its extra-long runway built by Oliver North during the Iran-Contra affair. (Somewhere in Liberia I’m told there is a restaurant in one of Ollie’s old planes!) One big change: there was a gorgeous, gleaming new building next door, the new Liberia airport that is now open.

Wow, I thought: three years later and they already have a gleaming new airport rivalling Panama’ City’s state of the art jetport!

We were picked up in a beautiful, clean and cool white Escalade owned by The Palms: cold drinks and icy towels in an ice bucket. Off we went to Playa Flamingo, a little over a one hour drive, as any home owner would. I was happy to see the streets have not much improved since 2008, because to me, that is the charm of Costa Rica. I love the way roads kind of just stop, turn to dirt, then pick up again somewhere. I love seeing someone on horseback right next to the car because those four legs are his wheels. In Coasta Rica, life is the way it used to be. Pura Vida

One reason why Costa Rica is such a popular Latin American country is the kind, respectful, highly educated population. Franklin (named after Benjamin) was our driver and guide. His brother Roy Saenz is the Palm’s main chef and concierge, making fresh Mojitos and cooking like a five-star chef — in fact, Roy owned a restaurant in Flamingo and IS a five-star chef. He is also the go-to man, organizing trips and where to find  anything. He and Walter were an unbeatable team and living proof of the high education standards Costa Rica holds for every citizen. Franklin told us there were seven boys in their family and each one had been named after an American — this is a country that still likes us! Our car trip was a complete history class about Coasta Rica and Flamingo. There was not one question Franklin could not answer, and when he couldn’t, he googled it for me.

There are seven states in Coasta Rica, Guanacaste being one and named for the wide, shade-producing canopy trees also called Elephant Ear Tree, which grows  prolifically in parts of Costa Rica and is the national tree of Coasta Rica. Though cattle and birds eat the fruits, I tried them and they are delicious! The word lierally means tree of ears or ear tree in Aztec, and legend has it that the tree offered protection. Coasta Ricans are very protective of their Guanacaste trees. The beach at Flamingo is one of the best in the world for surfing; the movie Endless Summer II, a sequel to the 1966 The Endless Summer,  was filmed in nearby Tamarindo in 1994 and sealed the great surfer rep. Famous people who have lived here: Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Lynda Carter and Mel Gibson. Brad and Angelina Pit hop private planes over to the Four Seasons all the time, as does Bill Gates, but now I understand the Brangelina clan is thinking of buying a ranch in Coasta Rica. Other celebs are soon to follow.

Really, the Flamingo beach is far superior!

September and October is the monsoon or green season, high season starts November 15 and runs until, August. May and September are slow months, I found early November perfect. June is the rainy season.

Retiring baby boomers are running to Costa Rica like flies to honey, 41,000 strong: with no incomes taxes on foreign-earned income, no capital gains tax, you can live long and large for less. “A $2000 a month income,” said Walter, ” let’s you live like a king.”

If you have a tourist visa, you have to leave the country every 90 days. Otherwise, become a resident and you can stay and still maintain be a U.S. citizenship as a resident.

There are four million people in CR, two million of those live in the capital, San Jose. Flamingo has only 1,000 people or so. The crime rate in this part of Costa Rica is generally low, but people who live there do report burglaries and for this reason, most condos and hotels have guards 24/7, as does The Palms.

Being actually a small community, it is not surprising that the Palms is the only upscale property of its kind in Flamingo that is right on the beach. The sand is seconds from your door: get any closer, you’d have to have a home on piers. There are quaint Euro-style eco-lodges and boutique hotels, but nothing high-end or obnoxiously tall. Each two-bedroom, three-bath villa looks out on the horseshoe-shaped Flamingo Bay with that pure turquoise water flanked by soft white sand. And you can hear the waves 24/7.

For me, my ah-ha moment was when we first walked into our villa. Coming in from the road, I had no idea how close we were to the actual water! I walked to the sliding mahogany and glass French doors and walked outside to our private patio. Literally five steps and I was on the sand. The interiors are uber high end, with granite counters, Viking stoves and top line stainless appliances you’d find in any high-end U.S. home. The floors are wood and marble,  steps decked out with rich red-brown wood from the Guanacaste PRIOR to the ban on using it. Downstairs, the kitchen, living room with sofa bed and dining room; upstairs, the two bedrooms with huge closets. Each bedroom has it’s own spa bath and there is a full bath on the first floor.

