Think Outside The Box (Property in Costa Rica)

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”  – Steve Jobs

I bet your wondering how that idea relates to real estate in Costa Rica?  Well, simply put… if there was ever a time for property owners and real estate agents in this marketplace to be “innovative,” it’s now.


Here’s how listing a property usually unfolds in The Zone—

  • Step One: Call up The Guys and set up an appointment to preview the property.
  • Step Two: Determine if an Open Listing or a Modified Exclusive Listing is appropriate for you.
  • Step Three: Wait for The Guys to bring you a buyer.
We all need to think outside the box...

The problem is that Step Three is taking much longer than most Sellers anticipated.


We all know reducing the list price is the easiest way to increase property showings, offers, and sales.  However, if your property is in the ballpark of current market value and it is being shown but not selling, there could be other reasons limiting the sale.

Here at the Guys office, we continue to ask ourselves what can we do to speed up the sales process?  At the risk of sounding trite, one answer is: “think outside the box.”  Here’s an example of how The Guys have applied this idea.

Ben started his Costa Rica blog in 2003 (before many of us knew what a blog was)

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Costa Rica Real Estate Closing Costs

“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.

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Exclusive Listings Revisited Part 3 of 3

Negotiate a fee for a marketing service.

Disclaimer: This program is no longer offered by Guys In The Zone Real Estate. We have closed our doors and are working in tandem now with another company that does not recognize this method of listing properties.

This series of articles is all about options for selling a property in Costa Rica.

Negotiate a fee for a marketing service.
Decide what the marketing fee will be.

Now here, in Part 3, we are going to discuss an un-orthodox approach to selling a property in Costa Rica’s non-MLS marketplace. The incentive for doing this is the weaknesses, or flaws that were reviewed in Part 2 of our attempts to imitate the MLS of other countries.
I have been working in real estate here in Costa Rica’s southern pacific zone for years, and have always felt that the exclusive listing was a nearly sacred thing. It puts a tremendous responsibility on the agency that has the exclusive, but is also demanding on all of the agencies in that they must ignore the fact that the commission on this property is shared, when the majority of properties in their inventory are not.

I have been scratching and thinking about this topic and here is what I’ve come up with.

The Real Estate Agency’s Objective:
What we want to do is offer to sellers a better service, and in the process improve the professionalism of our industry. This is particularly appropriate when

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Exclusive Listings Re-visited Part 2 of 3

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this topic yet, you might want to. You can do so by clicking here.  You don’t have to if you don’t want to.  This article stands up fine all by itself.  However, to get a good understanding of the open listing, which is the most common type of listing here in Costa Rica, you’ll probably want to.  All right?

Sell a property in Costa Rica
The quandary of how to best sell a property in Costa Rica

When we last visited, we were left with the cliff hanger – “what is a seller to do if they don’t live in Costa Rica?”  The absentee owners don’t have time to go to each real estate agency and distribute photos, write-up, survey and contract with every real estate agency.  This could really mess up a family vacation.  Not to mention the follow-up-regular-visits to see how it’s going with showings of the listing.

Before going into that and satisfying the “edge of your seat” drama that I have created here with this compelling topic, I’d like to give you a glimpse inside the mind of this Costa Rica real estate agent and share with you an alternate option to what has been the standard practice in Costa Rica for the exclusive listing of a property.

We have always known that the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) market place of the US is superior to the Costa Rica open listing model.  In our (Zone real estate agencies) efforts to improve our market, and to offer a better service to both buyer and seller, we have defaulted to imitating the MLS market place, without having an actual MLS.  The reasoning is simple: the MLS is a superior model that has evolved over time in response to gazillions of problems and concerns and has resulted in what we see there now: a mature business model that offers representation to both buyer and seller of a given piece of property.  So, we try and come as close to working like and MLS without having the actual infrastructure of an MLS.

For various reasons, I’m starting to think that this premise might be flawed.  AND it may be that, if we think outside of this box we’re in here, we might even come up with a solution that rivals, or perhaps (could it be?!?) even exceeds the MLS model of other countries.  Bear with me here.

How Costa Rica imitates the MLS model…

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Price Vs. Worth

Costa Rica Real Estate Price Vss Worth

“I need to sell my property. What should I price it at?” is the common question heard in our real estate office in Uvita, Costa Rica.

“Whatever someone is willing to pay” is the universal response that drives the free market evaluation system the world over. However, is a price that is determined by this method a clear indicator of a property’s worth in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica Real Estate Price Vss Worth
Is the price commiserate with the worth?

The obvious answer is “of course”. However, in this uncertain world we live in, even this un-arguable standard of evaluation is sometimes brought into question and results in what can be described as quirky or illogical scenarios.

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Seller Financing Opens Door for Home Buyers in Costa Rica

The Downturn… (cue ominous music)

It would be easy to label the decline of the Costa Rica real estate market (since the peak in 2007) in a negative light. In truth, there is no such thing as “negative light” only the opportunity for change, and if our market has seen anything over the past three years, it is change. The shift from bank loans to seller financing is one of the primary changes that has (pardon the pun) opened the door to prospective home buyers, as well as, land and commercial buyers.

Seller Financing Open The Door in Costa Rica

Before defining the effects, basic models, and legal structure of seller financing, let me back up just a bit to clarify why we now find it present in about half of the Costa Rica real estate deals we facilitate.  Like most lending institutions around the world, Costa Rican banks are better described as “institutional holders”.  Banks are not lending for a few reasons— falling real property values, the recession, and they are not lending to each other (e.g., no credit to leverage).  In Costa Rica, the debt-to-income ratio required to obtain a loan is as ridiculous as the double-digit interest rates being charged (often twice the rates in the United States).  The banks’ parsimonious response has opened the door to seller financing, and Costa Rican property owners have embraced the new paradigm.

Sellers Get Creative

“What do I need to do to sell my property?”  We received this common question too many times to count over the past few years.  Our answer typically included these answers—

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The Memo

Disclaimer: the following is not necessarily what some sellers of Costa Rica real estate want to hear.

It was sometime in 2008 when the world changed.  Our globalized economy demonstrated, for the first time, the extent to which we (all us humans) are interconnected.  When one falls, we all lose our balance.

Some of the bigger economic minds in the US got going with an illusionary slight of hand called “derivatives” and in so doing, yanked the rug out from under the U.S.’s, and then the world’s economies.

Costa Rica land sales stopped.  Here in the southern pacific zone many of the agencies have closed up shop, and the surviving agencies went 9 months with no business.

Why “no” business instead of “low” business?

2 reasons:

  1. High prices
  2. No credit

The fall of the world economies was rather sudden.  The prices on our real estate here in The Zone were high.  All of a sudden our prospective buyers were standing flat footed with not much money, no real way to get money, and even if they could get money, land was expensive.

The above 2 reasons that explain our 9 month freeze on the real estate business here in The Zone have both seen some activity and change.   Prices have come down by 30% – 50% across the board, and this has stimulated the market. If this isn’t obvious to you, dear reader, it may be that you have been cruising websites and listings by sellers that don’t want to lower their price, but instead wish to wait for the market to come back up.  (or you may have seen one of the numerous and un-maintained sites from now defunct Costa Rica real estate agencies)

About the “Hold Out” or  “Old World” Sellers:

Their listings in the various real estate agency’s web site databases likely pre-date the fall of the world markets.  Sellers who insist on pre-fall pricing are finding it harder and harder to find an agency to list their property.  (One of my peers at a competing agency told me recently that they had rejected 9 listings in 3 days.)

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