Our experience in purchasing a home in beautiful Puerto Rico.

Great write-up, any regrets? plan on renting for 6-12 months and really exploring before buying.

Excellent, excellent thread.  BrianTX, thanks for taking the time. 

To the reader:  The notary thing is common when using US notaries for issues in Latin America.  We've done several like that in Columbus, Ohio.  They are often referred to as an apostille.  The Latins will want to see the notary's pedigree.  In Ohio, that basically means getting a "super notary" to sign.  You can find one at the county courthouse law library in Franklin county, cheap and fast.  Perhaps that is the case elsewhere in the US as well.

Bear in mind that in much of Latin America, being a notary is a very big deal.  For example, in Chile we have found that getting a notarization takes half the day and $100+.  The notaries there have a monopoly by geography which makes them artificially scarce and expensive.  I do not care for it - too much expense due to the usual abuse of power by government.  It really hurts the little guy and wastes a lot of time & money for all (except the notaries and whichever politicos are paid to maintain the monopoly).  If you are used to getting something notarized in 2 minutes for $1 or for free, it will annoy you.  Multiply that event 100x to understand what you will face in Latin America.

While such bureaucracy is objectively bad, once you get there, roll with it.  You cannot change it, it is what it is.  If you chose to live somewhere, you chose to deal with certain issues.  Other issues presumably outweigh the bad and make it worth it.  That is why up-front research is so very important.  Know what you are getting into, and don't let the "happy happy" (or worse yet, "politically correct") crowd keep you from looking at the good and the bad.

When we need something notarized in Chile, I get a cup of coffee, bring my Nook, and read.  No point in letting something you cannot change stress you out.  Get some personal time in.  Or bring the laptop and keep on being productive.  But sitting & stewing is a bad use of time & energy.

Do they have "juniors" in PR?  In Chile you can often pay one of them to stand in line for you.  Then as they get close to the head, they text you, you chug your coffee at a nearby cafe, and walk on over.  That's capitalism!

PS:  Good post by Igustaf as well, provides some ideas of what to expect & how to deal with it.

Here's an amusing video with English subtitles out of Spain on Latin-style bureaucracy.  There really do try to "get you", have immense power, and (frighteningly) make US bureaucracy look friendly & efficient.  Though I think we in the US are rapidly "catching up" with Latin America in many ways, including larger, more powerful, and abusive bureaucracy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wtbQUaC9mE

SteuernAnwalt :

Bear in mind that in much of Latin America, being a notary is a very big deal.  For example, in Chile we have found that getting a notarization takes half the day and $100+.

SteuernAnwalt (why the 'n' and not "Steueranwalt" as it's written in good old Germany? :D)

Here in Puerto Rico I haven't encountered a notary who isn't also a attorney and you'll find one of almost every street corner. They work fast and fees are reasonable.

Gary,

Good catch on the "n", sloppy on my part.  Hopefully the online name is amenable to amendment, else my error will live on in public perpetuity.  I had always pronounced it with the "n" and people were evidently too polite to correct me. 

Good to hear in re notaries in PR.  More hassle & cost than a few minutes in a bank in the US, evidently far less cost & hassle than in Chile.  I will be curious to see how other aspects of the PR bureaucracy stack up to both US, Chile, and the rest of Latin America.  I am also curious as to how much influence US law & legal notions have had on local law in PR, as opposed to areas of law that are more "national" (e.g. - dealing with HUD, etc.).   I am particularly interested in the foreclosure process, along with tax liens/sales.

Thus far we seen the apostille/super notary issue come up with every Latin country we have dealt with.  We were very pleased to find a local notary who could serve in the role cheaply & quickly.  I'm not sure whether such people are easy to find outside of state capitals.

To my knowledge Gary, you have to be a lawyer to also be a notary in PR. That is not the case in the US, but it is the case in PR.

I also saw a proposal about notaries being considered for having the right to Marry people.

ReyP :

To my knowledge Gary, you have to be a lawyer to also be a notary in PR. That is not the case in the US, but it is the case in PR.

I think you're right there, Rey.

SteuernAnwalt :

Good catch on the "n", sloppy on my part.  Hopefully the online name is amenable to amendment, else my error will live on in public perpetuity.  I had always pronounced it with the "n" and people were evidently too polite to correct me.

You'd have to ask a moderator if user names can be changed, I can't help you there.
Now we are on the subject, I see in your profile that you speak German, Did you ever live & work over there?
I was in Germany for 13 years and enjoyed it a lot. Actually, if I had to go back to Europe (small chance) I would rather live there than in my native Holland..

