Real Estate in the World’s Best Retirement Havens

Whether you dream of a pastel-painted, old colonial home surrounded by lush gardens or a super-modern condo just yards from the beach, in locations all over the planet you’ll find incredible value.

Affordable, good-value real estate is a “stand-out” factor of the world’s best retirement havens.

And to prove just how much further your money can go when you buy overseas, we’ve asked our in-country experts to reveal a taste of what’s on offer in the five highest-ranking destinations of this year’s annual Retirement Index.

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Ecuador’s Most Attractive City
 By Edd Staton, Cuenca Correspondent

Cuenca is a place of colonial churches, venerable old mansions, shady parks, and fountain-anchored plazas. Ecuador’s third-largest city, it’s arguably the most attractive, too. The climate is near perfect, the cost of living is low, and there are plenty of activities.

Yet despite the ever-increasing numbers of expats discovering this, you’ll find property here is still affordable. Take, for instance, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, ground-floor condo I found in the quiet residential neighborhood of Las Pencas. It’s just a three-minute walk from a major supermarket, shopping, and restaurants, and not far from the historic quarter. There is almost 1,000 square feet of living space, plus a large wrap-around yard and amazing views of the surrounding mountains. It’s listed for just $84,900.

For $250,000 you can buy a house right in front of one the city’s four tumbling rivers. Fronting the Tomebamba River and steps away from the Inca ruins, it’s the best location in town. It has six bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a living room, dining room, office, and terrace.

Panama’s Cool-Weather Mountain Escape

By Jessica Ramesch, Panama Editor

I love the mountain town of Cerro Azul, just an hour from Panama City in Panama. The location is part of it—almost equidistant from the city to the west and the international airport to the east. I can go anytime, even if just for the day. The minute I turn north from the highway and head into the hills, my pulse slows. The mountain views are soothing, and the streets lined with pine trees signal cooler climes.

What makes the picture complete for me are the little A-frame homes, many of them with neat handkerchief gardens. One of my favorites is bordered by lilac and saffron blooms. Off to the side, there’s a blue bench with a trellis overhead. I’ve often stopped to sit there… I don’t know the owners, but it’s the kind of place where you just know they wouldn’t mind.

Here, a $115,000 house has me dreaming. It’s a sweet Swiss-style home with stonework along the ground level and a wood-paneled upper façade. It’s got four bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the lot is nearly half an acre. The immaculate little gated development has security, a social area, and pool. Excellent value.

Elsewhere in this town, $315,000 gets you a home that would cost double in the U.S. or Canada. Contemporary Spanish architecture with plenty of windows—framed with tropical greenery—to let in the sunlight. There’s an open-concept gourmet kitchen and dining/living room (with fireplace and bar), a movie and games room, and a balcony with dining/barbecue area overlooking the mountainscape.

The three-level, three-bedroom, three-bathroom home is gated and has a garden. A little bridge leads from the pool to a bohio…a patio with thatched roof, hammocks, and lounge area. There is even a caretaker’s home.

Malaysia’s White-Sand Island
By Keith Hockton, Asia Correspondent

Some of the most stunning homes in Malaysia are owned by expats seeking to create an oasis for themselves in their new country. What makes most of them so different isn’t so much the design of the house but the internal decor.

Malaysians have different ideas about decorating. A home for them is utilitarian, a place to eat and sleep. When they entertain, they entertain out, and why not, as Malaysia has some of the best and cheapest street food in the region.

Expats, on the other hand, like to entertain at home. Consequently, we like space, and we like to decorate that space knowing that we’ll spend a fair bit of time in it and so will our friends. One of my favorite beachside condos currently listed is a three-bedroom, 1,400-square-foot one in an area called Batu Ferringhi in Penang. It’s on sale for $196,144. It’s a 10-minute walk to the beach, and all the condos have sea and/or jungle views.

Batu Ferringhi is pocketed with little bays with names like Moonlight Cove and Smugglers Beach. The best beaches by far are near the Malay village of Teluk Bahang. It’s also where the national park starts… white sand and lots of pristine jungle.

Living here you have the convenience of public amenities like banks, restaurants, clinics, and stores in the vicinity. The block itself is about 15 years old and, unlike other condos in Penang that are bought for investment purposes and often left empty, this block is about 80% owner-occupied. That means that it’s in great condition and the owners really look after the place.

If your budget stretches further, then Miami Green is in a much sought-after and secluded area of Batu Ferringhi. These condos are away from the hustle and bustle of George Town and just a stone’s-throw away from a delightful hawker’s village and a variety of international restaurants.

The complex consists of four high-rise and two low-rise blocks of condominiums. Each unit comes with a balcony offering either spectacular views of the lush jungle or 180-degree views of the ocean and mainland Malaysia. There’s a 2,200-square-foot, fully-furnished penthouse duplex here for sale at $490,000.

Colonial Mexico: Rich with Arts and Culture
By Glynna Prentice, Mexico Editor

In Mexico, good-value properties abound, no matter what your budget. Mérida, for instance, capital of the Yucatán Peninsula, remains one of the best places to find bargain-priced colonial homes. There you can still find renovated, move-in-ready colonial properties for under $100,000. A renovated two-bedroom, two-bath colonial, right in the centro, sold recently for just $59,000.

Another renovated colonial was still recently for sale—for $85,000—and it’s not the only one on offer.

Prefer a more temperate climate? San Miguel de Allende is justifiably famous for its arts, culture—and large expat community.  This area also has some of the most skilled artisans in the country, so the quality of work is high for both construction and furnishings.

And today, real estate prices here are relatively low. What about a colonial home right in San Miguel’s famous centro for only $148,000? Renovated in 2009, the 1,200-square-foot house has two bedrooms and 2.5 baths…including an upstairs terrace, glassed in on all four sides, with views of San Miguel’s pink cathedral.

If you have the budget to splash out, this is the place to do it: $599,000 can get you numerous luxury properties, including an old colonial in one of the most historic parts of San Miguel. With four bedrooms, three baths, and two half-baths, this home has 2,625 feet of living space on two floors. There are several patios, garden spaces, a covered outdoor terrace for sitting in the evening to watch sunset views, and six fi replaces to snuggle beside on cool winter evenings. Even better, it comes partially furnished—just add your personal touches.

Costa Rica is Safe, Stable, and Full of Variety
By Jason Holland, Costa Rica Editor

Thanks to Costa Rica’s safety and stability, when wealthy people are looking to drop a couple million on a vacation home, they often come here. But now, as always, there is plenty of good value real estate and you don’t have to sacrifice location, views, or convenience.

Take the northwestern Pacific coast, known as the Gold Coast. There’s a condo in a gated community in the expat hotspot of Playas del Coco, right down the street from the beach, with stores and seafood restaurants (with fresh-caught fish) along the way. It’s a sport-fishing and scuba center, with expeditions leaving every day.

You don’t have the infinity pool with a view of the Pacific. But it’s just $100,000. In Grecia, there’s a two-bedroom hillside home for $95,000. You can take advantage of that temperate Central Valley climate on the large balcony and take in views of the surrounding forest and coffee plantations. Simple house, but Grecia is a great place to live, with one of the country’s best farmers’ markets and super-friendly locals. And it’s just down the highway, about an hour, from the country’s best shopping and medical care.

Bump your price up to $175,000, and you can get a luxury home on the golf course, within a country-club community on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific. You can walk to the beach of Tambor, considered one of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. It’s on a large horseshoe bay with calm waters and palms lining the sand, providing shade and dozens of perfect spots to hang your hammock.

See a slideshow of our top havens here, where you can buy affordable property.

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