Real estate nightmares in Costa Rica?

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    Not that I want to dwell on the negative experiences of buying property in Costa Rica; but I would be interested in hearing anyones story. You know actual events and experiences that have transpired not just speculation. Or even just your experiences dealing with different developers or brokers whether they were good or bad?

    It seems a few people in this forum have sent money to sellers just based on an internet ad or e bay sale…


    Bad experience happen to people that do what we do not practice at home. Itis so amazing to me that someone would purchase property in another country without even visiting that country is setting themselves up to be taken. That is like walking in a drug neighborhood holding your wallet in your hand. You are asking someone to steal from you.

    There are good experiences and bad. Most of those that I have come in contact with that have had bad experiences are people that put a lot of trust in someone they had never met. They just walk off the plane holding there wallets in their hand.

    It is amazing how they hold it to the fault of the one that robbed them and not face the fact that they asked for it. That would happen anywhere in the world.


    Did you see the article entitled ‘Costa Rica Real Estate Horror Story”?

    Common sense is NOT so common.



    I purchased property in Costa Rica last year and am in the process of building a house, the entire process of which will be the topic of an article for this website. Despite my impulsivity to buy on my first trip to CR, I have had the most wonderful experience and so far nothing bad has happened to me, and my house is nearly 90% done, so it’s on time and under budget. I spent a lot of time researching real estate in CR before I hopped on the plane. I had also been in an e-mai lfest with the developer for months before I went down there, so I had a good feel for him and his ethics. But to hand someone $25,000 JUST for the privilege of looking at a piece of overpriced property seems insane to me. Who would do that in the States? NOBODY! Maybe my experience isn’t typical, but so far, it has been the best experience of my life.


    Maravilla, in which part of Costa Rica are you building?


    I bought a lot just outside San Ramon in Los Angeles Sur, lovingly referred to as Angel Valley, which is turning into an eclectic enclave for all sorts of expats from all over the world.


    Maravilla, to most people coming to Costa Rica they think their deals are great deals. The reason they sound good is because they compare them to what it would cost in the US. Almost everyone I know here that has built a home could have built it for thousands of dollars cheaper. In fact the Costa Ricans are talking about the Americans paying double the regular pricing.

    You can not know you are getting a good deal if you have nothing to compare it to. We purchased our home before it was appraised. It always bugged me I was sort of curious as to what it would appraise for. Well, we found out to our disappointment that is actually appraised for about $20,000 less then we paid for it. The only good thing about that is we paid much less the the person had initally said they wanted for it.

    If you have nothing to compare your price to other then the prices in the US I would say you still are paying to much. Costa Ricans know how to stroke us, they know more about our habits then we know about theirs. So they know just what to say and do.

    I attend a Costa Rican church and have Costa Rican workers, they tell me that the Americans are paying double the price for land, supplies and labor. This is not the first country that thought North Americans are stupid.

    You did not perform any price comparisons, you took someones word and they said what you felt comfortable with hearing.

    In order to make a good decision you need to have something to compare it with. Here in Costa Rica you can go to purchase materials and get a different price from each store you go to. That is for the exact same material, they do not have a lot of brand choices.

    All the best to you, I can truly say if it is working for you that is because you are blessed and not becuase you did good homework from a distance.


    Jenny is right on all her thoughts. We have experienced the two tier pricing system on the Pacific coast where we bought and remodeled a home by the beach. You definitely have to do your homework, but I think just as important is the use of good old common sense. You invariably learn from your mistakes, and the best thing is to try and learn from the little mistakes and hopefully never make the big ones. We got what we felt was a fair price on the entire remodel cost of our home. The contractor (a Tico) quoted a total price for the labor and we paid for the materials as they were needed. The contractor ordered the material and we went later and paid the receipts. What we did not realize was that the contractor was getting a minimum of 10% kickback from the hardware store, wood supplier, etc. In some instances more than 10%. A friend had told me you can’t go in and bargain on price here. That is totally false. We buy our own materials now, we negotiate a discount on any bulk purchases or we don’t buy. We found it only takes once you walking away while they see they just lost about $2000 in a material purchase for them to be quite accomodating the next time you come in. You don’t have to be arrogant, Tico’s aren’t. Smile and say thanks but no thanks. It’s all part of the game, you just have to try to be better at the game sometimes.


