Buyer Beware in Paradise


During the last stages of the U.S. Presidential elections there was an ad in one of the expat newspapers: a photograph of Trump alongside ‘President Trump! Time to move to Costa Rica!’ followed by a photograph of Clinton with the same message.

Clearly, the estate agents were hoping that, whichever way it went, they would be the winners as either the offended or the deplorables flooded south in search of property to buy or rent in that earthly paradise, Costa Rica.

Long ago, in a small Norfolk market town, I passed a ladies’ outfitters which was having a sale.Pride of place was occupied by a salmon pink corset, designed to cover the body from neck to knee, stiffened with whalebone and held together by leather straps and steel buckles worthy of a straitjacket. Attached delicately to the (suppressed) bosom of same was the discreet notice:

Unrepeatable offer.

Advertisements for Costa Rican property for sale remind me of that notice.

Everything is  a wonderful – unrepeatable – offer: an opportunity not to be missed: act now or lose it!

Currently, in our small town, there is a house for sale. A two bedroom contemporary build, on a small lot.

For only 600,000 U.S. dollars.

It has lovely views – as long as you don’t look down, as on the large lot below one of the retired money launderers has built himself a massive spread which features galvanised sheeting on the grand scale.

Not a fan of galvanised sheeting?

Then there is another wonderful ‘opportunity’. It has a house on some sixteen acres of land, so no unaesthetic neighbour problem, but it has been down to teak for the last twenty years. The teak has been cut and sold, so the owner has made a mint, but as teak exhausts the land a future buyer faces years to bring the soil back to production…while the ‘house’ proves to be a lightly built shack adjoining the original workshop for the plantation.

Again, only 600,000 U.S. dollars.

Something a little more upmarket?

There are developments in the area….posh(ish) ones. These are large tracts of land bought by philanthropists who feel unable to keep the beauty of the property to themselves and so divide it up and, in the goodness of their hearts, offer these lots to others. At a price.

Not only will they sell you the lot, they will build you a house on it where you can live among like minded people neatly isolated from the local population. At a price.

We don’t have any tower blocks, but they are creeping out from the capital year by year.

It completely beats me why you would want to come to Costa Rica with all its astounding landscapes and live in a block of flats.

The views? They could be spectacular from the higher levels – until someone else builds another tower block alongside. Which they do. Frequently.

But there is one phenomenon which interests me particularly.

Over the last few months there has been a plethora of offers of property in and around a village on the Pacific Coast…a village beloved of surfers due to the length of its wave.

Houses, restaurants, small farms…you name it, you can buy it. At a price.

But why the sudden rush of ‘opportunity’?

It could, perhaps be linked to the release from prison of the gentleman who originally bought up the village, lock stock and barrel. One of the generation of men whose suitcases contained bundles of bank notes as opposed to their smalls.

In his long unavoidable absence squatters moved in on his various properties, aided by lawyers and local politicians: surf addicts bought, in turn, from these gentlemen….no one remembered the original owner except the villagers for whose children he had built a school….

But he did not forget his village.

Having served his time – you can guess the charges – he has returned and is intent on recovering what he regards as his.

So to a number of people it seems a good moment to unload properties become problematical onto unsuspecting newcomers. At a price.

33 thoughts on “Buyer Beware in Paradise”

    1. By all means. Property purchase is not complicated in Costa Rica…as long as you – yourself – check the Registro Nacional entries for the place you would like to buy.
      In the case of this village the gentleman concerned is acting through the courts and I assume that his remedy will lie against those who originally ‘acquired’ his property, but I still wouldn’t touch any of it with a local feelings can become inflamed ,…
      If you have friends interested in property in Costa Rica then warn them to be very careful of pricing: go through a ‘gringo’ agency or on English language websites and you will find high prices…for example a complex in the next town is going on the local market for 875,000 U.S. dollars – but is on the ‘gringo’ sites for 2,000,000!
      My neighbour with the goat farm has caught the bug….for some five acres he wants 215,000 dollars (on an English language website) where the local valuation is more like 150,000 at the outside.

  1. ‘It’s the same the ‘ole world over, It’s the plebs wot plays their game, It’s the thieves wot takes their money, Ain’t it all a bleedin’ shame!’

  2. Insightful as always Helen! A little bit the same here in our part of France, when properties in the village are offered for sale. If you know the property, you usually know the horrors of what went into the build or renovation or, indeed, the years of dereliction that went before because you’ve been around to see it happen. You know the real value of the property which is not reflected in the massively hiked price and you can usually foretell with accuracy the sorts of neighbour or planning problems the buyer might be likely to encounter. As not too much happens in our village, apart from the odd divorce, death and occasional fête, (thankful for those!), property sales make for interesting entertainment and gossip. All the best to you and fingers crossed for a positive change of medicaments for Leo.

    1. Thank you! He is not too well…but let’s hope for better times!
      It’s always a problem, buying in an area which you don;t know. Bad enough in your own country and in your own language…..but plunging into the unknown! One thing to bear in mind is that though someone might speak your language it doesn’t mean that they are on your side!