Gary,

I was an exchange student exactly 30 years ago for 1 year.  I then made it a minor in college and re-visited for a spell in the 1990's.  When I first arrived I was amazed at how much English everyone spoke, and how well they spoke it.  Indeed, no one wanted to speak to me in German.  I explained that I came to their country to learn their language and insisted that they speak to me only in German.  But I also understood that they wanted to practice English & wanted to be helpful, so we set aside some evenings to do that.  I avoided Americans who were interested in speaking English (most of them, unfortunately) and really immersed myself in it.  The Gymnasium I attended was tough, it opened my eyes to the flaws in American primary & secondary education.  I'd also go into Hamburg and randomly talk to people.  They were really great & patient, especially for supposedly "cold" Germans.  I also worked in a factory while in college for a few weeks - I learned all sorts of new words there, not mention some of the Ostfriesland accent.  Bottom line, I dove into it, spoke to anyone with the patience to listen, watched lots of TV, read a ton, and avoided English speakers.  I also had a great example in my Mom, who came to the US from Central America and learned English to the point where she earned a PHD, almost entirely funded via scholarships.  She accepted no excuses for inferior performance.  Rather, she performed.  How could I do less?  As a result I learned German well & quickly. 

One useful hint for those learning languages:  It is useful to have a ten-year old around.  My guest sister was ruthless about correcting me!  She delighted in being allowed to do so with an older "sibling".  It also helps if you find yourself attracted to someone who does not speak your mother tongue well.  I definitely checked that box, it gave me lots of incentive & opportunity to practice.

I have spoken it far less over the last 20 years.  Germans I meet tell me I'm still fluent with good pronunciation....but the vocab has fallen off and I am quite lacking where more sophisticated forms of speech (e.g. - legal & business terms) are concerned.  We plan on a visit to Hamburg for 3 - 6 months in the next few years to get it back up to par.  My wife has advised that another German "long-haired dictionary" would be a very bad ("fatal") idea.

Interesting, I do not normally find the Dutch to favor Germany over Holland.  Very much the opposite, a fair amount of resentment over the war seems (seemed?) to linger.  Europeans seem to have long memories that way.  I'm curious as to why you liked Germany?

I moved to Germany 30 years ago and started my consultancy business, I was in roughly the same area as you were.
As far as WW II sentiments are concerned, my generation (baby boomers) and later are different than the generations that experienced the war. I try to be open-minded and that attitude made me feel at home wherever I moved. I made some friends for life in Germany.

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Many doctors are notaries as well, my mil's doctor takes care of her notary needs. In addition, the docs in the boxes at CESCO. Though I imagine you'd have to be pretty chummy with your doc to get him to notarize documents that aren't medically related, but it's doable. Hell, we have a mechanic that does house calls, anything is possible. You'd want a lawyer contact here regardless so maybe my whole point is moot.

Not sure if this helps, but regarding notaries, a military commissioned officer is authorized to act as a notary.  We had to have several documents notarized in PR and it worked just fine.  If you can befriend an officer (several installations in PR) you might be able to save some trouble.

You are correct; Notories must also be lawyers. My mother was a notory in NH, and she could perform marriages, but here in PR, only lawyers can be notories.

I have not had anything notarized in PR but from different members I have heard prices between 35-150. I guess it depends on the lawyer and how much he wants to charge someone.

Thank you so much for such a thorough post!  We are planning on Moving November 1st with our 3 young kids and our visit to house hunt starts Saturday.  We are looking mostly in Palmas del Mar since it seems more family oriented.  Although when we fly in we will stay near Dorado and look there as well.  Appreciate your time in posting, especially about transporting your things!

Fun fact:  if a couple buys a house in PR, they each own half.  According to the old Spanish law observed in PR, if  the wife dies, her portion goes to her husband.  If the husband dies, his portion goes to his/our child or next closest blood heirs.   

We found a way around this by adding the house to our trust, which was already made in Michigan.  Our PR attorney required us to provide proof that our attorney up north was a legal notary at the time the trust was made.  We obtained this from the County Clerk's office for a price of $10.  Where you get this depends on the state.  Some are done through the county clerk, as I did here in Michigan.  Others are done through the Secretary of State.  It depends on the state.

Hope this info can help someone else.

As it should be: Oink, Oink. The law is male oriented. Yes trust should do the trick.

Holy Shit Brian... Thank you thank you thank you for great and thorough information. I too, am looking to buy in La Isla within the next year and you answered many questions I had, and even a bunch I never even thought of!!!! Suzanne

You are very welcome. My goal was to hopefully help in some way by sharing our experiences

Brian, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.  And congratulations on your home purchase.  My husband and I are also planning on purchasing property in Rincon.  We want to retire there in 10+ years.   If we win the lotto then sooner....lol.

