Strike in Costa Rica and Its Effect on All of Us

As the now declared “illegal” strike continues into the 5th week, most of the expat community in the Atenas area has been celebrating that we have not been affected, but we have, and here is how.

First, it is important to explain why this strike is even going on. As we all know, no one likes change and when that change involves taxes, people get upset. Someone will get hurt, someone will benefit. The Costa Rican tax system and debt level has been crippling the economy. Something absolutely has to be done, without question. I am not an accountant, so I cannot tell you how this will affect you directly, but here is a basic overview of some of the changes:

1) Sales taxes will be required on some of the services that before did not have to be paid (in varying amounts, but most at 13%), such as internet, concerts, movies, lawyers, accountants. Other services can be at lesser amounts such as airline tickets which varies for national and international flights, health services (4%), etc. It will not include public transportation, gasoline, education, insurance, Red Cross, firefighting services, and more.

2) Income taxes will be adjusted based on income levels. The lowest level is 0% for anyone who earns under 799,000 colones per month which the government claims is 70% of the population, then as the salaries increase, up to 10%, then 15%, then 20%, and finally 25% for those earning over 4.2 million colones.

3) To improve the level of tax collection and to not allow as much tax evasion, the electronic invoices are already being required by most all businesses so that they have to report income and sales tax. So, this is trying to work on the tax evasion portion from the business side.

4) It takes away future “extra” benefits in government positions which cost the state large amounts. It cannot go back and change current contracts, but will adjust future contracts.

So, these are some of the main points in the new tax plan. This is not all-inclusive, but it gives you a general idea. Now, there are always certain “leaders” who spread false information in order to get people upset and who, therefore, scream in protest.

Yes, in Atenas directly, we have been fairly lucky in that we have not had major blockades and have not run out of many products, but if you think we have not been affected, you are wrong.

1) Most of the public schools have been closed or the majority of classes have been cancelled. These kids are required by law to attend a certain number of hours and how will they replace them? The ninth grade and eleventh grades will have graduation exams and either they will not be prepared or the tests will have to be delayed so they have time to catch up on all of the materials. By law, these exams cannot be cancelled as they can’t graduate or go to the university without them. In addition, for poorer children, the lunches that they receive at the schools are often the only meals they get in a day and those services have been on strike as well.

2) Workers who have to travel to other locations have been blocked or re-routed and have not been able to work. This means that while people who are striking are getting paid, the ones who are in other businesses are losing money because they can’t get to work.

3) Gas and propane gas have been in shortage in many locations. We have had gasoline in Atenas, but what happens if you have to travel to other locations that do not?

4) Tourists got stuck in this. Some had to walk to the airport terminals and I personally had two potential buyers who got stuck in the blockades and decided to go home and forget buying in Costa Rica. Cruise ships were turned away at the borders. When the major news networks are reporting the strikes and blockades in the center of San Jose, would this make you want to make the move to this country?

5) Family court services have been on strike except for emergencies so any changes or attempts to get child support are on hold. Many other court services are also on strike or have now “officially” returned to the office, but don’t answer the phone so they only have to attend clients who go in person.

6) Health services have been limited. Many surgeries have been cancelled, but much depends on the specific doctor.

Maybe you have been one of the lucky ones who has not been directly hit by this, but do not think there haven’t been effects. The Chamber of Commerce of Costa Rica has been reporting a loss of approximately $4.2 million each day. I personally hope for an agreement and a way to move forward for the Costa Rica we love.

Tina Newton is the owner and agent for Tristan & Newton Real Estate, based in Atenas, Costa Rica and has lived in Costa Rica for almost 20 years. She has a Master’s in Economics and is emphatic about sharing information with others who live here and are thinking of moving here. She is the President of the Chamber of Tourism and Commerce in Atenas and Supporting Solutions for Atenas, CR, Inc. and has founded many charitable organizations in the town. She has raised two children and now a grandchild in Costa Rica and she is always willing to answer any questions about moving to Costa Rica or living abroad. You can contact her at and through her company website at


How we limit our Personal Growth by Being Judgmental

How can we improve our personal growth?  By not being so judgmental.

Let’s face it.  We all feel superior.  We feel that our culture and our ways are better than all others and we look down our noses at other ways of doing things.  Admit it, we all do.

Why?  Because we feel comfortable with our way of doing things.  We were taught the way to do it or discovered our way of doing it and therefore, that is the RIGHT way to do it.  Everyone else is silly or stupid because they don’t do it our way.