  3. Of course such behaviour is absent in this well run democracy where the rule of law enables the buyer to enjoy his grossly overpriced property in peace.
    Of course the 16,000 or so properties the developers have built constitute a new town on green fields satisfying the councils,farmer and developer only. The incomers wonder where the schools, doctors, shops etc can be found, those that actually look around them, and care nought for what was lost, as long as they can get their big BMWs through all is well.
    The developers do not live near here…
    I hope the dear man gets his village back and the children are pleased with the school, maybe the Americans surfing there could use it also and learn how to spell correctly…?
    I hope you are safe!

    1. So far so good, though the lights flickered a while ago!
      You may remember that when we moved here permanently we walked into a development fight….not something I would like to repeat!

  4. Oh the opportunities in so many foreign countries after our election results. Too bad they don’t hold water, or much else. And speaking of water, I’m thinking of you and hope you incur no damage from the storms. If it gets too bad just pack up your things, your animals, your hubby and head north to our place. Be safe my friend. ❤

  5. Buyer Beware indeed …. unrepeatable offers are generally too good to be true. Sated with Turkey last night I sat and watched one of the buying in paradise programmes that endlessly play here. A woman moving from Seattle to Costa Rica (somewhere on the coast …. I’m afraid I had drunk significant quantities of Viognier with the bird and was possibly mildly fuddled) to start a B&B. She had a budget of $200,000 …. she ended up spending far more and the man doing the selling had shark tattooed in his hairline in certainty. I thought of you …. I imagine at some level the same rules apply as they do buying anywhere abroad …. proceed with the utmost caution, be prepared to walk away, buy with head not heart and for heavens sakes listen more than you talk!

    1. We can’t talk! Came on holiday for three months and after one of those Leo was intent on buying a bolthole in which to avoid the winters in Europe.
      Luckily we were staying in a cabina and the owners were nice – and good -people. They could have let us face the sharks alone, but didn’t.
      We had some wonderful wild goose chases in the company of men whose office consisted of the mobile ‘phone in their pocket….saw some stunning but totally unsuitable places…and ended up with what we have for a price which better acquaintance with the place over the years has told me was in line with local, as opposed to gringo, prices.
      Long experience of French proprietors with a monetary gleam in the eye was a good training ground though…..

      1. Luck, as I understand Senaca’s definition is when preparation and opportunity converge …. I rather think your wealth of experience in France was good prep for understanding the need to relay on decent locals!

        1. If you can find any! Given the earlier gold rush with Americans buying muck at top dollar there was an idea that any foreigner was a) American and b) stupid.
          Unfortunately the reputation of the Scots has not reached Costa Rica so time is wasted while people adjust to the idea that bawbees belong in my pocket rather than theirs…

  6. Gosh, all this is a far cry from the genteel “A Place in the Sun” programmes which have recently featured properties in Costa Rica! What you describe reminds me a bit of the height of the property boom in France, in the years between when we bought in 2003 (at a very reasonable price) and the peak in 2007, just before the crash. All that feels a very long time ago now.

    1. They are hoping for a repeat of the boom in the 2000s when property – any property – was going for wild prices. A lot of that boom was fueled by earlier foreign residents who made a packet, and those who bought from them and have since seen the decline (just as in France) are slavering at the chance to recoup – and more than recoup – their investment.
      Not, of course, to speak of the more local optimists…
      Reputedly The Neighbour has his finca for sale (again) should you be tempted…and, as he does not understand English, it is going for local prices…
      I would love to see a Place in the Sun type of programme try to market his place – he would insist on being on camera in all his splendour!

  7. Caveat emptor and all that. We’ve never seriously contemplated buying property in any other country, precisely because of the hidden risks/ exploitation/ lack of local knowledge you refer to. It’s hard enough to determine a realistic price in our own country, given the volatility of the property market. I’d love to know if the original owner of the Pacific village manages to retrieve all his missing property.

    I’m also intrigued by the salmon pink corset. Judging by the description, more fetish wear than an everyday item!

    1. The legislature are currently debating a streamlining of civil law processes to reduce the average duration from fifteen years to something more like two…fierce opposition from lawyers…just imagine losing thirteen years of fees!
      So it may be a long wait for the original owner….

      At the time I just thought the corset accounted for the shape of the average Norfolk County lady – distinctive as it was, as if someone had enclosed an airship in rigid fibreglass and put two legs on the end…
      These days, I am not so sure!

  8. Why would anyone move to a beautiful region and then choose to live in a block of flats, indeed! Never understood that mentality. Also never got the concept of living in tract housing, where every home looks identical, homes are a few feet from each other and all the landscaping is identical. Mind you, this isn’t cheap housing, either, but well-to-do folks who choose to live like this. I like a little variety, and a little distance from my neighbors.

    1. More of these ‘gated communities’ are spreading towards us…there are two just outside town and whopper a few miles down towards the coast. Some – not much – variety of architecture, but so terribly dull, and all voluntarily cut off behind their walls.
      If you are frightened by your surroundings …why move there!

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