Apr 062015
Non-MLS versus MLS in Costa Rica Real Estate

The differences between MLS and Non-MLS in real estate are numerous

Question: Do you have MLS there so that you can search all available properties or are you limited to your listings?

In other words, can you as a prospective buyer of real estate in Costa Rica work with just one real estate agent, or do you need to scour the various websites looking for the various properties that fit your criteria and then inquire of those agencies individually?

Short Answer: Click here

Long Answer: My Costa Rica Real Estate blog (this one) speaks at length about the Costa Rica real estate market and how things work here and specifically, here in the southern Pacific zone. One of the greatest differences between the real estate market in Costa Rica and that of other countries, is the lack of an MLS (Multiple Listing Service). This “lack” has repercussions that should be understood to anyone interested in buying, or selling, a property in Costa Rica.

Over the years (I’ve been in real estate here since 2004) I’ve seen lot’s of efforts to both implement an MLS (with no success) and to imitate an MLS (with some success). The current status is that we are imitating an MLS well, and as an industry, we are growing up.

At our core, us real estate agents here in Costa Rica, are salesman/women (people? Trying to be PC here). We are paid when someone buys something. For my first years in the business, nearly all of my sales were full commission, generally 8%, with me representing both sides of the deal. There was some collaboration between agencies at that time, but not much.

However, at that time, I hardly thought in terms of “sides” of the deal. I was the guy in the middle making it happen. Also, there were rarely two attorneys.

There were some drawbacks to this system and it really required that the real estate agent be “full disclosure” to both buyer and seller. So the success of the deal depended largely on “integrity”. This quality, unfortunately, can be a rare commodity amongst us humans. So there were some (but not many) negative experiences.

One of the negatives was that sellers didn’t get the representation (read: care) that they needed. The salesman might be prone to focusing on what the buyer needed to get to “yes”.

For buyers, the challenge was in seeing all the available properties that were appropriate for their criteria. Due to the limited collaboration (at that time) between agencies, buyers would oftentimes see only what the agent knew of, and that agent may not have felt open to reaching out to his competitors for their listings since it would result in a shared commission.

Now things have changed. We still have no MLS, but the majority of sales that occur here now are shared. We have acclimated to this now and so most deals have a buy side, and a sell side, just like in the MLS. My inbox is full of inquiries from other agents asking for what I’ve got that satisfies a particular client’s needs.   You tell me (or some other salesman, er… real estate agent) what you’re looking for, and he/she will go through his/her listings first, and then reach out to the other agencies to make sure that the client’s criteria is satisfied, and that they are informed of all available options. I can report that I have observed a preference shift on the part of most of the real estate agents here in the zone (myself included) for sharing the commission and that both sides have representation. It is simply a superior business model.

So, after all that, the quick answer is yes, you can work with one agent and see all the appropriate properties available on the market at a given time.

To avoid a lengthy list of possibilities, the agent should be skillful in determining the fine grain of the buyer’s criteria, and the buyer should be forthcoming with what they are looking for. It is understood that things tend to change when one puts “feet in the ground” here and goes out looking at property, but this is typical and we agents are accustomed to this.

It is for this reason that I regularly ask the following questions of nearly every inquiry I get:

  • Are you familiar with the southern pacific zone? With Costa Rica?
  • Are you looking for raw land, or an existing house?
  • Are you looking to build a single family home with guest house? Income generating property?
  • Are you familiar with costs to build here?
  • Are you planning a visit here any time soon?
  • Will you be working with just one agent, or will you be contacting various agencies?
  • And the mac-daddy of all: what is your “purpose” in acquiring a property here in Costa Rica?

So, if you are interested in working with me in your property search, we can skip a step if you include this information in your initial inquiry.

Thanks Dan for the great question!

Ben Vaughn is a long time expat, mid-50's single man, father of 3, grandfather of 4, living and working in Costa Rica's southern Pacific coastal zone. His blog is one of, if not "the" longest running real estate blog in Costa Rica. Yes, his blog is about real estate, but with a twist: what's it like to "be" here. Ben says that his numerous conversations with people looking for a property (since 2004) in Costa Rica's southern Pacific "Zone" have underscored the fact that real estate in Costa Rica is not just about selling a property and making a commission. The real estate guy is generally your first point-of-contact in Costa Rica for so many diverse topics: how to open a bank account, which lawyer to use, is it necessary to learn Spanish? which dentist to use, how to buy a car etc...
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