Well, living in another country has taught me that I don’t always know the best way of doing things.  What I found out is that you should first watch, then ask, then try, and then decide.

When my daughter was a small baby of about two months old, I was walking in the neighborhood, slipped on loose gravel, and went down with her in my arms.  I put out my elbow since I couldn’t let go of her, and my elbow took the brunt of the fall.  However, her forehead lightly brushed the ground and everyone from the neighborhood came running.  Being that they were all Costa Ricans and speaking Spanish and I had only been in the country a short time, I had no idea what was being said.  One of the ladies went running into her house and came back with a jar of honey.  I looked at her as if she were nuts while she put honey on my daughter’s forehead.  Knowing that the honey would do no harm, I allowed it, but really did think they were crazy.  Later, it was explained to me that honey keeps the swelling down, reduces bruising, and is a natural antiseptic.  I googled it, and yep, it really is.  Good stuff.  But there I was judging something that I didn’t understand.  Had she been standing there with hydrogen peroxide or an antiseptic spray, I would have never thought about it.

When I built my house in Costa Rica, I insisted on wooden baseboards and our gypsum ceilings, both to save costs and because it was what I was accustomed to.  Luckily, one of the ladies explained to me that since we have to mop to clean the floors, the baseboards would get wet and nasty and that the bugs in Costa Rica love to get into the wood and eat it away.  She suggested putting a baseboard of the same ceramic tile and she was exactly right.  Unfortunately, I didn’t ask for advice on the ceiling and we’ve had to repair it several times as it just doesn’t work well in the humidity and with the movement from the earthquakes.  My superior thinking just didn’t allow me to consider other options.

Over the years, it has been a process of give and take.  I have shown the lady who helps me deep clean my house a few things and she has taught me way more.   We come down to Costa Rica thinking we can help or maybe just enjoy the lifestyle.  Very quickly, we get frustrated because things aren’t done in our ways.  We try to help and show them how things can be done better.  And in many ways, we do help… a lot.  I know that in Atenas, we have put on a lot of events to raise money for charities and to help the community.  The locals see this and have commented about how great this is and as a consequence, I’ve seen other groups start to try to discover solutions rather than just asking the government to fix it.  I’ve seen growth in the arts since I had the community center, Su Espacio, 15 years ago.  Now, Su Espacio no longer exists, but there is a new dance studio with far more students than I ever imagined and it is run by young ticos.

From traveling around the world, I like to think I have adapted little pieces from many of the cultures I have visited.  I have selected those things that I thought were great and even better than I would have normally done and incorporated them in little ways into my daily life.  I have simplified my life in some ways and enriched it in others.  I find it hard to see things in black and white anymore, everything is in a different shade of gray.

To grow as individuals, we have to stop being so judgmental and be open to new options in our lives as well as knowing when we may not have the solutions to all of the answers.  You must experience the unknown and the uncomfortable.  It is something I work on daily in Costa Rica, but I think it’s also something that can be taken and used within our own culture.  Even within our own culture, we are quick to judge others and I think it leads to much of the discomfort and anger that we see within the United States.  So, maybe we can take that same thought process and apply it everywhere:  watch, ask, try, and then decide. 

As a side note, in the university, I had to read a book called, “The Rise and Fall of Nations” (amazing that I still remember the name of it).  Interestingly enough, it actually dealt with the same issue but at a country level.  Once a country who is more advanced, stops improving and stops learning, because it feels it is the “best”, and other countries who are still struggling to figure out better ways to compete advance, you see the fall of the great nation and the rise of the other.  I think for us as individuals to continually grow, we also have to keep challenging ourselves and stop thinking we are superior.  Constant innovation is what it is all about.  Stop judging and start growing.  

Tina Newton is a Realtor in Atenas, Costa Rica, and owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate.  She is there to help you in all of your real estate and non-real estate decisions.  Any questions about moving to Costa Rica are welcome.  You can contact her at and check out the website at as well as on Facebook.


Doing Costa Rica on the Cheap

People come to Costa Rica for many different reasons and with many different budgets.  Costa Rica offers all levels of living from basic to ultra-luxurious.  If you are coming to retire in luxury and have unlimited funds, this blog post is not for you.  But, many people ask me how they can do Costa Rica on a strict budget, so that is the focus here.  Costa Rica is not the cheapest place to live, but most of the locals live on salaries ranging between $500 to $1000 per month, so if they can do it, why can’t you?  This is the most common question I get.  How can I live in Costa Rica on a minimum amount of money?  So, here is your answer.  Live like a local.

