Rethinking Condominium Living - Buying a Condo in Costa Rica

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, after three generations of English Springer Spaniels, almost twenty years, is a sentiment with which I do not totally agree. And, as an old dog myself, having been referred to as such more than once since hitting 50, I can say that I have been rethinking my ideals vis-à-vis condominium living. As a firm subscriber to the notion that real properties have personalities, perhaps it was just a so-called personality clash previously in my thinking. Now, however, considering the likes of fixed pensions and changes in lifestyles after retirement or just plain seeking something new, I did the math.

Condominium is a legal term and can be applied to all types of properties: residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural. It speaks to two different types of ownership, individual and joint. For example and probably the most prolific, an apartment is individually owned while the public spaces associated with that individual space is jointly owned, and therefore, maintained.

In Costa Rica, it is more normal than not for most middle to upper income residence to have inside and outside domestic assistance and a gardener. Private security is also quite normal these days. Stop right there and do the math. For those three services the face value appears to be and is in fact most likely very inexpensive. It doesn’t stop there, though. (You knew there was going to be a catch, didn’t you?) On top of the government mandated minimum wage, there are caja expenses (contributions toward the national health care plan), workman comp expenses, severance expenses, and the sacrosanct alguinaldo, the so-called thirteenth month’s salary due the first week of December Christmas bonus.

That’s 70 some checks or trips to the bank to assure cash on hand right there. Plus, it’s all in Spanish so you’ll probably want to get your lawyer involved; more checks/cash, and more time and probably more frustration. That condo fee, which is probably less than the sum of the above checks/time/lawyer/frustration is starting to look pretty good about now, right?

And then as all of us individualist know (i.e., would never consider a condo), there is that both routine and unexpected expenses having to do with the mechanical upkeep related to the exterior of the homestead. In Lagunas we had a leaky roof, roots that grew into outside underground water pipes, a cute lil earthquake that cracked the rear tile deck, and a tree blown over, across the neighbor’s lane entrance; all of which needed money and time (and Spanish). In a condo, these monies are accounted for within the condo fee as a reserve for such items, or, in some cases, can require a cash call or special assessment from the participants (read the fine print).  That condo fee is really starting to look good now.

And then there is still that personality thing. I probably couldn’t live in a development project that only allowed “senior citizens,” especially if everybody acted it. I couldn’t live with a bunch of 20 year olds, either. They might be young professionals, but they’re still only 20 something and you know exactly what I mean by that. And, dogs would certainly need to be allowed. But if I found just the right one, I’d certainly put it on the list of possibilities for my tenure in Costa Rica. Lock and leave included.

You need to read all of the governing docs, particularly those described as the condominium bylaws or rules and regulations. If they are too stupid, the project lost a customer. Whether a single family house or an apartment, the condo regime can make sense and within a gated community makes even more sense. After all of your homework and you think it might be for you, give it a try. If it’s not for you, you can always put it on the market. Pura vida


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