While you're looking for your piece of paradise in Costa Rica, there are a number of professionals that can assist you through the entire process, some are optional and others are very necessary to close the deal. Finding the right agent or attorney can be a lengthy task in a foreign country, and it may take some time to find the person with whom you will feel most comfortable. But be sure to put in the necessary time and effort asking detailed questions and checking references. It will pay off when you are enjoying your new home.
Whether you use a real estate agent, an attorney, or both, we recommend that you hire a professional who lives in Costa Rica full-time. These people will have the most current, accurate information and will be able to give you extra bits of information about what it's like to live in that area. Agents who are selling property from your home country, thousands of miles away from Costa Rica, probably do not have the best information for you.
Finding a Real Estate Agent
In many countries, real estate agents are a regulated group of professionals who are required to uphold certain laws and practices by disclosing information and acting in an ethical manner.
Similar conditions exist for real estate agents in Costa Rica but participation is completely voluntary. Anyone can claim to be an agent and work as one, but there is a voluntary Costa Rican Chamber of Real Estate Brokers in which members adhere to an ethical code and business standards. Many agents also claim affiliation to foreign associations or have an international real estate franchise, but both of these associations may not offer much protection for you if a deal goes sideways.
Also, real estate agents usually only specialize in one particular neighborhood, town or area. If you want to look at properties in another part of the country, you might have to find another agent who knows the area.
This is not to say that every agent is untrustworthy and a scam artist. There are many real estate agents who operate ethically and work in your best interests, but your best protection is to ask for previous client references and check them thoroughly. We also recommend consulting with realtors in the area in which you are looking to buy. They have information about properties and regional developments that even the locals may not know.
In addition to hiring a good real estate agent, we recommend hiring a capable, local attorney to assist you with the finer details of buying property. There are a few ways to find a real estate lawyer, such as in the newspaper or telephone book, but the best way is by referral from your real estate agent or friends. Whichever way you find a lawyer, it is incumbent on you to do your research. Unfortunately, there are several stories about incompetent or unscrupulous lawyers who can end up costing you a lot of money and stress. To ensure that you are getting a trustworthy attorney, check with the Costa Rican Bar Association to find out if this lawyer is a member in good standing. Ask for client references and check them out. And if you've decided on a property, we recommend not using the same lawyer as the seller; you want someone who is working in your best interests alone. Once you've made your decision, ask the lawyer to prepare a document that outlines all the services they will provide to you, and how the cost of these services are determined. This will give you some protection against an attorney charging more for extra services.
When you're ready to sign on the dotted line, it's always a good idea to have a full inspection done on your prospective property. Traditionally in Costa Rica, civil engineers were the only ones legally allowed to perform appraisals and inspections. These engineers still do many of these inspections and are regulated by a national organization. Ask them to provide you with references and a clear document outlining their costs. Recently, with large banks providing home financing in Costa Rica, special bank employees or subcontractors are now able to do appraisals. These are not engineers but have been deemed qualified to do these tasks on the bank's behalf. Whoever is doing the inspection on your potential home, ensure they are qualified to check for physical deficiencies, and not just appraise the value.
If you have purchased your dream home in the perfect location, you probably don't have to worry about hiring any more people to make your paradise happen. However, if you're planning on renovating, remodeling or building on your new property, you will have to consider a number of different experts to ensure your construction project moves ahead smoothly and legally. Your general contractor or builder might be a good place to start. Costa Rica is home to a number of contractors who are familiar with Western building and material standards, if this is of concern to you. There are also a large number of highly qualified Tico contractors who will be able to see your project through. These contractors can be found through your realtor, lawyer, by word of mouth or through newspaper or web ads. In whatever way you find someone, ask for references, check them and do your research.
Depending on the scale and scope of your project, you may also need to bring in architects and engineers. Both are licensed by a national association that also publishes a fee schedule that all members must follow. This association is also a good way to do more research on their qualifications and find out if there have been any complaints filed against the architect or engineer you're considering hiring. Like any other professional, it is up to you to check references and ask for a full accounting of their duties and the associated costs.
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