At 1 p.m. on a Sunday, I was having lunch with my wife and some friends when my phone rang. It was a call from Denver, Colorado. All my friends and family know that I will always pick up my phone, no matter where I am and what I am doing.
A man from the Mile-High City introduced himself and said, “I will be in Costa Rica next week for two days and want to see five or six options of rental homes in Escazú. Can we arrange that?”
So I asked the most important question the more seasoned real estate agents ask before we make any appointments with clients who suddenly announce their arrival: “When are you planning to move?” The man from Denver answered, “Oh, in about a year.”
I don’t get involved in rentals because I don’t want the hassle, but we do have an agent in our network specializing in rental homes in Escazú. I do know for sure that he does not want to be called on a Sunday during lunchtime to be invited to organize a FREE tour of five or six homes for rent, especially if he has to first organize it, then do the driving, and probably even have to get gas on the way.
Hungry real estate agents and those still wet behind the ears might just go ahead and show the client five or six options for rental homes, then get a fake email address and never hear back from the client again. Smarter agents will not make appointments like that and will first establish a relationship and request much more information before spending a whole morning giving someone a free tour.
Your due diligence
If you are planning to move to Costa Rica soon, and you are doing your due diligence, of course you’d like to know what kind of living quarters you can expect for your budget. You can spend hours looking at rental homes in Costa Rica on lots of websites, but just looking at photos and bad descriptions is not going to do it for you.
Is a free tour the solution? Is it right to ask a real estate agent to give you a free tour so someday you might rent a house or a condo? Or maybe you want to try to make believe.
Some readers might think: Real estate agents make too much money anyway! Whether that is true is not the issue. You are looking right now for someone to assist you in finding a rental home in Costa Rica.
Alone or with assistance
It is your entire choice to use the assistance of someone knowledgeable to get you going in your new country: show you where to shop, where to fix your broken appliances and where to get your hair done.
Believe it or not, there are rental agents who go that extra mile. There is actually a good one in Escazú who puts a lot of effort into writing the Escazú News to better serve his clients. Check it out at and you’ll understand what I am talking about.
If you want to do it the right way, here is a hassle-free strategy to finding your first rental home in Costa Rica:
1. Do your due diligence on finding the area of Costa Rica that fits your requirements without anybody’s involvement — unless you pay a driver, tour agency or retirement tour company to show you around. Or you could rent a car and learn on your own what Costa Rica has to offer you.
2. Get a good feel of each area; look at the surroundings, access, amenities and other features that might be important to you. Once you have decided on one or two areas, go and see a couple of short-term rentals that gives you access to the areas that interest you long-term.
3. If you want to see options for a long-term rental on your first visit, ask an agent if he/she would be willing to show you around for a fee.
4. Look at classifieds in The Tico Times, Craigslist and other sites you can find on Google. You can usually find a good inventory of short-term homes and condos for rent. Check out a few short-term rentals without committing, just to have an idea if those options will suit your needs while you find yourself the right rental home in a later stage.
5. Before you move to Costa Rica, establish a relationship with a rental agent. Tell the agent you first want to rent short-term for one month, so you will have time to see what the market has to offer. Some agents can help with short-term rentals, others can’t.
6. If you speak fluent Spanish and you are sure you don’t need anybody to “get you going,” stick with the classified ads. If you do need help, talk to some agents and see what kind of services they offer, besides finding you a home or condo for rent.
7. Rent for one month minimum or as long as you need to make sure you will like living in Costa Rica and get a good feel about what this beautiful country has in store for you.
8. Once you know you’re going to be a happy person when living in Costa Rica, check out different real estate agents in the area of your choice or check the classified ads again.
9. Tell the agent clearly about your plans, what exactly you are looking for, your budget, what special needs you might have and when you plan to make your move. If you go with “for rent by owner,” that is fine too, but it might just be a tad more difficult if you are unfamiliar with the area, the language and other issues.
10. Bring a first month’s rent and security deposit (same amount as first month) in cash. Do NOT bring foreign checks; nobody will accept them, as they take at least 22 days to clear. Landlords usually do not accept credit cards either.
11. Before you sign a lease agreement, check what the agreement says. Do not just sign one in Spanish that you don’t understand.
12. Check how much notice you need to give for finalizing the contract before the term is over.
13. If you feel uncomfortable with signing a lease agreement that you don’t fully understand, hire a bilingual attorney to check it for you.
14. Keep a copy of your lease agreement so you can find it when the time has arrived for you to move on.
Ivo Henfling, a Dutch expat who has lived in Costa Rica since 1980, founded the American-European Real Estate Group back in 1999, the first functioning MLS with affiliate agents from coast to coast. Contact Ivo at (506) 2289-5125 / 8834-4515 or at email@example.com.