Real Estate Overseas
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Close on a decade ago I first stood on the white sands at Tulum, Mexico. Playa del Carmen was my base for this trip, and I saw first-hand what was happening. Playa was taking off—as were its real estate values. Ninety minutes down the coast (before the road improvements) Tulum was a secluded piece of paradise. It was an empty beach—there wasn’t a single soul. I drove down a potholed, rutted, sand road with a friend.
In Mexico, Ecuador and Costa Rica properties with stunning views can be bought for as little as $119,000, according to a new report by InternationalLiving.com. “A great view usually translates into a premium price tag. But if a buyer knows the right places to look, he can find properties with world-class vistas for much, much less than you’d expect,” reports InternationalLiving.com’s property correspondent, Margaret Summerfield.
This west-coast destination in Mexico hit the headlines in 1963. John Huston filmed part of Night of the Iguana in Vallarta. The world’s press descended on the town to follow the romance between Richard Burton, a star in the movie, and Elizabeth Taylor. Many viewers simply wanted the real skinny on the famous Hollywood stars. But others were grabbed by Vallarta’s colonial architecture and sun-drenched beaches. Tourists and expats started to flock to this little fishing village. Today, around 50,000 North Americans live in Vallarta…
This thick cover acts as one of the few remaining intact habitats for elusive pumas, jaguars, and other smaller felines. The endangered spectacled bear also calls the Intag home along with hundreds of varieties of exotic birds. As the condor flies, this cloud forest valley is not far from the market town of Otavalo. In fact, it’s only 35 miles away by road. But for years now that one-and-only road has been a narrow, mountain-hugging dirt track accessible only from the towns of Otavalo or Cotacachi.
The global economic crisis popped Spain’s real estate bubble. That’s why today you could buy a spacious condo in a high-end community on one of the nicest stretches of the Costa del Sol with monthly payments from $483. That’s a low sticker price. And, this is a stunning place to visit and spend time. You have dramatic views along the coast. Long winding sandy beaches you can walk for miles. Quirky Gibraltar.
For 15 years, real estate prices in Spain soared. Then in 2007 demand slowed. By the time the worldwide economic crisis rolled through Spain and Europe, the real estate bubble had well and truly popped.
We arrived at our rented villa just in time to see the sun slipping down toward the liquid-blue horizon. Perched on the terrace, we sipped rosé wine bought in a winery down the road and watched as nature splashed a rosy hue across the western sky. Fishermen returning with their catch left a silvery wake in the waning light. One hour in Cilento and we were smitten.
Imagine falling to sleep to the soft sound of waves lapping the base of rugged cliffs. The flash of a faraway lighthouse gently illuminates your room and the mild breeze brings the purest of air in your open window. In the morning there’s bright sunshine and the singing of small birds in the shrubbery outside. A distant tractor can be heard as a farmer carries hay to his cows. There are no cars or sirens. And, as you look outside, the sun shimmers off a hundred square miles of ocean.
Seductive and sensuous, an amalgam of cultures, Andalusia gets under your skin. Maybe that’s why so many of Spain’s signature sounds and images come from this vast, southern region of the country: castanets, gypsies, flamenco dancers, bull fighters, strumming guitars…This is romantic Spain…the one the tourists flock to.
Do you ever wish you could find a cool little beach town before it gets discovered and invest in land while the prices are still low? You aren’t alone. Global investors are constantly searching the planet for that kind of opportunity. But you know what? They missed a spot. It’s a little town of 1,000 full-time residents, and it’s called Barra del Chuy, in Uruguay.
For many, Latin America conjures up images of steamy, wildlife-filled jungles and beautiful people lounging on tropical beaches, sipping umbrella-bedecked drinks. But there’s a whole other side to Latin America…regions where temperate—even cool—climates and jaw-dropping vistas of snow-covered volcanos are the order of the day.
Think of the best of the Caribbean—clear, blue skies…long, white, sandy beaches…warm, gentle waters lapping at the shore…a soft breeze swaying the palm trees overhead—and Belize is where you’ll find it. It’s the sort of place you need to bring your camera to—you only have to point and click in any direction to capture the sort of picture-perfect scenery usually only seen in glossy travel brochures.
For three days now, I’ve been telling you that in Ecuador, you can have it all…but at what price? What must you give up to make a good life here? International Living is, at times, accused of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses…of overlooking the bad and omitting the blemishes. If you’ve been here in Quito the past few days, I doubt you’d agree with that.
