Mistakes To Learn From When Building Or Renovating Real Estate in Costa Rica

May 12, 2023 in Real Estate in Costa Rica, Tips for Buyers

When looking at purchasing real estate in Costa Rica, it is helpful to know that some properties make excellent investments, while others are sold for much less than what the buyers paid, even after many years on the market. Choosing wisely what to buy -- whether a lot to build on or a home to renovate and make your own -- is important. And that choice needs to be based on a number of factors that differ depending on your desired location and price point. Working with an educated, informative real estate agent is key to making the right, informed decisions, and avoid losing money in real estate in Costa Rica.

It's All About Location

When buying a new lot in Costa Rica, pay attention to if it has access to water and electricity. Not every lot for sale in Costa Rica has these items covered. And if it does, it may have less than ideal aspects. For instance, test your water source before you buy for chemicals and water pressure. Or do you like to save on electricity costs? Pay attention to the direction of the breezes on a plot of land. If you can orient your windows to allow for good cross-flow, you can minimize on cooling bills.  Is security of your personal items very important to you? It might sound like a strange question because everyone wants to feel safe. In general, our Costa Ballena communities are quite safe. But there are areas and types of homes that are more targeted by opportunists. If you intend on filling your home with expensive art or electronics, or if you plan to host high-end renters, it can be a good idea to choose to be located within a gated community with 24/7 security staff on site.  The drive can be a big factor in determining a buyer’s long-time love for their property. There are some dirt roads in the Costa Ballena (although fewer every year) that can feel like they go on forever when you are driving up the first time to see a property. But many of these new clients will feel differently going back down, having gotten to know the drive. A good rule of thumb is that if you hate the drive there the first few times, you’re probably not going to grow to like it. Does the property you are looking at have a view easement? Will you continue to have the same view that you have right now in the future? These are questions that an expert agent will know to ask but an uneducated buyer may not think about until it is too late. Expats who stay for an extended period of time may find that access to services becomes more important as time passes. Being nearby police, hospitals, gas stations, or your favorite restaurant may become the key to your satisfaction with your location. Whatever it is, it is best to think over all of the details of your life and plan your location based on your individual needs, not necessarily the most popular locations. One other big item to consider for the location of real estate in Costa Rica is wireless communication. While most properties in Costa Ballena have very good cellphone service and high-speed internet, be sure you test the cell service on your phone and a wifi test when you look at each property to be sure it has these services. Don’t buy a property in a dead zone for cell phone or internet without the expectation of spending a lot of money putting in infrastructure. Look for businesses or houses within line-of-sight that have internet and a wifi receiving dish if you’d like to live more remotely. This would involve buying bandwidth from your neighbor and is therefore a solution that may not always be available for very remote properties.

Building the Perfect Rental Home in Costa Rica

If you are planning to have a rental property in Costa Rica, remember to keep in mind what renters are looking for in our unique Costa Ballena region. Renters in the South Pacific are either looking for proximity to attractions or breathtaking natural beauty and tranquility. Don’t try to please all renters here and make the mistake of building an “eco-paradise” located 5 minutes from the beach where you can hear all the highway noise and don’t have the fresh breezes and privacy of the higher altitudes.

Saving Room For Nature

Preserving nature is an interesting and important issue that is really burgeoning in our local Costa Ballena communities and all around the world. Costa Rica’s South Pacific is a lush, mountainous terrain that is not really in danger of being clear-cut. But it is still very important to be mindful of maintaining biological corridors that are traditionally used by migrating wildlife. Making sure you choose an ethical site development is a priority that most new buyers don’t consider until after they move in and realize that the monkeys they heard when they looked at their uncleared lot are no longer visiting this spot. Erosion control should be planted immediately and actually more beautiful and solid using plants, not the very expensive geo-textile plastic fabrics. If the lot is properly done these expensive fabrics are not necessary. The perfection is in the planning. A poorly designed and cut lot or road can do immeasurable damage not just to the forest but to the watershed below. It is about the way the land is incorporated into the whole project. Taking care to only remove certain trees and hold onto the rare important and threatened trees. Also taking care of trees which feed animals. So many people are so focused on the house but do not focus on the land. 

Utilizing Creative (and Inexpensive) Building Ideas

Building a hot water shower outdoors doesn’t require hot water plumbing in this sun-friendly nation. Using something like a big black barrel or thick black water tubing coiled up above is a great alternative. Make sure it mixed with the cold water at the shower head so that you don’t burn yourself. Bamboo is one of the most sustainable building materials in the world. You can start harvesting bamboo within 3 years of planting and new shoots come out of the cut clumps.

