No, you cannot use your attorney back home to handle your legal affairs in Costa Rica, you need a Costa Rica attorney!
So you must find a Costa Rica attorney - actually a notary. Not all attorneys in Costa Rica are notaries, but all notaries are attorneys. In Costa Rica, notaries handle real estate purchases. They are not like notaries in the U.S., they do much more than just guarantee valid signatures. They handle all the aspects of insuring a property is titled and free of liens and so on, for your purchase. You will want one who speaks English and who is very familiar with real estate transactions. You will want one that has been used by many other foreign buyers like yourself and who you have gotten personal feedback about, from people who have used him, preferably more than once.
RULE #1: NEVER USE THE SELLER'S OR REALTOR'S ATTORNEY
If you only take one piece of advice away from my site, please let it be this!
You want a Costa RIca attorney who is representing only you in your purchase, someone who will go to bat for your best interests, who will do all due diligence and not rubber stamp it just because his realtor buddy says so. I'm not saying the realtor's attorney is crooked, I'm just saying that he is more inclined to see things the way the realtor sees them and not be looking out that much for your interests.
So, no matter how good the seller's attorney is, you must find your own Costa Rica attorney who will represent only you in this deal.
This can be a surprisingly difficult task. Many foreigners buy just one property, they use Attorney X, and then they figure "Well, my purchase went okay, so he should be good for you, too."
I liken this to someone who says (and everyone says this), "Oh yeah! My dentist is the best! I I highly recommend him!" But further inquiry leads you to realize that all they've ever had done by this dentist is checkups and cleanings. Can he fill a tooth well? Can he build a crown right? Can he make a bridge that fits correctly? They have no idea, yet they "highly recommend him".
So, while you are looking for recommendations, ask questions. How many times have you used this attorney? Do you know others who have used him? Has anyone used him for this type of property (especially if it's a beach property)? Does he check everything only on the internet or does he actually GO to the Registry (or send a trusted paralegal) to actually check the records there to make sure there is nothing deep down in the file system that could be a problem later?
You want a Costa Rica attorney who you know will do the the real work, not just someone who rubber stamps the papers as they come to his desk, after a quick glance.
In order to find such an attorney you must ask everyone. Ask people on the net, yes. But don't rely on that alone. Ask people who live in Costa Rica. Somehow you have to actually find a consensus among at least 2-3 people that this Costa Rica attorney you want to hire does really know what he's doing and takes care to insure that your purchase is indeed clear of liens, is properly titled and everything is in order. Don't take the seller's advice. Should you look into someone he recommends? Okay, look into it, but be very careful and apply all the same checks on him that you would on any attorney you found in the yellow pages.
Maybe you'll get lucky and find an attorney right away who several different gringos recommend. But ask them questions: what has he really done for them? Has he just shuffled paper and rubber stamped the deal or does he really go the extra mile of checking things out closely?
A case in point: Some attorneys, if you bring them a property to check, will just go on the internet - you can actually do this, yourself - and look at the Title, see what it says there, and call it a done deal: "A-OK! Buy it!"
But a good attorney will actually send someone down to the Registro building where titles are filed, and look at all the papers relating to that property going back as far as he can in time, to insure that the property has no liens or other issues that could be problematic for you. This is especially important if it is a beach front property, but really any property should be examined carefully at the Registro office, not just checked on the internet.
So you will want to ask around, and try to find someone who you know really checks things out very carefully, is not overwhelmed with work, and will give YOUR purchase the attention and time it deserves to insure everything is absolutely and without doubt, in perfect order for transferring the clear title to your name or the name of your corporation.
How Not Using Your Own Costa Rica Attorney Can Mess You Up!
