Purchasing property in Costa Rica
Purchasing property in Costa Rica is very different from making a similar
purchase in your home country. The laws of Costa Rica and the property
registration process can be somewhat confusing to a foreigner. Your best bet
is to work with a broker (brokers are not licensed in Costa Rica) or real estate
consultant when looking for property, such as the people I recommend in
the section, “Finding a Broker.” When you find a property, your broker can
help you negotiate the price and explain your financing options.
If you decide to buy real estate, an attorney is absolutely necessary to do
the legal work. We strongly recommend that a competent, English-speaking
lawyer do a thorough search of all records before you make your purchase
to make sure there are no encumbrances (gravámenes) on it.
Your Lawyer and Notary
Your lawyer will play an important role in this transaction, and a larger one
than is traditional in the United States or Canada. Your lawyer could do any
number of the following tasks:
- Title search
- Due diligence
- Sales contract drafting/revision
- Act as escrow agent
- Certify the deed
- Register the deed
Because the role of the lawyer is so large during a property transaction,
it is crucial that you find a trustworthy one. For more detailed advice on
how to find one, see Chapter 6 on finding a lawyer.
Most likely your lawyer will also be a notary. All notaries are lawyers, but
not all lawyers are notaries. A notary is basically a lawyer with extra training
and, as a public official, authority to draw up deeds and submit them to the
National Registry for inscription. Every property transaction in Costa Rica
is done through a notary.
One of the biggest errors made by foreigners buying real estate is not
properly researching the title for liens. You can obtain information about
property at the Registro de la Propiedad (like your land title office) in the
suburb of Zapote, about five minutes from downtown San José by car or
taxi. Because Costa Rica is so small, all land records are kept at this office.
Costa Rican law requires that all documents relating to an interest and/
or title to real property be registered in the property section of the Public
Registry (Article 460 of the Civil Code).
You can also find the status and ownership of a piece of property and get
any title documents and surveys you may need at the Registro. If the property
is registered in the name of a corporation, the legal representatives must be
verified, since they have power of attorney to make the sale. Information may
also be obtained from the registry’s website at www.registronacional.go.cr.
Your specific property can be researched by using the owner’s name,
cédula (national ID card) or registration number, called a folio real. The
more information you obtain the better.
The first information that appears should be the owner and registration
number. If the registration number ends in 000, chances are you are dealing
with an individual owner. If there is another number within the 000, there are
probably co-owners. For example, a husband will have the number 001. If a
002 appears, this indicates the property has two different, non-married owners.
The printout you receive will give you the following information in
Spanish. You may need someone to translate.
(a) The description of the property and the name of the province where it
(b) The boundaries of the property
(c) The area in square meters (make sure the property you are buying really
is the same size).
(d) The survey number of record.
(e) Origin of land or history (perhaps it was a farm before, etc.)
(f) Government assessment for transfer purposes
(g) Data concerning the owners— whether an individual, individuals or a
(h) Cédula (ID) of the owner(s) or corporation
(i) Estimated price (this can vary in Costa Rica; there is sometimes a difference
between what is paid and what is actually recorded).
(j) Statement of full ownership
(k) The number that was recorded in the registry when the owner took over
(l) Date registered.
(m) Anotaciones—this is very important point since there may be pending
activity concerning the property.
(n) Gravámenes— has to do with liens, mortgages and encumbrances.