Why should I rent before I buy a home in Costa Rica?
We have lived in Costa Rica full time since 2007 and have learned many things during these amazing 6 years. When we meet new people and they ask us for advice, the #1 thing we tell them is to RENT before your BUY! It might seem like a simple concept but you wouldn’t believe how many people fly into Costa Rica and instantly fall in love with it. Costa Rica is an incredible country so it is easy to do. It is a great place to own property (we currently have 5 properties we love) but every area in Costa Rica doesn’t suit every person.
Are you young and want to be around other young people?
Do you have a family and need a family friendly area with great schools?
Are you looking for an off the grid life surrounded by the jungle?
There are areas in Costa Rica for everyone but they are not always in the same location. By renting, you get to test the waters and find the ideal spot for you and your lifestyle. It you don’t get it right the first time simply move on and test out another area. We rented for the first 2 years before we settled on an area we love and it was one of our best decisions (although in fairness, we did buy a condo in Escazu only 6 months after arriving here full-time but we knew we would not be living there – it was a pure investment).
1) Get to know your neighbours – Some people move to Costa Rica in search of an area without neighbours and some are in search of joining a community with lots of neighbours. Renting allows you to take your neighbours on a test drive, find out their personalities and if you will fit in with them. If you end up not liking your neighbours or if there are too many neighbours for your liking then simply move to another area and test out a new group of neighbours. Remember, the running joke among expats is that it is the land of the “wanted and unwanted”, and although this is only partially true – you will find a very eclectic and diverse group of expats and Ticos alike, depending on the area you settle in.
2) Making Friends – Everyone has to make new friends when they move to Costa Rica. Making friends can be difficult but it can be even more difficult if you aren’t in the right area. If you are of retirement age you may want to be around other people in the same stage of life as you, being surrounded by all young people may make it difficult to make new friends. If you discover that there are few people like you in an area, moving to a different rental home in a different area is a lot easier than buying a new home!
3) Test out the amenities – The first area that we moved to was beautiful but very remote! It was an hour or more drive through the mountains just to get to a gas station or large grocery store. Since it was so remote the few stores that were in the area were extremely expensive which increased our monthly expenditure for food. We later found a perfect place for us in Playa Bejuco that was still quiet and tranquil but only 15-30 minutes to major amenities. The best of both worlds for us. We were so glad we had the opportunity to check out the amenities while renting BEFORE we bought!
4) Pick your ideal climate – Costa Rica is small but has a huge number of micro-climates. Are you looking for beach life? Want an area that is dry? humid? Looking for somewhere that is temperate or are you looking for colder or hotter? There is an ideal climate for everyone in Costa Rica but just make sure you test out a few first to find what suits you best. You may find that what you imagine to be ideal turns out to be far from ideal, so try different areas – you may be lucky on the first try!
5) Test the waters – No beach is created equal! If you are thinking about buying near the beach then renting allows you to literally test out the waters before you commit to it. Maybe it isn’t suited for your activities? Maybe it is too rocky for your liking? Maybe it doesn’t have the sunsets you are looking for? All beaches are beautiful but make sure you find your favorite before you buy.
6) Locate your hobbies and interests – If you have an important sport, hobby or interest make sure you can do it in the area you choose. If you love to surf then buying in the mountains may not make you happy. Don’t know if an area has your hobbies or interests? Can’t find any info online? Easy! Rent in the area first to see if you can make your hobbies and interests fit the area.
7) Best deals and inside info– Without a doubt you will be able to find the best prices and the best real estate agents to work with if you already are living in the area where you want to buy. You can meet your neighbours and get the inside scoop as to what is for sale and who has the lowest prices and/or best value. You can also get the first hand info from the people around you as to how they purchased their homes and what real estate agents, builders, lawyers, etc., to use when you finally decide to buy. One of our best buys was purchasing a home directly through the previous owners who needed to sell due to personal reasons. We would have never found this “deal” if we didn’t already live in the area.
8) Experience every season – Dry season and rainy season in Costa Rica are very different and each have their pros and cons. You might love an area during the high/dry season but later find that you can’t stand it during rainy season, or find it too busy during dry season and perfect during rainy season – it all depends on you. Renting for a full year before buying (if you are planning to live in Costa Rica full time) is a must! This way you get to experience the high season, low season and everything in between.
9) Discover your needs and wants – Most people come to Costa Rica with the goal to find a big house equal to or larger than their home in their home country. Once you live here for a while you will discover that the huge house that you once dreamed about is really not necessary. Most people who have lived here more than a year quickly discover that the outdoor living area is much more important than the indoor space since you will spend a lot of time outdoors. You may also discover that other aspects of a house that you once thought were a must are now not as important. You can only figure this out once you have spent a lot of time here and lived in a few different homes. Rationalizing your needs and wants with experience when it is time to finally buy can save you BIG on your final purchase.
10) Language and Communication – It is our opinion that everyone who moves to Costa Rica should learn Spanish or try to, but we do know that speaking in your mother tongue at least some of the time is desirable when living in a foreign country. There are some people who want to immerse themselves 100% into the Costa Rican culture and only speak Spanish. Whatever you are looking for, make sure you are living in an area that allows you to speak in your language of choice. If you speak English and later find out that the area you are living in only has residents that speak German, that might be a hard place for you to live. There are expat communities like in every country where certain countries are represented heavily. If you are looking for a certain nationality aside from our wonderful Ticos, then make sure you’re in an area that fits.