Before Making an Offer
Don't make an offer until you're certain the property meets your satisfaction. Asking questions, soliciting advice and hiring experienced professionals will help you evaluate the property thoroughly.
Revisit the Property
If you haven't already visited the property several times throughout the day, do so. In many urban and suburban areas, lots are small and homes sit close to the road. Get a sense of the neighborhood and the property's views at night by visiting after dark. Keep your ears open for street noise, barking dogs, loud neighbors and any other unfavorable sounds.
Explore the Neighborhood
Take a walk around and introduce yourself. Look for general home upkeep and area cleanliness. Ask about trash pickup – you'll want collection at least twice per week in areas with high home density. Find out where the nearest hospitals, clinics, supermarkets, bus lines, and other important amenities are to the property.
Research the Local Weather
Costa Rica is home to many microclimates, so if you're concerned about how the temperature, humidity or altitude may affect your health, be sure to research the local weather before committing to a location.
Get a Second Opinion
Ask friends or family to visit the property. They'll view it with fresh eyes, and from an unemotional point of view. Request their opinion regarding pros and cons; this can be especially helpful if they've lived in Costa Rica for more than a few years.
Know how your home stacks up against other houses in the community. Look at properties listed within 30% +/- of your home's asking price. Your real estate agent can help determine which surrounding towns have a similar property market, so if necessary, expand the comparable search into nearby areas. Make sure to actually visit several homes in person.
Get an Inspection
Home inspections are not common practice in Costa Rica, so instead of making your offer contingent on a home inspection, you may want to ask the homeowner for permission to conduct an inspection before making a written offer. A $500 home inspection can easily save you thousands of dollars in home repairs and headaches. If you plan on building a home, you may consider hiring a topographer to study your potential new property. A complete analysis of the land, water levels and stability will help you make a more informed decision.
Hire a Real Estate Lawyer
Get recommendations for an experienced real estate attorney. All paperwork and legal documents will be executed in Spanish, and foreign-language legalese can be confusing, so be sure to hire someone bilingual in Spanish and your native language. A good lawyer is worth his or her weight in gold, and will uncover hidden contract conditions and other surprises. Your lawyer can assist in the pre-purchase process by running a legal and title search on the property to check for any liens, limitations, legal reserves, segregations, plot maps, or administrative proceedings it may have, in order the make sure the investment is done in a secure manner.
If you need local financing, keep in mind that Costa Rican interest rates are about double those of the United States (around 8-11% with state and private banks), and loan terms slightly shorter (25 years maximum for non-residents). These higher rates and shorter terms will raise your monthly payments significantly. Another source of local financing are private lenders, which charge about 17-27% interest on short-term loans, where payments are interest only.
If you are taking out a mortgage or home-equity loan, always get pre-approval from the bank before making an offer. Determining how much you can afford will help narrow your search to properties within your financial reach.