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House Hunting in … Costa Rica

San José, Costa Rica- This four-bedroom, five-bath Spanish colonial is in Escazú, about five miles west of San José, the capital city of Costa Rica. This sprawling, suburban area in the hills has cooler temperatures than elsewhere in the region. It is also one of the country’s most affluent areas, with upscale restaurants and shops, and a few foreign embassies and consulates.

The three-level, 8,772-square-foot house, designed by Ronald Zürcher, a local architect, was built about 15 years ago on nearly three-quarters of an acre in a quiet neighborhood. “It’s a very calm area — you don’t get a lot of traffic,” said the listing agent, Eva Murillo of Costa Rica Sotheby’s International Real Estate. “But the house is minutes away from just about everything. It’s close to the airport. There’s a hospital nearby, a big shopping mall and schools.”

The owners, who are downsizing, incorporated many natural materials into the construction. The large wooden front door was imported from India and is surrounded by a stone archway from a Guatemalan church. Other stone, brick and wood accents can be found throughout the home.

Inside, on the main floor, is a spacious tile foyer that leads to the living room, which has a wood-burning fireplace; to the brick-ceilinged dining room; and to a breakfast area and a kitchen with stainless-steel appliances and granite counters. These rooms all have hardwood floors and wood-beamed ceilings, and connect to an expansive terrace that overlooks lush tropical gardens. Separate maid’s quarters are off the kitchen, and there is also a wine cellar.

The ground floor has a large recreation room with glass doors that open to the landscaped yard, which has a pool and a wooden yoga deck with seating. There is a two-car garage and an attached carport that can shelter four additional vehicles.

The four bedrooms are on the top floor. The en-suite master has a walk-in closet and a balcony offering city views in the distance. Two other bedrooms share a bathroom, while another has its own. All furnishings are available for purchase separately.

“The social areas are great for entertaining,” Ms. Murillo said, “but the bedroom area is very private.”
Escazú, officially San Miguel de Escazú, is part of the canton, or subdivision, of Escazú (population, around 60,000) in the province of San José. It is about 12 miles from Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José. The nearest beaches, on the Pacific side, are around 90 minutes away by car. But the area makes up for that in big-city conveniences: It is home to the giant shopping complex Multiplaza Escazú and close to one of the country’s best private medical facilities, Hospital Cima.

MARKET OVERVIEW
Costa Rica’s housing market was booming for nearly a decade, but activity stalled after the 2008 global financial crisis. In the last couple of years, business has started picking up again, although “prices are still fairly affordable compared to what they were before 2008,” said Saul Rasminsky, the owner of Dominical Real Estate, in the town of Dominical.

“We’ve seen more buyers and a lot of deals,” Mr. Rasminsky said. “People are also developing land again — there are new condos being built. There’s more confidence in the market.”

Demand for houses in Escazú remains generally healthy, too, Ms. Murillo said, because the area “is close to downtown for people who work, and close to Highway 27, which takes you to the beach.”

Prices in Escazú range from about $150,000 for a small house at a low elevation, Ms. Murillo said, to around $6 million for an estate high up in the hills. But prices are now flat, she added, with some of the more expensive houses lingering on the market.

WHO BUYS IN COSTA RICA
Americans dominate the second-home market, thanks in part to an abundance of direct flights to Costa Rica from many major cities in the United States. There is also strong interest from Canadian and European buyers, agents say.

The majority of foreign buyers prefer the country’s numerous beach communities along the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. “They come here to vacation, fall in love and want to buy,” said Rodolfo Herrera, a real estate lawyer and licensed notary based in San Isidro, San José.

Buyers in the province of San José, and particularly in Escazú — which Mr. Herrera likens to a cosmopolitan American city such as Miami — are mostly people who have business in the capital, along with retirees or people close to retiring who are looking to move to a temperate climate.

“The people who buy in Escazú want to have modern conveniences near the city,” Mr. Rasminsky said. “They want to live in an area where the temperatures are cooler and where they have mountain views.”

BUYING BASICS
International home buyers in Costa Rica face few restrictions, Mr. Herrera said, but local financing is harder to come by and at less attractive terms than in the United States. Nonresident buyers, he said, should be prepared to pay in cash or obtain loans elsewhere.

Buyers typically make a deposit (usually around 10 percent of the purchase price) into an escrow account. A period of due diligence follows to allow for a title search and a check for liens or encumbrances, among other things. Costa Rica has a reliable national property registry that tracks these records, and includes information on the owners, Mr. Herrera said.

Agents recommend hiring an experienced real estate lawyer who is also a notary. The notary handles the all-important transfer of the deed to the property. (In Costa Rica, all licensed notaries are lawyers, but not all lawyers are notaries.) A common practice among foreign buyers is to form a corporation to purchase property. Purchases can also be made through a retirement fund like an individual retirement account, or I.R.A.

WEBSITES
Costa Rica tourism: visitcostarica.com
Tourism Board: ict.go.cr

LANGUAGES AND CURRENCIES
Spanish; colón ($1 = 560 colón). The American dollar is widely accepted.

TAXES AND FEES
The seller usually pays the brokerage commission, which ranges from around 5 to 8 percent of the purchase price. The buyer typically pays most of the closing costs, Mr. Herrera said, which amount to at least 4 percent of the purchase price; costs include notary fees, title transfer tax and government stamps.
Property taxes in Costa Rica are generally very low, around 0.25 percent of the registered property value. The municipal taxes on this house are about $2,000 a year, Ms. Murillo said, in addition to an annual luxury tax of around $2,000.

The New York Times

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