“Four percent of the sale price on top of your commission?!” exclaimed our client, a long time resident in The Zone. (In keeping with an old Guys’ tradition, I’ll refer to him as Mr. Zellbren throughout this article.) Ben and I first explained that we are currently dealing with a severely down market (approximately 50% off the peak value of three years ago) and an excellent time to wait for the market to rebound. Mr. Zellbren wasn’t interested in waiting, so we continued to explain the standard closing costs of a Costa Rica real estate deal. Some of the data he was familiar with; some of the finer points had to be clarified.
Traditional Closing Costs
Closing costs, when you add up the transfer tax, stamps, and legal fees, usually equate to approximately 4% of the sale price. Mr. Zellbren told us he would accept a $550,000 offer for his house equaling $22,000 in closing costs. In 99% of the deals we are part of, Buyers and Sellers split closing costs 50-50. It’s what we do here in Costa Rica. Additional costs—re-surveys, title insurance, new corporations—are typically paid by the Buyer.
Interestingly, there are a variety of stamps required to transfer a property in Costa Rica. They are– the Legal Bar Association Stamp (Timbre del Colegio de Abogados), the Municipal Stamp (Timbre Municipal), the Fiscal Stamp (Especie Fiscal), the National Archives Stamp (Timbe del Archivo Nacional) and the Agriculture Stamp (Timbre Agrario). Like everything else, your lawyer will take care of the licking and sticking of these stamps, which equate to roughly .05% of the sale price.
Legal fees, also known as notary fees here in Costa Rica, are calculated at 1.5% of the sale price. This is what is paid to the lawyer/notary for setting up the Sales and Purchase Agreement, as well as, researching and filing all of the necessary documents in the sale. These standard legal fees do not include any additional legal work (e.g., a new corporations, establishing an easement, etc.). One last point regarding lawyers that I would like to add is… you often get what you pay for.
In the past it was possible for sellers like Mr. Zellbren to calculate the transfer tax on the declared value of the land, often resulting in big savings for both buyer and seller. This is no longer possible, because of SUGEF (soo-hef), Costa Rica’s SEC. I’ll be writing more about banking in Costa Rica since they have just recently gone through some changes, but the bottom line is the transfer tax is 1.5% of the sale price.
The New/Old 13% Tax
There is a new (well actually an old) cost to hiring a real estate broker in Costa Rica, the 13% sales tax. According to Camara Costaricense de Bienes Raices (CCBR), the agency that oversees real estate brokers in Costa Rica, “The real estate broker is responsible for collecting the sales tax by law and must charge the owner 13% on the commission for the sale of the property.” This tax is in observance of Ley General del Impuesto Sobre las Ventas (Sales Tax Law), Article 1, subparagraph ‘n’.
“Why haven’t I heard about that tax before?” asked Mr. Zellbren. The answer is most brokers (The Guys In The Zone included) are just now starting to collect the 13%.
In summary, the commission charged by real estate brokers ranges between 8-10% on raw land and 6-8% on houses. Then, add the Costa Rican sales tax of 13% of the commission and 2% for legal and transfer fees, and a Seller is looking at between 9-13% off of whatever price is negotiated. Some Sellers fall into the need to sell category. Others, like Mr. Zellbren, in the want to sell category decide to wait for the market to bounce back… and, as in all things monetary, we come full circle.
My first visit to Costa Rica was in 2002. I immediately fell in love with the warmth of the climate and people. After spending two weeks in San Jose, Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side, and Tamarindo in Guanacaste, I knew there was a good chance I would return sooner than later. Sooner came just 6 months later when my uncle mentioned he was flying down to Costa Rica to close on a piece of property in the Southern Pacific Zone. On that trip I found my own piece of paradise above the small town of San Buenaventura, home to the San Buenas Golf Resort. Two years and 8 trips later, I decided to move to Costa Rica full time. Every day I am thankful for that decision.