If you think you will come down and rent an American style home with three bedrooms, a pool, and a view on a minimum budget, think again.  If you truly have a strict budget, you have to be willing to give some things up.  How do the locals do it?

They own.  They don’t rent.  Most Costa Ricans own their land and have built a house on it which has been handed down for generations.  That eliminates the cost of housing which is a huge part of a budget.  When Costa Ricans do have to take out a mortgage in order to buy, you are looking at interest rates of over 10%, typically closer to 15%.  What that means is that the monthly payments are very high and if you happen to rent, you shouldn’t expect to pay less than what that mortgage payment would be.  Of course, unfurnished, basic Costa Rican homes will rent for far less than American-style homes, but you will give up hot water, gated residential areas, and the pool. 

So, what can you do?  If you have to rent, you can select older Costa Rican style homes, but you will have to buy some furniture.  You can often buy some used pieces from others in town or used furniture stores.  Also, get used to the “suicide showers” which are the nickname we use for the instant hot water showerheads.  The good thing about them is that you will never run out of hot water. 

Most Costa Ricans use minimal electricity.  Gas stoves are common and dryers are not, so the main electricity uses are the washer, lights, and refrigerator which should add up to no more than $30-40 per month.  Forget using an air conditioner, pool pump, or hot water tank which will quickly take your electricity bill up over $200.

Cook at home.  Food is expensive whether you go to out to eat or buy at the grocery store, but you can lower your costs by limiting meats and choosing local fruits and vegetables.

If you have the savings and plan on staying long-term, buy a home.  You can buy a local home and make improvements.  Many people will advise not buying if you are wanting to flip it quickly and that would be true.  But, if you will be here for a while and have enough saved up, invest it in a small home, make improvements, and let go of the luxuries.  You will save an immense amount on rent.  Make sure that you use a legitimate real estate agent who can advise you on the local prices and values so that you don’t overpay and can make sure that the home is legally owned and can be put into your name.  This will easily eliminate $1000 or more from your monthly bills, and if you are looking into luxury homes, it will save between $2000-$4000 per month.  That is huge.

I would never tell you to try to survive on $1000 per month.  Costa Ricans often live with multiple incomes under the same roof, so there might be two or three incomes chipping in.  But, if you are willing to give up a few luxuries, you can do it on a limited budget.

And if you have no budget, but kept reading anyway?  We have a lot of luxurious homes that will let you relax in splendor, whether you decide to rent or buy.

Tina Newton has lived in Atenas, Costa Rica for over 19 years and was a licensed Realtor in the States with Weigand and Sons.  Her business partner Cecilia Tristan is a bilingual lawyer and was one of the forming members of the Chamber of Real Estate of Costa Rica.    Their commitment to honesty and full service is their promise. You can contact Tina at, check out the website at and see the newest listings on Facebook.

In the Eyes of the Buyer

Ok Sellers, we are officially in a Buyer’s market in Costa Rica. So, when you put your home on the market, you have to look through the Buyer’s eyes.

1) Price. When searching for homes in the general area, is your home priced within that range, or even at the lower end for a quick sale, or are you priced above and beyond? Even if your home is nicer, you have to look at your competition because the buyers are. That is….if you really want to sell.

2) Curb and internet appeal. Even before someone drives up, your photos online are what will capture a potential buyer’s interest. Is your home appealing to the eye? A little paint or a few flowers can go a long way. Professional photos can also be very helpful, although even making sure that your home is clean and de-cluttered to make the photos nicer, can be all that is needed. Buyers no longer want to be taken blindly to various homes. They want to see photos, know exactly where it is located, and every detail before they waste their time.

3) Once you’ve been able to capture a prospective buyer, comes the showing. Be ready to show when needed and cooperate. If a buyer wants to see the house on a certain day, try to make it happen. Because if not, they will see everything else on the market except yours. Which means, you don’t really want to sell.

4) Don’t be there. Let your agent walk them through the house pointing out all of the extras and the wonderful features that your home has. If you follow them through the house, even if you don’t say anything, the buyers feel uncomfortable because it is YOUR home. We want them to see it as THEIR home. They need to be able to vision their things there and that may include opening closet doors and measuring areas which are things they won’t feel comfortable doing if you are there. Even if you are the best host ever, buyers will feel like guests, not buyers. Questions can be answered for them after the showing if the Realtor doesn’t know the answer on the spot.

