International Real Estate: House Hunting in … Costa Rica

International real estate

House Hunting in … Costa Rica

Fiscal instability and a glut of new construction have combined to soften prices in the capital of San José, creating a buyer’s market.

By Lisa Prevost

This custom-built, four-bedroom home is in a gated community in the small town of Brasil de Mora, about 10 miles west of Costa Rica’s capital city of San José, in the nation’s Central Valley.

Built into a hillside in 2005, the three-level, 5,200-square-foot home is constructed of cement in a modern geometric style accented with metal, wood and glass features. It is designed in a U-shape, with a garden courtyard in the center adjoined by two covered terraces and an in-ground lap pool. The two wings are connected by a central hallway fronted by a two-story glass wall overlooking the courtyard, as well as by a wooden stairway suspended on metal cables. An electric awning extends to shade the glass facade and the rooms behind it, according to Wijbrand Tuinstra, a sales associate with Sotheby’s International Realty, which has the listing.

The current owner employs a full-time gardener to tend to the 0.82-acre property’s extensive botanical gardens, which attract a wide variety of butterflies and birds, Mr. Tuinstra said.

“This is a very modern-inspired house, but adapted to its environment, with the enormous glass wall along the stairs and lots of windows looking out,” he said. “It’s quite unusual for Costa Rica.”

The front door opens into a foyer — located below the main level but still open to the gardens — that connects to a garage and has an office. The main living areas are on the second level, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and doors that open to the rear outdoor areas. A family room occupies the north wing, with steps from the glass doors leading to the gardens. In the opposite wing is an open kitchen with mint-green cabinets and a countertop range. It connects to the dining room, which opens onto a large covered terrace with steps down to the natural-stone pool.

The bedrooms are on the upper level. The master suite shares a wing with two small bedrooms and one additional bathroom. It has a walk-in closet, and a balcony with views of the tree canopy and, farther north, to the Cordillera Central mountain range. The master bath has a particularly distinctive feature: a shower attached to the exterior of the house.

“You’re 30 feet above the ground in a glass shower with views all around,” Mr. Tuinstra said.

A wooden stairway suspended on metal cables connects the home’s three floors.CreditBrett Gundlock for The New York Times

A generously sized guest suite with a balcony is in the facing wing.

The town of Brasil de Mora is between the two larger San José suburbs of Ciudad Colón and Santa Ana, in Costa Rica’s Central Valley region. While there aren’t many services in the town itself, it is 10 minutes from “everything important” in Santa Ana, which, like the neighboring suburb of Escazú (closer to San José), has been modernized to meet the needs of a large expatriate population, Mr. Tuinstra said. The capital city of San José, about 30 minutes east, is known for its museums and ornate, European-inspired theaters, including the National Theater of Costa Rica and the Melico Salazar Theater. Juan Santamaría International Airport, also in San José, is a 20- to 30-minute drive, depending on traffic.

Housing prices in the San José region have been in decline for the last couple of years, a trend agents attribute to Costa Rica’s mounting fiscal woes. In early December, Costa Rican lawmakers approved a package of fiscal reforms intended to help reduce a government deficit that the International Monetary Fund has warned is growing at an unsustainable pace. The package was supported by the newly elected president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada.

“It’s very much a buyer’s market at the moment, but there’s an extremely proactive government focused on stabilizing the country’s finances,” Mr. Tuinstra said.

Costa Rica does not have a multiple listing service or housing database, so tracking price trends is difficult. But Mr. Tuinstra said it is not unusual for properties to sell for 20 to 30 percent below asking price these days.

A glut of new construction is also contributing to price depreciation, said Felipe León, a sales associate and legal adviser for Re/Max Executive Realty, in Escazú. “It seems we have more than enough condo apartments and tower construction apartments,” he said. “The market is saturated.”

Foreign buyers looking in the San José suburbs pay an average of $150,000 to $200,000 for a two-bedroom condo or townhouse, he said.


In the rear of the house, glass walls and doors help light the interior. The dining room looks out on the covered patio and lap pool. CreditBrett Gundlock for The New York Times

Most foreign buyers in Costa Rica are from the United States, Canada and Britain. Mr. Tuinstra said there has recently been a new wave of buyers from Colombia and Venezuela, due to instability in those countries.

Mr. León said investors on the hunt for rental properties typically come from Panama, Mexico, the United States, Canada and Asian nations.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in Costa Rica. However, foreigners should hire a lawyer to perform due diligence before entering into any transaction, according to Mr. León. “Right now, one of the problems we have is that everybody, even the taxi driver, can be a real estate agent,” he said.

Buyers also should be aware of any laws or regulations that might preclude construction. “We have seen a lot of cases where clients come to us after they have already bought property, and they want to build a house, but find out that the property has environmental restrictions that prevent them from doing that,” said Catalina Chaves, a real estate lawyer in San José. “They bought the property without doing title research first.”

Foreign buyers typically pay in cash, as obtaining a mortgage can be difficult. Costa Rica has a strict money-laundering law requiring verification of the source of the buyer’s funds, Ms. Chaves said.

Agent commissions range between 5 and 10 percent, with 5 percent being most typical, she said. The seller usually pays, but that is negotiable.


The master bedroom opens to a balcony and views of the pool, gardens, and hillside beyond.CreditBrett Gundlock for The New York Times

Spanish; colón (1 colón = $0.002), with the American dollar widely accepted.

Closing costs, including a 1.5 percent transfer tax, typically add up to about 4 percent of the purchase price. Legal fees can vary, depending on the purchase amount, but are set and regulated by the bar association, Ms. Chaves said.

Annual property taxes on this home are roughly $4,000, which includes an additional tax imposed on luxury properties, Mr. Tuinstra said. Homeowner association fees are about $600 a month.

Wijbrand Tuinstra, Sotheby’s International Realty, 011-506-8718-9102;

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Published at Wed, 26 Dec 2018 14:31:15 +0000