After four days of paradise, body surfing, Mojitos, snorkeling, kayaking, Mojitos, touring the tiny towns of Brasilito, Reserva Conchal, Mojitos, Hacienda Pinilla, we crowned it all with an airboat trip on the Tempique River at Palo Verde National Park. (Passed on the  marlin fishing, catamaran sailing, jet skis and scuba diving, but it’s there.) We saw everything including white-faced monkeys, howlers, green iguanas and coatis, and 12 different habitats from Ecotrans Tours. This fabulous company also has tours into Nicaragua, four hours north: our tour guide was an architect! The Four Seasons offers a day pass for its Arnold Palmer-designed golf course with breathtaking ocean views, and a full spa if you need one but we actually found a local masseuse who came to our villa for aromatherapy wraps using locally created scents.

I was ready to sign on the dotted!

A one-tenth Palms ownership costs $129,000, one-eighth costs $149,000. Twelve of the 25 villas have already been sold either as fractionals or total ownership. There is not much financing in Costa Rica, most of the sales are cash. Unlike Mexico, foreigners can own real estate in Costa Rica, just not on the beach, for the most part. In Costa Rica, 95% of beachfront property is considered concession property and is governed by the Maritime Zone Law plus other regulations including some set by municipalities and the ICT (Costa Rican Institute of Tourism).  Annual maintenance fees run $5,646/$7,040. Get this: that includes a daily housekeeper. The housekeeper folded our bathtowels into beautiful swans and scattered flower petals everywhere.

So why not just visit and rent? Why buy? The Palms is a rare property, one of the most unique resorts in CR because there is no road or path between the development and the ocean. And these pads are not for lease. Beachfront property, particularly luxury beachfront, is especially rare in Costa Rica because of 1977 legislation that banned beach development. Since the original resort was built before then, ownership is grandfathered in, which is why the owner/developer had such incredible vision.

That owner is an American businessman, commercial developer Bob Spence of Sacramento, Calif. In 2002 he came to CR with a friend who had flipped Costa Rican property for a hefty profit. Bob bought five lots in Ventana right on the beach. Months later he sold them for his own hefty profit. He told his wife, Marsha, “I’m going back.”

That’s when he purchased the Palms property — it was unfinished cinderblock units owned by a Middle Easterner — and Spence has since invested more than 20 million in renovations.

“The first time we drove here from the airport, there was nothing but potholes in the road,” says Marsha. “I took Advil for a week.”

The beach was there, of course, but the concrete walls were depressing and the structure resembled a Beirut prison more than a resort. But Bob, says Marsha, has incredible vision and he saw the potential in the rare location. He brought in an architect, re-drew everything, extended the floorplans, raised ceilings, made them light and bright to take advantage of the million dollar views. He traveled to Brazil to buy all the granite, selecting it personally. He selected high-end fixtures and appliances —  happens to be a Viking dealer in San Jose. He wanted to appeal to the refined tastes of the U.S. and Canadians who he hoped to sell to. Every villa has state of the art electronics and internet access, two balconies, two bedrooms and a sleeping loft, three full bathrooms, Jacuzzi tub in the master with separate shower, those Viking appliances in the kitchen and beautiful craftsmanship. There’s even a laundry closet with stack Miele washer and dryers.

Spence, a self-made millionaire who got his start founding “Pick-n-Pull” an online  dismantling auto scrap company he sold to Schnitzer Steel ten tears ago for $85 million, has his heart in commercial development. He oversees everything at The Palms, from grouting tiles to the food to working on the three bedroom full ownership units for sale next month for full ownership starting at $2.5 million. Pick-n-Pull recycles more than 350,000 autos a year. Ironic that Spence found his next project in a place also committed to preserving the planet and maintaining natural beauty, because Costa Rica is truly one of the most beautiful countries in the world, naturally.









I just got back from a terrific weekend in an amazing home on Cypress Springs Lake. But boy oh boy, look at this. A Virginia man is building a 72,000 square-foot house in the Missouri Ozarks with 13 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms and other features that could include a library, music room, theater and a garage — just the garage, mind you — measuring 4,000 square feet. The footprint of the house is just under 2 acres. Get this: it’s a second home for the man and his family of four kids. 

