PURCHASING TITLED PROPERTY (with an escritura) Buying property in Costa Rica is a safe and simple procedure if you follow some simple guidelines. I say safe because Costa Rica is a long established democracy that affords foreigners all of the same land ownership guarantees by constitution as it does its citizens on titled properties. I say simple because all land records are kept in one central registry and if the property being purchased is solely in the name of the seller at the time of sale no other parties can make claim to the property after the sale. The first step after you have found a property you wish to purchase is to select a competent lawyer.
This might be the most difficult step if you do not know of people who have had satisfactory experiences with lawyers in C.R. since there are more lawyers per capita in C.R. then anywhere and competent punctual ones are in the minority here. If you are not fortunate enough to have contacts in the area I suggest you take the time to talk to other foreigners who have purchased land here that will refer you to a good lawyer. Once you have procured a satisfactory lawyer make sure that they access the registry and confirm that the seller is the sole owner of the property and check municipality tax records to make sure that taxes are up to date. It is not uncommon here for property owners to be several years behind as the tax collectors here laid back like every other profession in Costa Rica. At closing the lawyer will write a purchase contract in his or her protocol book which functions as an extension of the central registry in that once the contract is signed and stamped it functions as a legal title until the permanent is issued. With a diligent lawyer a title or escritura as it is called in Costa Rica will take about 2-3 weeks to receive.
Fractional Titled ownership: Fractional Titled ownership is common to condominiums and townhouses in Costa Rica. In the central registry all titles have a provision where a mother farm number can be divided amongst several registered owners. For example the mother farm number in the registry is 7654321. It can be divided into 7654321-001, 7654321-002, 764321- 003, ect. Each one of these will be registered in the buyers name and can be designated to a specific portion of land by plan and contract. They can later be sold and reregistered in future buyers names the same as other titled land. This type of ownership is secure as all other titled ownership as long as your representing lawyer on purchase verifies the title is in order at time of purchase.
Purchasing Concession Property: The majority of property near the beach in Costa Rica is concession property. This property is technically leased for a set term. However these lease agreements are normally renewed automatically as long as taxes are paid and this type of land is considered by most here to be the same as titled land. The one difference is technically a national must have a 51% interest at time of purchase. Despite this provision the majority of concession land is owned by non nationals through the formation of a corporation with a national representative.
The above information is just a summary of procedures and laws effecting property purchases based on my 15 years of buying and selling properties in Costa Rica. I have presented it in layman terms but if you want in depth, precise information in exact legal terms that boggle my limited perception I recommend you go to: costaricalaw.com
One lawyer that I and many of my clients have had a successful working relationship with is:
Lic. José J. Sánchez
CR Law S.A. Title & Trust Co