House Hunting in Costa Rica
Sooner or later, after you return from that warm adventure vacation in the land of Pura Vida (Costa Rica) and you make the decision to take the plunge and buy or rent a little home or apartment (casa) by the beach (playa). You decide to become one with the invu residencitas (permanent residents) and kick back in Costa Rica when you’ll soon discover the trials and tribulations of house hunting in Costa Rica.
You want to enjoy life, tell the boss to shove it, become a salsa teacher and extend your eventual death by several years. After all, you decide, the locals were so friendly, you didn’t understand the exchange rate, but they were so nice. They would never take advantage of you…when the actual the truth is, yes, they would.
Whatever the case, you’ve decided to move to Costa Rica. Remember, however, this is a third world country with a great deal of real poverty. There are no real social services network to help them if they lose their job, break a leg, or their spouse goes to jail…so yes…they will try and take advantage of your naive goodwill to make a few extra bucks. For them, it’s a way of making ends meet….at your expense.
I have become educated by several ex-pats who have lived here full time for years and they warned me the real dangers in Costa Rica are the sweet talking ex Norde Americanos. These are the people who are determined to part us from our money as painlessly as possible. Case in point, when I decided to relocate to San Jose, I responded to an ad that told me I could have a very comfortable room, private bath, for $50 per nite.
No breakfast was included with the room but I could easily grab something from a local soda, a Mom and Pop restaurant. The owner of this guest house, a woman well past the dark side of 60, smiled the Spider Woman’s smile, and spoke English…ahhhh….English….. The English language is now becoming a novelty to me because so many people I come in contact with are dyed in the wool Spanish Tico with only a light dusting of English.
First little problem at her guest house was the dog which loved to mark his territory. Several sheets, pillow cases, pillows and couches were well stained…Yikes!!! The next problem was no soap or toilette paper. It was my responsibility she said. Funny tasting water, and again, no snacks in the common living area of my new living accommodations in Costa Rica. But, she told me, I could use the fridge after I stocked up. I felt like I was back at university.
I returned again to her guest house in Rohrmoser, a suburb of San Jose in mid December when my lease ran out in Quepos. I called her again and asked about the front room with the private access and kitchenette. Sure she replied and bring your cat. So I arrived and paid in full on arrival. She scuttled around asking if I could lend her a hundred dollars. I then settled in.
The water was turned off a few days later for a full 30 hours, (a little matter of the bill Senora) …. so no toilet…hmmmmm…. She stomped around above me at all hours like Fred Flintstone. I would open the door to the breeze and the occasional visiting cockroach would scuttle in. I bought a fan and enjoyed the few remaining days. Just relax I told myself, I am in paradise.
I made the mistake of mentioning to her that I was looking for a more permanent home and she reminded me that she was, indeed, a real estate agent with quite a few listings and contacts. She gave me the old tune, “If it’s not listed, we’ll find it.”
One thing one should know is that there are no licensing requirements in Costa Rica to sell real estate, rent property on behalf of others, or even return a deposit if a deal goes sour.
I endured several field trips with this woman, viewing over priced homes and condos in snooty neighborhoods with all the fast food you could want. We only saw all her own real estate listings because other real estate agents wouldn’t work with her. We visited some homes while she continued to comment that I wouldn’t like them. I didn’t. We took a trip out to the suburbs to find something I liked and then during the negotiations, she refused to negotiate on my behalf for a decent rental price. Apparently it’s not the way it’s done down here, negotiating on behalf of the client.
Making matters worse is a pressure on the local Costa Rican currency, the colone, which causes many basics such as food and housing to increase in price. Consequently, landlords continue to push up rent because they want to maintain a certain standard for themselves. There is no functioning rent control so the tenant has very few rights and fewer choices. With the average monthly wage far below $1,000US, it’s tough to make ends meet and usually all the family is expected to pitch in. Many families are born and die in the family home, as no other option is affordable.
As to my search for housing, I tried to keep total cost of rent below $900US, but that was impossible. Using an real estate agent whose method of operating was to show an expensive property, tell me the rent can be negotiated down and then tell me the property is actually worth the asking price of rent. She would then shrug her shoulders like I just didn’t get it. This is the typical experience. The more frequently she did this, the more often I dug in my heels and said “No thanks.”
In the end, I found my own place in Costa Rica and I will be furnishing it as time goes by. However, buying used furniture and appliances are like buying a used car down here, very expensive. The seller can ask whatever he/she wants for a broken chair because there really is a buyer for everything in Costa Rica. No one throws anything away, and if it really is broken, it goes on sale.
I’ve been here now for just over a year, and I will update you, the blessed reader, with whatever comes my way. Am I still happy about being here? With perfect weather, wonderful people, and a land of definite opportunity, of course I am happy.
What saddens me most, living in Costa Rica is watching the garbage pickers go down the street everyday looking for recyclables or something to sell. The same garbage was picked over four times today.…..What a sad thing for the people of Costa Rica to have to rely on. We are so lucky.
Chat again soon….Pura Vida.