International Real Estate
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Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic is a special hidden place where miles of beach weave their way around verdant elevated points. The sands are tan in places, white in other. The turquoise waters break in white explosions offshore where they meet reef. French and Italian pioneers came to this charming little place before the rest of the outside world had found it. They came in search of adventure…the perfect beach…and friendly local neighbors to share it with.
A new era of relative peace has allowed Colombia to prosper. In the past decade, annual GDP growth has typically been in the 4% to 6% range. In U.S. dollar terms, Colombian stocks have tanked. The local currency, the Colombian peso, has fallen hard against the U.S. dollar. The reason? Collapsing price of oil. Brent crude oil is down 50% since June 2014.
From bustling beach towns to small ﬁshing communities, stunning stretches of sand to lush rainforests teeming with life, Costa Rica’s Central Paciﬁc coast has a huge variety of lifestyle choices to offer expats. And thankfully, it has the real estate to match. The name of the game in the Central Paciﬁc is good value. Beachfront and walk to-the-beach properties are bargain-priced compared to anything you’d ﬁnd in popular resort areas of the U.S. And there truly is something for everybody, whether you’re into the vibrant atmosphere of a resort or the peace of a ﬁshing village.
Sinking my toes into the warm white sand, I lean back in a plastic chair warped by the sun to give it a reclining effect. Homemade tortilla chips heaped on the plate in front of me are perfect for dipping into the ceviche of fresh ﬁsh caught just off the coast. And the $2 chelada, a lager beer on the rocks—Pacíﬁco is my favorite—with a liberal dose of lime juice and salt on the rim, hits the spot.
Spain’s best beaches are hidden amongst pristine nature preserves, ancient pine forests, and historic cities that span civilizations. They have been discovered only by a small number of surfers, locals, and hippies. Now, thanks to a special distressed situation, you can buy in this undiscovered Spain for as little as one-third of what it used to cost.
The Lord of the Rings’ soaring mountains… Roman Holiday’s famous monuments and historic sites… and the tropical locales of Pirates of the Caribbean…it’s doubtful these blockbuster films would have had such an impact without those dramatic backdrops to the action. Even as CGI and green screens become more widespread, there is something about a real, physical landscape that can’t be replicated by bits and bytes.
Right now the U.S. dollar buys more in Europe than it has in over a decade. It means that this is a smart time to buy property in certain markets—including Ireland, Portugal, and Italy—according to the live-overseas experts at InternationalLiving.com. A €100,000 property that would have cost $139,000 last March costs just $106,310 right now, a discount rendered by the currency-exchange rate alone. “In good-value markets that made sense at ‘full’ price, this favorable exchange rate is effectively putting properties on sale, and the bargains can be unbelievable. The timing is right for Europe today,” says InternationalLiving.com’s real estate expert Ronan McMahon.
Something strange happens when you’re buying property overseas. It happens to cautious folks, wary folks, even savvy folks that are seasoned pros when it comes to buying real estate. It’s something you need to watch out for. It’s getting caught up in the fine details of your contract…and, in doing so, losing sight of the forest for the trees.
When I imagine the perfect beach, I picture sunny Italy. There are plenty of options to choose from. Besides the multitude of sandy Mediterranean coves and the glorious sweep of Adriatic beaches you’ll see in glossy brochures, there are numerous white and golden beaches along Italy’s Ionian coast.
Playa del Carmen lies about midway between the all-inclusive resort hub of Cancún and the up-and-coming, low-key and still somewhat bohemian destination of Tulúm. It’s a happy medium between those two extremes and a favorite for those seeking to live an active retirement in an atmosphere that is sophisticated, yet laidback at the same time. Casual dress and relaxed attitudes are the keys to living in Playa del Carmen. The region is the Riviera Maya, a focal point for tourist activity and site of investment by the Mexican government, which started with Cancún in the 1970s and spread down the coast. The feel is First World, with services, infrastructure, and amenities to match.