We have looked at the prices of properties in Rincon, specifically land, and were shocked at what they are asking compared to the rest of PR.

When you purchased your home,  how did you come up with an offer?  I mean you explained on your post but I guess what I'm wondering is how did you know what you paid was a good deal?  How does one go about making sure that the price of a home/lot is fair?  There's no MLS to check what other properties are selling for. 

Thanks,
Leslie

Hi Leslie. Thank you, it was a pleasure. Hopefully our experiences can help someone at some point.

Yes, Rincon will typically be more expensive than other cities on the West side of the island. I would recommend making a trip to PR at some point to see the areas you are interested in possibly living. People told Marina & I about certain cities and how great they are but once we checked them out, we didn't like them at all. So make sure it is a fit for you & your family.

Just like on the mainland, you can have an appraisal done. If you have a good/honest real estate agent, they are pretty knowledgeable regarding approximate  values. We chose not to because we felt like had a decent feel for values because we had previewed or looked at many properties. We also thought the price was fair for what we were getting.

Currently, it is a huge buyer's market in Puerto Rico. That could easily change in 10+ years when you are ready to start the process. I wouldn't start looking until about a year or so before you're ready to make the move. You could also purchase land now & build on it when you're ready.

Hope some of this helps!

Brian

I got quite a few giggles from your thread starting post. Like a cantaloupe rolling down the steep driveway, too funny.

Realtors in PR, glad you found a real gem. I haven't asked a seller's agent for anything other then show up at the property at the agreed upon time.

I was wondering if you had any questions about a trust or if something happens to you about what happens to the property as far as probate

Georgenjean :

I was wondering if you had any questions about a trust or if something happens to you about what happens to the property as far as probate

Puerto Rico is under a civil code system, not common law like most of the mainland.  Estate law is very different on the island.  Do a search in the forum for "forced heirship" to get you started.

Thank you so much

When we purchased our house in PR, I had our lawyer record the deed in the name of our revocable family trust.   

When the trust was established (several years ago), all of our real property was changed and recorded in the name of the trust.   

It is my understanding that the property will be held in the trust and when we pass, it will be distributed per the terms of the trust.  😎

Sitka :

It is my understanding that the property will be held in the trust and when we pass, it will be distributed per the terms of the trust.  😎

I certainly hope you are correct. 

For the record, I'm not a lawyer.  Even worse, I'm a political scientist with an expertise in constitutional law and comparative legal systems, so I look at the law very differently than a lawyer will.  Nothing that I write should ever be taken as legal advice.  As always, find competent professionals to guide you through the process.

However, as I understand Puerto Rico and the use of trusts to avoid forced heirship, these instruments are unreliable.  There is a concept in trust law known as "fraudulent transfer" and if a court finds that assets have been transferred into a trust in order to defraud creditors, those assets are subject to "clawback". 

As an example, let's assume that I'm being sued, and the plaintiff is seeking a judgement that would wipe out my assets.  Anticipating that I might lose the suit, I establish a trust and transfer my assets to it.  Then when I lose the suit, I have no assets for the plaintiff to seize.  This would be a fraudulent transfer, and if the trust exists where the court has jurisdiction, the court may clawback the assets to pay the creditors.  This is why international trusts are so popular -- outside of the jurisdiction of US courts means clawback is extremely difficult if not impossible.

To apply this to forced heirship, under Puerto Rico law your children have legal rights to your estate (the rule of thirds), and if you place the property in a trust to avoid that inheritance, your heirs may be able to invalidate the trust.

My further understanding is that Act 22 as amended now provides protection against forced heirship.  In short, those residents who have registered under Act 22 may make contributions to trusts which are immune from these clawback provisions.  A brief discussion of this can be found here.

Thank you

Update:  Marina & I have been in Puerto Rico for almost 3 years.  We still love PR and all it has to offer.  We have learned so much since our arrival & feel that we know our way around PR life much better now.

We were here during hurricane Maria and weathered it inside our home.  Our home performed like a champion with only 2 broken windows.  Maria did give us "new landscaping" though.  We cleaned things up and replanted.  Like the Poison song "Every Rose has its Thorn". Puerto Rico has thorns as well but what this island has to offer is worth it to us.

We purchased a boat a few months ago that we keep in Fajardo at the marina.  This has really expanded our ability to enjoy the island and lots of other islands off the east coast. 
We have taken our boat to St John, St Thomas, Culebra, Culebrita, Icacos, Palomino and lots of other small islands.  One of the things that we love the most about PR is the amount of things there are to do.  We are able to stay very active, eat healthy and have a lifestyle that we cherish.