Cancun wasn’t always packed with high-rise condos and tourist accommodation. In fact, in 1970, it had just three inhabitants. (Yes, you read that right.) Then, in 1974, Fonatur (Mexico’s tourism development authority) kicked off a master plan to bring tourism to this sandy spit of land. They built the infrastructure and provided the incentives necessary to attract hotelier tourists—and it worked.
It’s hard to believe that a place of such stunning natural beauty, rich culture, and ancient history as Tulum is so easily accessible. On the Riviera Maya, this town boasts warm Caribbean waters, soft white-sand beaches, centuries-old Maya temples, and jungle filled with colorful wildlife. Standing here, it feels sometimes like you’re stepping away from the hustle and the noise of modern civilization.
I’ve never seen a stretch of the Caribbean more beautiful than the Riviera Maya. Standing on the warm, clean, coral-sanded beach, turquoise water laps at your feet. Behind you, palm trees sway and rustle in gentle breezes. Dive into that water and you can explore the world’s second-longest coral reef. Or step back from the beach and take in untamed jungle, ancient forest cities, and mythical cenotes—underground, swimmable caverns revered as sacred places by the Maya people.
In August I visited a new luxury beachfront apartment building on the Costa del Sol’s new Golden Mile. Within eight days earlier this year, 122 apartments in the building sold. The fire-sale pricing was that good: $347,209 for an apartment. Seven months later, these apartments were listing for $528,396 each.
The first time I visited Pedasi, I thought to myself, “Is this it?” Small colonial homes line the main strip, behind which you’ll find a small plaza flanked by a neat little white church. There are usually a few old-timers sitting under the gazebo, wearing the same sombreros pintados (painted hats) their fathers and grandfathers wore.
Panama City is one of the world’s top cities for retirees. There are plenty of reasons. For one thing, Panama’s Pensionado program provides the most attractive range of retiree benefits you’re likely to find anywhere. The temperature rarely drops below 68 F. And the city is jam-packed with modern amenities, thousands of restaurants, glittering shopping malls, cinemas where you can catch English-language movies…
In the heart of rural Panama, nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano, El Valle is a place of orchids, rainforest greens, and canary-yellow flowers. Though it’s relatively unknown beyond Panamanian borders, locals argue that no other town can match it. And not just because of the singular beauty of the velvety-green mountaintops.
Bangkok tops the list as one of the world’s most-visited cities, with its gilded temples, vibrant nightlife, and world-famous cuisine. And that dash of the exotic is complemented by affordability and modern comforts. In Bangkok you can eat spicy Thai food from a street-side stall for a couple of bucks or take your pick from hundreds of upscale restaurants offering multi-course meals that won’t break the bank.
A great view usually translates into a premium price tag. But you can afford a home with stunning vistas if know the right place to look. For example, I know of one Pacific coast town where a beachfront condo with Californian-style ocean views and a similar lifestyle will only set you back $119,000. You’d need at least three times that to get close to the beach in California.
In medieval Europe, keeping an eye out for and guarding against invasion—a frequent occurrence in those days—was no easy feat. But one of a nobleman’s greatest defensive weapons was a castle perched on a rocky hilltop near an important mountain pass. The location itself—surrounded by steep cliff—offered protection.
As I sit here sweating in the middle of January it’s hard to imagine that it’s cold somewhere. Our friends back in the U.S. are still working, yet I’m only 53 years old and happily retired now for two years. The past two and a half years have gone by quickly as we’ve settled into our new life in Panama.
For anyone who’s been there recently, it’s no surprise that Spain is one of the top five destinations in International Living’s Global Retirement Index—our pick of the top retirement destinations in the world. Spain is arguably the best bargain in Europe, offering First-World living at a cost that can compete with some Latin-American countries. Thanks to the ongoing recession, real estate prices in many parts of Spain have plummeted. Buying here is more affordable now than it’s been in decades.
Yunguilla is a long valley that begins just south of Cuenca and ends near the seaport city of Machala. Its elevation ranges from about 7,000 feet near Cuenca down to 4,500 feet at the Santa Isabel side (closest to Machala on the coast). At its highest point, Yunguilla is 1,500 feet lower than Cuenca, which translates to a warmer climate and very short rainy season. Since the valley is oriented east-west, it gets direct sunshine all day long.
Whether you are looking for a home on the coast, on an island or in a colonial city, these three countries have the best value real estate. If your dream home includes a pool, a big back yard in which to swing from a hammock in the sun, a place close to the beach where you can snorkel, relax with a good book or watch the sunset…rest assured, you can have it—because your real estate dollar stretches further overseas. You can buy a superior property in a better location for the same amount or less than you would spend on a home in the U.S.