Property markets in Europe are moving again—and right now you can find some great bargains in stunning settings. At time of writing, the U.S. dollar is strong which means you get more bang for your buck. In fact, your U.S. dollar buys you 24% more euros than it did this time last year. And, right now your dollar goes further in Europe than it has in over a decade. If you’re looking to buy real estate on the continent, now is the time to buy. A €100,000 property that would have cost you $139,000 last March costs $106,310 today, a discount rendered by the currency-exchange rate alone.
Long, unspoiled beaches…a new infrastructure project that will open up access to an undeveloped but seriously attractive region…and the chance to watch a real estate investment grow rapidly in value: just some of the reasons you need to be looking at Uruguay’s Rocha region. Little Uruguay is a small, open economy—and one of the best places to consider buying real estate in the world right now.
It’s been called the Sacred Valley, the Valley of Longevity, and the Valley of Eternal Youth. Tucked into the heart of Ecuador’s southern Andes, the little town of Vilcabamba has earned those monikers, and it’s easy to see why. Steep rounded mountains rise from all directions, giving the town a feel of seclusion and protection. The rich black soil turns out hundreds of varieties of edible plants. And warm weather year-round makes the place a permanent paradise. In fact, when the Ecuadorian tourism bureau decided to market the country as “The Land of Eternal Spring,” I’m convinced it had Vilcabamba in mind. With temperature highs averaging between 74 F and 79 F and lows never dropping below the mid-50s F, it’s tough for me to imagine a more ideal climate.
Uruguay’s province of Rocha has the country’s best beaches and most charming beach towns. And now the Path of Progress is due to roll down this coast. I expect real estate values will rise as accessibility improves. My contacts in Uruguay have been keeping me up to speed. One particular infrastructure project has my attention right now.
Imagine a place of rich, earthy smells, dappled light, soaring tropical hardwoods, and thick underbrush…the dawn calls of birds and the nighttime chirps and whistles of insects. From your terrace it’s as though you have Eden on the doorstep—a thousand shades of green and nature’s bounty. These days, living in a jungle home, you can have the best of both worlds: the feeling of being set apart, while enjoying conveniences like high-speed internet and air conditioning in your own paradise.
This is the nicest raw beachfront lot I’ve stepped onto in a long time. Warm breezes clear the scant, broken clouds, opening up a big blue sky. The sea is blue turning turquoise as gentle waves roll in. It’s a picture-perfect vista and setting. The beach stretches as far as the eye can see. Sandy points frame the horizon in both directions. In the distance giant dunes dominate the landscape. This beachfront lot is like a little oasis. Wild-growing palm trees sway. Colorful flowers crawl up walls and sprout from hedgerows.
Mexico’s Riviera Maya runs south of Cancun to Tulúm. The sand is white…and the water, turquoise. In the jungle, you’ll find Maya ruins. Offshore, the world’s second-longest coral reef is home to brightly colored fish. The biosphere at Sian Ka’an is a great place to hike, kayak, and study nature. The coral reef offshore attracts divers and snorkelers. Golf, hiking, spelunking in ancient caves…it’s all here. Tulúm is, and will stay, boutique. The Sian Ka’an biosphere means that much of the land is protected. Development will be low rise and low density—that’s if and where it’s permitted. Yet, amazingly, you’re just a 90-minute drive to the airport and two hours in the air to the U.S.
With stress-melting coral-sand beaches, warm tropical seas, an eclectic mix of welcoming locals and friendly expats, and international dining, the Dominican Republic epitomizes the laidback, sun-kissed lifestyle the Caribbean is known for. And you don’t have to be rich to buy a home here. I explored two up-and-coming beach towns, Cabarete and Las Terrenas, which offer exceptional Caribbean island value; you’ll find newer condos starting at $100,000, sometimes even less. Even better, many properties on these sumptuous stretches of coast will cover all your ownership costs and could even make you a profit. This is among the very few places left in the Caribbean where you can buy affordable, quality properties and take advantage of a robust rental market.
