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You just bought a road in Costa Rica? Really?

Grader Picture

Most of us who come from North America or Europe won’t take a road in Costa Rica personally. It’s nice to have one, and it’s even nicer when someone shows up to maintain it. Sometimes we’re grateful for the work done on it, but mostly we just sort of consider it our due and if we think about it at all, we’re annoyed that the flagman stops us when we’re already running late.

In our area of Costa Rica, on the other hand, most of us DO take our roads personally. The reality is that public roads are not necessarily cared for by public works, at least to the level that we find safe and comfortable. The paved highways are great round here, but hardly any of us live on the main highways. Instead, the directions to our homes almost always go something like this: “Go south on the highway to this landmark, then turn left, put it in 4 wheel drive, and start climbing.”

When you turn left and start climbing, even though you are on a public road you are most likely on a gravel road that is maintained by those who live along the road, especially if that includes a number of foreigners. Gringos, for example, have a lower tolerance for roads that aren’t as wide as their cars.

Unfortunately, you won’t always hear about this when you are looking at properties. Sometimes agents don’t know exactly which sections of a certain neighborhood’s roads are the responsibility of the residents, and sometimes they don’t know exactly how much the annual maintenance fees are. Some might even tell you that it doesn’t matter because it’s all voluntary and you don’t need to worry about it.

As an agent and a member of my neighborhood roads committee, permit me to say with all due respect that maintenance of the roads IS something you need to worry about, and it IS something you need to pay attention to. When you are looking at properties, grill your agent about the roads. Here are some things to ask about:

  1. Who maintains the public road up to my driveway?
  2. When are the roads worked on? Are we seeing them at their best? Their worst? Somewhere in between?
  3. What is the impact of rainy season? Dry season? (Dry season can also be very hard on roads!)
  4. How much is the annual road fee?

If you get as far as making an offer, please insist that your offer includes a contingency stating that the Seller will be current on all road fees before closing. You will be insisting on this with regard to water bills, electric bills, taxes and other things, so be sure to include road fees as well. A good road to your valuable property is one of its greatest added values.

You may hear that road fees are “voluntary” and are not enforceable. Legally, that’s correct. However, if you don’t pay them, you don’t get good roads. Paying into the community pot reduces the costs for all and ensures safe and comfortable for everyone. There is no nice way to say it: If you don’t contribute, you are taking advantage of those who do, and driving up their costs while you drive down the roads.

So here’s your cue: When your agent says, “One of the great things about this property is the easy access,” you immediately know to ask, “So how much will it cost me to help maintain them?” If your agent doesn’t know, insist that s/he finds out and gets back to you.

Full information before the sale goes a long way toward full enjoyment after the sale.