I am telling you this story about how I made a big mistake on my first attempt to buy land in Costa Rica so that you will not make the same kind of mistake:
I once put a big deposit down on a property which the realtor assured me had a title that wasn't clear but could and would be cleared very quickly. At the last minute as I was about to sign the Option to Buy contract, I was told that my cash deposit (thousands of dollars!) would be forfeited if I did not end up buying the property for any reason (even if, for example, it turned out that the title was not clear. Since it was my last day before returning to the U.S. and this was the property of my dreams, and my realtor and the realtor's attorney (who actually had a good reputation) both assured me that all was fine, I signed this agreement and gave the cash deposit that was non-refundable, against my better judgment. "I guess this is how it's done, here", I wrongly assumed.
Several weeks later, based on a friend's advice, I finally found a good Costa Rica attorney to represent my interests, instead of using the realtor's attorney, and had him carefully check the title situation because I had begun to have doubts. My new attorney advised me that this property might NEVER get a clear title, and if it did it would take years of being tied up in court. He advised me to back out of the deal, which I had him do for me. I would have lost the big cash deposit unless my attorney had not had some influence and power behind him to apply some pressure to that realtor to give back my deposit even though the landowners legally could keep it due to my ignorance in agreeing to such a contract.
This type of deal should never be done. If there is a deposit, it should be held by your attorney and released back to you if the title is not clear for sale. So if it sounds crazy, it probably is crazy. If a red flag goes up in your mind, heed it! It's never too late to back out of a bad deal, especially if the money is still in your pocket and you haven 't signed the contract yet. Do not trust anyone who tries to talk you into signing a contract where your cash deposit is non-refundable if you back out of the deal during the option period. Just refuse to sign such a contract! Keep looking!
And if there is not yet a clear title, NOW, there may well never be. (Be sure to see my page on HOW TO CHECK A PROPERTY TITLE IN COSTA RICA!) Be careful about buying properties that do not yet have a clear title. No matter what anyone says, it can take years for that title to become clear, as there are laws written which favor the Ticos and give them rights to claim your property years after you have already bought such a property. If the title is clear, it is clear. if it is not, it is not. Untitled property can sometimes be bought at bargain prices. But you have to realize it may never get a clear title, so it's very risky. This is the kind of deal you would not enter into unless a) the property is incredibly cheap; and b) you have 10 years to wait for the property to get clear title before you build on it. This is the problem with Untitled Land and why you should generally never buy it.
So just in case you are just skimming this article and not paying close attention, I'm going to repeat this:
NEVER USE THE SELLER'S ATTORNEY AS YOUR ATTORNEY! USE YOUR OWN COSTA RICA ATTORNEY FOR ANY PROPERTY PURCHASE!
No matter how good everyone says the buyer's attorney is, even if he has great references, even if he is my great attorney ;-D, get YOUR OWN attorney - someone who is representingyou and you alone in this deal. If you use the realtor's or developer's or seller's attorney and that person brings dozens of deals per year to that attorney, and there is some question about the Title of the property you want to buy, do you think that attorney is going to side with you, or side with the realtor who he has made thousands of dollars a year from for the past 5 years?
You must get your own attorney for the purchase of the real estate, and make sure that attorney explains any risks to you ahead of time, and certainly warns you of any problems that could occur with the title, ahead of time.
Check To Make Sure Your Costa Rica Attorney is Licensed in Costa Rica
and if he's been suspended
Okay, now that you've finally found an attorney, there is one other step you need to do:
Check to see if he is licensed and has no disciplinary action against him or her.
Now, where it says Nombre (that means "Name"), type in the first name of your attorney.
So for example, let's use this randomly chosen attorney: Kenneth Salazar
So put the names in as such:
Apellido 2: Salazar
Then click Busqueda Por Nombre
As you can see, our attorney pops up with the name Kenneth Salas Salazar. Be careful because you may find that your attorney's Apellido Materno is very popular and there might be many similar names. In that case you will have to just scroll through until you find your attorney and you might have to find out what his "middle name" or Apellido 1 is in order to clarify which one he is.
But in this case we found that he is the only Kenneth Salazar, so now we want to see what we can learn about him. Click on the blue link that says 1356 under Carne'.