In the early and mid-2000s, Europe’s real estate markets embarked on a massive tear. People re-financed, often to buy a vacation home or make a speculative investment in Europe’s sunnier locales. Values rose and rose…until everything stopped. The market imploded and real estate owners found themselves deeply under water. By 2009, with a few exceptions, Europe’s real estate markets had halted. Transactions simply stopped. The gulf between sellers’ expectations and what buyers were willing to pay was so great that there was nowhere for them to meet. Now markets are moving again. And in four countries in particular—Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain—I see opportunity today. An added plus is the current strength of the U.S. dollar. At time of writing, your U.S. dollar buys you 24% more euros than it did in March 2014. Now, I’m not a currency guy, and I’m certainly not making a call on future euro-dollar exchange rates, but it makes European opportunities all the more attractive right now.
Imagine waking up in the morning and enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee before heading out your back door to get breakfast. You gather eggs from your hens. Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, all from your kitchen garden, as well as homemade goat cheese, are added for an excellent omelet. The fresh-squeezed orange juice comes from your trees. Life in the cities and suburbs of the U.S. can mean being far removed from the origins of the food we eat. If you dream of getting back to the land, you’ll find hobby farms with fertile soil, ideal growing conditions, and great locations throughout the world.
Coffee plantations and orange groves line the slopes outside of the town of Santa Fe. Sparkling rivers, like the Santa Maria and Mulaba, rush around huge boulders to flow gently between the trees. Giant peaks tower above, one after the other, with names like El Salto, Cerro Tute, El Sapo, and Cerro Mariposa. With an elevation around 1,500 feet, Santa Fe is blessed with year-round cool temperatures, averaging in the 80s F during the daytime and 60s F at night. Clear blue skies yield to misty clouds among the mountain tops and in the low valleys. For nature-lovers, it doesn’t get any better.
Today real estate shoppers in Spain will find good-value properties at bargain prices in three scenic mountain towns—Mijas, Ojén and Torrox—located 30 minutes from the popular resort town of Marbella. With more than 2,800 hours of sunshine a year, this region attracts travellers and expats looking to escape a harsh winter back home and save money at the same time. “A couple can live well for about $2,400 a month, including $600 in rent,” reports InternationalLiving.com editor Nazareen Heazle.
What’s the first place you think of when Italy is mentioned? Chances are it’s not Apulia (Puglia, in Italian), the region that forms the heel of the Italian boot. But after visiting the region last year, I want to sing its praises from the rooftops of so many places. Ostuni…Gallipoli…Martina Franca. As for lovely Lecce, with its baroque buildings of creamy golden stone and gloriously flamboyant carvings, I didn’t want to leave. Singing from the rooftops of Apulia’s fairytale trulli homes would be physically difficult—these beehive-shaped rural houses are topped by peculiar conical domes—but you get what I mean.
For more than 11 years I’ve traveled all over Latin America. From the U.S.-Mexican border all the way to Argentina, I see firsthand the opportunities this vast land has to offer. I’ve never seen a better time to invest in development land in Latin America than right now. The biggest returns in development come to the earliest speculators who take positions. You don’t need deep pockets to invest in development land—if you know how to do it. Nicaragua, for example, is a country of stunning natural beauty and abundant resources. It has a young population and its economy is catching up from a very low base. It has great potential as a retirement and vacation locale for North Americans. In the early 2000s, money and people raced in. Many didn’t have the skills or the experience to develop real estate.
A populace that appreciates art, a local government that supports artistic endeavors, and a network of galleries to show your work…these are key ingredients for artists choosing a place to live. Surroundings that inspire creativity, whether through architecture, natural beauty, or indigenous influences, are also important. Finally, affordable accommodation and studio space are vital as well. A place where you can live well on a little income and concentrate on your work. Fortunately, even as artists get priced out of metropolises like New York City and Paris, other cities have stepped in. These havens can be found around the world. And even if you’re not a painter or sculptor, these cities are great for those who love and appreciate art…not to mention perfect places to sample new styles and snap up unusual pieces at bargain prices.
