Buying a Home or Property in Costa Rica

Happy couple signing real estate contract

Anyone can buy a home or any other type of property in Costa Rica. You will be surprised at how much real estate there is for sale here. But you have to get it right; otherwise, you could be in for a lot of trouble, or incur big extra expenditures.

First rule: do not buy anything sight unseen, or send a big deposit to hold a property you haven’t seen and has not been OK’d by an independent attorney. You certainly wouldn’t do this at home, so why even consider doing so in a foreign country. If you are thinking of spending $150,000, $200,000 or so on a property for sale in Costa Rica, it is worth spending one or two percent of that amount to come and see it first, pick up a piece of dirt, and talk to the owner/developer on site. There have been many people that didn’t do this, and lost both their money and their property.

Second rule: do your due diligence. A good, thorough, competent attorney is key. Real Estate Costa Rica can recommend an experienced real estate lawyer who meets all the above requirements, and is English-speaking. The initial step, after you see something you like, is to search title. This isn’t as easy as it looks; anyone can inscribe a piece of property in the National Registry, even if it isn’t her/his at all. That is why a good lawyer is a must.

Once the seller gives you the deed and the official ‘plan catastro’ (land registry map), it is the lawyer’s job to make sure:

  • that the property you want is legally separated and titled (far too many unsuspecting people buy real estate in Costa Rica from developers who have not yet – or do not maliciously intend to – separate the particular lot from the ‘mother farm’)
  • that the seller is in fact the real owner and has the power of sale
  • that the title and plan are legitimate and up-to-date, and the dimensions are correct (no overlapping with your neighbor’s land, for instance)
  • that there are no hidden liens and/or mortgages; and that you have easy legal access to the property, including vehicle access.

With building lots or farms for sale in Costa Rica, another thing the attorney must do is determine what you can and cannot build or do – i.e., the local zoning laws, or ‘uso de suelo’ – and if the property has or can obtain legal access to electricity and water. Also, if buying a farm, there are owners’ legal obligations to laborers living and working on the property, and to those who have leased the land for agricultural use. Ditto for caretakers living full-time on residential property. Make sure this question can be resolved before you buy, or you might have someone you don’t want or need legally living or working on your property.

It is almost impossible for non-Costa Ricans looking to buy property in Costa Rica to get a loan from a Costa Rican bank. Rule this out immediately unless you have a financial history here. If you cannot put down the full amount, many owners will take paper. Just make sure, once you have agreed on terms, that your payments go to the right person and are legally inscribed; and that the title is held in escrow up to the moment that all your financial obligations, along with the seller’s obligations, stipulated in the sales contract, are fulfilled.

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