You are here: Home E-Guide to Real Estate in Costa Rica Chapter 8 - Due Diligence A word of caution

A word of caution

Whatever the case, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of thorough due diligence when buying property in the Costa Rican real estate market. Costa Rica can be an odd place, and among its many charms is its ability to lull foreign real estate buyers into carelessness. Call it the “Pura Vida Affect” – otherwise-sharp businesspeople land in Costa Rica, and because the people are so nice, or perhaps because it’s their first international adventure, they cut corners, trust too much, and get into a mess. Keep in mind that no matter how lovely the culture, large amounts of money attract all manner of scammers. Foreign buyers need to be extra careful, and that includes carrying out due diligence before buying.

The other reason due diligence is so important in Costa Rica is less prosaic: Namely, it’s much easier to do things right the first time in Costa Rica than to go through a lawsuit later. A problem with a contract or illegal actions by an unscrupulous seller can take years to sort out through the painfully slow and fairly ineffective Costa Rican legal system. That labyrinth of paperwork and linoleum-hallwayed public buildings is best avoided in any circumstance, and especially if you’re buying a property in the country so you can get away from it all. Even worse is trying to pursue a court case from outside Costa Rica if you don’t plan to live here full time.

Unless you’re fully bilingual and have extensive experience doing property transactions in Costa Rica, you should not carry out due diligence on your own. You will be trusting your lawyer quite a bit during this process, both to do legal due diligence, and possibly to arrange the rest of the process – for example, finding an environmental engineer or a soil technician to work with. It’s yet one more reason why it’s important you select a good lawyer (see Chapter 11).

So this chapter isn’t meant to be a “how-to” so much as a general overview, to give you an idea of the kinds of problems that can arise when purchasing property in Costa Rica and their level of seriousness. The chapter will give you some idea what your lawyer should be checking up on so you can ask intelligent questions of the professionals that will be working for you during the process, and know what to make of the final results.

This chapter will first explain some things you can do on a visit to the property to give it a once-over. Next, the chapter will examine the process of title search, which should be carried out by your lawyer. The third section of the chapter will discuss physical considerations, such as soil quality, structural soundness of the building (if there is one), and environmental impact. Next, the chapter will look at some of the background checks you can do with the local municipality, then examine some basic research you should do on utilities access and right-of-ways. Finally, the chapter will take a brief look at condo-specific due diligence, which includes things like condominium association rules, the reputation of the developer, and some pre-construction and investment considerations.

As a final piece of advice, if you’re buying from a responsible seller, he or she may have already done your due diligence for you. The seller may simply hand you a package that includes tax receipts, property registration information, utilities receipts and evidence of availability, as well as letters stating the presence or absence of public right-of-ways for underground pipes and cables. If you’re planning to do a development, this may not be good enough, but if you’re just buying a condo, lot, or single family home, you’re more or less done. Follow your lawyer’s lead, and read this chapter to make sure the seller hasn’t missed anything.