Perhaps best known for its extravagant Carnaval celebration, Las Tablas is the center of Panama’s folkloric culture. Though not well known to North Americans, Panamanians flock here regularly, particularly to the two annual festivals that are held each year to honor the pollera, the national dress. But folklore is just the start of what this friendly little town has to offer. In-the-know expats have been coming here for several years. They come from all over—we’ve met residents from Europe, South America, the U.S., and Canada.
It’s no secret that Spain’s property market has been at rock-bottom the last few years, but it’s slowly starting to pick up here in Mijas. Buyers, mostly from Western Europe, are making their way back to southern Spain. They are buying with a view to retiring to the area. (Mijas already has a very international community…I met an Irish woman who runs a chocolate shop and a relocation consultant who’s originally from England.) That’s good news if you like the idea of living here. There’s a good choice of rentals at affordable prices. And, despite the return of the European snowbirds, there are still plenty of great-value properties for sale.
When I started apartment hunting in Panama City almost a decade ago, I thought I knew what neighborhood I wanted to live in: the ritzy International Banking District, where the tallest skyscrapers face the sparkling Panama Bay. The area had undeniable cachet, and everyone I knew was living there. The district is in the heart of downtown, where you’ll find the best hotels, restaurants, shops, and more. Since 2009, new pedestrian walkways, green areas, and recreation facilities line the bay. On any given day you’ll see people jogging, buying fruit, or just sitting and enjoying the pleasant atmosphere.
Orchids, roses, coffee, and vegetables grow in the valleys around. You’ll find high-end resorts and world-class golf, but the beating heart of the town is the Central Market where hawkers wearing conical non la hats sit beside tubs of live fish and crabs, or in front of tables loaded with pungent durian fruit, shoes, and clothing. An average temperature year-round of 57 F makes Dalat a tempting option for some expats, but for most, it’s a place to spend a bit of time exploring the hill villages and escaping the humidity and heat of the lowlands. If you choose to live here, then consider a place on the outskirts of town, which is a lot prettier than the center and makes for better views of the mountains.
For me, and plenty of other Americans and Canadians who have scratched the surface, the capital of Chiriqui Province in western Panama is a retirement location that’s hard to resist. If you’re looking for a convenient hub city that’s a manageable size, David should be top of your list. It’s Panama’s third-largest city and second only to Panama City for shopping, healthcare, services, logistics, education, and just about anything else. And, with a population of about 86,000, (the larger district of David has a population of about 250,000), it’s certainly manageable.
It’s a day for dreaming of Andalucia. So I’m letting Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain take me on a musical journey back to Granada—back to the lament of flamenco guitars, orange trees, and jasmine-scented patios with pattering fountains. On my last visit to Spain, I added a Granada side trip. Sheer indulgence as I’d been before, but it’s a city made for indulgence. De Falla’s old garden, just above the Realejo neighborhood, is laden with roses. Gardens have a long history in Spain. For the Moors, a garden symbolized an inner paradise and a reflection of heaven.
Some things haven’t changed at all since I moved to Ireland. Friday night’s throb of bodhran drums in Cryan’s bar. The shy Sitka deer flitting out of the woods like shadow creatures from a Celtic twilight. The swans that come to over-winter on the loughs (lakes). The man with the van selling home-grown potatoes… Others things have changed. The house prices that soared ever upwards during the boom years have come now down, down, down. In Lakeland counties and villages along Ireland’s longest river—the Shannon—numerous properties are on the market for under $150,000.
Hip, trendy, vibrant… Those three words sum up Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This is a boomtown, plain and simple. Over the past 20 years, the population has exploded. Fifth Avenue, the main shopping and entertainment drag, is described locally as the longest pedestrianized street in the Americas. Each time I visit—that’s every month for the last three months now—it feels like new blocks have sprung up and fashionable restaurants and boutiques have opened their doors.
