House Hunting in Costa Rica: A Slice of Oceanside Paradise for $1.1 Million

This modern three-bedroom home sits on a hillside in Dominical, a beach town in Puntarenas province, on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Built in 2016, the 3,500-square-foot house is oriented to maximize ocean views, with sliding glass walls in every room.

The mountainous area, known as Escaleras, “we sometimes refer to as the Hollywood Hills — it’s home to some of the most amazing real estate in the area,” said Tim Fenton, president of Blue Zone Realty International, which has the listing. “The mountains are very close to the sea, so these homes are perched front row, overlooking the ocean.”

The single-story house is built from steel and concrete on just over a half acre. The front entrance, on the side opposite the ocean, opens directly into the living area, with vaulted ceilings that rise to 15 feet. The tiled floor extends beyond the retractable glass wall to form an outdoor patio with space for dining beneath a roof overhang. Clerestory windows above the wall allow more light.

Built-in Spanish cedar cabinetry and shelving in the living area matches the cabinetry in the adjoining kitchen. The kitchen also has a quartz waterfall island with seating for three and high-end, stainless-steel appliances. A separate outdoor kitchen has a gas grill, wet bar and wine chiller.

The teak-floored main suite is to one side of the living area, with a double vanity and a glass shower in the bathroom that can be opened to the outdoors. Two more bedrooms with en suite baths are on the other side.

All three bedrooms open onto terraces made from concrete slabs separated by soft pebble stone. An infinity pool set in the middle of the lawn has a ledged portion for seating.

The attached two-car garage is on the front of the house, which is wrapped by a section of lawn set with pavers.

The property has sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, including a natural phenomenon popularly known as the “whale’s tail” inside Ballena National Marine Park, in Uvita, Mr. Fenton said. The rock and sand formation, which extends from the beach in the shape of a whale’s tail, is also the site where humpback whales gather twice a year, he said.

The property is about 10 minutes from the center of Dominical, a “quintessential surfer town” with beachside shops and restaurants, and the same distance to Uvita, the commercial hub for the area. San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city, is about three hours north, as is its international airport.

Despite its ballooning tourism industry — Costa Rica welcomed more than 3 million tourists for the first time in 2018, according to its Tourism Board — the nation has struggled with fiscal woes in recent years, and the coronavirus pandemic has deepened the recession. Border shutdowns hit the tourism sector hard, with unemployment surging above 20 percent. The International Monetary Fund is projecting the GDP will shrink by 5.5 percent this year.

Costa Rica, with a population of about 5 million people, had managed to control the spread of the virus during the first half of the year, but a surge in infections in recent months caused the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to advise against travel to the country. As of Dec. 28, the country had reported 162,990 Covid-19 cases and 2,086 deaths, according to the New York Times’s coronavirus world map.

The housing market in the capital region of San Jose has suffered considerably from the poor economy and a glut of inventory. But the same has not been true of the market on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast, agents said. The region is far less developed, and some existing homes and lots came off the market after the pandemic hit, as sellers changed their minds.

With supply so low in the area, “it’s almost beginning to be a seller’s market,” said Kevin Champagne, the owner of Osa Tropical Properties in Puntarenas.

Inquiries from foreign buyers remained steady even after the borders were shut last spring, and a few bought properties sight unseen in anticipation of relocating once the borders reopened, Mr. Champagne said.

Americans were allowed back in as of November, and the pent-up demand was such that it proved to be “our busiest November in the eight years we’ve been doing business down here,” Mr. Fenton said.

Both agents said many buyers are looking for a newer three-bedroom house with a pool, possibly with an ocean view or within walking distance of a beach. Properties under $400,000 — Costa Rica operates on the colón, but U.S. dollars are widely accepted — move the most quickly, but buyers are generally looking in the $300,000 to $800,000 range, Mr. Champagne said.

His office has also seen unusually brisk interest from locals looking to move out of the capital region, where the infection rate is higher. “Their purchase power is a little lower, or they don’t need as much, so they’re buying more in the townish areas,” he said. “Some are buying something like a cottage to live in during the pandemic, but most of them are buying to live down here permanently.”

This particular property is about average for prices in the Escaleras area, with the exception of homes in Costa Verde Estates, a gated development farther up the mountainside, Mr. Fenton said. Prices in that residential community, which has many acres of preservation land and numerous amenities, range as high as $8 million, he said.

Americans, who made up nearly half of all the tourists in Costa Rica in 2019, according to the Tourism Board, also account for at least 80 percent of foreign buyers there, agents said.

The rest are mainly from Nicaragua (which shares its southern border with Costa Rica), Canada and Europe.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in Costa Rica. Deals are commonly done in U.S. dollars.

All transactions require a lawyer/notary. It is common for one notary to handle the transaction for both buyer and seller, said Rodolfo Herrera, a real estate lawyer in the Dominical area. But buyers should make a point of finding one who is fluent in their language.

“I’ve seen many problems with buyers who used an attorney they weren’t even able to communicate with,” Mr. Herrera said.

Mr. Herrera said properties must be carefully scrutinized to ensure that there are no issues with gaining access or proximity to an electric pole. In addition, buyers must prove that their water comes from a legal source, as defined by the government’s water authority.

Because real estate agents are largely unregulated in Costa Rica, buyers are likely better off working with an established agency with a good reputation, Mr. Champagne said. “You have people who tell, say, a restaurant owner that they’re there to buy, and suddenly that person is showing them a property,” he said. “That’s where surprises happen.”

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

Closing costs, including transfer tax, legal stamps and legal fees, typically total between 3.5 and 3.8 percent of the purchase price, Mr. Herrera said.

Annual property taxes on this home are around $2,000.

Ben Rutherford, Blue Zone Realty International, 011-506-8318-7591; bluezonerealty.com

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