Marina's family came all the way from Europe for Christmas a couple of months ago so we had almost 20 people to show around the island.  The funny thing is that they were finding out about activities that we had no idea even existed, and we are the ones that live here!  After almost 3 years, there are still so many adventures that we haven't tackled.  They are on our list though!

Now that we have some PR time under our belt, if anyone needs recommendations on this part of the island for remodel work, handy-man, cabinets, granite, tile etc. let me know.  We have weeded through some bad ones and found some good ones! 

We have also explored a lot of the cities/areas and feel confident enough to recommend certain areas depending on what type of lifestyle someone might be looking for.

Cheers from Brian & Marina!

Long drive from Quebradilla to Fajardo Brian. Next time in Fajardo, let's have lunch someplace.

It sure is...over 2 hours but we typically just spend a night or 2 on the boat to break up the drive.  I joined the FB group yesterday so I will let you know when we will be in Fajardo next

Hi!  Thank you for posting! It was inspiring to hear of your progression. My fiance and I moved here (Guaynabo near San Juan) at the end of October. We are (very slowly) learning the ways of life here. So far, we love it. We are looking to buy a property. With our budget, we will most likely need to do some remodeling. So since we are 100% rookies to Puerto Rico and the home buying process, I need some advice from anyone and everyone that has it, please.

*Invest in 2-3 multi family home and do long term rent or vacation rentals?
*If vacation rental, condo or house with multiple units (hopefully close to the beach)?
*Recommendations on construction (putting up/taking down walls, etc), electricians, granite, cabinet installers, floors, etc.
*We are leaning more toward vacation rental as it seems like it would generate more money. With this in mind, we started looking around some areas in San Juan beaches but Isla Verde, Condado, Isabella, are all way too expensive. We've ventured out toward Toa Baja and Loiza. What would you advise on where to look by the beach that's still within 35 minutes to Guaynabo where my hubby goes to school?
*How long (in general) would it take to remodel a kitchen and 2 bathrooms?
*How long did it take to close on houses? We've heard 2 weeks-6 months.
*We are really struggling with realtors. Not only do they not want to be our realtor and help us find homes, when we do try to set up showings, they don't show up, call back, etc. any advice on this?

*Any advice about the home buying process and location is much appreciated!!!

Great story, Brian. Our process has just begun and I hope you'll allow me to "pick your brain" when  the time comes. We are looking somewhere between Isabella and Rincon. I never watch a video longer than 2 minutes or read a post longer than 2 paragraphs, but something pushed me to read yours. Glad I did.

Cheers Michael.  Really glad you enjoyed the read.  Those are great areas to live & pretty close to where we live so we are familiar with them.

Let me know when you are ready and I'm happy to help wherever I can

Brian

SaltyBeachBum :

Hi!  Thank you for posting! It was inspiring to hear of your progression. My fiance and I moved here (Guaynabo near San Juan) at the end of October. We are (very slowly) learning the ways of life here. So far, we love it. We are looking to buy a property. With our budget, we will most likely need to do some remodeling. So since we are 100% rookies to Puerto Rico and the home buying process, I need some advice from anyone and everyone that has it, please.

*Invest in 2-3 multi family home and do long term rent or vacation rentals?
*If vacation rental, condo or house with multiple units (hopefully close to the beach)?
*Recommendations on construction (putting up/taking down walls, etc), electricians, granite, cabinet installers, floors, etc.
*We are leaning more toward vacation rental as it seems like it would generate more money. With this in mind, we started looking around some areas in San Juan beaches but Isla Verde, Condado, Isabella, are all way too expensive. We've ventured out toward Toa Baja and Loiza. What would you advise on where to look by the beach that's still within 35 minutes to Guaynabo where my hubby goes to school?
*How long (in general) would it take to remodel a kitchen and 2 bathrooms?
*How long did it take to close on houses? We've heard 2 weeks-6 months.
*We are really struggling with realtors. Not only do they not want to be our realtor and help us find homes, when we do try to set up showings, they don't show up, call back, etc. any advice on this?

*Any advice about the home buying process and location is much appreciated!!!

I just want to touch on the issue of loans. Getting a standard loan for a property with 3-4 units is hard to get. Most are treated as commercial loans which have higher interests. Banks want you to be able to afford it without the possible rents.

I also want to touch on location, location and what that particular property offers over all other properties in the island. Use a critical eye, leave the kid in the candy shop behind. In order to be successful at this game the property needs be maintained picture perfect, be always clean and always in ready to rent state.  Also customer service, need have somebody handy that can deal with any issues quickly.