It’s a sun-drenched morning as I stand at a lookout point above the town of Mijas. Below me, the gleaming white buildings, with their roofs of rust-red tile, tumble down the mountainside. The pine-covered hills of the Sierra de Mijas mountain range reach up into the clear sky to my right. On my left, I can see the Costa del Sol—the Sun Coast—with the glittering Mediterranean Sea stretching to the horizon. It’s a comfortable 66 F here in Mijas, which is located in southernmost Spain. With more than 2,800 hours of sunshine a year around these parts, it’s the perfect place to escape a harsh winter back home.
The decade leading up to 2006 saw Ireland suffer through one of the biggest real estate bubbles on earth. The real estate market stalled in 2006/2007, amid rumors that transfer taxes were set to be reduced. Then in 2008 the crisis hit. In 2009, the global financial crisis rolled through, flattening Ireland’s entire banking sector and economy. In your July 2011 edition, I reported how Irish real estate was available at a discount of 80% on peak prices. Today, Ireland’s real estate market is bouncing back. News stories are filled with talk of housing shortages and fast-rising values. These reports are correct. There has been a strong surge in demand for family homes in desirable areas of Ireland’s main cities. The big buying opportunity here has passed, but right now Irish real estate is a tale of two markets.
Encompassing Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras, La Ruta Maya (the “Maya Route”) covers the territory of the Maya civilization, which reached its height from 250 to 900 A.D. One of the New World’s most advanced cultures, the Maya had written language, mathematics, a sophisticated calendar, and architectural skills that saw them construct massive temples and spectacular cities, many of which still stand. However, the Maya were never a single empire; rather, kings ruled over small territories surrounding a city.
From the quaint town of Cotacachi to the vibrant capital, Quito, from Salinas by the sea to the peaks of the Andes, Ecuador’s diversity is a key part of the massive appeal that sees it regain the coveted top spot on this year’s retirement index. Although prices have risen slightly in recent years, Ecuador’s real estate is still the best value you’ll find anywhere. This is bolstered by the generous array of benefits the government has afforded to retirees. Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events. Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.
There are many low-cost places to retire to in Panama. For those who enjoy the slower pace of rural living, Chiriquí Province, where I live, offers a delightful climate, easy convenience, and a quality lifestyle in an affordable retirement destination. While the city of David offers all the amenities of a good-sized city and the town of Boquete is a favored expat haven, some of the smaller towns in the area combine access to these desirable features with a lower cost of living. Dolega is one such small town in Chiriquí Province in western Panama. The four-lane highway that runs north and south between David and Boquete runs right through Dolega, so it’s easy to find. A new pedestrian overpass marks the main turnoff into town, at the Municipal Palace, shaded by a gigantic mango tree. Dolega is the administrative seat of the district of the same name, which encompasses a total of nine towns such as Los Anastacios, Dos Rios, Los Algarrobos and Potrerillos.
Ten years ago it was mainly scuba divers, anglers and adventure travelers who knew of Belize’s natural treasures. At that time few tourists could point to Belize on a map. But there’s been a growing buzz about Belize for the last few years. The constant press coverage about predictions of what would happen at the end of the Maya calendar (December 21, 2012) catapulted Belize into the international spotlight. Ever since, tourism numbers have been on the rise. And a growing number of Baby Boomers are retiring there.
Foliage presses up against the perfect, charcoal gray road. Though this time of year is known as the “rainy season” in Panama, the sky in this region is a powerful blue, and the sun is shining hot and strong. It’s quiet, and I pass very few cars…and perhaps just as many horses. For my recent scouting trip I drove the five hours from Panama City to Pedasí, a town of about 2,500. It’s a place that’s been growing in comfort and convenience— slowly but surely—since 2004. Over the past couple years in particular, it has become a burgeoning expat hub. Still, it remains a place where a couple can live on $1,300 a month including rent, and as little as $950 if they own.