Real Estate Lawyer in Costa Rica
You want to purchase real estate in Costa Rica, and require a good lawyer to help you navigate the process?
I have the right person for you. Mariela works at a regional law firm headquartered out of San Jose.
She and her team can help you with real estate transactions all over Costa Rica. We’ll address the following points:
- Why you need a good real estate lawyer in Costa Rica
- What are some of the expected government fees that you are expected to pay when purchasing real estate in Costa Rica
- Meet Mariela, my real estate lawyer in Costa Rica
- Fee breakdown
1. Why you need a good lawyer for your property transaction in Costa Rica
- Many title deeds are not clean. You can have classic situations with liens or mortgages on them, but also cases where the previous transaction was not done properly. For example, maybe the land on which the house sits was sold by a family 10 years ago, and one of the signatures is missing (that cousin who was far away). Effectively, you could suddenly have a family claim the house from you saying the previous sale was not done properly, and seek to grab it from you. As a foreigner, you are more vulnerable to such situations.
- Your lawyer can let you know if some special business permits or otherwise would be required for the real estate in question, and of possible tax incentives in some industries.
- Some coastal properties have limitations in terms of real estate ownership that you must be aware of.
- Some properties have registered titles, while others are sitting on land leased from the government. You want to know what you are buying.
- There is an annual property tax on real estate, based on the municipality’s valuation of your property. The valuation may be lower or higher than the purchase price.
- Your lawyer should ensure that there are no outstanding debts related to the property such a home owners association fees, electricity, water, garbage, internet, etc.
- Your lawyer can enable you to pay for the real estate using an escrow account in order to guarantee everyone’s safety. Essentially, you transfer the purchase price to an escrow account, and only once all due diligence has been completed and everything is deemed to be fine will the money be transferred to the seller.
- IMPORTANT: Avoid using a lawyer proposed by your real estate agent. This point is valid for any international market in which you choose to invest. The reality is that there can be a conflict of interest in such cases. Though you are officially the lawyer’s client, who is more important? You and your single transaction, or the agent that brings dozens of clients? Using your own lawyer won’t be more expensive, but will offer you much more security.
2. A few important points you should know before buying real estate in Costa Rica
- There is a transfer tax of 3.1% of the value of the declared property value, which in many cases is significantly lower than the actual price you are paying for the property. This is why having a competent lawyer such as Mariela is absolutely crucial in order to navigate the system and optimize your purchase.
- There are additional taxes of 0.5% (registration tax), 0.55% of various fiscal stamps to be bought, and minimal notary public fees.
- In some cases it is better to create a Costa Rican corporation to purchase the real estate; it depends on each individual’s situation and objectives.
- The final contract must then be signed in person at the Notary Public. If you are not present, it can be done with a power of attorney. Buying real estate in Costa Rica can be done entirely remotely using the Apostille Treaty system.
3. Meet Mariela, my Real Estate Lawyer in Costa Rica
She’s a graduate of the Universidad Libre de Derecho, speaks English fluently, can help with transactions all over the country, and is supported by a large team at her law firm.
I interviewed Mariela to ask her questions about the process for real estate transactions in Costa Rica.
4. Mariela’s fee structure
Lawyer fees for a real estate transaction in Costa Rica
- Legal fees for closing = 1% of the property value with a minimum of $1,500
- Due Diligence on the property (optional but highly recommended) = $800
- Creation and registration of Costa Rican Corporation to hold the property (optional) = $1,350
- If residency is required = $1,200 + any additional costs
5. Get in touch with my lawyer Mariela for your real estate transaction in Costa Rica
Full Transcript of “Real Estate Lawyer in Costa Rica”
LADISLAS MAURICE: Hello, everyone. Ladislas Maurice from thewanderinginvestor.com. So today, we’re going to be discussing with Mariela, who’s a lawyer here based in Costa Rica. Mariela, how are you?
MARIELA: Fine, thank you. You?
LADISLAS MAURICE: Good, good. So we’re going to be discussing real estate transactions from a legal point of view here in Costa Rica. So the real estate market here in Costa Rica has a lot of foreigners buying here for lifestyle, as a Plan B, etc. It’s a beautiful country. There is amazing real estate in the central highlands, on the coast, all over the country, beautiful national parks, etc. But a lot of people come here, they invest in real estate, they don’t get a lawyer, and they end up running into problems. So the first step is always get a lawyer.
So today, we’ll just discuss the real estate transactions here, from a legal point of view, essentially, from A to Z, the whole process, and then also what to watch out for when buying real estate from a legal point of view, so potential scams, et cetera, so that people don’t make these mistakes.
LADISLAS MAURICE: So Mariela, can you tell us about the process? So let’s say, I come here to Costa Rica, I go visit a bunch of apartments or condos and houses with real estate agents. There’s this one condo I really like. The seller is named Jose. We agree, we negotiate, etc. We agree on a price. I shake hands with Jose. What must I now do?
