In your search for a Costa Rica real estate agent to represent you as a buyer, you’ve probably heard it all: Anyone can be a real estate agent in Costa Rica. It’s the Wild West out here. There is no RE licensing in Costa Rica. And watch out, there are crooks out there!
In order: No longer true. Kinda true. Incorrect. Still true. It is absolutely untrue that anyone can be a real estate agent today (see Tips #2 and #8); it’s more of a Tamed West now (see Tip #5); there are two types of professional licensing (see Tip #2); and yes, there are shady people everywhere in the world.
The true truth is that real estate is rapidly evolving in Costa Rica – and for the better. While our industry is still not as regulated as, for example, the U.S. real estate industry, it has improved by kilometers and miles over the past decades.
The other truth is that you can find and work with a highly ethical, extremely professional Costa Rica real estate agent to represent you as a buyer. You only need to know how to find one. So, let’s get into our tips, with some extra advice (gleaned from decades of experience) from our founder and broker, Becky Clower:
Tip #1: Put in the Time to Build a Client-Agent Relationship
Whether you’re a buyer or a seller (or both), your realtor will be your staunchest advocate. While this is a professional relationship, it’s also a personal one: Before your agent can really work for you, they have to get to know you. This kind of relationship-building takes time, effort, and trust, but it’s worth it.
“Seek out an experienced agent who ticks all the must-have boxes, but with whom you also connect and have rapport. You should have deep trust and affinity with your agent, and should have to doubt that they’re 100% on your side, working for your best interests.”
Tip #2: Commit to Just One Costa Rica Real Estate Agent
We know, we could be considered biased. That doesn’t make us wrong, though!
It’s important to commit to ONLY ONE real estate agent. In Costa Rica, there’s a long-held myth that you need to work with several, if not a dozen agents in order to see everything that’s available on the market.
That’s simply not true – not anymore, at least.
Costa Rica’s real estate industry has matured and with it, so have collaboration and transparency. As long as you follow the advice laid out here – ex. choose a legal agent, prioritize affiliation with an association that promotes professional standards, etc. – then you can choose just one experienced, professional, ethical agent who will collaborate with area agents to show you not just their inventory, but that of the competition.
Before you hire a buyer’s agent, ask if they can show you their competition’s AND developer property. If you get a tentative or tepid answer (or worse, a “well, let me show you what I have available first…”, do not hire that agent.
“An ethical and professional buyer’s agent represents only you, the buyer and can show you everything the on the market, including listings with other agents (at other brokerages) and direct-from-the-developer property.”
Tip #3: BEFORE You Home-Search, Visit (Several Times), Speak with a Relocation Expert, and/or Book a Relocation Tour
One of our top pieces of advice on offer: Always visit and research, research, research before you decide to buy!
Before you and your Costa Rica real estate agent begin actively searching and viewing properties for sale, hire a Costa Rica relocation specialist and consider taking a relocation tour.
So, why do we give this advice? The bottom line is that Costa Rica is a new country and, even if you’re well-traveled, it’s still a bit of a brave, new world. There will be surprises and adjustments and a tinge of culture shock, and it’s far better to have those behind you by the time you decide to buy. A relocation expert will help you navigate potential potholes before you bump over (or into) them:
- Your relocation expert will listen to your needs and wants, and then direct you to the areas of Costa Rica that meet those needs and wants.
- They’ll help you understand culture shock and the oh-we-didn’t-realize! details about living in Costa Rica, like microclimates and infrastructure, access to utilities and necessities (ex. major medical services, international schools, the airport, etc.).
- They’ll direct you to the most qualified attorneys, accountants, and other relocation-adjacent professionals.
- They’ll provide first-hand experience about life in Costa Rica.
- And a lot more!
Once you’ve narrowed down your options to the few that suit you best, visit. Then, visit again. Be sure to visit during the dry AND rainy seasons. Rent a car (if you plan to buy a car, once here). If you’ll commute to school or work, do a few dry runs during heavy commuter times (typically, 6-9 a.m. and 4-8 p.m.). Familiarize yourself with an area you’re considering for relocation.
Once you have all this initial research under your belt, only then is it the right time to begin your search in earnest. We are happy to share what we know but we don’t purport to know it all; that’s what the relocation specialists are for!
“As agents, we are highly specialized in our regions. A knowledgable buyer’s agent in one region won’t have the expertise to represent you in another. You will be best served by an agent who specializes in the specific town (ex. Tamarindo), area (ex. Guanacaste), or region (North Pacific Costa Rica) that you’ve identified as right for you.”
Tip #4: Confirm an Agent’s Legalities
You may have heard someone call Costa Rica real estate the “Wild West.” This is why: As of this post’s publication, there is no official, required licensing process here. That said, there IS such a thing as verifiable, trustworthy real estate credentials in Costa Rica.
Verify that your Costa Rica real estate agent of choice:
- Is a legal resident of Costa Rica (the only way they can work legally in real estate);
- Is registered and licensed by either the Costa Rica Global Association of REALTORS® (CRGAR) or the Cámara Costarricense de Corredores de Bienes Raices (the Costa Rican Chamber of Real Estate Agents, aka CCCBR); and
- Has the experience necessary (years of experience + buyer/seller representation credentials + references) to properly represent you.
“The quick test to verify whether an agent has checked all the major boxes is to ask 1) whether they have legal residency, 2) are registered with Hacienda, 3) are registered with SUGEF, and, preferably, 4) are a member of either CRGAR or the CCCBR.”
