CRL: What is the first piece of advice you would give to someone planning a move to Costa Rica?
Scott: Take your time and do your homework! Living in Costa Rica is NOT for everyone and of course, you need to make sure you are getting your information from reputable sources. Do not listen to someone’s “investment advice” unless they are experienced and qualified to give you investment advice and think very, very carefully about buying real estate from so called “developers” who have no previous track record.
When you search for suitable Costa Rica real estate, whether it is to live in or purely as an investment, you need to be informed about the challenges of Costa Rica real estate:
1. Contrary to what some people may have told you, there is no Multiple Listing Service! Trying to establish the ‘value’ of real estate is difficult.
2. Half the population of Costa Rica call themselves real estate ‘brokers’ because anybody can freely call themselves a ‘broker’. They do not need any qualifications, training or experience to try and sell you real estate.
3. An organization of real estate brokers does exist; however, few people belong to it and nobody is regulating the majority of these people!
4. The laws governing Costa Rica real estate are based on Napoleonic Laws and are different from Common Laws as they are in the US and Canada.
What this means is that when you search for Costa Rica real estate, which may be one of the biggest investments of your life, more than likely, you will listen to ‘expert’ advice coming from someone with zero qualifications or training in real estate, who is trying very hard to earn a sales commission selling you a property that could be overpriced.
And please! Do not buy real estate anywhere without visiting it. I am amazed daily at how many people tell me they have bought land in Costa Rica (when they have never been to Costa Rica before) from people they do not know and who have no ‘development’ experience.
CRL: What is the average cost to build a 1,000 sguare foot house?
Scott: I built my own 1,638 square foot vacation home for $56 per square foot and that included the cost of the land (http://www.welovecostarica.com/members/1298.cfm ) Most North Americans that come to Costa Rica are building homes for $75 – $100 per square foot and that would be for a good quality, completely furnished home.
The cost of the land would be in addition to that. The cost to build in the Central Valley area (around the capital San Jose) tends to be lower than at the beaches where transportation and labor costs are higher.
CRL: How do you find a good builder in Costa Rica?
Scott: Referrals are always the best way to go but even after receiving referrals, you can trust them but you should also verify what you have heard. Try and visit homes that have been built by the builder and if possible, speak with the owners. Building a home anywhere is a very stressful experience so you’re always going to hear about some problems but we must make sure that these are not serious problems. Unless you know your builder in Costa Rica very, very, very well indeed – which is practically never, we would encourage you to be on the site daily to monitor the progress of the construction. Many of our 7,000+ VIP Members have found a variety of excellent real estate professionals through our www.WeLoveCostaRica.com website. Not necessarily always referrals from me personally but oftentimes in our Discussion Forum which is very active.
CRL: Can Ticos follow American drawn blueprints and house plans?
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Scott: You can certainly use US plans to start the process but your plans would have to be approved by an architect in Costa Rica. Costa Rica seismic laws are more stringent even than those of California and all of this has to be factored into the equation.
CRL: How can one make sure that they are buying property legally? What are the costs involved in doing so?
Scott: We must always remember that the system of law in Costa Rica is based on Napoleonic Law and NOT Common Law as it is in the USA – so please remember that things are just not done the same way. You can not ‘assume’ that because you have bough or built homes before that you can do the same thing here, you probably can not. You do need to have a Costa Rican attorney who will be there to look out for your best interests. NEVER – I repeat – NEVER work with the seller’s attorney, always have your own Costa Rican attorney check out the title of the property BEFORE you think about making an offer. We offer a very low priced $99 Costa Rica Title Search service in conjunction with the most powerful law firm in Costa Rica () As far as total closing costs are concerned, I would encourage you to see attorney Roger Petersen’s article at
CRL: What is the biggest mistake most people make when moving to Costa Rica?
Scott: Most Americans believe that the Ticos (the Costa Rican people) are just like them except they speak a different language. I love the Costa Rican people but they are NOT just like Americans. This is a different culture and as long as people can accept and respect the Ticos for who and what they are, most people will be delighted with their lives here.
