Hunting for a home to rent is the Machu Picchu of moving to any foreign country: Climb if you will, and, with some know-how and a little luck, you may find a great place.
San José and outlying districts in the Central Valley have a high turnover of apartments, condos and houses for rent, but it takes perseverance to weed through the muck. There are plenty of lifeless dwellings with little to no natural light. There are roaches hiding under furniture, or homes in which “unfurnished” is taken to mean gutted, with no oven, fridge or washing machine.
But in San José, everybody knows somebody who landed a dream house.
Classified listings such as those in the daily La Nación tend to cover everything from hole-in-the-wall roach pads to luxury homes. The Tico Times print and online editions (www.ticotimes.net/classified.htm) tend to list apartments and homes closer to middle- and upper-middle-class foreign sensibilities.
The Costa Rica craigslist Web site, costarica.en.craigslist.org, is also useful.
However, many rental seekers go with the old standby: real estate agents. The Tico Times consulted a handful to get a feel for what’s for rent around the Central Valley and for how much.
Longtime Costa Rican real estate agent Emilia Piza (2240-1704) says, “It’s hard to talk rental prices in general; there are lots of factors involved.”
On top of the size and number of bedrooms, Piza cites the overall property value, maintenance cost, number of garage parking spaces, green areas and pools among the perks that help determine rent.
Most agents recommend that those who work on the east or west side of town narrow down their house search to the same side.
For example, living and working in the western suburb of Escazú, long a favorite with foreigners, could help avoid the bottleneck often hit while driving across town.
Barry Ashworth of Coronado Realty (2223-4618), which is affiliated with the American-European Real Estate Group (www.american-european.net), says rent for Escazú family-style houses or condos – three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms – can run from $700 to $1,200 a month.
“Add on another $200 with furniture included,” he says.
Nearby Santa Ana, also an expat hub, is hot, too, agents say.
“And Santa Ana is cheaper, like a hundred dollars less,” Ashworth says.
By comparison, Properties in Costa Rica agent Debbie Warboys (2291-4054, www.propertiesincostarica.com) gives different estimates: $2,000 to $2,500 for Escazú and $1,300 to $2,400 for Santa Ana. Smaller, onebedroom apartments go for $800 to $1,200 in Escazú and $600 to $1,100 in Santa Ana, she says.
However, combing the classifieds, which list some rentals affiliated with agencies and others not, it is possible to find better deals.
Properties in Costa Rica also handles residences in the western San José neighborhoods of La Sabana and Rohrmoser, where Warboys says rent for three-bedroom units runs $1,500 to $2,500, and $700 to $1,300 for one bedroom. In Alajuela, northwest of San José, she says she has seen three bedrooms for under $800, and smaller units for $500.
On the east side of San José, the university district of San Pedro de Montes de Oca and the suburb of Curridabat are still hot for renters, Piza says.
“Those districts are highly coveted, but there’s little to offer now,” she says.
Piza mentions some other up-and-coming east-side areas: “Nice things are opening up in Tres Ríos and Concepción, for example. But Curridabat and the rest of San Pedro are high in demand and not much is available.”
For a family-size unit in San Pedro, rent can range from $1,000 to $1,500 or, for something more luxurious, $2,000 a month, she says, adding that nice flats can also be found for $600, or even $300 to $400 for one-bedroom apartments and studios.
Then there’s Heredia, north of the capital. Similar to the east-west viewpoint, “if you work in Heredia you really have to rent in Heredia,” Ashworth says.
And if you’re looking for something a bit upmarket, be ready to pay.
Terry Gribble, a partner at Heredia-based Tucan Realty (2266-0624), says, “If you take an American-style home – three-bedroom, two and a half bath, hot water all the way through – you’re probably going to look at a minimum of $1,500 a month in the Heredia market.
“And that would be unfurnished. If you get it furnished, depending on the furniture, you’re probably going to add a minimum of $500 to that.”
Gribble, also an affiliate of the American-European Real Estate Group, says the highest rent he’s seen in Heredia is $3,500 a month. That includes four or five bedrooms, about 4,000 square feet, probably a pool, some patches of green land and a location inside a gated community, he says.
Tico Times Tip
Many tenants in and around San José will tell you they found their homes by zeroing in on a barrio and asking around. In addition to posters, signs and print and online classifieds, there is an enormous resource that is not often mentioned: the eyes and ears.
Also, the unofficial real estate agents of every block are the security guards and guachimanes – the men with reflective vests watching over people’s cars. As they spend most of their time roaming the block, they have a wealth of knowledge about who’s moving out, what’s being built and what’s opening up in the area.
By word of mouth – if you speak a little Spanish – you may find your dream house yet.