You are here: Home E-Guide to Real Estate in Costa Rica Chapter 8 - Due Diligence First step: Check out the property

First step: Check out the property

At least visiting a property before buying it should be the no-brainer first step. Unfortunately this isn’t always true in Costa Rica. There are people in the U.S. who buy Costa Rican property site-unseen. Often there are no problems; sometimes, there are big ones. The idea behind scouting a prospective property is to confirm the most basic characteristics of the land. If you’re looking at a finished home, check out the furnishings, knock on the walls, and examine the foundation. Look for mold, flood damage, cracks, and any other damage that you might need to pay for repairs on later. Before you buy, be sure to hire a professional to give the property a thorough appraisal (explained further on). Costa Rica construction often cuts corners, so examining the details closely will be important.

If you’re not buying a house, but rather a piece of raw property, take a walk around the boundary lines. Imagine the position of the house you want to build and check the view. Look for the positions of creeks or rivers on the land, as these can flood during the rainy season, plus there are restrictions on what you can build near a body of water. Check out the trees on the property. If what you have in mind entails a lot of clear space, big trees – and obtaining the permits to cut them down – can present a big problem. Alternatively, if your construction plans are modest, big old trees can be a big plus, as they can add character and value to a property.

The other crucial thing you should check for on your preliminary visit to any property is residents. First of all, if you’re looking at a finished building, check for renters. Renters living on a property have a right to stay there for three years, and unless you’re planning to use the building as your permanent residence, change of ownership does not annul those rental rights. Even if you are planning to turn the home into your primary residence, talk to the renters and make sure they are, indeed, renters. A common real estate scam in Costa Rica is selling property that’s not for sale, and the people your seller calls “renters” may actually be the real owners. It sounds bizarre, but it happens.

In the same way, if you’re looking at purchasing a piece of property, make sure there are no squatters living there. Look for shacks or any kind of structure, as well as any recently-cultivated land. If you see something that looks amiss, don’t swallow the seller’s explanation: Either walk away, or get your lawyer to look into it.

Once you’ve given the property itself a thorough once-over, it’s time to turn to the surrounding area. Roads and transportation are not to be taken for granted in Costa Rica. Especially if the house or property is in a remote area, confirm that it is easily accessible, or at least be prepared for the sacrifices you will need to make. The two things most important to keep in mind on that count are weather and traffic. Heavy rains make some steep dirt roads impassible during the lengthy rainy season. Likewise, paved highways – especially in the Central Valley – can be paralyzed with traffic at strange times. A good policy, therefore, is to drive the roads near the property at various times of the day, week, and year to see what kinds of challenges you’ll have to deal with. Renting for a month or two in the area before buying is not a bad idea either. If none of that is possible, ask neighbors for their opinions.

Finally, if you didn’t do so during the process of selecting a property, do a quick check on the services that will be available to you in that location. Hospitals, airports, pharmacies, grocery stores, public transportation, and bars and restaurants are a few things worth checking for, and you will likely have a longer listing depending on your specific needs.