5) Take your pets with you. They may be loving members of the family, but not all buyers are pet lovers and some may be allergic. In addition, as much as I love dogs, having them jump all over me and my car upon arrival is not pleasant and distracts from the home. Have your Realtor call you when he/she is on the way and then take your pets out for a walk during the showing.

6) A clean home is a welcoming home. You may not see the mess or feel that people will understand that you have kids in the home, but they won’t. A dirty, or stinky, house will have people leaving before they even look around and appreciate what you have underneath. Do a quick wipe-down of the sinks and have a covered basket that you can quickly toss things into. And do a quick spray with an air freshener. You may have gone “nose blind” to your smells, but others will identify those smells quickly.

7) Keep in touch with your Realtor to see if you need to change something or to report if you have already changed something. As much as it would be fabulous if every Realtor were able to check back with you each week, it’s just often not possible. They are out there looking for your Buyers, promoting homes, and looking for potential leads. Getting a report back from them is important, but be proactive and check in with them too. It’s a team effort.

In the end, it IS a team effort. A Realtor is rarely a miracle worker. Your efforts will help make your home the most presentable home on the market and easier to sell. Forget that this is your home and look through the eyes (and nose) of the buyer as THEIR next home.

Tina Newton was a licensed Realtor in Kansas and is now an agent and co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Costa Rica. She has resided in Atenas, Costa Rica for over 18 years and has raised two children and now a grandbaby there. She is always open to answering any questions about living in Costa Rica or buying/selling /renting a home there. You can contact her by email, through the Facebook page, or through the website.

The Giving Town

In times of terrible hardships and survival such as in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, it is always amazing as to how people come together to give what they can of their time and money to help others.  From million dollar individual donations, to companies and funds matching donations of givers, to individual donations of $20, it all adds up and helps with the relief and recovery efforts.  People put away words of hatred and separation to come together and help.

The town of Atenas, Costa Rica, has a tradition of giving.  First of all, as in many small towns, people naturally come together when there are people in need.  Whether it is because they are related to one another or just because they have known each other for years, people chip in and do what they can.  Churches are often known as these centers for giving and help when disasters occur.

In Atenas, the Catholic church is very strong and so are many smaller, independent churches, but what steps up mostly are the individual efforts that are seen.  Many of these efforts are led by international residents who want to do what they can to help the community.

Animales Atenas is a great organization set up to eliminate street animals through castration clinics, adoption campaigns, and more.

The Angel Tree is a project with community participation of all levels, providing individual gifts to approximately 350 needy children each Christmas.  The Angel Tree party is provided through food donations, location donation, and all of those wonderful gifts provided by all of the community.  This year’s sign up date is already upon us as it will be Tuesday, October 3rd starting at 10 a.m. and the party will be held on Saturday, December 2nd.

The swim campaign “Swim for Life” is an effort to prevent future drownings by providing safety information, encouraging swimming classes, and funding to those who want to participate in classes but don’t have the money to do so.  They will be taking additional donations in order to provide free swim classes during the summer vacation to the kids in the Angel Tree program so that the children will not only receive Christmas gifts, but the ongoing gift of life as well.

The Chili Cookoff started off as a fun activity to benefit the children’s home “Hogar de Vida.”    It draws people from all over the country and for 2018, will expand into a weekend event, called the “Atenas Life Festival”.  The Chili Cookoff will still be on the Sunday of the event, raising money for the children’s home, but the Saturday will allow for other groups in need to receive funds for their projects.  The dates are currently set for March 9, 10, and 11th, 2018.

All of these events take lots of volunteer time, leadership, donations, and creative ideas.  Atenas has been very lucky to have received such amazing participation of all levels.  And to support these efforts for the town, a non-profit corporation is being set up so that people who want to donate to these projects and receive US tax donations, can do so.  The corporation will be called “Supporting Solutions for Atenas” and should be set by the end of the year.

Atenas, which has often been called, “The Best Climate in the World” could be even better known as “The Giving Town”.  I am proud to be part of this town and many of these projects and I would be glad to help you be part of it as well.

Tina Newton is a real estate agent and co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate.  She has been involved in the community activities since she arrived 18 years ago and is always happy to share information and answer questions about Atenas and life in Costa Rica with anyone who asks.  You can contact her by email, Facebook, or through the website.

