The Best-Value Real Estate in the World’s Top Retirement Havens

The Best-Value Real Estate in the World's Top Retirement Havens

In International Living’s 2012 Retirement Index, Ecuador comes in first place as the best place in the world to retire to. In putting together the Index, IL editors collated data from a team of experts on the ground in the most popular countries among U.S. expat retirees. Factors ranging from the price of bread and average humidity, to utility costs and the friendliness of locals were assessed. The information was then used to score each country out of 100 in categories such as “Real Estate,” “Climate” and “Healthcare.”

There’s a lot to consider when buying a home anywhere, but especially one overseas. First thing you want to know is how much it’s going to cost. With bang-for-your-buck in mind, Ecuador comes out on top in the Index, offering some of the best-value real estate in the world. For $50,000 you can buy a penthouse suite in a colonial town or a beachfront condo.

In fact, it’s so affordable that some expats choose both. Ron and Terresa Moore, for example, bought a two-bedroom condo in the Andean town of Cotacachi and a new two-bedroom condo on the beach in Crucita—grand total: $111,000. Now they split their time between the two.

In Panama you’ll find bargains, too. Karl and Liz Parker bought their home among the pines of Alto Boquete for $100,000. Marvin and Joanne Riddell bought their 1,650-square-foot beachfront condo in La Barqueta for $180,000…fully furnished. And in Panama City you’ll find beautiful apartments from $90,000. And don’t overlook Mexico.

In places like Tulum, on the country’s Caribbean coast, you’ll find properties right near some of the finest beach in the world from $167,000. We didn’t just look at real estate prices. We always recommend you rent before you buy, so we also considered costs. Again Ecuador is the front runner.

You can rent a two-bedroom apartment on the beach for $500 a month or a condo in colonial Cuenca for $500. In Thailand, about $500 a month will get you a really nice, liveable place just about anywhere in the country. IL contributor, Jason Gaspero pays just $222 a month for his beachside bungalow with air conditioning, hot water, WiFi, and a refrigerator.

See below for more on how our top retirement havens scored in the Real Estate category. You can read the full Retirement Index 2012 article here.

Ecuador, Scored 97/100

Ecuador topped the real estate category in this year’s Retirement Index—and value was a huge factor. In places like Cuenca and Vilcabamba, you can buy a three-bedroom home for $79,000 or a pretty three-bedroom home on an acre of land…with a pool…for $99,000. Land is particularly cheap. We found a five-acre plot in a rural area with river views on the market for $60,000. Build costs are low too—you can easily build a home in Ecuador for $30 to $50 per square foot.

Real estate prices are even low on Ecuador’s sought-after coast. We recently discovered a 2,000-square-foot, four-bedroom beach house north of Salinas…with a pool…for just $107,000.

Panama, Scored 95/100

Whether you want to find a luxury apartment in Panama City, a beautiful property in the mountains, or a sprawling lot on the beach, Panama offers it all.

Panama is regularly hailed for providing First-world luxuries at Third-world costs. Panama City is a modern metropolis, where you will easily find all of the amenities and comforts you need. Nevertheless, the country’s economy is still developing, and prices are relatively inexpensive across the board.

You can find condos listed at luxury prices—$250,000 and up. But you can also find condos for much less. A unit here recently sold for $82,000…it was located in Panama City’s popular and central El Cangrejo neighborhood. It came furnished with one-bedroom, 650-square-foot of floor space and air conditioning. The building had all the amenities you’d want like social area and pool, sauna, party room, and doorman.

Head down to David, the capital of Chiriqui province (about a five-hour drive west of Panama City), and the deals get even better. It offers most every city comfort, but on a smaller scale than big, bustling Panama City. High speed Internet, malls and movies, government offices, hospitals and banks—David has it all.

In David, you’ll find there are more houses than apartments. The closer you get to the town center, the higher the price. The closer to the airport (or to any neighborhood 10 minutes or more from the town center), the lower the price.

Humble abodes go for as little as $50,000 in these parts, but even fancier digs don’t cost much more. We found an 800-square-foot, two-bedroom house five minutes from the David town center, on a 5,000-square-foot lot. It was on the market for just $80,000.

Mexico, Scored 94/100

Whether your dream retreat is a graceful colonial home with lavish gardens, a simple beachfront bungalow where you can prop up your feet and watch the tide roll in, an expansive hacienda with enough acreage for horses to roam, or a cliff-side villa with sunset views and cool, steady breezes, you’ll find it in Mexico.

