So, you know you want to live in Costa Rica. You’re pretty sure you want to buy property. But you’re still wondering whether you’d be better suited to building or buying a house in Costa Rica… well, this one’s for you!
Hi, I’m Rebecca Clower (my friends call me Becky). For more than 15 years, I’ve worked in almost every aspect of Costa Rican real estate, as both a buyer’s and seller’s representative. I’ve also built over a dozen homes.
In other words, I’ve been on both sides of the coin – as a buyer and a seller and a builder, and as a representative for buyers and sellers and builders. I have first-person insight and the benefit of extensive experience, thanks to my past clients (and now friends). And so, I thought I’d pull some of what I’ve learned into one single location.
You are here. Let’s get started!
Building a Home in Costa Rica
There’s no denying that building a house in Costa Rica has a certain allure. A custom home. A home that answers your every wish. Bespoke finishes. The view of your dreams. And your personal touch, evident throughout every last detail.
I get it! I’ve built many homes myself… and I love it. I understand and appreciate the process, and I’m in it for the long haul to achieve my vision. But, let’s talk about a few of the big pros and cons of building a home in Costa Rica.
Note: This post is the third in my building series. Check out the first two posts, Beginning Steps & Costs of Building a Home in Costa Rica and Tips for Construction in Costa Rica.
Upside: You Get Exactly What You Want
Take it from someone (that’s me, Becky!) who has built more than a dozen times – there’s absolutely nothing like the joy and fulfillment of building a custom home exactly the way you dream it.
Building a home grants you ultimate control. Choosing the perfect building site – the exact view you want, in the community you want, with the underground utilities you want, etc. – is just the start. From there, you can choose and tweak every detail until it’s exactly how you want it to be. This
Upside: You’ll Have a Home Warranty
This may not sound like a major pro, but if you’re worried about leaky roofs, water damage, or janky HVAC systems, then a home warranty may be at the top of your would-love-to-have list.
While you won’t get a warranty when buying a house in Costa Rica, quality builders will warranty their work. And that means if anything happens – from a minor drip-drip when rainy season hits to a crack in the wall the first time the ground shakes – you’re covered. Peace of mind can be worth its weight in gold.
Downside: You’ll (Probably) Be Paying Rent While You Build
Many people forget to consider this major cost, but while you build, your rental budget can eat into your overall building budget.
What do I mean by this? Know that long-term rentals can be hard to find, especially if you’re building in Guanacaste, the Central Pacific, or another area that’s also popular with tourists. Here, rentals command a premium price because you’re up against the short-term rental market (vacation home), which often rents for $1,500-$5,000+ per week.
Let’s be conservative and estimate 12 months for site prep, construction, and other details before move-in. Let’s also be fairly conservative and say you get lucky with a $2,000/month rental. Even so, you’re looking at $24,000+ for a year’s rental – $24,000 that will like eat down a chunk of your building budget.
Downside: Building is (a Bit) More Expensive Right Now
Costa Rica has been hit by the same supply chain issues and rising costs as the rest of the world. Additionally, as mentioned above, instead of the standard 6-12 months, we’re often looking at more like 9-15+ months for a new build.
That means that, in addition to building taking longer than it usually does (add at least a few months to your estimates), construction costs are running higher than they normally would. Ask a builder for a ballpark percentage, as these numbers are constantly in flux, in response to market conditions.
Additionally, just so that it is said: It’s an oft-spoken adage around the world (and for good reason), but custom builds rarely come in at budget. If you go this route, buckle up for some hassles, bumps in the road, and additions to your budget along the way. They really are an unavoidable part of the process.
Downside: You Need to Be Detail-Oriented
Here’s the hard truth about building in Costa Rica: you’re going to have several balls in the air at all times. You’re going to have to manage people. You’re going to have to manage budgets. And you’re going to do a lot of it in Spanish.
Building in Costa Rica is not for the faint of heart. But if you have drive and gumption and the desire to build your dream home, you can do it. (And if you don’t want to do it all yourself, then you can hire someone to help you manage your build. It’s just an added cost.)
Buying a House in Costa Rica
For more than 15 years, I’ve helped people buy and sell real estate in Costa Rica. You could say that I know a thing or two (to a factor of hundreds!) about buying a home in Costa Rica.
I love buying real estate. There’s almost nothing like looking a house on Monday and walking into your new home on Tuesday. It’s more than a rush; it’s instant fulfillment of your heart’s desire, in a wonderful way. So, while I’ve built a ton, I also understand the appeal of finding that just-right property, already built and seemingly waiting on you to move in.