Think about how you will market the property to make it stand above the rest.

As to realtors, boots on the ground, if you are not in the island a lot of realtors don't want to deal with you. You have specific needs and a lot of their properties probably do not meet the requirements, but most importantly, are you pre-approved for a loan? Most realtors will not waste their time if you are not pre-approved and if your credit line is low, their income depends on the amount of money you spend on a property. If your search area includes several towns, they tend to shy away from you, they don't want to drive all day showing you properties all over the island.

Hi SandyBeachBum!  It is with pleasure that I can share our experience in hopes that it might help someone along the way.  I am not too familiar living on that part of the island.  I know ReyP is in Fajardo and might be able to shed some light for you.  See some answers to your questions below:

*Invest in 2-3 multi family home and do long term rent or vacation rentals?

--I would recommend short term rentals over long term--

*If vacation rental, condo or house with multiple units (hopefully close to the beach)?

--I would focus on anywhere you can stay pretty booked (doesn’t have to be on the beach)--

*Recommendations on construction (putting up/taking down walls, etc), electricians, granite, cabinet installers, floors, etc.

--Moving walls here is more difficult because of the concrete vs drywall but it’s not that bad of a process.  We knocked down several walls after we moved in.  Be ready for a dusty mess though!  I have all of the above to recommend but they are on the west side of the island.  I’m not sure if they would be willing to travel that far but you could ask them--

*We are leaning more toward vacation rental as it seems like it would generate more money. With this in mind, we started looking around some areas in San Juan beaches but Isla Verde, Condado, Isabella, are all way too expensive. We've ventured out toward Toa Baja and Loiza. What would you advise on where to look by the beach that's still within 35 minutes to Guaynabo where my hubby goes to school?

--I would think that anywhere someone would want a vacation rental would be on the more expensive end.  I don’t know that area very well so I can’t offer much help there--

*How long (in general) would it take to remodel a kitchen and 2 bathrooms?

--That would depend on so many different factors.  How intricate you want your finished look, the contractor/contractors, how large they are etc.  It took us around 4-5 months to redo our kitchen & 2 of the bathrooms--

*How long did it take to close on houses? We've heard 2 weeks-6 months.

--If memory serves me correctly, it took us around 1 month to close on the house after the contract was accepted.  We took this time to do an inspection etc.  We flew to PR from TX to close and the actual closing took a couple of hours but that was mainly because everyone was chatting--

*We are really struggling with realtors. Not only do they not want to be our realtor and help us find homes, when we do try to set up showings, they don't show up, call back, etc. any advice on this?

--Welcome to Puerto Rico :)    You’ll find that a lot and not just with realtors.  “Island time”.   Some hate it, some love it, but in the end, we ALL have to deal with it haha.  You could keep trying or I’m happy to give you the contact info for the realtor that we used.  He actually works on the east side of the island.  Very good guy and stays on top of things…just let me know--

Best wishes,
Brian

Real estate agents have a tough job at times.

My agent, who specializes in beach property, told me about a couple that he showed property to for several days all around the island . Only to have the buyer go with a different agent in the end.  He wasted several days and cost of travel around the island.

That kind of thing happens from time to time. Can’t blame the agents for being cautious.

I do know a couple of agents that I can recommend in the north west side. PM me if you want info.

Hi Brian,

Love reading your posts!!!  We are getting ready for our move to PR (Mayaguez) in about 3 weeks. Super excited!!!  We have a small casita on our finca that needs a lot of TLC/remodeling/roof repair ect. Any recommendations on contractors/builders/electricians?

We are also looking to buy a used truck in PR. Any advise/info and/or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks, Evelyn

Hi Evelyn, thank you so much!  Really means a lot that you enjoyed the read and it may be of some help.

3 weeks, wow that's great!  If you could send me a PM with specific work that needs to be done on your home, I can recommend people that we have used and had success with.  I don't have a "1 guy does all" so I will have to give you a few different contacts that do specific types of work.  Also, I am not sure if any of them work as far as Mayaguez but you could ask them.

We purchased 2 vehicles since we moved to PR.  One was from an independent dealer close to our home and the 2nd we bought new from a branded dealership.  We had no issues with either of the transactions.

If you decide to purchase a vehicle from an individual, I would recommend making sure that there are no citations, tolls etc owed on the vehicle.  PR is a little different that way, these types of things go against the vehicle and not necessarily the owner and monies owed will simply transfer with the vehicle to you!

Cheers,
Brian

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