Renting a house in Costa Rica: 8 things you need to know

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After moving to Costa Rica, it took me two months to secure a long-term rental. Find out why navigating the long-term rental market in Costa Rica is so difficult and what I wish I had known prior to my search.

 

When Anna and I moved to Costa Rica, we wanted to live in a community for at least six months before deciding whether it was the right place for us. When we eventually found the perfect community, we entered the housing search optimistically with all of our wit, guile, charm, and hustle.

 

Our first steps:

 
  • Checked local websites

  • Sent emails to every local realtor

  • Posted on local and national expat Facebook groups

  • Physically visited every realtor office in the area

 

After two weeks of active searching, we ended up empty handed – and a little red-faced from some of the responses to our Facebook post.

 

During that rollercoaster journey, we picked up some valuable tips about Costa Rica’s long-term rental market.

8 things you need to know about the long-term rental market in Costa Rica

1. Scope out a few different towns before settling on one

We’ve known many people who found rentals in “perfect” communities (think beautiful sandy beaches) and then packed up 3 – 6 months later once they realized that living there didn’t measure up to vacationing there. Costa Rica offers many incredible places to live. Plan to spend some time in a few different communities before fully committing to one place.

2. Don’t expect an actual property behind every listing

Many websites advertised long-term rentals in our chosen destination for reasonable rates. But many of those listings were a bait and switch or hadn’t been available for a long time. Some companies use old listings to draw potential renters into their sites, or they just don’t bother to update them because it’s not worth their trouble.

3. Incentives between realtors, renters, and tenants are not always aligned

Long-term rentals are fairly limited primarily for two reasons:

 
i) Realtors make more money from property sales than negotiating long-term rentals
 

ii) Real estate laws in Costa Rica strongly favor the tenant. It can be very difficult for a landlord to evict a tenant, sometimes taking years. A landlord may be reluctant to sign a lease if they’re considering putting their house on the market.

 

4. Be flexible in your timing

Many locals and expats offer their homes as rental properties, but only during specific times of  year, such as Christmas and Easter holidays, or for a few months during the dry season.

 
If you’re willing to work around your landlord’s schedule and vacate the home when the owners want to be there, you may gain more rental options.
 

5. Airbnb can work well for shorter-term rentals

While long-term stays at Airbnbs can be costly, consider a short-term stay of 1-2 months. This  will give you more possibilities.

 
Fees charged by Airbnb can increase a rental property’s list price by 10-15%. If you’ve found a  listing that’s only slightly over your budget, you may be able to negotiate a lower fee with the listing agent if you can commit to a full month or more.

6. Expect price fluctuations throughout the year

Prices generally drop during the rainy season, beginning in May, and rise again during the dry  season, around November or December (although this varies by region). If you are looking for  a long-term rental that bridges those periods, you can often negotiate two different monthly rental rates for high and low season.

 
Many realtors in popular expat destinations have reported that slow seasons over the past few  years have not actually been that slow, so the difference in rent may not be as pronounced as it used to be, particularly in the most popular beach locations.
 

7. Get a lease, but be prepared for bureaucracy

Even with a legal system that favors the tenant, you need to protect yourself by signing a lease  with your landlord.

 

The lease will be in Spanish. If Spanish isn’t in your wheelhouse, you’ll need a translation app, or  you’ll need a lawyer to review the agreement. The legal system in Costa Rica is quite bureaucratic and getting things done can take a while, so start the process early.

 

8. Work through local contacts when possible

Once you make friends in your area, things will get easier. As with most challenges in Costa  Rica, in-person relationships and word of mouth go a long way.

 

When we couldn’t find a rental during our initial visit, we rented an Airbnb for a month so we could continue our search. We ultimately found our rental through a woman – and friend – who cleaned our apartment. She knew someone who knew someone that had a house available for rent.

 
We found a great house in a community that we’re excited about and hoping to stay for at least for a while. It wasn’t always easy or smooth, but once we made friends in the community, we were able to wrap up things pretty quickly.
 

Helpful resources

Local Facebook groups

 

There are many Facebook groups for expats in Costa Rica, and even a dedicated housing group called Costa Rica House and Apartment Rentals. Where possible, join the local Facebook groups for pertinent, localized, and timely information.

 

Online sales forums

 

There are a lot of these floating around, but I recommend encuentra24.com.

 

Rental sites

 

Airbnb and Vrbo are the two most popular rental sites in Costa Rica. There are plenty of good options on these sites, especially for short-term stays. Try to negotiate with the landlord. You may try the local site, Point2Homes.

 

Local realtor sites

 

There are many nationwide realty firms in Costa Rica, like Coldwell Banker. The local realtors, or at least the local branches of the nationwide firms, will be your best bet. As noted above, the websites of these companies are not always fruitful. If you can, try walking into the office and asking. We found that even if the company isn’t officially listing any rentals, an employee might have one or two leads, and be happy to show you a few places. It helps to let them know you are thinking of purchasing something after a year or so.

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