What Do I Need to Bring to Costa Rica?

So, you’ve decided to make the move to Costa Rica.  You’re looking at a house full of things and are debating, what do I really need to bring?  What can I find there?  What can I not live without?  Of course, each person will have to make individual decisions on whether to bring the whole house and car or just the necessities, but here is my opinion:

Don’t Bring:

1.        Leather.  Leather anything—shoes, bags, etc.  Unless you use them on a daily basis, they will collect mold and get gross very fast.  I’ve put on a pair of leather shoes and walked right out of the soles.

2.       Car.  Now, there is an exception.  If you love your car, it’s less than 5 years old, paid off, and of an American or Japanese brand, you are probably ok.  You will still pay import taxes on the value that the CR government says it is worth and your shipping and import costs in general.  However, if it is a much older car, you will have higher taxes to pay or might not be allowed to bring it in at all.  If it is a European brand, you will have a hard time finding good mechanics and access to parts.  Yes, cars are way more expensive here, but I calculated on buying a 1-year old car at a good price, paying for the shipping, paying for the import taxes (54% on the value that CR values it at, not at the price you bought it), and the hassle, and I MIGHT have saved $500 over just buying the same car here, so it wasn’t worth it for me.

3.       Printers.  I brought a printer new from the States, thinking I would save money and then found out that the cartridges for same printer which is sold here, are configured or programmed differently and weren’t recognized by my printer.   I then spent the next two years buying the cartridges in the States and having people bring them down to me.  Then I finally realized I could buy a new printer here cheaper than doing that.

4.       Furniture.  In general, you can find most furniture here.  From used pieces to find hand-crafted wooden pieces in Sarchi, it usually isn’t worth the cost and hassle of bringing it down.  And most nice rentals are furnished, so then you have to find a place to put the furniture.  Also, many houses are sold furnished or with the furniture negotiable.

5.       Most of your clothing.  Leave or give away your suits and heavy coats.  I brought all of my suits down only to discover, I would never wear them again and the mold and moths finally wore them out.  If you go back to visit family in the winter, leave a couple of coats with them for your trips back.  Do bring clothes that you might have a tough time getting the fit you are used to here such as jeans or bathing suits.  I have a hard time finding jeans that give me the space I am used to (read as non-skinny, tight ones) and bathing suits that cover a little more of my behind.  It’s just not the style I am accustomed to.

6.       Food.  Bringing a few snacks (I have to bring Ranch dressing packets every time) is good and if they confiscate them, you aren’t out a lot of money.  But, the customs agents vary from day to day and sometimes, they are in a bad mood and will make you throw out anything at all related to food.  I was told tea bags are illegal to bring in and had to toss them.  Fruits and anything not sealed is definitely a no-no.

 Definitely Bring:

1.       Laptop.  As long as the airlines still allows you to bring it, pack it in your carry-on.  Laptops are twice the cost here.

2.       Your memories. Photos, etc you will want with you.  I rented a storage facility in the States for awhile and first it flooded which destroyed many things and then it was broken into and the “valuables” like my wedding photos were stolen. Who wants someone else’s wedding photos, I have no idea but bring those things with you or be able to leave them in a truly safe place.

3.       Documents.  Bring all documents you think you might or might not need:  birth certificates, bank account numbers, marriage and divorce certificates, etc. If you are applying for residency, you will need originals stamped by the authorities and you can bring them when you come. 

4.       Small electronics or kitchen appliances that you use frequently.  Don’t bring down the waffle iron if you only have used it once in the past 5 years.  However, if you do make waffles daily, bring it because it will cost 2-3 times as much here.

5.       Sunblock.  Although you can find sunblock, you won’t have as many choices and will pay around $30/bottle here, so bring it with you.  Lotions in general fall into this category.  They are expensive and you should stock up.

6.  Prescriptions.  If you are on prescription medicine, bring enough with you to last for a while.  There are many medicines that have equivalents here, but you may have something that is not readily available.  Extra sets of eye contacts and any solutions for those that you need should also be brought with you.

7.       Patience and a good sense of humor.  You will need it, especially as you adapt to the “Pura Vida” lifestyle.

Once upon a time, my list of things to bring would have been larger.  It used to be very difficult to get fluffy towels and nice sheets at a reasonable price. But with the opening of Walmart (as much as we claim to hate it, sometimes you just have to go), I just found really nice, fluffy towels for $8 each, so not too bad.

