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How to renovate in Costa Rica

Renovating in Costa Rica: A Comprehensive Guide

Renovating your home in Costa Rica or anywhere else is always a daunting task that is dependent on your individual skillset, whether you are “flipping” a new purchase to quickly put it back on the market for profit or modernizing your current living situation. Luckily you won’t be at it alone, as Costa Rica is a popular destination for real estate investors and homeowners alike looking to renovate their properties. With its tropical climate, beautiful beaches, and lush rainforests, Costa Rica offers a unique setting for a wide range of renovation projects.


Understanding the Local Building Codes and Regulations

To get started in any renovation project, is to understand the local building codes and regulations. In Costa Rica, all construction projects must comply with the national building standards, which sets the minimum standards for safety, health, and accessibility. Additionally, many municipalities have specific building codes and regulations, which must also be followed.


Working with a reputable contractor familiar with the local building codes and regulations and the specific requirements for your renovation project is essential to avoid any unexpected delays. A good contractor can help you navigate the permit and approval process and ensure that your project meets all of the necessary safety and building codes.


Lastly, you must ensure you have an active water letter (they can expire); you can find more information on water letters here, as well as a first-hand experience in the turmoils that can follow if you ignore it here.


Designing for the Tropical Climate

Incorporate outdoor spaces, such as terraces, patios, and decks, into the renovation plans. These spaces can be designed to provide shade, natural ventilation, and a connection to the natural environment, which could be the defining factor that sets your property apart from the rest. Additionally, it’s essential to consider the placement of windows and doors to take advantage of natural light and breezes.


Here is a checklist for you to follow to get the best results:

1. Deal with suitable real estate agents

Real estate agencies in Costa Rica charge an average commission rate of 6-10%. We recommend you not sign exclusivity contracts when selling or buying a property. They could hinder your ability to find what you are looking for and narrow your scope of exposure. At Gap Real Estate, we charge a flat 6% commission rate and work hand in hand with clients to meet your needs and provide you with the best service humanly possible. 


2. Consider the three L’s

Of course, the three L’s of real estate are Location, Location, Location. Where your property is located and sometimes even who your neighbors are can drastically affect your property value, so know the area well. Keep in mind having the only luxury home on a street of average homes will diminish potential returns when it comes time to sell. When renovating, try to have your finished product less than 20% higher than the average home in your vicinity if you want to sell quickly.


3. Inspect the build quality before purchasing

Avoid buying sight unseen, as you don’t want to get stuck with a “lemon” at the get-go of a project. Ensure the quality of your new purchase yourself and hire an appraisal expert, especially if you lack confidence in your ability to appraise. The general rule of thumb in Costa Rica is that you are looking for concrete structural walls reinforced with rebar. With some houses being partially or entirely built out of wood, you will want to check for termites and other wood-related issues. Costa Rica is prone to tremors, so extra reinforcement is always a plus. Always inspect the plumbing and electrical system, especially with properties built in the 90s or before.


4. Pick the proper contractor

The most crucial part of the whole operation lies in the hands of your contractor if you aren’t doing everything yourself and where you can save some money compared to other countries with the cost of labor being so cheap. You need to work with this person flawlessly, so communication is vital, and your “Spanglish” may not be enough to cut it when it comes to the nitty-gritty details. Everyone and their dog may have a recommendation for you but use your own filtering process to ensure you receive the quality of work you need. A good contractor will be trustworthy, have a proven track record, and be familiar with the local building codes and regulations.


5. Budget accordingly and oversee everything

Avoid being a foreigner, or “Gringo” as the locals may put it, that’s taken advantage of by being hands-on with the building materials. Research, compare, purchase, and index your building supplies to avoid things being overpriced or going missing unnoticed. 


6. Build and sell at the right time

The most lucrative time for most businesses in Costa Rica, including the real estate market, is during the dry season (December to March); that said, it goes especially for anything near the coast. Although the dry and green seasons can differ significantly from province to province, ensure you’ve researched your specific area. Building during the green season can have its own set of challenges as the precipitation levels increase.


7. Maximize your profits the easy way

Don’t just think of the interior when renovating your home; the exterior is your first impression, and you only get one chance at a first impression. As silly as it may sound, hiring a landscaper, power washer, and maid to prepare your home before viewing or taking photos can be crucial. Remove the clutter and allow the client to envision their potential new life there. Follow these steps and set yourself on the right track to accomplish your goals.



Renovating a property in Costa Rica can be a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience when done right. Remember to have your property ready to go before November, as you want to catch the high-season wave of buyers to give yourself the best shot at the profits you are looking for.


-Written by Glenn Tellier (Founder of Grupo Gap)

+506 8500-2085


Contact Gap Real Estate today here!


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