    But I did do plenty of research on building costs for the area I was in and for the home I wanted to build. My building costs were just under $30 per sq foot! Exactly how much cheaper could I have gotten it to have a house that is custom built to gringo standards and every amenity imaginable? I’ve seen every receipt for every piece of ribar and concrete block. If my contractor made money by paying in cash and getting a discount, I’m happy for him because I didn’t see where he was getting paid any other way. So how much did I get ripped off? How much does a Tico pay for building the same house? $20 per sq foot? Less? In my area in the States, building costs are $240 per sq foot, so of course in comparison, CR prices are rock bottom to me. The total cost of my house will be $44,000 — 3 bedrooms, two baths, a 520 sq foot terrace, custom wood throughout. So what should I do, lament that I could’ve gotten it cheaper? I don’t really care. I was more than happy to provide work for my six workman and my contractor.


    That sounds pretty cheap to me.
    In Southern Indiana (which is NOT a high-priced real estate area), it runs about $85/sf for a low quality, low amenities home. Its in the $100/sf range for a medium quality, medium amenities home, and if you want high quality, w/ a lot of amenities, you’ll hit $150/sf very easily.
    Oh, those estimates do include a 1/4 to 1/3 acre or so lot.



    I would like to start a discussion with you about your architect and builder. My development property is West of San Ramon about 10 minutes, near the autopista at Magallanes.

    Will you send me an e-mail and we can have a discussion.

    Thank you… Bill


    I am not one to destroy a dream. There are a lot of happy people that even though they paid more it is less then what they would have paid in the US. The one thing that we do not understand is that because the price sounds good, how do we compare good.

    When we first called a plumber and he told us the price we said that was cheap. Until our maid came the next day and told us we paid double the charge. It was cheap in comparison to what we could compare it to.

    We were happy until we found out that we had actually paid double the cost. Do I think you are paying to much at $25.00 a sq meter. What is the price of satisfaction.

    My thing is basically here in Costa Rica they handle business differently and their customs play into their business practices. We as North Americans do not understand that because our business practices are regulated by laws. We have building codes and standards that have to be adhered to. The may have some standards but no one enforces them.

    The lack of knowledge helps one to stay in a bubble and a dream like state. We do not read or can not read about the corruption in construction so we think we are getting a good deal and all these people with such nice manners are treating us fairly and honestly.

    As I say they know how to get our money. No one should in my opinion build a home and not supervise the building. Not even in the US. Price comparisons when the contruction worker is making about $2.00 per hour is no where in comparison. If we who have lived in the US do not ask for certification of work that will be well done and the access to lawsuits if it was not well done, housing would cost a lot less in the US. We pay for security but yet we come over here and all we need is a nice pleasant smile. I bet if the construction people at home knew that was all it took they would save a mint on purchasing liability coverages.

    How do they come up with the figure of $25.00 per sq meter. They have discovered what we want to hear. They know if they say $45.00 they will run us away.


    It is not getting ripped off. It is just paying a little to much, and what do we care. Let me explain this, it jumps the prices up for Costa Ricans and I care about that. No one is saying that you did the wrong thing. I thought we were keeping things sort of objective. For you, it is working but for many, many others it does not. In fact I would say for 85% it does not work for. We are just talking in general and not trying to rain on your parade.

    Stay positive, we are just talking about things that can happen and do happen. We who have been burned would like to give bits of advice to keep others from being burned.

    Our intention is not to rain on your parade.


    That is the problem we compare it to places in the US. Let me just say this, in Costa Rica the septic laws could not pass in the US, the electric laws would not pass the construction laws would not pass. You do not have streets nor sidewalks. No city council to govern or regulate communities.

    You do not have to pay for all the permits and your contruction contractor does not have to be licensed or bonded. If we would do that in the US and pay the worker $2.00 per hour our cost would go down. The wrong thing to do is come to Costa Rica and spend based on what it would or would not cost in the US. In fact most of the neighborhoods people are building in over here they would not even think of building in, in the US. So, coming here and making a comparison is our problem and that is why we pay to much. We need to compare with what the Costa Ricans are paying here and not what we would pay if it were built in the US.


    You should compare Costa Rican Bananas to Costa Rican Bananas (not to Dole Hawaiian pineapples!)…that’s only common sense….and I agree…if you don’t do your due diligence, if you get ‘ripped off’ , overpay, or have other problems, it is your own fault. I’ve found that it is very important to change your mindset and try to think and feel like a Tico, rather than like an American…and work with a different measuring stick. It’s important to embrace their standards to make prudent decisions. One can’t forget it is a different place and a different culture, and trying to place purely American standards on certain things will hurt you in the long run.

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