The people that want to show the Ticos “how we do it back home” or “I’ll teach them a thing or two” are the people that don’t stay long.
CRL: What types of things should people bring with them when they move to Costa Rica?
Scott: A good friend of mine says that you should bring a sense humor, a sense of adventure and a heck of a lot of patience. You can buy most ‘material’ things here now especially in the Central Valley area and when CAFTA is approved, no doubt we will be flooded with a million more American brand names. The availability of more ‘American’ type items is more difficult the further away you get from the capital; San Jose, but we have seen some amazing changes in the last ten years.
CRL: What is the average cost of living in Costa Rica?
Scott: Again this is a very difficult question to answer and would depend on someone’s style of living.
CRL: How can one be assured that their “realtor” is legit?
Scott: First of all the word Realtor is a legally trademarked term and there are only seven real estate sale people, in all of Costa Rica, who have the right to use or be called a Costa Rica Realtor. They are registered with and pay annual dues to the National Association of Realtors.
To use the word “legit” when it comes to real estate sales people in Costa Rica is difficult because you do NOT need to have any training, qualifications or licenses to sell real estate here but once again referrals are very important and we have a Help-U-Search section (http://www.welovecostarica.com/public/department40.cfm ) on our website to recommend the best real estate professional in the different areas of the country. These are all people that I know personally and whom I trust implicitly.
CRL: How do most Americans/Europeans/etc make a living there?
Scott: Most expats here are NOT working. As in any developed nation, you can not simply walk off the plan in Costa Rica and start working. If you plan on working here, it needs to be planned carefully from the beginning because you may have to apply for a specific residency status BEFORE you arrive. Salaries are very much lower here than most people are accustomed to so finding a ‘job’ is A: Difficult and B: Rarely a financially attractive proposition. .
CRL: Are there any areas you recommend or don’t recommend?
Scott: Choosing a geographical area depends on your own personal goals which is why we ask so many questions in our Help-U-Search section so that we recommend the best people in the most geographically appropriate areas.
Are you only interested in buying real estate as an investment? To buy at one price and to sell at a much higher price in a few years?
Are you interested in buying real estate now and perhaps renting it out for income whilst you wait for your retirement and then live in that house?
Or are you planning on living here with children who will need to be near good international schools?
Are there any medical considerations which would mean you must be near to a world-class medical facility Do you spend a lot of time online and would need reliable, high-speed internet access?
CRL: What are some of the best mountain areas and beach areas to buy property in?
Scott: This is a small country but the choices of areas to live in is quite remarkable and again there are some many variable that I would have to know more about someone before making a sensible recommendation.
But to give you a coupe of examples:
Thankfully with the publication of my book, How To Buy Costa Rica Real Estate Without Losing Your Camisa, and the powerful Costa Rica real estate connections we have developed over the past seven years, in certain areas, we are now in the fortunate position to know:
Who has plans to build.
Where they plan on building
When they plan on building.
What they plan to build
A dozen or so of the biggest and best real estate developers in Costa Rica are asking me to help them with project design ideas, the names of their new developments, the pricing and their overall marketing strategy.
Recently I visited a piece of land that experienced Costa Rica real estate developer friends of mine are thinking of buying, they will be building over 80 homes and based on their proven track record of delivering quality real estate I KNOW that this new project will have a positive affect on the neighboring real estate.
US$90,000 – US$120,000 in Six Weeks! Another Costa Rica developer whom I first recommended about 18 months ago, was selling his brand new beach apartments for US$90,000 and asked me to visit.
After spending the day with him, it was decided to sell their apartments for a higher price, they were leaving far too much money on the table and they were still incredibly competitive
How would you have felt if you had bought a few of those brand new apartments for US$90,000 as an investment and then six weeks later, saw those same apartments selling for US$120,000? Interestingly enough, they are selling more of them at that higher price!
The homes of a developer in Santa Ana that we featured on this site about two years ago are now selling for 33-66% more.