Something else to consider…leave someone you trust with the authority to access your bank accounts or who has a power of attorney to handle emergencies or things back home.  Even though most things can be done on-line, bank transfers will need a signature in person and it’s way easier to have someone there do it for you. 

I hope this list helps and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.  I will be glad to give you my opinion.

Tina Newton is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Atenas, Costa Rica and has lived there for 18 years, raising two children and a grandbaby.  She is always available for consultations, whether in buying a new home or just general questions.  You can contact her by email, through Facebook, or through the website.

A Utopia in Costa Rica

Have you ever dreamed of living in a sustainable neighborhood with organic permaculture gardens in which the community shares the harvest each week?  20160223_092533 (Copy)

Being able to practice yoga with your neighbors on an open-air platform with a view of nature in every direction and swim in a large shared saltwater pool? 20160223_092839 (Copy)

Having the perfect combination of being one with nature and yet with the ease of modern living?  MLW-triskel-2616 (Copy)

What if we threw in an alternative school of international recognition?   Casa Sula, was created and maintained by this community, and is the only alternative school of its kind in Costa Rica.  Imagine learning where children absorb materials through experiences and let their desire to learn guide them in their studies.

If this is something you have always wanted, then the community of La Ecovilla is for you.  There are currently five homes for sale in this unique and amazing international community and you can be as elegant or as “close to nature” as you would like to be.  All ranges are to be found. 

1)      Metamorphosis.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a home that was designed in the shape of a butterfly?  This three bedroom home with an office has an incredible view, a jacuzzi on the balcony, and a guest home on the side.  You feel such peace that you will never want to leave.

2)      Triskel.  Open to nature. Who says you have to live within four walls?  This 6 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom home has the main living area open to nature which can only be done in the perfect weather of Costa Rica.  Four of the bedrooms have private entrances as well so they are perfect for a B&B in a free spirit living style.

3)     The New Moon.  Stone elegance.  The use of nature through stonework and natural woods bring an elegance which blends in with the nature around.  Three bedroom, 2 bath home in the shape of a new moon.

4)      Luxury living.  All of the luxuries of life were combined with the ecofriendly environment of this community.  Three bedrooms with exquisite bathrooms, plus an office and oversized garage.

5)      Low maintenance and high tech.  This home uses technology to provide comfort for its human inhabitants while being very friendly to the environment.  Solar electricity, special wall structure to keep everything cool, and a flooring which is above ground to allow air flow and keep the home flexible.

Having lived in Costa Rica for 18 years, I have never seen community living combined with environmental awareness and human comfort so perfectly intertwined.  Located only 30 minutes from Atenas, 30 minutes to the beach, and 20 minutes to the new international airport that is being built, it is conveniently located to everything and yet, you would never need to leave if you didn’t want to.  Forty homes make up this very special place that is only awaiting your participation.

Tina Newton was a licensed Realtor in the States and has lived in Costa Rica for over 18 years.  She is co-owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate with her business partner Cecilia Tristan who has been a broker in Costa Rica for 40 years and is an attorney and notary public with the firm Gomez, Tristan, & Tristan.  They are always available to answer your questions on real estate and life in Costa Rica in general.  Relocation is their specialty with everything under one roof.  Check out the website, Facebook page, or send them an email.

A special thanks to the professional photographers who took the photos for the owners of these beautiful homes.

Why you really NEED a Realtor when buying property in Costa Rica

Sometimes being a Realtor is not the most respected profession.  I understand that there are lots of people out there, and especially in Costa Rica, who are not professional, are crooks, and don’t know what they are doing.  And therefore, I halfway understand when a local says they don’t need a real estate agent and will go directly to the owner.  However, when I hear a foreigner say that they want to buy a property directly from a local with no agents involved, I shiver.  What can go wrong?  After 18 years of living here and hearing horror stories, here are five things that can go VERY wrong.

1)       You could end up paying WAY more than the property is valued.  You don’t know the value of the land.  Every local will tell you that the property is “ganga” or cheap, even if they’ve priced it at $1,000,000.  I adore this country, but I have been told so many times by locals that they will put a high price on it and eventually someone will come along and pay it.  A good realtor will know the value of the land and other properties in the market.