Here are a few of the things you should be aware of, before you do:
Upside: It’s Ready Right Now
Not going to lie – as someone (still me, Becky!) who has built more than a dozen times, the wait is hard. It’s not just the rent you’ll pay; it’s the entire process of building, from permitting through to inspections, that can really wear on you.
Buying a house in Costa Rica avoids so many hassles and hurdles. Signing on the dotted line, receiving a key, and walking right into your new-to-you home – yes, that’s a huge advantage. What’s more, if you’re more interested in modern design and newer construction, you don’t need to build; Guanacaste’s inventory is a majority of newer homes with modern design!
Upside: Walk Right into an Investment Property
If you’re planning on purchasing an investment property – in this instance, a property that you rent out while you’re not using it – then know that some homes are already in rental pools.
What’s that, you ask? In Costa Rica, it’s fairly common for property management companies in Costa Rica to manage a pool of homes or condos within a single community. This is what we in Costa Rica refer to as a “rental pool.”
Since this type of investment is so common in our area, if you’re looking into buying a house in Costa Rica, it may already be in a rental pool. You can literally walk right into a fully managed investment property.
Downside: Local Inventory is Limited
Our market – specifically, northwestern Costa Rica, around Tamarindo, Flamingo, and Playas del Coco – is red hot right now. That’s great for sellers but as a buyer, you’re going to be in a constant race against time and your buyer competition.
I say this not to scare you but to set expectations. Let’s say you have specific (and harder-to-fulfill) requirements – for instance, a 4-bedroom home, in a specific community, with an ocean view and a pool – then it can be difficult to find a home to view, let alone be the first to put in a successful offer.
Bottom line: Depending on your parameter, it can take almost as long to close on a hard-to-find home as it does to build one!
Between Building & Buying a House in Costa Rica: Building in a Gated Community
If you’re looking for something in between the benefits of building and buying, then you may want to consider building in a community development.
I know – that may not make a lot of sense at first glance. But here’s how it works: Some gated communities in Costa Rica are along the line of master-planned developments with select architects, onsite construction services, model floorplans and design, and everything done in-house. And that does represent a somewhat in-between. Here’s what I mean:
Upside: It’s a (Mostly) Turnkey Process
This is the big, huge, shout-it-from-the-rooftops benefit: Because your community developer keeps everything in-house, it’s almost a turnkey process for you.
Let’s back up. When you build a home the traditional way, you’ll either have to handle everything yourself or pay someone to do it for you. And there is a LOT to handle, from permitting and handling all your very many contractors (engineers, electricians, etc.) to managing your budget and getting your final inspections.
If you’re open to building but like the low-stress approach of buying a house in Costa Rica and don’t want to manage all the details, this one’s for you. Your developer will handle all of that, leaving mostly the fun stuff (design decisions) to you. And who wouldn’t appreciate that?
Upside: You Can Customize to Your Heart’s Content
Like with building a custom home, building with a developer allows you to customize your interiors, design details, and important aesthetics.
That said, because you’re building in a master-planned community, you can’t choose absolutely everything; you do have to conform to the community’s home plans, design brief, and other considerations.
Downside: There’s Still a Wait Period
As with building traditionally, building through a developer takes time. While the typical timeframe (I’m talking start to finish) is 6-12+ months, know that current timeframes have been pushed out a bit.
Because of supply chain issues, materials are taking longer to enter the country. (Prices are also up a bit, too, FYI.) Some aren’t available at all. So again, instead of the standard 6-12 months, you may be looking at more like 9-15+ months for a developer build. If you’re on a tight timeframe, ask your developer!
Downside: Not Many Communities Offer this Service
If all this sounds like your dream, then buckle up for the big downside: There just are not many developments and communities that offer this service.
Bottom line: If your heart is set on a developer build, then you’ll be limited to a handful of select communities that offer this service.
Buying vs. Building a Home in Costa Rica: What’s Your Dream?
Imagine buying or building your dream home, condo, vacation home, or investment property – what is most important to you? Are you a part-time or full-time owner? What’s your timeframe? Where does your budget fall?
At Blue Water Properties, we’re more than a real estate team. We’re bilingual, bicultural, and seriously experienced. And we put you first.
So, please get in touch. We’re sticklers for responding within 24 hours. Yes, even if you’re reading this post into the wee hours; we’ll have more information to you on that dream, within the day! And we look forward to it!
At Blue Water Properties of Costa Rica, we’re proud to offer some of the best Costa Rica real estate. We have both condos and homes, land, and businesses for sale.