Tip #5: Ask a Few Legal Questions
This one is simple: Your agent should have a basic working knowledge of Costa Rican real estate law and be able to refer you to a knowledgeable real estate attorney.
If you hear anything but a, “We’d be happy to refer you to an experienced real estate attorney in our area,” then look elsewhere.
“Agents are not islands in a lonely sea; we work with many related professionals to deliver comprehensive, professional services to our buyers. A great agent will be able to refer you to their network of trusted professionals, who in turn can provide references, in everything from home inspections and real estate law to HVAC and renovation specialists.”
Tip #6: Confirm Access to the Costa Rica MLS
If your Costa Rica real estate agent is part of one of the two real estate associations listed above – either the Costa Rica Global Association of REALTORS® (CRGAR) or the Cámara Costarricense de Corredores de Bienes Raices (CCCBR) – then they will have access to the new Costa Rica MLS.
Notably, only agents who are legal to work in the country AND who take real estate courses via their chosen association will be granted access to the MLS. This means that you, the buyer or seller, will experience an increased level of professionalism when you work with a broker or agent who has access to the MLS. Win, win.
“I cannot emphasize enough the value of a CRGAR agent. (I am not a member of CCCBR, so I can’t speak to that personally.) We’re required to complete a 12-month series of professional education and to operate under specific ethical and professional standards. I am proud to be the President of CRGAR.”
Tip #7: Don’t Go FSBO
Not too long ago, multiple agents represented the same properties while owners also advertised them directly for sale. No more.
At least in our area of Guanacaste and the North Pacific (Hacienda Pinilla north to Playas del Coco, roughly), most properties are exclusively listed with one agency and they split their commission with participating brokers.
“Many beach property owners don’t live in Costa Rica, so they couldn’t offer a For Sale by Owner (FSBO) property, even if they wanted to. The only way to see the majority of beach properties, at least in Guanacaste, is through a qualified buyer’s agent who works collaboratively within their regional network. They’ll get you in anywhere, no matter who lists the property.”
Tip #8: Find a True Advocate
Few good things in life are free. But real estate is one of them. (For buyers, at least.)
As in many other countries around the world, Costa Rica’s real estate agents work on commission. In other words, that means that those who benefit financially – in the case of real estate, the seller – pays for this service via a commission, only after their property sells through a specific Costa Rica real estate agent. As a buyer, you pay no commission.
Bottom line: Our years of experience can save you money and also help you avoid problem properties or issues that you may not have known or discovered otherwise.
“A great buyer’s agent is your advocate and ally. They are invaluable! From lobbying for your needs and helping inform your decision-making to coordinating with professionals (home inspector, real estate attorney, etc.) and whittling down the asking price, your buyer’s agent will lobby for your interests throughout every phase of your purchase.”
Tip #9: Choose a Registered Real Estate Agent
You may have heard the [myth] that “anyone can be a real estate agent in Costa Rica.” Not anymore!
To be sure you’re hiring someone above board, legal, and by the book, you’ll want to request credentials and confirm that your agent is registered with the pertinent government agencies. Note that this is not the same as affiliation with CRGAR or CCCBR: In addition to those affiliations, choose only an agent who is a Costa Rican resident or citizen, and who is registered with both Hacienda and SUGEF.
Hacienda is Costa Rica’s tax agency; in order to legally provide a service (ex. real estate services), all Costa Rican citizens and residents must be registered (inscritos) with Hacienda for the specific professional service(s) (servicios profesionales) they offer. This will always fall under the category of servicios inmobiliarios (real estate services); from there, there are several tax categories that your Costa Rica real estate agent may choose.
SUGEF is Costa Rica’s General Superintendent of Financial Entities. Because real estate agents deal in large financial transactions, professional agents will be registered with SUGEF to guarantee that everything proceeds smoothly and is above board with your purchase and/or sale.
“If you’re looking for something like a litmus test, here it is. Legal, above-board agents won’t find these verifications intrusive or strange: In fact, we’ve been working hard for years to establish requirements for the real estate industry. So please, ask! If an agent is on the up and up, they’ll welcome the chance to strut their Costa Rican credentials!”
Tip #10: Practice Mutual Respect
We know – real estate can be a high-stakes experience and transaction; emotions run high. That said, remember that we are both your advocate and ally; we’re on your team, not working against you.
Respect is a two-way street. Our job is to work hard for you, do the legwork for you, and negotiate for you. At Blue Water Properties, we demonstrate our respect for you in many ways, from fast communication and top-level professionalism (see tips #1 through #8; we fulfill them all!) to full transparency and adherence to the highest professional and ethical standards.
“Help build a strong foundation for the realtor-client relationship by recognizing that your agent’s time has value. Cars and gas are expensive. Networking connections are invaluable. And your agent’s expertise has been earned. Unless you’ve received bad service, you shouldn’t switch agents mid-property search, double-up on agencies, or otherwise drop your agent without a solid reason.”
Get in Touch with Our Expert Buyer’s Agents
At Blue Water Properties of Costa Rica, helping people like you just happens to be one of our fortes. We’re happy to help you in any way we can. We can talk about locations and costs of living, schools and lifestyle. We can refer you to residency attorneys or other sources of information, and share our own experiences and lessons learned.
As a company and as people, we thrive on relationships and promise the fastest communication and best services in the industry. And that begins with lots of information. We are happy to answer your questions and point you in the right direction, even if you’re only in the beginning phases of planning your future move.
We’re proud to offer some of the best Costa Rica real estate, from condos and homes to land and businesses for sale. So, go ahead – try us. Give us a chance to show off our expertise – and wow you with the possibilities! We look forward to it.