Belize has long been a favorite for expats and travelers alike. From its Caribbean shores to its jungle interior, this nation has great natural beauty to be discovered—blue water and deserted beaches, and inland retreats where jaguars and scarlet macaws still live in their natural habitats. People are attracted to Belize for many reasons including the warm, English-speaking people, the natural beauty, and the air of freedom and opportunity.
Outside the window of the condo I was renting, two huge pelicans sat nodding in the sun. Or so it seemed. Because in an instant, and in perfect synchronicity, they leapt from their perch, pulled in their wings, and dove headfirst to the emerald water below. No small feat since we were 20 floors up. Hmm, I wondered, what’s for dinner? Because, as the pelicans know, these waters are rich with a choice of seafood or every kind.
In much of Panama, sultry tropical days average 88F…but there are places where you can experience more temperate weather. Think mild and breezy—up to 10 degrees cooler (or more, when the sun’s not out). Places where rain will be your biggest concern…where there’s no hail, or snow, or hurricanes either. The most popular is the mountain town of Boquete, located in the Province of Chiriquí.
It’s hard to believe four years have passed since I moved to Panama. It’s even more incredible to think that I left the U.S. almost nine years ago. I live in David, the capital of Chiriquí Province in the west of the country. I didn’t plan to move here; it was never on my “to do” list. But when my husband, Al, and I first saw the rolling hills and slopes lined with rows of vegetable plants, acres of pineapple and rice fields, coffee plantations…
It’s impossible to escape the geese in Sarlat-le-Caneda. Images of these plump birds adorn shop windows, and products of all kinds are decorated with the likeness of the animals that have been adopted as the unofficial mascot of the area. Often known simply as Sarlat, this town with a population of about 11,000 is in the center of the Dordogne region of southern France. Sarlat offers big-city convenience and activities packaged in a small-town setting that make it a delightful location to visit…
Crucita is about 40 minutes north of Manta, Ecuador’s largest coastal city. But while Manta is big and busy and full of shopping and social opportunities, Crucita is the opposite. It’s a little fishing village with a produce market, a fish market, but no supermarket… You can get eggs, bread, beer, toilet paper, soap and other necessities of life at some of the local mom-and-pop shops, but for anything more exotic than that, you’ll need to go to Manta or the closer town of Portoviejo.
I’m typing this from the comfort of a lawn chair on the patio of my house in Quito. It’s early December and even though Quito is moving into winter, today is warm and sunny. Quito, Ecuador’s capital (a UNESCO World Heritage site), sits on the spine of the Andes nestled between two mountain ranges and several ice-capped volcanoes. The climate is mild, with high temperatures in the 70s and lows of around 50.
It wasn’t long ago that the major streets in the northern Cambodian town of Siem Reap were unpaved. There were no shopping malls, no cocktail bars…in short, it was a place only the most intrepid expats would consider living in. John McDermott, and Narisara Murray, were two of those adventurous expats.
I have a confession to make. I’m a romantic. Whenever I travel, I look for a hotel or hostel in an old colonial home. When I wake up in the morning, I throw open the shutters or step out onto the balcony imagining I’ve been transported back in time. But there are folks who get to do that every day. And you can, too.
Sitting off the tip of mainland Malaysia, Penang Island is a special place to live, steeped in history and home to historic mansions and shophouses. Just 114-miles square with a population of 600,000 people, the island is also the unofficial “food capital” of Malaysia and a medical center of excellence. For just $11 you can see an English-speaking specialist here who trained in the U.S.—and you don’t even need an appointment.
The white-washed town of Istán clings to the slopes of the Sierra de las Nieves (Mountains of the Snows). It’s a truly hidden place—yet stunningly and conveniently positioned. I’ve visited plenty of charming hill towns and villages in Spain, France, and Italy where real estate is cheap. But the downside has always been remoteness. Istán is different.
It’s no coincidence that commercials for vacations, resorts, or cruises in North America prominently feature the white sands, clear-blue waters, and laid-back vibe of Caribbean beaches. It is paradise and close to home. Maybe that’s why it’s been a premier vacation destination for decades. But thanks to affordable real estate available throughout the region, you’re not limited to the all-inclusives—it is possible to enjoy the Caribbean lifestyle year-round from your own home.
You might not “get” Coronado, Panama’s fastest growing beach town, immediately. There’s no main square or plaza, and at a glance it looks rambling and unremarkable. But trundle down its mansion-lined lanes, and you’ll find there are many hidden gems.