Sure, you can spend several million dollars for an exclusive retreat on the Pacific Coast or the Riviera Maya, but for $150,000 you can buy a beautiful house in the heart of the Yucatán or in Mexico’s colonial heartlands, around Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, and also the El Bajío area—San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato or Querétaro. Thousands of Americans, Canadians and other foreigners have already found the property they want at a price they can easily afford.

U.S. and Canadian expats have been attracted to the Lake Chapala area by homes with gentle arches, hand-painted tiles, and adjoining gardens that bloom all year round. Typical of low real estate prices is a 775-square-foot house we spotted for sale recently in San Antonio. Furnished, it’s a one-level home with one bedroom and one bathroom. An easy-to-maintain property, it has an open floor plan, an efficient kitchen and dining area, and a private courtyard. It’s within walking distance of shops, services, and restaurants. Price: $79,000.

Malaysia, Scored 94/100

Conjuring up all the mysteries of Asia, Malaysia is a former British colony that remains as colorful as ever. Beyond the lofty skyscrapers of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, its dramatic canvas is embroidered with tropical beaches, mountains, dense rainforest, and vividly green tea plantations.

Malaysia has great infrastructure and foreigners are allowed to own properties freehold, has no inheritance tax, and places no tax on income repatriated from overseas. There’s no property capital gain tax either.

There is only one restriction for foreigners when buying property in Malaysia: You have to spend the minimum amount of $147,000. Though property purchases elsewhere in Asia are often very restricted, here you can buy property outright and you don’t have to be a resident of Malaysia to do so.

Colombia, Scored 93/100

Colombia is rapidly raising its profile as a prospective retirement destination, and it has plenty of top locations to choose from.

The local property market in Santa Marta, Colombia’s Caribbean city, has come alive as new development races down the coast, and buildings in the historic center undergo renovation. People from Medellín and Bogotá are buying second homes here in record numbers. Many Colombians living in the U.S. are investing in Santa Marta, too.

We visited three, recently-completed waterfront condo towers overlooking the new marina, and found that there were only two condos left for sale. The asking prices were under $2,100 per square meter in both cases, which is quite reasonable for a new beachfront condo, but at the high end for Santa Marta. (At that price, a large condo of 1,100 square feet would cost around $210,000.)

But just two blocks in from the beach, with a marina view, we found one project with prices starting at just $1,550 per square meter. So their entry-level 61-square-meter unit was going for $94,500. This project is also just two blocks from the historic center, and units here would make a great rental.

Medellín is another hot-spot. It’s modern and cosmopolitan…clean and safe. And it’s also a great buy right now, like high-end condos in good neighborhoods starting at just $80,000, and large luxury penthouses going for under $150,000.

Dominican Republic, Scored 93/100

Long familiar to Europeans, the Dominican Republic is becoming increasingly popular with North Americans…and property is affordable.

One expat favorite is Punta Cana, which enjoys excellent infrastructure. It feels a bit “Miami”…fun, sand and sun. The hotels pushed the price of beachfront land sky-high, but off-beach property remains affordable. Only 547 yards from the beach, two-bedroom, two-bath condos in three-story blocks start at $147,000. The 1,237-square-foot units come with marble floors and granite countertops.

If you prefer a resort lifestyle, you might like another development we spotted. It offers condos in a golf and beach community. One-bedroom, one-bath units, 1,022 square feet in size, cost $190,000. They come with access to the resort’s amenities and full property management. The resort itself is ultra-luxurious, with ornate furnishings, stylish restaurants and an incredible spa.

Cabarete, in the north of the island, was the resort destination until Punta Cana stole the show in the mid-1990s.

Another strong choice in the Dominican Republic, albeit one that is very different from Punta Cana, is the beach town of Las Terrenas. It comes with a sizeable group of Italian and French expats who have a taste for interior design and gourmet food.

Properties that have hit the market in Las Terrenas of late include a three-bedroom, three-bath home, with a separate one-bedroom, one-bath guesthouse, in a small development. It was offered with a deck and pool, and it is a short walk to the beach, restaurants and cafés. It’s on the market for $255,000.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about real estate opportunities as well as travel, lifestyle and retirement information in the top havens around the world. Sign up for International Living’s free daily postcard e-letters here and receive a special report “International Living’s Insider Guide to Buying Real Estate Overseas.”

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