The purchase of my first home in Costa Rica, a life long dream, almost ended as quickly as it began, as a nightmare not a dream. I had been referred to and then hired one of the best attorneys in Costa Rica. He had years of experience, was from a well known family and had an impeccable reputation.
The closing went off without a hitch, but as I would find out just 3 months later, he did not pay off the previous owners mortgage. The previous owner, a Tica, called me in Florida to tell me that the bank was going to foreclose on my new dream home.
Needless to say I was in shock but did not panic. I took action and was proactive. What happened? My attorney had gone to great lengths to give me falsified documents to prove that the previous owners mortgage was paid in full, when in fact, it was not. The universe was on my side because within 24 hours of finding out my new home in paradise was in peril, everything was resolved. The previous owners mortgage was paid in full, my new home was really mine and the dream in paradise could continue.
After the dust settled I began looking for a new attorney with whom I could build a working relationship. As you can imagine, I was very cautious and met with several potential candidates, but did not have that connection or "click" I needed to feel comfortable. Every chance I got I would ask expats and locals alike who their attorney was. The same name kept coming up time and time again, Pablo Arias. Pablo was the new "kid" in town and had just set up his practice months before we met. He had quickly made a name for himself, and had built an impressive clientele that not only included what seemed like every expat in Atenas but some of the biggest developers and land holders in the area.
One morning I decided to stop into Pablo's office, which at the time was located just off the central park in Atenas, to see first hand what all the fuss was about. As I walked up the steps of the 100 year old wooden house turned office, I felt at home. Before I met Pablo, the house and gardens welcomed me and instantly took me back to my childhood and great-grandmothers house. When I actually met Pablo, I was taken a back, because he looked so young, like a teenager, not near old enough to be an attorney. However, within minutes Pablo and I hit it off and found common ground and mutual respect. He made me feel comfortable, speaking perfect English, taking the time to answer my questions, and giving valuable advise on what would best work for my particular situation. Most impressive, Pablo made me feel important, like he wanted my business. The day of that first meeting a strong and confident business relationship was formed that today is still going strong.
Over the past 6 years I have had the chance to get to know Pablo quite well, which has been imperative to our working relationship. I recently sat down with Pablo to talk "shop", about growing up in Atenas, being a real estate attorney, and what development has done for Atenas. I begin by asking Pablo where he is from. Pablo quickly answers "I am 100% Ateniense", ( Ateniense is a local term meaning from Atenas). Tell me about growing up in Atenas. As Pablo began to answer, I could not only see, but feel the pride in his face. It is something I know all to well because I feel the same way about the little town I am from. Even though Pablo is only 32, he said Atenas was much different when he grew up. Pablo tells me "I grew up in the center of Atenas. At the time, Atenas was a "pueblito" of close knit families, where everyone knew one another. It still is today. Atenas has always been a place where you feel safe and secure. There were very few cars in Atenas at that time and the streets were unpaved. We could play in the streets without our parents having to worry as long as we were home by dark. It was very rural, so there were always cows and oxcarts in the streets. Little by little things began to change, but Atenas has always retained that small hometown feeling."
Pablo, tell me about your experience and educational background. Pablo responds "I studied for five years at the University of Costa Rica, and finished the last year of my education at The University of San Jose. After graduation, I worked with IDA (www.ida.go.cr), which is the Institute of Agricultural Development and the Costa Rican government durning President Abel Pacheco's administration." In 2006 Pablo returned home to Atenas to start his own Buffete (law practice). The core of Pablo's practices has always been real estate law so I wanted to know how this came about. Pablo says, "I am bilingual, so when I came back to Atenas I became involved in the growing expat community. The "boom" was happening and working in real estate just fell into my lap. I began helping everyone with their transactions, buying, selling, everything related to making a successful real estate transaction." In addition to real estate law, Pablo also helps his clients with wills, title transfers on automobiles, and setting up corporations (S.A. and LLC). Pablo likes his specialty because he can stay up to date with any changes in the law that affect his practice and clients. As Atenas has grown, so has Pablo's business. About a year and a half ago, Pablo partnered with two local attorneys, Henry Viquez and Alejandro Roman, both of which practice real estate law, creating Arias, Viquez and Roman (www.atenasattorney.com). The idea of the partnership was to create a complete team ensuring that their clients receive the highest level of service possible.
Pablo, what is the most important advise you can give to those wanting to buy or invest in Costa Rica real estate? Pablo starts by saying "As an attorney, the best advise I can give to a client or potential client is to be 100% sure that you are buying the property that you want. Once the clients are sure they have found the property they are looking for, then having a good relationship with their attorney is extremely important. There are many details that must be checked at the national as well as local level to ensure a "clean" property and successful transaction." Pablo continues, "Your attorney will do all the proper studies (title search) to make sure the property is in order at the national level, Registro Nacional (www.registronacional.go.cr) as well as the local level in the local Municipality (www.atenas.go.cr). It is important to have a survey to make sure that the property you are buying corresponds with what is registered at the Regristro Nacional. Team work with all parties involved in the transaction such as the buyers, sellers, other attorneys, real estate professionals and banks are essential for a successful transaction. Being in close contact with everyone is vital in case there are changes that may have an impact on the transaction."
