House Hunting in ... Costa Rica

John Williamson

This seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom house is on a steep jungle mountainside in the coastal Puntarenas province of southwest Costa Rica. There are several large estates in the area, which is known as Escaleras (Spanish for “stairs”) and is near the town of Dominical.

A winding dirt road (requiring a four-wheel drive during the rainy season) leads to the multilevel, 9,100-square-foot home, which was built in 2010 and offers panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. The three-acre property sits about 900 feet above sea level, where the temperature is often 10 to 15 degrees cooler than it is on the coast, said Matthew Hogan, an agent with 2 Costa Rica Real Estate, which is listing the property.

Through the steel-and-glass front doors, a foyer with 40-foot hardwood ceilings leads to an open area that includes the living room, dining room, kitchen and a space currently used as a game room. The kitchen has Viking appliances, an industrial-size refrigerator and freezer, black granite countertops and an island with counter seating.

Glass walls fold back to connect the ground-floor living areas to the outdoor covered patio, which is bordered by a three-level infinity pool that includes a covered children’s pool and a swim-up bar. A separate patio kitchen has a grill and a large paella stove.

There are six bedrooms in the main house, including one currently used as an office. In the hallway outside the office, a bookshelf slides to reveal a hidden stairway down to a 900-square-foot children’s bedroom with three sets of bunk beds.

There are three bedrooms upstairs, each with its own bathroom. The master bedroom is below the living areas, with its own deck, pool, walk-in closet and en suite bathroom with stone tub.

The house has an array of modern and sustainable technology, including a wireless entertainment system, computer-controlled lighting, a rain-capture network and two 48-panel solar grids. All the furniture is included in the asking price.

Credit...John Williamson

There is also a separate 900-square-foot, one-bedroom guesthouse with a deck, bathroom and kitchen. Below the guesthouse is a three-car garage.

The owner often rents the property, for $800 to $1,500 a night.

The house is about halfway between the towns of Uvita and Dominical, in an area known for surfing and whale watching. Less than an hour’s drive up Route 34 are Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destination, and a small airport in the town of Quepos that offers flights to the capital city of San Jose. Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive.

There is no official multiple listing service or housing database in Costa Rica, which makes it difficult to track sales and pricing. But Dominical-area agents said they have seen a surge in sales in the past year. “We are a lot more active,” said Dave West, an owner of Re/Max Costa del Sol Properties.

Prices in the Dominical area have been relatively flat for some time but are now rising, said Robert Cooper, director of 7th Heaven Properties, an international real estate agency. Demand has been driven by the affordability of larger homes that can be converted into hotels or guesthouses.

Joshua Kanter, a broker with Dominical Property, said asking prices are 5 to 10 percent higher than they were a year ago, and there are fewer discounted sales. The average price of his sales this year, he said, has been up about 5 percent from last year, to $435,000.

“Sellers are being firmer on their price,” Mr. Kanter said. “They don’t have to negotiate as much to make a sale.”

But prices are still below the peak levels they reached before the global financial crisis, agents said. A house along the coast that would have sold for $1 million in 2006 is valued closer to $600,000 today, Mr. Hogan said.

Mr. West said about 20 percent of his sales are empty lots, primarily bought by North Americans looking to build a house as a second home or an investment property. A one-acre lot with an ocean view might sell for about $90,000, he said, depending on the location and accessibility.

With no official data on sales, prices can fluctuate widely in Costa Rica, with sellers seeking unrealistically high prices and buyers submitting lowball offers, agents said. “People are trying to test the market,” Mr. Hogan said. “Some people are fishing, trying to get the most bang for the buck.”

The majority of buyers are from the United States and Canada, and many of them discovered the area as tourists visiting Manuel Antonio Park, agents said. Mr. Kanter estimated that 70 percent of his clients are American, many looking for “turnkey, move-in-ready properties they can rent out.”

Recent years have seen an increase in European and South American buyers, agents said, due in part to expanded international flights to the San Jose airport.

Buyers tend to be a mix of retirees and those seeking second homes, but younger people are increasingly choosing the area for its eco-friendly lifestyle, Mr. Hogan said: “A lot of young families are moving down here to get off the hamster wheel.”

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Costa Rica, except on a narrow strip running along the waterfront, known as the maritime zone, where the land belongs to the state.

Most homes are listed and sold in American dollars. Buyers typically hire a lawyer to research the title and oversee the transaction, agents said. A notary will prepare the documents, manage the process and confirm the title. (In Costa Rica, a lawyer is often a notary.)

The government also requires proof that the property has a legal source of water. With many parts of the country facing drought, water has become “a very sensitive point,” said Randall Sanchez, who specializes in property law. He recommends hiring a surveyor to review the boundaries of a property “to make sure there are no discrepancies.”

The due diligence process usually takes about 30 days. Mortgages are available but difficult to obtain, and most people pay in cash, Mr. Sanchez said.

Spanish; colón (1 colón = $0.002), with the American dollar widely accepted.

The notary fees, registration stamp, lawyers’ fees and transfer tax typically add about 4 percent to a property’s sale price. A surveyor charges between $350 and $400, Mr. Sanchez said.

The annual property tax on this home is about $3,000.

Matthew Hogan, 2 Costa Rica Real Estate, 011-506-2519-9415;

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