Hiring A General Contractor (Or Not)

Most people who build for a second time and have the time to do so will choose to do their own general contracting on the project. A big clincher is needing to speak Spanish to really negotiate and get your points across. This is because local contractors can be difficult to trust because there is no legal protection for their clients’ interests, unlike with architects in Costa Rica. As such, those who choose to build often have to be very involved in managing the project despite having hired a general contractor. In saying that, a general contractor’s job is to obey the laws governing building codes, enforcing US standard building codes (as per client spec), paying workers fair wages and social security. But if you can handle these things, you can probably get your home built much faster than depending on a General Contractor working on multiple projects.

Hiring a Local Architect

If you already know the design for your dream house in Costa Rica, you do not need an architect at all. "You can save time and money (50%) by hiring an Engineer to draw up the blueprints for the project," says Osa Tropical Properties agent Rebecca Rowntree.  "For me that was the biggest learning of my entire building process.  I overspent by $10,000!" True tropical architecture is being given a backseat to amateurs coming to the jungle with computer programs producing pretty pictures without accounting for the elements in that specific location. Seeing the architect's physical work and asking their previous clients about what they would change about their build is essential if you want to hire a local architect.  In case of an eventual controversy during the design and construction process the Federate College of Architects and Engineers is empowered by law to protect the client's​ interests, which well is not the case with builders/contractors.

Renovating Instead Of Building From Scratch

Renovation is a much simpler process than new construction. Sorting out electrical, plumbing, septic, and floor plans are common challenges when building in Costa Rica. Many builders can have sub-par ideas on what works based on local standards, which can be a far cry from high-end international expectations. Those who choose to build from scratch will often term their project as a labor of love that they would not do again. Time frames are not what people expect, meaning that move in dates get pushed back often. This can add up in rental expenses, as opposed to renovating an existing home where you can live, albeit on a minor construction site. For those who are wanting to build at a rapid pace, some new builders are creating container homes in Costa Rica that can be built and ready within 90 days. Efficient to build regarding cost, insects, weather, electricity and temperature control, they can be placed on any lot, including steep ones on stilts, rather than carving into the landscape.

Top Things People Want To Change In Their Costa Rica Homes

Osa Tropical Properties’ agent, Marcia Oro, had rented a few houses before moving to Costa Rica. However, they were traditional tropical vacation homes that turned out to be less-than-ideal for long-term living. She learned the importance of building walk-in closets instead of adding in armoires. And dehumidified closets/rooms go a long way towards protecting your less-used items. Although it seems like an indoor living rooms is not important, many of us who choose to live in Costa Rica full time will want to spend some evenings on the couch in front of the television. Adding big overhangs is much more important for a home than a rental because you want as much shaded real estate you can have when you are here full-time and want to enjoy afternoon meals outside without cooking in the sunshine yourself! This is a feature that high-end rental homes do consider because shaded space is key to enjoying the tropics in style. Placing a pool right outside of your patio doors is the best way to ensure that it won’t go neglected or underused. Marcia says that the location of her pool is the biggest thing she would change about her home because even though it's just 20 paces away, it is tucked behind her beautiful floral gardens, making it 'out of sight, out of mind'. And if you are looking for resale value, don’t take the inexpensive route when outfitting your Costa Rica home for sale. Install the beautiful granite countertops and add the nice window dressing because it all counts a great deal towards presentation. A covered carport goes a long way towards protecting your car and other vehicles from long-term sun damage. This space can also double as extra storage, laundry, and more things that you don’t want in your main living space.

Don’t Import Your Whole Life

Don’t bring all kinds of furniture, art, and expensive clothing that is susceptible to mold and mildew growth. Black mold stains will appear all over natural fabrics that are untreated. And mildew will cover all of your clothes and shoes that do not get used frequently. Using Lysol and dehumidifiers are two temporary fixes. It’s best to adapt and shop local, buying materials that are have been proven to stand the test of time in these elements. There are many more stores today than there were even a couple of years ago and you can get anything in Costa Rica cheaper and faster than you can by importing it yourself, most likely with a guarantee. Want to know more about what we would do differently if we were in your shoes? Email our office to chat with one of our agents about their experiences of moving here and some of the things that their clients learned, too. We are a great resource in your journey over here so please feel free to use us! Contact sales@osatropicalproperties.com today. 

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