How to Find a Property Without Losing Your Mind
It happens again and again, and if it hasn’t happened to you, it will.
You’re thinking of purchasing property in Costa Rica, so you do your homework. Aside from everything you read about politics and history and economy, you spend hours searching websites to look at properties. Each time you see something that looks interesting, you click on the contact form and send off an inquiry. Inquiry after inquiry, asking for more information, more pictures, more of a “feel” for the property.
Those inquiries go to a scattering of agents working in different places for different agencies. Because there is no MLS here, the inquiries come from a lot of websites and may even be about overlapping properties. That makes it all a bit confusing for you, but at least your inquiries arrive in some agent’s inbox.
Agents have two things in common: First is their appreciation for your inquiry. In our office, we try to answer each inquiry within a few hours, and we thank you for contacting us. The second is our understanding that you are probably not asking about something you’re interested in. Put another way, the majority of our clients don’t end up liking the listings they are most attracted to. Why?
Have you noticed in your searches how many properties in our area have awesome, breath taking, incredible, unbelievable, vast, wide, open, soul filling, superb, amazing, ocean views? Have you ever wondered what “walk to the beach” might mean in a place where homes are mostly up on the sides of mountains, and if you have a (fill in the awesome adjective) view it’s going to be quite the cardio workout walking back from the beach? Have you actually taken into consideration the fact that some agents drive like maniacs on these gravel roads, so when they say “10 minutes to the beach” it might actually take you 20 minutes at a speed that leaves your suspension and your marriage intact? Finally, have you factored in the fact that a telephoto lens can seriously misrepresent the view you’re going to see?
Personally, as an agent I’d rather underpromise and overdeliver. When I write descriptions of properties and take pictures, I try to be accurate. If the ocean view is a tiny sliver of blue far off in the distance, I say so. If I tell you it takes 16 minutes to get to the beaches, that’s because I’ve driven it moderately and timed my trip. If I say you can walk to the beach, that means you can also walk back from the beach without melting into a puddle of sweaty exhaustion on the way home. I never use a telephoto and I never use a picture from a neighboring property’s better view to market my listing.
Still, I’m the first to admit that my descriptions and pictures don’t give you an accurate picture. It’s rare that a client of mine doesn’t say, “Huh. That doesn’t look like the listing.” Sometimes they say it with a tinge of disgust, sometimes with a happy WOW, but they almost always say it at some point even about my own listings. They say it about other agents’ listings too, so I’m not alone.
The reality is that we are listing unique properties here. Remember when “unique” meant “one of a kind”? That’s what it means here. We don’t need to say, “really unique property” or “totally unique property” or “most unique property” or “really the most totally unique property” even though some listings say exactly that. These aren’t cookie cutter tract homes in a suburb. Even if two homes were the exact same design, one might blow you away and the other might leave you saying “meh” because the access would be different, the surroundings would be different, the views would be different, the overall “feel” would be different. Not just different in ways that leave you tossing a coin, but different in ways that make a difference. Each property is unique. Period.
This is why when clients send me a list of links to properties they’re interested in seeing, I give the listings a good look but mostly I start asking questions. To be completely honest, it’s far more important for me to know what my clients are hoping for than to see what they’re looking at. Over and over, clients send a long list of properties, then get here and don’t like any of them, but end up buying something their agent suggests because a good agent down here tries to show them what they are looking for instead of what they were looking at. You might need to read that sentence again.
We learned this lesson as clients ourselves getting ready to purchase property here, when we sent our agent listing after listing and we ended up buying something that she suggested – not one that we had on our list. She was a good listener. She patiently looked at each link we sent her, and she talked to other agents to get the real scoop, and she even drove around previewing properties so she could more accurately describe them to us. She was one of the best! Shout out to Natalie Donahue who now
has an agency down in the Pavones area.
So here’s a plan for using your searches in ways that will be the most helpful:
First, pick one agent to work with. If you don’t already have one, be especially sensitive to these two characteristics of a good agent: a) Shhe asks questions and listens to your answers. b) Shhe will hunt for options that you’ll find appealing not only on hir own site but also on other sites.
Second, send that one agent links to properties you are attracted to. Wherever you find the properties, on whichever website, send a link – not a title -- to your one agent. (There are so many websites that we can’t keep track of them all, and if you just send a title or description, we may have a very hard time finding what you’re looking at.) Then your agent will quickly build a sense of what you are hoping for in terms of location, price, style, amenities, etc. Having multiple agents answering your inquiries simply means you’ll have to educate all of them instead of one of them.
Third, hold your “favorites” loosely. If your agent recommends that you not go look at one of them when you get here, the reason could be something like, “I’ve been listening to you talk about what you do and don’t want, and I think that property is not what you’re hoping for because…. Let’s take a look at some other options first that fit your criteria better.” Agents can be wrong, so if you still want to see it, go for it, but go with your eyes wide open.
Fourth, don’t worry if your agent doesn’t send you a bunch of listings to look at before you come. Trust hir to be ready for you, to have done hir research, talked to other agents, searched local websites and screened properties based on what you have said.
Finally, treat your property explorations as an adventure in discovery. You will learn a ton, you’ll see some gorgeous views, you’ll evaluate all sorts of different designs or land configurations, you’ll hear and see birds and animals, and when you see the right place it will tug at your heart. Then you’ll “know,” and that will be “home.”