How to sell a property in Costa Rica

The absence of an MLS or Multiple Listing Service causes an interesting challenge for those that would like to sell a property in Costa Rica (I wonder how many articles I have started with those words). In the U.S. you simply list your property with your favorite real estate agency and voila! Your property is listed in a huge database of properties for your area that all of the real estate agencies have access to, and your property gets represented in the fullest way possible. You’ve got your listing agent that represents you, the buyer has his/her representation from their agent, and everybody’s happy. Not so in Costa Rica.

In Costa Rica when you tell your real estate agent about your listing, that is usually where it stays, within that agency. I have seen cases where agents don’t tell others in that very same agency about a hot listing. The reason for this is simple; they want the sale, and consequently, the whole commission. In Costa Rica real estate there is no “listing agent” and no “selling agent”. This difference seems to be really difficult for our North American clients and sellers to understand. Understanding the difference though, can make all the difference in successfully selling your property.

Setting the Standard
The standard for selling a property in Costa Rica is to get all of the real estate agencies to list and show your property. There are a number of ways to go about this. Perhaps the most common method is this: the property owner makes up a flyer that features a photo or photos of the property, along with the details of the property ie. size, distance from the main road, electrical service, water, any distinguishing features about the property such as creeks and waterfalls. The prevalence of wildlife is helpful as well. Describe the view and if its quiet or not. Is there financing? Is there a Home Owners Association (HOA)? Are there Covenants, Codes, & Restrictions (CC & Rs)? Oh, and the price as well.

Its not a bad idea to make a number of copies of this flyer and emplasticate them. It might be good to have 2 versions, one that has the seller’s contact information on it and one that doesn’t. The one that doesn’t will be more likely used in the office to present to property to prospective buyers.

The seller then visits all of the real estate offices, or the ones of their choice, and distributes these flyers. Then a regular visit, say on a monthly basis, is a good idea. This keeps the agents mindful of your property, and insures that all agents within the agency know about your property.

Most of the agencies will ask that you fill out a “Non-Exclusive Listing Agreement”. This document will give all the details of the listing, and will also state clearly the commission percentage so that there is no confusion at closing. 8% is the norm in Costa Rica’s southern zone for single family lots and houses. This can vary for farms and luxury properties.

Options You can give an exclusive listing to your brokerage. This sets things up as though there were an MLS in Costa Rica. What this means is that they become the listing broker, and that if the sale takes place during the term of the exclusive contract, the brokerage will receive a percentage of the sale, or all of it if they sell it in-house. The concern with this is that the exposure that your property gets on the market might be limited since your agency might decide to not tell the other real estate agencies about it.

I like to mention the standard so that we can use it as a – well, as a standard by which we measure the effectiveness of the other options. The Standard option above sets the bar and really represents the level of market exposure that can be achieved by an enterprising land seller in Costa Rica. It is against this standard that we need to compare all other marketing of a given piece of property.

Why would a seller want to do an exclusive?
The benefits are that, since we don’t have a multiple listing service here in Costa Rica, it takes a lot of feet-on-the-ground effort to keep the agencies mindful of the listing. To do the printouts, the initial visit to the agencies, subsequent visits, perhaps on a monthly basis, requires more than many land owners have to offer. Having a single point of contact here that does all of this for you is attractive to some sellers. Also, it may be that the seller has built up a trusting relationship with an agency and so would like to deal exclusively with them, effectively insulating the seller from the other agencies.

Why would an agency want an exclusive listing?
One might wonder at this question, thinking that the answer is obvious, but really its not so. As a real estate agent here for a number of years I can honestly say that I’m not real quick to offer to represent a property on an exclusive basis. It’s a lot of work. If I get the listing in a non-exclusive, general market sort of way, and I think that the property is a good one, I can probably sell it quickly to a client in my database, and get the whole commission without having to do any of that extra work. So, to answer the question: “because it might make good business sense”.

I might be in that “trusted” position with a client, in which case there is a certain sense of responsibility to continue to represent my client. If their desire is for me to market their property on an exclusive basis, I’m on it.
It also might make good financial sense to do the exclusive. With the exclusive listing, the listing agency is guaranteed a percentage of the sale, no matter who makes the sale.

The Objective
The objective then of the listing agent will be to make up the difference between the standard, and just having the listing in one house. To repeat: listing your property with an agency doesn’t guarantee that other agencies will know about the listing. There is a gap that the listing agency should try and fill with extraordinary marketing services.

My next article will deal with the mechanics of how to do a successful exclusive listing.

10 thoughts on “How to sell a property in Costa Rica”

  1. My grandfather is Costarican, he’s live in US since after he joined US navy in WW2. He has 2 regular houses in inland Costarica, he now has relatives living there but want to sell and cannot travel. How can he sell homes without getting ripped off and having to travel himself, can I go for him? Thanks.

    • Hi Marty,
      I see 2 questions here:
      1) Can he sell his property without getting ripped off?
      2) Can you go for him?

      Yes to both, with caveats.
      To sell a property in Costa Rica without getting ripped off, you MUST have a good lawyer. Everything happens in Costa Rica with the aid of a lawyer. There are good ones & bad ones. References are the best way to find a good one. I’ve got a couple of good ones that I can suggest, although you might want to work in the “inland” area where the properties are for the sake of convenience. If so, ask around and find a good one. If you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll want to make sure that the lawyer speaks good English as well as is referred by others.

      You can go for him if you have a power of attorney (POA) in the name of the corporation that owns his property. If his property is owned in his personal name, then POA in his personal name. This can be arranged and then you can sign the offer to purchase document as well as the Purchase & Sale agreement.

      You’ll likely need the help of a real estate agency in the area, or use one of the Costa Rica real estate agencies: so what I’m saying is a local one that works just in that area, or one of the companies that works the entire country.

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