Are you an expat real estate agent in Central America, or planning to be one when you relocate to the tropics? Here are a few tips on how to stand out from the competition and succeed in what can be, in some areas, an overcrowded occupation.
If you’re an expat in Central America, there’s a big chance you’re a real estate agent. That’s not hyperbole at all, it’s an observation based on years of experience. Well… maybe it’s a little hyperbolic. But anyone who’s spent a decent amount of time in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, or Panama will have encountered fellow expats selling real estate. That’s a given.
Anyone who’s spent much time on the expat Facebook groups from any given country will also know that whenever some newbie potential expat posts asks a question about where they should live or visit, everyone turns into an expat real estate agent out of the blue. There they all are, pitching this land or that home they have up for sale. It’s so predictable, it’s funny. These posts are akin to chumming the waters with fish guts to attract sharks.
Hyperbolic but kinda true
In a nutshell, if you’re an expat in Central America, you’re either retired, a digital nomad of some sort, a yoga teacher, or a realtor. Throw a rock in the air in any Central American country and you’ll hit one of these. It’s neither good nor bad, it’s just the way it is.
Again, we’re being a touch hyperbolic for effect, of course. Other occupations also exist for expats in the region, including tourism, which offers some of the best opportunities out there for anyone looking for new life in the tropics.
The point stands, though, that real estate is BIG in Central America, and expat realtors are not exactly thin on the ground around here.
A big reason why we have so many realtors in the region is licensing and regulation, or, to be more precise, lack of
Most countries in Central America have zero licensing requirements for realtors. That means any Tom, Ricardo, or Enrique can rock up and say they’re a real estate agent. If you say you are, then you are. It’s the Wild West.
Only Panama and Nicaragua have licenses for realtors. In Panama, they need to pass the testing requirements of the Real Estate Technical Board, a division of the country’s Ministry of Industry and Commerce. But even then, there are ways around this, like calling yourself a “consultant” rather than a “realtor“. We would bet that a great many expat realtors in Panama have no license to speak of.
Nicaragua is brand new to the licensing game. The ruling regulating this only came into law in September 2022. Like Panama, there are still expats selling real estate without any license, and the whole thing seems like a government money grab.
That said, there are organizations for realtors to affiliate themselves with to not appear like total cowboys
In Belize, for example, although there’s no licensing required and any scammer can sell real estate, any realtor worth their salt in Belize will register with AREBB (the Association of Real Estate Brokers of Belize). This will give them some level of credibility they wouldn’t have on their own.
Costa Rica is famous for its lack of licensing for realtors. It was for a long time, due to the larger size of its real estate market for foreigners, a veritable nest of vipers. The industry has made efforts to clean up and regulate itself in recent years, though. Nowadays, if you’re a reputable realtor in Costa Rica, you’ll register with CRGAR (the Costa Rica Global Association of Realtors). CRGAR is also lobbying for proper licensing for realtors in Costa Rica.
Elsewhere around the region, it’s a similar story. No official licenses to speak of, but organizations you can register with to give yourself some credibility.
So with all that said, it’s no wonder so many people come down to Central America to try their hand at real estate. There are few (if any) hoops to jump through, and oftentimes, when you’re selling to sunshine-struck tourists, it’s an easy sell.
The only question, if you’re an ethical real estate agent who wants to do well for themselves, is this: How do I distinguish myself from the pack and succeed?
Real estate agent David Karr outlines the top five mistakes he sees people make when buying property in Costa Rica, and how to overcome them.https://t.co/aMWjeEahbU
— Central America Living (@VidaAmerica) September 14, 2022
Below, we offer some tips for success in selling real estate in Central America:
1. Understand your local market and who’s buying
Every country in Central America has a different real estate market. You need to know the market in your country. For example, Nicaragua has the lowest property prices in Central America while Panama has the highest.
The type of tourist/potential expat who’s looking for property in Panama City is not likely the same type looking for property in Nicaragua. If you’ve been around a while, you’ll know who your clients are for your market, but if you haven’t, you’ll learn fast.
2. Affiliate yourself with a professional association
We already spoke about this above, so we won’t dwell too long here, but in a region with few regulations, you want someone, at least, to vouch for you. Being a member of a professional association gives you some credibility to stick on your website and business cards.
This is especially important if you’re rolling solo and not part of a wider franchise everyone’s heard of (RE/MAX, for example).
3. Understand how much commission you can earn as an expat real estate agent
The best way to earn higher commissions as a real estate agent is to understand how it works in your country. That way you can end up earning higher commissions, rather than missing out through general ignorance.
In general, real estate commission rates in Central America range from 3% to 10% of the sale price, with 5% to 6% being a common rate. Average commissions are highest in Belize (6% to 8%) and lowest in Costa Rica and Panama (5% to 7%) but these figures are general guidelines at best.
Commission rates can vary based on the specifics of each transaction and the agreement between the realtor and their client. Rates may also differ between residential and commercial properties, and may be negotiable based on the circumstances of the sale.
It’s important to know these things so you can be straight up with your clients and not come across as a cowboy (which, as already stated, is easy to do in Central America).
4. Build a network
As a new realtor, it’s important to build a network of potential clients, other real estate professionals, and local businesses. Again, this is vital if you don’t have an international franchise backing you.
Use social media platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter to reach out to possible clients. Build a website with a blog and/or a vlog to further build your brand.
Consider hiring or partnering up with local agents who know the area better than anyone else. They can help promote your listings more and generate leads faster. If in doubt, focus on areas you’re already familiar with to avoid needing to work with anyone else, and potentially water down your eventual commission.
And again – a massive part of building your network is to join a local organization. We can’t stress that enough. If you’re an Association of Real Estate Brokers of Belize member you’ll get more referrals and more business than if you’re not.
5. Craft compelling listings
Make sure the property listings on your website and social media stand out from others on the market. This starts with crafting compelling descriptions.
Think about what makes this particular property unique compared to others in the area, and highlight those features in an eye-catching way. Use high quality images and video footage of the home, as these will be much more enticing for potential buyers than text alone.
If you’re not a creative, hire someone to write for you or look after your images.
Consider offering incentives, like discounts or special promotions, if interested parties meet certain criteria. Extra steps like these can help draw attention to your listings instead of someone else’s. And sellers will also approach you to handle their properties if they see how attractive your listings are.
6. Be a credit to both your home country and your new community
This is a little more vague, but it comes down to this: If you’re selling real estate in, say, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, you want people to know you as the nice guy with a great reputation. Not the sketchy gringo shark.
Be personable when networking within your community. Learn the language, even if most of your clients are English-speaking expats and tourists. You still need to deal with architects, lawyers, and so on. If you make an effort to learn Spanish and these people like you, you’ll get referrals you never would have done otherwise.
Maintain high ethical and professional standards as an expat real estate agent. This is essential to succeed in the real estate industry, especially in a location where many realtors do not. Be honest and transparent with your clients, adhere to all legal requirements and regulations, and maintain a professional image and demeanor.
And it goes without saying that you also need to provide the best customer service that you can. Be responsive to client inquiries, keep them informed throughout the buying or selling process, and go above and beyond to ensure their satisfaction, before, during, and after the sale.
That sweet smell of success as an expat real estate agent
Succeeding as a realtor in Central America requires a combination of local market knowledge, professionalism, excellent customer service, and adaptability. By building a strong network, understanding the local market, providing exceptional service, and staying current with the latest trends and technologies, expat realtors can thrive in the Central American real estate industry.