MARIELA: Okay. Well, as you said, the first thing you need to do is get your legal representation. Before you start any process here in Costa Rica, you need your legal advice and counsel. Once you have that, the first step usually is to write a letter of intention. This is usually the brokers do this, but it’s like a purchase proposal in which they establish like the preliminary conditions of the negotiation of the purchase, and the both parties agree that they want to continue with the process. Once you have this, the second step is to prepare the sales and purchase agreement. This is a contract between both parties, in which they establish their conditions, the terms, price, the due diligence period, the escrow agent. And this is the document that legally gives and secures your property for you.
Once you have your SPA done, you need to go to your agent, your escrow agent, and open your escrow account. When we talk about an escrow agent is this is a company that will act as a third party, neutral third party, that will only hold the money, the deposit for you until the transaction finalizes.
LADISLAS MAURICE: And this is really important because whenever I hear of people getting scammed in Latin America or Eastern Europe, etc., typically, it’s people who bought real estate and then transferred the money directly into the seller’s bank account, or the seller’s brother’s bank accounts, and then people just run away with the money and then it’s too late, then you have a major problem. So when you use an escrow company, or, in a lot of countries, it’s typically the notary public that offers the services, but not here in Costa Rica, then it’s a lot, lot safer.
MARIELA: Yes, exactly. So if you do the escrow, which a lawyer will always recommend you to do, you’ll have to do two payments, first one for the due diligence process, second one to finalize the purchase. And as you said, they will only hold your money. If you want to go back and don’t proceed with the purchase, they’ll give you your money back. That’s the safest way to go. Once you have the escrow, we proceed to the due diligence period. This is both parties need to establish a due diligence term. It might be 30 days, two months, whatever they decide and think it’s best for the negotiation. Once you do this, during this period, both parties have the option to come forward and say if they found anything bad in the due diligence. You can go back and say, “I don’t want to go forward with the process. I want to take my money back. I don’t want to continue.” And that’s okay, you can do that.
If this term is over and none of the parties come forward, then we’ll take that as you accepted the due diligence, everything’s fine, and you want to proceed with the purchase. So once the due diligence term is over, you need to pay the second payment of the escrow account, and then we proceed to the transfer deed. This you have to do before a notary public. And once this deed is signed by both parties, the notary will present it to the public registry. And about two, three weeks after that, you’ll be registered as the new owner of the property.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Clear.
LADISLAS MAURICE: So from the moment I shake hands with Jose to actually having the title deed in my hands, if it’s just a normal negotiation, just normal case, how many weeks or months roughly?
MARIELA: Okay. If everything goes fine, it might be about three to four months.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Okay, clear.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Which is not the fastest country but also not the slowest.
LADISLAS MAURICE: And can you give us examples of issues that you find when you do the due diligence?
MARIELA: Yes. Okay. So one of the most common issues we find here in the due diligence is about the service. When we are reviewing service, sometimes, the Public Registry mix them, they mix the boundaries, so you need to get a topographer, that we call here in Costa Rica, and review the land so that this won’t happen. Also, if we’re talking about the coastal area that you mentioned before, this has been really popular in Costa Rica lately, you need to be very careful with concessions. This is one of the biggest problems that we have, if you do not get your legal advice here in Costa Rica, we have a maritime territorial zone of 200 meters, of which 50 meters are 100% public. It means it belongs to the state, nobody can buy it, nobody can use it, it’s public.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Which also makes Costa Rica very pleasant. The beaches, you have access everywhere.
MARIELA: Yes. Exactly. And the other 150 still belongs to the state, but the state can grant you a concession, which means they give you a permit to buy the land, to own it, and to build on it if you comply with the requirements and with the permits that the law states, right. So this is a big issue if you don’t get your advice from a lawyer because people usually scam and they might sell you a property of 200 meters, but you know that the 50 meters you can’t use them, right? They won’t belong to you because they’re from the state.
LADISLAS MAURICE: So it’s, essentially it’s a bit like a leasehold, in many respects, you don’t actually completely own the last 150 meters prior to the beach.
MARIELA: Yes, exactly. You can never own it.
LADISLAS MAURICE: And we were discussing, offline, as well about sellers selling land that doesn’t belong to them or selling the wrong land.
MARIELA: Yes, that happens a lot here in Costa Rica, more than you can imagine. [laughs] I go to you and I offer you my property, we do all the procedure. You pay me.
LADISLAS MAURICE: And the price is great, typically, right?
MARIELA: Yeah. Really, really good price. [laughs] And once you go to the Public Registry and try to register your new property, you find out I’m not the owner. So that’s a scam, and you need to see if you can get your money back. Usually it’s not that easy. And this happens a lot. So this is why you need a lawyer and you need a due diligence, because in the due diligence is where we look who’s the owner, and if there’s like a liability or something that might affect your purchase.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Fantastic. So make sure to hire a lawyer when you buy real estate here in Costa Rica.
LADISLAS MAURICE: So if you want to get in touch with Mariela, there is her email right below. Mariela, thank you very much for your time.
MARIELA: Thank you.