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Third step: Physical property survey

Not all your due diligence can be carried out in the National Registry. If you’re still interested in the property after the title search, your next step is to hire some professionals to do a more detailed assessment of various aspects of the property. This part of the chapter will discuss three things you’ll want to check: The property size and alignment; the value of the property; and the environmental impact any construction on it might have. There are different ways to check those three things, and this section will touch on a few of them.

Property size and alignment: This is something you’d be wise to measure regardless of the property or what you find in the National Registry. It doesn’t cost much and will give you peace of mind. Basically, you’ll have to hire a surveyor to measure the property lines and establish both the size and the alignment. While this is something you’ll want to do regardless of the property (condominiums and gated communities excepted), it’s especially important if you’re looking at a large piece of farmland or a property that borders the maritime zone or a national park. Your attorney might be able to recommend a surveyor, or you can find several companies that provide such services in the resources section of this book.

Property value: This is tricky with large pieces of raw land or lots, and to a certain extent you’ll be on your own. Your best bet is to talk to other buyers in the area to get price points. However, when looking at a finished building – or even a building that’s still under construction – you can contract the services of a perito. Perito is the Spanish word for “expert witness,” but a better translation would be property appraiser. Basically, these are people (usually engineers registered with the CFIA) whose job is to assess the value of finished buildings and estimate the future value of unfinished ones. They take into account the value of the materials, the labor, and the furnishings, plus market factors and profit for the developer (if there is one involved). There are a handful of companies that offer this service, and they are hired by banks to assess property value before the bank will give out housing loans. They cost a few hundred dollars and will be able to sit down with you and explain, in detail, the pluses and minuses of the home or land you’re looking at. Keep in mind, however, that the perito’s word is merely one expert’s opinion, and should be weighed against other pricing factors.

Environmental impact: Costa Rica has famously strict environmental laws, and before you buy, you should do whatever you can to make sure your plans for a piece of property will not be hindered by those laws. If you’re looking at a lot or home within a gated community, ask the developer to give evidence that the appropriate environmental authorities have approved his site plan. If you’re purchasing an individual lot or raw farmland, you should consider hiring an environmental engineer to review the property and your plans for potentially environmental hang-ups. This could mean doing everything from giving the property a quick once-over to doing an entire environmental impact study. When purchasing property, many developers first buy a long-term option and complete the environmental review process before they close on the land (see Chapter 14 on permitting for more details).

As one final piece of advice, if you’re planning a development or a large estate, having an experienced attorney, civil engineer, or other real estate development professional available for consulting is a must at this stage. The larger and denser the project, the more things can go wrong. Get a good team and follow its advice.