Should you hire a surveyor before making a Costa Rica property purchase? A great example of why you should hire one is the story about this property owner who was selling the city park.
You might think that when the Costa Rica property you are buying is surrounded by buildings, it might not be worth it to hire a surveyor to check the boundaries. Taking your new neighbor to court to oblige him to tear down the existing building or part of it will be an uphill battle. Suing a neighbor will probably depend on the size and the value of the missing piece of property. The legal process will tie up the property for years. But wouldn’t a discrepancy in the property size give you something to negotiate the price?
Nonetheless, it might not even be your neighbor’s fault. Sometimes, the zona catastral system will show different boundaries than the last surveyor did.
Over 800,000 properties in Costa Rica do not have their boundaries validated by the “Catastro Nacional” or the National Cadaster. The National Cadaster is the National Registry’s department in charge of the surveys of properties. With a loan from the Banco Interamericano de Desarollo, the National Registry started a plan in 2001. This plan was to complete the measurement of all properties in Costa Rica, which ended in 2014 with only half the properties revised.
Once you have found the property you like, the seller of the property or your real estate agent should get a copy the survey or plot map. The survey can either be bought at any of the National Registry offices or online as well as pull a register certification of the property too. This certification will give you all the information about the ownership, the property, who owns the neighboring properties, size and number of the survey. Sometimes, the number of the survey is not indicated so you’ll have to visit the Cadaster in person.
The National Registry
Once you have all the necessary data, first check if the number of the survey matches the number of the survey that shows in the National Registry. Also, make sure that the size of the property shown on the survey matches the size as shown in the National Registry. If there is a discrepancy between the two, you definitely need to hire a surveyor to find out which number is the correct one. Banks in Costa Rica will not lend on a property with a discrepancy between the survey map and the National Registry size.
Once you have secured the correct survey or plot map, you should visit the property with the survey map in hand. This survey map always shows the distance in meters from point to point. In Costa Rica, we measure properties in linear meters and square meters.
You can either use our land measurement chart below as well a tape to measure the property. Or you can do what I do: one large step is a meter.
On a property where the topography allows me to do so, I just look at the survey how much road frontage the property should have. I then step it out. Where possible, I walk the property lines and compare it with the survey. Unless you use a measuring tape, it will be very hard to get the exact size of the property. But this simple technique gives you an approximate measurement and will show you if any fences were moved or not.
If you have a very irregular topography, it will be very difficult to measure correctly. This happens regularly with a property in the mountains or in case of a farm. It is important to know that surveys always measure distance on a horizontal plane, not along the ground slope. Whenever you’re measuring hilly land, you and your assistant need to hold your tape along your directional line and level. Use a level or a plumb bob to determine this. Then let your plumb bob hang vertically down from the end to determine where on the ground that horizontally measured distance falls. Repeat as needed to accurately measure across rises and dips.
Pay attention to any other annotations the survey might carry, I will tell you all about that in another blog.
Once you’ve figured out if you’re close enough to the registered size or not, you can decide to hire a surveyor to re-measure the property you are buying. By signing the deed at closing, it’s too late, unless you want to be in court for many years.
Of course, it is so much easier to purchase your Costa Rica property through one of our affiliate agents. All of the above will be taken care of professionally. For more information on Costa Rica real estate, contact us now.
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