Rent Before You Buy - It's Working For Us!

by George Ernst


RENT BEFORE YOU BUY!!! - How many times have potential expats heard that phrase?

Sounds like a warning for sure, but then early during your “get acquainted” visits to Costa Rica, you suddenly find your dream home or parcel of land.  Now, that little voice in your head starts screaming... BUY ME... BUY ME NOW!  And if you wait, you know you will surely miss out on this "once in a lifetime opportunity!"

As potential expats come to Costa Rica to explore their future living options, many fail to heed that silly refrain most experts repeat ad nauseam. 

  • "That warning couldn’t be for us"

  • "We have found the greatest buy on earth."

  • "That's what the realtor promised!" 

  • "It was on the website!"

  • "There are only two lots left!"

  • "This is going to be our slice of heaven, for sure!"


It is true that homes and most taxes are cheaper in Costa Rica. Food, depending on your desires, can be more expensive.  Electricity and automobiles are more expensive.  Medical is great and virtually free. The views are breathtaking, the climate is great, the people are happy, pleasant and literate. The beaches are awesome etc.  All those things are true, but the only way to compare your Costa Rican experience is to rate it, one for one, against what you have in your home country.

Just as surely as Fargo, North Dakota is very different than Miami Beach, Jacó Beach is not San José. Limon is not San Isidro. Costa Rica is a very diverse country. In the span of just one day, you can drive from sea level to mountain peaks or from the shores of the Pacific through the rain forest to the beaches of the Caribbean. All are different from each other in many ways; different people will have different tastes.

So, once potential expats find their "perfect spot", they need to get more serious.  They need to do their due diligence.  Don't overlook major areas of concern such as shopping, hospitals and medical care availability, potential language barriers, potential neighbors, socialization opportunities with both other English speaking people and Ticos. These are obvious first steps and are mandatory. 

Once you have found a specific area that you like, visit it several times throughout the year.  You are now ready to buy, right?  WRONG!!!

Although you may visit an area on vacation several times, the weather may be great each time you visit.  The neighbors may be sweet and cordial.  The views may be spectacular.  And by golly, if you want to buy now, the price will probably be very compelling.

But in reality, you have no idea what it may be like at other times of the year.  Micro climates rule Costa Rica.  In just a matter of a few miles, weather patterns can be dramatically different.  While my house in the hills may experience heavy fog and wind on a routine basis, just 10 minutes away the skies are consistently clear and the temperature 10 degrees warmer.  You may find out that your neighbors, while great while you were vacationing, may turn out to be quite a handful when living amongst them on a full time basis. 

So let's say you bought the beautiful house with the great view and the "Disneyesque" neighbors.  But six months later, you are moved in and things are not quite what you had hoped for or lead to believe.  You have created a disaster and you are stuck. That’s when the light goes on somewhere in your head you faintly remember that little voice saying “rent before you buy.”

Kathy and I listened to those who gave that little gem of advice. We left for Costa Rica and rented our little slice of heaven. Although I visited that exact spot 4 times before making my decision to move there, it turned out not to be the place of our dreams and for many reasons.

It was beautiful. However, after enduring the rainy season (which I knew would come), we now faced the incessant blast of the Christmas winds. Only they last through April, blowing a constant 30 MPH every single day of the week.

Since we lived on the edge of a cloud forest, our area remained fog shrouded most of the time.  And when it wasn't cloudy, it was raining.  Kathy and I couldn’t venture outside for 30 seconds without getting soaked and blown away.  Most of the time you couldn’t see more than 100 feet. It was like the movie Groundhog day. Every day was a repeat of the day before - for months. However, just 20 miles away, it was gorgeous. That’s why they call them micro-climates.

This first house was a great learning experience for us.  Are we sorry we moved here?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  We met many great people and it gave us the opportunity to explore this one particular area of the country.  However it was time to move on and experiment somewhere else. Different climate, different amenities, different people. So simple. Our lease is up and off we go.

Next place looks great, just like the old place did. I have no idea if it will remain paradise or not. If not, a year from now we can move on and check out somewhere else.  If we had bought a house or built on a lot, we would have been forced to stay, or turn it into a rental unit.

Real estate here is easy to buy and near impossible to sell, but as of now we never have to worry about that. We are free to live anyplace we want. We are on a permanent vacation and no micro-climate, neighbors, traffic, whatever else can ruin our lives.

We did not buy and have no plans to do so anytime soon.  You noticed I never said NEVER!




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