The page that pops up looks like this:
This shows that the attorney with Carne #1356 is "suspendido" or suspended, so probably not the best choice! ;-D
But you want to get further information about him, so go to the page for Profesionales Suspendidos Disciplinariamente which means Professionals Suspended for Discipline. Click the link: Profesionales Suspendidos Disciplinariamente
You can look through the list, or to make it easier to find his name, hold down your Control button and press F and open your FIND window. Type in Salazar and it will take you to anyone named Salazar on the list of suspended attorneys.
What we are concerned with here are the headings at the top:
Tiempo (Time) which says 20 years (años)!
Rige A (this means since) which says 11/03/2004
and Hasta El which means Until, and that says 10/03/2024 .
It doesn't tell us what he did but I guess it must have been pretty bad to get suspended for 20 years! I think he'd better find another line of work! ;-D In any case he won't be getting my business! However it's nice that they give his email address so if you would like you may correspond with him. ;-D
So that is pretty much the basics of how you go about checking out your Costa Rica attorney.
You may think, "Well, if the attorney I am using is licensed and has no black marks on his public record, he should be okay, right?" No, unfortunately it's not that simple. You still need to get those references I spoke of! Unfortunately you need to be extra careful because you are an "extrañero" or foreigner, and many of the laws in Costa Rica favor the Ticos (Costa Ricans) and there are pitfalls in buying real estate which do not exist in the U.S..
For example, the "escrow" procedure is much different, and you need someone sharp and experienced with real estate, and someone diligent and conscientious to represent YOU because this is, I assume, a very important decision and purchase on your part.
I do not intend to scare anyone. I have bought real estate and I am selling this real estate here at Rancho Silencio. So many do it, and the vast majority of the time you could know none of this information and your purchase would be fine because usually it's very simple and straight forward buying property in Costa Rica. But since this is your first time buying in a foreign land, you want to know what could go wrong and make sure it doesn't!
Also you want a good, trustworthy, conscientious attorney because he will help you in other tasks:
He can help you file your property taxes, help you find a surveyor or contractor, set you up with a corporation, and so on. In short, your attorney is your lifeline in Costa Rica. He is a person you will be putting a lot of trust in to make sure your real estate purchase and other important tasks are done correctly and safely, and he may well handle many other things for you as well, such as real estate taxes and so on.
This brings me to the main reason you need a trusted, conscientious attorney in Costa Rica: It can save you a lot of worry, as well as potential serious problems. Yes, a good Costa Rica attorney provides stress relief!
Now that I have a Costa Rica attorney I can trust, one that I know is looking out for my interests, I can relax somewhat, knowing that things have been done right, and when I need to find out about something new - hiring a builder or surveyor or whatever - I have someone who can give me advice and warn me what to watch out for. When I found a surveyor I wanted to use, my attorney talked to him for me, made sure he was legit, made sure he was going to do everything he would need to do in terms of paper work, and so on. And having people know you are working with an attorney lets them know they aren't going to get away with screwing you around, that you have some might and right behind you. I don't mean to imply that everyone is "out to get you" - that is certainly not the case, there are many fine, reliable and trustworthy Ticos and foreigners working in Costa Rica. But it's just best to always be careful and do your due diligence because there unfortunately are a few bad apples - foreigners and Ticos - who will try their hardest to get the best of you.
The key to avoiding problems is to work with good honest recommended people, and always keep your eyes open and follow up and check on things and people yourself. Make sure people are doing what they were paid to do, and show them that you are the type who likes to supervise things. Ticos can find this offensive - as if you don't trust them. But I find that by apologizing in advance, and explaining goes a long way towards helping them understand you do trust them, it's just your way. I say something like "I'm sorry, I'm just a nervous person by nature, and I always like to get involved in things I am doing or having done."
NOTE: I am not an attorney and nothing on these pages is intended as legal advice. These are my own observations and experiences, nothing more and nothing less. Use all the info you can get here and on other web sites (see COSTA RICA LINKS) to find an actual Costa Rica attorney for legal advice!
Please continue to learn about Costa Rica with this article:
HOW TO OPEN A BANK ACCOUNT IN COSTA RICA.
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