Not only do they assuage absent homeowners’ phobias of squatters, destructive renters or disrepair, but they’ll also mow your lawn, pay your bills, hire a pool man and feed your gerbils.
Well, the gerbils might take some extra persuasion. But companies that offer property management services, a booming field in Costa Rica, aim to take care of property owners’ needs, from maintenance to organizing rentals. As an increasing number of foreigners buy second homes here, demand for this kind of support has increased, according to Rick Nacastro of Residential Property Management (RPM) (www.tulin.com/costarica, 653-0738) in the northern Pacific beach town of Tamarindo.
“When we bought the business (approximately four years ago), we had 25 properties. Now we have 120,”Nacastro said, referring to the company he co-owns with wife Sandi May.
He added that the increase has a lot to do with Tamarindo’s real estate boom in recent years – but property management is on the rise all over the country, particularly in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, the central Pacific region and Central Valley suburbs. Many work with private homeowners, while at least three new projects on the central Pacific offer luxury condominiums or villas that can be rented out hotelstyle when the owner isn’t in town.
Property managers generally charge a maintenance fee, plus expenses – this can vary widely depending on the size of the property – and a 10-20% commission on all rentals. Better Homes (www.betterhomescostarica.com, 670-1457), a year-old company offering maintenance and rentals on 12 properties in the Guanacaste beach town of Playas del Coco, charges monthly fees that average $150 per property, according to office manager Cristina Jiménez. Among the services they provide are hiring gardeners and other staff, paying condominium association fees and even paying electric, water and TV bills on the property.
The company also organizes rentals, charging a 10% commission on long-term rentals – defined as six months or more –and 20% on shorter rentals, Jiménez said. Condo rental rates during the December-to- May high season start at $700 per week.
One service Better Homes offers is an option for citizens of the United States, for example, looking to rent a property belonging to another U.S. citizen, to deposit the rental payment directly into the owner’s U.S. bank account, thereby eliminating the cost and delay involved in transferring funds to Costa Rica, she added.
“As we get more and more out-of-country property owners, we’re finding greater and greater need,” Ed Fridovich, owner of Aliter Real Estate Services (www.alitercorp.com, 289-4200) in the western San José suburb of Escazú, told The Tico Times. Aliter, primarily a real-estate company, began offering property-management services a few years ago in response to client demand.
Aliter encourages homeowners to keep their property maintained, Fridovich said.
“If you lived next to it, you wouldn’t want (the grass) to be nine feet tall and people dumping trash there,” he said of homes or vacant lots whose owners are out of the country. “We keep land maintained, mowed, make sure we check on it and there are no squatters or anything of that nature.”
(Costa Rica’s Civil Code requires a legal process to evict squatters after they’ve been on the property for more than three months, and people can claim rights to a property after living on it for more than 10 years if they have a title, even if it is flawed or invalid. Legal experts consulted by The Tico Times have said judges’ interpretations of what constitutes a “fair title” often vary widely [TT, July 15, 2005].)
While house sitters may be a viable option for those seeking to protect their properties, Fridovich recommends that all owners planning to leave their homes unattended, especially those who choose not to use the services of a property-management firm, take care when making arrangements for the maintenance or care of their property.
“Sometimes (foreigners) hire a nice couple to watch the house… and then they (the couple) refuse to leave,” he said. “I would be very concerned when you see ads for house sitters and things of this nature. If a property owner is going to have some kind of agreement like that, they really need to have it in writing – in Spanish, so it’s legally binding and in the native language” of the parties.
He urged homeowners to consult lawyers familiar with property management, adding that for a property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, a lawyer’s fee for drawing up a document specifying the terms of the arrangement, including the date when the house sitter must leave, is well worth it.
The company charges one month’s rent as a commission on long-term leases, normally valid for up to three years, and 10% on short-term rentals. Most of the properties it manages are in the Central Valley, Fridovich said, though he expects beach demand to increase.
Nacastro of RPM said his company ensures renters leave clients’ homes in good condition by conducting pre- and postinspections and requiring a security deposit.
“We don’t do a lot of pre-qualifications” on vacation rentals, he said. “The people who are going to rent are usually thousands of miles away.”
The company usually requires a minimum of a week over Christmas and New Year’s, but during the low season might rent some properties for just a couple of nights. The commission on rentals is 20%, with maintenance fees ranging $60-150 per month.
New and developing projects in the beach towns of Manuel Antonio and Jacó combine hotel services with property management.
The $45 million Ramada Resort and Residences Jacó Beach (www.ramadajaco.com), with construction set to begin this month, will include not only a four-star, 72-room resort, but also 228 fully furnished apartments housed in six 10-story towers.Owners will be able to rent out their apartments through the company.
Through Resort Condominiums International (RCI), an international timeshare network, and its Personal Use Reservation Exchange (PURE) program, with which the Ramada project is affiliated, condo owners will be able to rent their units using RCI’s reservation system or exchange a stay for one in other resorts around the world, according to a point system.
The owner of the apartment receives 65% of the rental fee, with RCI receiving the remaining 35%. The residences are now available for purchase during a “presale” period (TT, Aug. 25).
Also coming to Jacó is One Jacó (www.onejaco.com, 228-9433), which will offer one- and two-bedroom and penthouse condos designed and built by Riverside Developers. As at the Ramada, One Jacó will take care of everything involved in renting out the condos when the owners aren’t there.
“We have many people buying as a second-home investment,” said general manager Joshua ten Brink. “Riverside Property Management takes care of finding the renters, charging them and managing the property.”
Amenities include private balconies with spas, designer furnishings, various pools and a wide range of sports facilities, according to the project’s Web site.
The company will charge a 15-20% commission. The same company owns Riverside Condos in Escazú (www.riversidecondo.com), with 66 condos in two buildings, which can also be rented.
Asked whether property management is a growing trend here, ten Brink said he believes “it has existed for a while, but we have given it a different structure, more corporate.”
The company used the same dedication to marketing it uses to sell its condominiums, to rent them, he explained, aggressively seeking out possible clients.
South of Jacó, Buena Vista Villas and Casas (www.buenavistavillas.net) in Manuel Antonio offers a similar setup in its new, deluxe ocean-view houses (see separate story in Weekend). One- and two-bedroom villas can be rented by the night, while two- and three-bedroom houses, complete with gourmet kitchens, private balconies, luxury furnishings, balconies for each bedroom with outdoor stone showers and other amenities, are available for purchase or rental.