Clients are always asking Gerardo and I why should they purchase a property using a socidad anonima? This was the perfect question to pass on to Pablo. Pablo answers by saying "S.A.'s have always been secure instruments that have been used in situations such as family businesses. It facilitates administration, gives powers, makes transfers of possession easy, safeguards the investment and limits liability in situations such as accidents and financial crisis. For expats, S.A.'s have always made purchases less complicated in Costa Rica because an S.A. is a Costa Rican entity allowing them to open utility and bank accounts. For many years this was the only way expats could have access to services." Another big advantage to purchasing properties that are held in existing S.A.'s is it saves costs involving the transfer tax, because title does not transfer, only shares of stock are transferred.
Another concern we often hear from our clients are about attorneys fees. What is fair? How are they derived? Pablo states "As attorneys we are governed by the Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Costa Rica (www.abogados.or.cr) or The College of Attorneys in English. The College of Attorneys allows us to practice law and they set the regulations for our practices as well as guidelines for the fees we charge. We must respect these guidelines, however the fees that are set buy the College of Attorneys speak of minimums, so each transaction may vary depending on the amount of work involved." It is important that you discuss closing costs and fees upfront with your attorney so that there are no surprises at closing.
The fact that Pablo is from Atenas and because of his profession as a real estate attorney, I was curious to know Pablo's opinion of how real estate development has changed Atenas and how he feels the community has benefited by this growth and development? Pablo replied "Traditionally Costa Rica developed via agriculture with crops such as coffee that would be exported to international markets. Then came tourism bringing foreigners to the country, who fell in love with Costa Rica, wanting to live here. This brought significant changes and development to communities such as Atenas. Economically speaking jobs were created for contractors, engineers, architects, attorneys, real estate agents, gardeners and maids, giving a better life to many families in the local communities that were affected by the growth and development. It also gave more value to our land here in Costa Rica. Most people, myself included see these changes as positive, but there are a few in our community who are more conservative and traditional who have not been as receptive. For me what is most important is that development and change take place within the confines of the laws and regulations of Costa Rica brining the best results for our future as a country and the future of our children."
Today, Atenas is more popular than ever and this small town continues to be a hot spot for expats and locals alike. Pablo, what do you see for the future of Atenas? Pablo says "At the end of the 1990's big changes began to take place in Atenas with urban development that attracted expats from around the world who were interested in rural tourism and purchasing vacation or retirement homes. A few years ago with the opening of Highway 27, Atenas became even more attractive, especially with Costa Ricans who are retiring and young professionals who want to leave the city and are looking for a more rural, family environment while maintaining a close proximity to San Jose. In fact, there is such a demand from the national (Tico) market, that the same developers who once catered to the expat market are now scrambling to meet the demands from the locals moving from San Jose and it's suburbs to Atenas." Costa Rica has a large and growing middle class, very high level of education, quality labor pool, high standard of living, making the country attractive for large corporations looking to relocate. Costa Rica has successfully attracted large investments from companies opening operations in the country such as Intel, Hewlett Packard, and a slew of call centers for large companies such as Bank of America and Budget Car Rental. Pablo continues by saying "Atenas will continue to develop and grow but I see our growth continuing with more residential development as opposed to commercial development. Now with easy access via Highway 27, we are so close to all the major commercial centers in San Jose, Escazu and Santa Ana, it does not make sense for Atenas to grow commercially on a large scale."
I explained to Pablo that there is often a misconception about real estate prices in Costa Rica compared to the international market, especially in the United States. Pablo responded by saying "Because our middle class here in Costa Rica is growing, we can compete with the international market and we have purchasing power. We now have the capacity to purchase which helps keep our real estate prices in Costa Rica stable." As for Pablo's future, one thing is for sure, Atenas will remain his home. During our conversation, Pablo says that "There are many beautiful places in Costa Rica, but Atenas has everything. We are close to San Jose, the international airport and Pacific coast beaches. We have the mountains, great people as well as peace and tranquility." Without question, we can agree with Pablo, 100%!
One of the most common requests Gerardo and I receive, almost on a daily basis, are clients asking for referrals to attorneys and business professionals alike. We feel that by giving a referral that we are giving our word, and that is something we take very seriously. In choosing an attorney, you must feel comfortable and do your do diligence as with anything else in life, be it in your home country or Costa Rica. Don't take our word for it, please do your homework! I asked Pablo if he had anything he wanted everyone to know him as a person and a professional and he responded "It is important that my clients and potential clients are aware of my 10 years experience as a practicing attorney. I am very organized and I take pride in my work, making sure my clients are well taken care of, getting the results they expect." Gerardo and I can attest to this and would add caring, honesty and above all, professionalism. Ask almost any expat in Atenas about Pablo Arias, and they will be happy to give you their opinion.
If you have questions or need a consultation about real estate law, you may reach Pablo Arias at:
Costa Rica Realtors Chamber
Tours in Costa Rica
Pure Life Development of Atenas is a full service tour company. We feature full vacation packages and day trips for the family. Our tour director Nelson Conejo is very experienced and provides a personal service and attention to detail second to none in Costa Rica. Please write Nelson or give him a call to arrange your next Costa Rican vacation at (506)2446-0447 or
Retirement Living in Atenas
Interview with Pure Life Development co-founder and certified realtor Dennis Easters, about Costa Rica ranked by AARP as "one of the best places to retire abroad".