The house is made from a special steel-reinforced concrete that is energy-efficient and highly resistant to things like tornadoes, which is likely a good thing because this part of Missouri, near Branson, is prone to them. 

The owner, 60 year old Steven Huff, 60, is chairman of TF Concrete Forming Systems, which makes the concrete. He grew up in Missouri, and the giant home is near his boyhood home — much smaller, I’m sure, than this number.

His project is called Pensmore, and it has drawn a lot of attention because of its size and construction materials. Some people thought he was building a sort of apocolyptic end of the world shelter, or a bomb shelter, or a home for Brangelina. 

“The mission behind Pensmore is to serve as a living laboratory for ongoing research into energy conservation and disaster resistance,” Huff told Reuters.

“While the structure will also be a home to my family, our hope is that curiosity and gossip will fade to make room for the valuable insights a project of this scale can yield for building the homes, schools, hospitals and office buildings of the future.”

Huff has supersized the home to be a high-profile example to demonstrated energy efficiency — proving, I guess, that if he ends up with $100 a month utility bills on a house that size, the rest of us in slider-sized homes could follow his building lead. The concrete is mixed with bits of steel, poured into wall forms and very well insulated on the outside; concrete absorbs the heat, keeping the house cooler.

A portion of the house can be seen by motorists on U.S. Highway 65 between Springfield and Branson, Mo. and the home is a year away from completion. Tours are going to be available soon, and I will be raising my hand to head towards Missouri and check this out for you!

Question: does this look like a fun second home?

We need the help of interior designers to keep us on the straight and narrow. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice: interior designers SAVE YOU MONEY. I think we could have educated Jon & Kate’s brood with all the money I wasted buying furniture and objets d’art I did not need that created no design flow in my home. (At times, my home looked like the nic-nak department at Horchow! Oh the skeletons in my design closet!) Finally, a few good interior designers set me straight! It’s no different in a first or second home. So we have this nice ad in the fabulous Dallas-Fort Worth Design Guide  — best design site ever AND they are not just in Dallas and Fort Worth, but active in Austin and San Antonio. We’ll be sharing some content and Dallas-Fort Worth Design Guide designer tips to help our readers figure out what to put in their second homes, and how to keep it all pulled together.

Now, this calls for a celebratory trip to the Hill Country!

This home is in Kingston, New York, in the Hudson River Valley, and was just written up in the New York Times. I’m writing about it because a) it is a second home for a NYC couple and b) it was built in 1958 by the grandparents of a friend who grew up in the area but now lives in California. They were the “meticulous couple” mentioned in this article. My friend, Samantha, says all that is missing is the Day-Glo white Christmas tree and — oh yes — she also says she has never heard it referred to as the Jetson’s House. The home is in a lovely neighborhood and the mid-mod design makes for easy maintenance, which can be a real pain when you own multiple homes. (Maintaining one drives me nuts!)!

“The couple who had commissioned the architect who designed the house lived in it until we bought it. They had been meticulous. It has a butterfly roof, so the front slopes gradually downward, rising again about halfway back. It’s great in the winter because there are no drainage problems. The sun melts the snow, and it runs along the center and off. You hear about second homes becoming money pits. This was so well built and so beautifully designed, it will never be that.”

You are looking for the best real estate values in greater Dallas, right? You want a maintenance, headache-free first or second home close to that great maker of getaways, D/FW Airport. Yet you continue to look in Dallas. Are you crazy? Las Colinas is right next door, closer to D/FW, and has some of the best home values in North Texas. Look at this darling pretty-as-pink town home: 6843 Verde, Irving, TX. Beautiful hardwoods throughout the down stairs. Granite, stainless steel, convection oven, breakfast bar, and glass front cabinets make the kitchen sleek and sexy. (No time to cook but we must look good.) The living area overlooks the patio. There are three living areas and 2 dining areas, upstairs office loft. Built in 2006, it has 1772 square feet, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two living afraes and gorgeous kitchen, two car rear garage, only $160 per month in association fees so you can lock and leave. La Villaita is a beautiful nook centered around a lake, two canals, trails and parks minutes from DFW Airport, Downtown Dallas and Fort Forth with convenient access to I35, I635, George Bush Turnpike. How much you ask? (Thought you never would!) Don’t faint — only $230,000.

See what happens when you venture out of the D Bubble?