2)      You might have bought a property that can never be transferred into your name.  Well, maybe NEVER is an exaggeration, but it could easily take 10 years in the courts.  You don’t know if the person who says they are selling the property is truly the owner in the registry.  Sometimes, it could be someone out to fraud someone, but often it is people who honestly believe they own the property and don’t.  How?  A grandson has inherited his grandfather’s property, but nothing was ever changed in the registry, and the grandfather has passed away so there is no one to sign over the property to you.  Or, there was a divorce and the property is no longer in the person’s name who is trying to sell it.

3)      You might have bought a property with liens and mortgages attached.  You could have bought a property that only has rights to half of it, or a mortgage that hasn’t been taken off the registry.  Even if a mortgage is paid, it must be requested by a lawyer for it to be taken off of the registry.  These must be cleared before you consider buying a property.

4)      You might have bought a property with concessions, allowing roads to be widened or high tension electrical wires to run right through your property.  Sometimes these are on the registry papers and sometimes they aren’t and it’s important to know what is going on in the community to know.  Imagine buying a property in Orotina that will be directly next to the new airport. 

5)      Can you live without water?  Unless you have been in the area for an extended period of time, you don’t know which areas have good access to water and which ones get shut off for hours at a time.  You very well could be buying into a development with no water rights at all.  And forget building anything if you don’t have water approval.

Now, it’s true, not every agent out there will check on these things in advance.  They should have, but not all will.  So, it is important to know your Realtor, get recommendations and ask these questions.  If they can’t produce a copy of the registry and plano (plot) for each home you want to see, be careful.  But to say outright that you don’t want to use any Realtor for the transaction is like going into surgery without a surgeon or going into court defending yourself in a murder trial.  NOT recommended.  Will you save money if the owner doesn’t have to pay the commission?  Look at number one.  If you are paying the market rate or better, wouldn’t you prefer that to paying double?  The seller pays the commission so even if you look for properties with an agent and decide not to buy, you don’t pay anything.  So, do your research and select someone who can truly help you and guide you in the Costa Rican jungle.  It’s worth your weight in gold.

Tina Newton who is part-owner of Tristan & Newton real estate is always glad to help you in the search for a home, to sell a home, or even to just answer any questions you have about living in Costa Rica.  Check out the website, facebook page, or send a direct email to find the home of your dreams.

Needs versus Wants

Have you ever seen the commercial about the guy that goes out to buy a new car and drives his new, red, 2-door, sports car into the driveway where his wife and three young children are waiting?  That’s what I mean…need versus want.  It’s the same with houses.  You have to find a good balance and a good Realtor will help you find that.  You LOVE the two story home with the huge backyard, but you are over retirement age.  Stop and think.  Are those stairs going to be a problem or a big headache for you in a few years?  Is the large backyard a lot of work?  Maybe your needs are more in line with a smaller home with no stairs and a yard that is maintained by someone else.  But maybe you just don’t like that.  Well, it’s time to find a balance or sacrifice one for the other.  Maybe that doesn’t make me the best “salesperson” who would push you into the largest, most expensive home of your dreams, but it’s what makes me a good Realtor.  A good realtor understands both your wants and your needs and can help you find that perfect match.  And if you are lucky enough, you might just find exactly what you need AND exactly what you want in the same property.

How can you help your Realtor help you?  Determine these things first and let your Realtor know.

What are your needs?

  1. How many people are in your family?
  2. How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?
  3. How often do you have visitors?
  4. Do you need indoor space or more outdoor space, such as a patio?
  5. Do you have pets?
  6. How much care can you give to a yard or pool?
  7. Do you need easy access to town or a highway?
  8. Do you need to be able to get to the main city or hospitals?

What are your wants?

  1. Do you want a guest bedroom or house?
  2. Do you want a large yard or a small one?  Are you willing to pay someone to keep up a larger yard?
  3. Do you want a pool?  Are you willing to pay someone to clean it or are you willing to do it yourself?
  4. Do you want to live in a gated residential community or in a smaller local community?
  5. Do you want a new home or one that is a more established neighborhood?
  6. Do you want to live in a secluded rural area with no neighbors?
  7. Do you want to never drive on a dirt road?

How can you compromise the two or make a tradeoff?

  1. Do you want the guest house, but only have visitors for one week out of the year?  Would it be worth to live close to a small hotel or short-term rental where you could have them sleep there instead?
  2. Would a pool that is available to the residential community work so that you don’t have the personal maintenance?
  3. Could you buy a smaller house and build a separate guest home in the future?
  4. Would you want to get a secluded home but still close to the city?
  5. Would you be willing to drive on a good dirt road if it meant living in the home of your dreams?
  6. Do you love the beach but hate the heat?  Could you then live 30 minutes away from the surf but up where the air is cooler?
  7. How do you get a home with a view over the whole valley without driving on a hill?

