Finding The Home of Your Dreams in Medellín, Colombia

Have you ever heard of “scope creep”? It’s often defined as a project that has seen its original goals expand while it is in process. I define it as what happens when you renovate your home.

My husband, Mike, and I looked at over 25 apartments in the El Poblado neighborhood of Medellín, ranging from projects still on the drawing board…to just-completed apartments ready to be flipped by investors…to pre-owned apartments, but less than three years old. We discovered that these apartments in our price range of under $175,000 were either not large enough (less than 1,000 square feet) or too “cookie-cutter” looking for our taste.

There are loads of beautiful new apartments in El Poblado, and I know that we didn’t look at every possible option in our price range, but we quickly came to the conclusion that the best value for us was to look for an apartment in a slightly older building and renovate it.

We discovered that apartments in complexes built 15 to 25 years ago had more square-footage, more design character like hardwood finishes and crown molding, and seemed to be made from better materials. And, of course, the prices were about 25% to 30% lower than brand new. After several months of searching, my husband and I found our perfect home…well, almost perfect.

We purchased an apartment in a 15-year-old building in a residential area with easy access to the public bus system, and a couple of blocks walk to shopping, pharmacies, restaurants, and banking. The living space is 1,313 square feet with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, dining room, large kitchen, laundry room, and even maid’s quarters.

But what really clinched the deal for us was that it had an amazing 861-square-foot private brick terazza (terrace) that overlooks the Andes Mountains. My husband saw this and the first words out of his mouth were “this is where the Jacuzzi goes.”

In addition to being in a great location, having sufficient living space and an affordable price tag, our new home also had 15-year-old Colombian-style finishes and layout. As we walked room to room, we thought about what it could be, not what it currently was.

At first, we decided to only replace all the tile floors, update the kitchen appliances and gut the master bathroom to remove the bathtub and replace the toilet and vanity. The rest we could “live with” and do later. But one thing led to another and we both came down with a bad case of “scope creep”.

The whole process took on a life of its own. Much like when you buy new throw pillows for the living room couch and then decide the couch looks old, so you replace it. But then the paint in the room is all wrong, so you repaint. And of course the coffee table doesn’t go with the new couch, so that gets replaced. So, what started out as spending $50 on new pillows morphs into a $5,000 room make-over.

The story has a happing ending. Not only do we now have the home of our dreams, it didn’t cost much to make the transformation. Labor costs in Colombia are inexpensive. The entire renovation project cost only $30,000 for labor and materials. This price included hiring a bi-lingual architect who helped draw plans for moving walls and kitchen design, and who interfaced with the Spanish-speaking general contractor and crew.

Sitting on the terraza, with a glass of wine watching the sunset behind the Andes Mountains, definitely made the project worth it.

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