 The more inline that your wants and needs are, the easier it will be, but sometimes compromises or tradeoffs can be made between the two.  It can make it even more complicated when two people have very different ideas of what they need and want.   For example, a wife who likes to be close to town in a home with very little maintenance and a husband who likes to be out in the country with no neighbors in shouting distance.  So, then you have to try to line up two sets of needs vs. wants.  The more you can know this about yourself before you start and let your agent know, the quicker you will find the perfect home. 

Tina Newton who is part-owner of Tristan & Newton real estate is always glad to help you in the search for a home, to sell a home, or even to just answer any questions you have about living in Costa Rica.  Check out the website, facebook page, or send a direct email to find the home of your dreams.

Don’t Be Scammed

 One truly sad fact about the electronic age…anyone can fall prey to a scam.  As much as we constantly hear, “Don’t give out your account information, the bank will never ask for this information over the telephone, keep your passwords safe, etc.”, people fall into the trap every day.  Thieves keep getting more and more sophisticated.  I have had several clients who were in the process of selling a car when a great buyer appears (never in person), offers to put down a deposit and then needs the bank account to do so.  Of course, they think.  If someone is going to make a deposit, they need my bank account number.  I often have given my account number for someone making a deposit, but if you don’t know this person, don’t do it.  They can give you a cashier’s check.  Sometimes they even call you with an “agent” from the bank to show that it is legitimate.  This often happens after bank hours so that you won’t know you are getting scammed immediately.  First of all, bank agents NEVER call you by phone to confirm your information and have you ever known a bank employee to work after hours (sorry to my banking friends)?  But yet, it is amazing the amount of information strangers can already know about you.  Remember that your name and identification as well as date of birth can be found publically in the registry.  This is not private information.  So don’t be convinced if they know it.

Second clue…they call on Friday afternoon and want to make a deposit right away to move in over the weekend.  Again, if they haven’t come in person to see the rental, home for sale, or car, but yet, they want to put down a deposit.  STOP.  No one buys or rents a home without seeing it first, unless they are working with an agent who has been designated to find something very specific and this agent knows them personally.

I once had someone call and insist on moving in right away to an expensive rental without seeing it and they wanted to do it on Sunday and sign all of the paperwork on Monday.  Nope.  I told them they had to see it first and we would do the paperwork and have the deposit made before they moved in.  He was going to call me back.  Thinking maybe I was being too cautious, I saved the name and number in my phone in case they called back.  About 2 weeks later, the same number popped up but asking about a different rental.  When I asked the guy his name, he responded with a different name than was registered and when I told “Alfonso” that it was interesting, because he was “Eduardo” the last time, he hung up and has never called back.

We once had a buyer from “France” who even sent a photo of his family and started by giving lots and lots of details about why he wanted to purchase a specific home, but wanted to put down the money without seeing it and then move in later.  Again, he asked for a bank account.  The owner was desperate and wanted to believe this was all on the up and up and was actually angry with me for doubting this incredible buyer.  So, I told him we could set up an Escrow account with Stewart Title so he could make all of the financial arrangements through them and his money would be protected.  Never heard from him again.  Later we heard that someone out of Manuel Antonio had been scamming homeowners in this way and they were trying to capture him.

What happens?  These thieves convince you to confirm or give them certain information, then they quickly transfer money right out of your account.  You can be left with nothing and since you gave them the information, the bank is not held responsible.

Point….you cannot be too careful.  Don’t get overly anxious to make a deal and trust too quickly.  If someone really wants something, they will do it the right way.  These scammers have a way of making us all feel so stupid.  We know that we should have been smarter.  But they are really good and they get better every day.  They find information that no one should have access to, but they do.  Always stop and think, get a number to call someone back, ask for payments in an official, non-digital way at least until you can confirm that this person is legitimate.  And NEVER EVER give your information over the phone or internet especially if someone calls claiming to be from the bank. 

Tina Newton is a Realtor and part owner of Tristan & Newton Real Estate in Atenas, Costa Rica.  She is always glad to answer any questions about living in Costa Rica, travelling abroad, or housing options.  You can contact her directly by email as well as through the website, or Facebook.