Historic stone homes in timeworn villages for under $40,000. Mansions with acres of land for less than $150,000, ocean-view cottages, and lock-and-leave apartments. For years, migration from Europe’s countryside has left a glut of character homes vacant and unloved, waiting for someone with some time and a little money.
Europe is in crisis. Some of the continent’s economies are in real trouble. But on the flipside, there are some incredible bargains bubbling up for expat buyers.
Serra d’El-Rei, Portugal
One-bed villa, for €69,900 ($83,843)
Last October I spent over a month scouting Portugal for real estate opportunities. My trip took me from Lisbon to Porto and all the way south to the Algarve, with stops in several little-known towns along the way.
My biggest discovery, however, was at the very beginning of my journey, when I spent six days scouting Portugal’s glittering Silver Coast. This is a stretch of Atlantic coastline just north of Lisbon, famous for its ancient towns, breathtaking beaches, and rugged cliffs. And it’s a place where you can get serious bang for your buck.
In the Praia d’El Rey Golf & Beach Resort, you can get a nice—albeit dated— apartment for €150,000 ($181,160). Go to the €200,000 to €250,000 ($242,000 to $302,000) range and you can get big, spacious, ocean-views. And for true oceanfront, you’re talking just €300,000 ($362,000), which is remarkable when compared to the Algarve. If you could find them, similar oceanfront properties there would list for over $1 million.
I couldn’t resist. I ended up buying a beachfront home for myself. The Silver Coast isn’t a place to make money. The region hasn’t had anything close to the same surge of international buyers as the Algarve. Rental rates are lower and the season is short. However, as a lifestyle buy, the value for money is incredible.
Ten minutes back from coast, a one-bed villa I found in Serra d’El Rei, will set you back just €69,900 ($83,843). An hour’s drive north of Lisbon, the town makes an ideal place for a bolthole. It’s even said that the 14th-century King of Portugal, Peter I, lived here with his lover, Inês de Castro.
Three-bed apartment for €145,000 ($175,141)
In the medieval hilltop town of Arpino, Italy, you can own a lovely three-bedroom apartment that dates back to the 18th century for just €145,000 ($175,141).
This is the heart of the Lazio region, just a short drive from some of the biggest cities in Italy. On Saturdays you’re exploring the farm-to-table market near Rome’s Circus Maximus. And on Sundays you’re chowing on the world’s best pizza in Naples’ Galleria Umberto I.
That’s if you want to leave home. Arpino is a warren of cobbled streets, pretty piazzas, ancient ruins. The area is known for its culinary traditions, which derives from the bounty of the surrounding mountains. Fresh ricotta cheese, tender goat meat baked in wine and herbs, winter seasoned pork sausage, and truffles and mushrooms from nearby forests.
The home itself, (called Casa Orsini) is a remarkable piece of architecture. In the ancient Roman tradition, the walls are frescoed in an ornate Pompeiian style. Step out through decorated glass doors, onto a balcony held by large Doric columns, and you’re overlooking Arpino’s main piazza.
A large roof terrace gives you the perfect vantage point to enjoy the town’s open-air concerts, processions, and festivals. Summer culminates in the annual “Gonfalone” competition, traditional games played out between Arpino’s neighborhoods. With this distinctive home, you’re right at the center of it all.
Two-bed village home for €120,000 ($145,000)
If you’re looking for an affordable home in the South of France, you’d do well to look beyond Provence. My recommendation is to head west to the region of Languedoc.
Languedoc is Provence’s less glamorous neighbor. You won’t find the mega-rich or glitzy film festivals, but you will find everything that first drew the jet set to the South of France: fairytale castles perched on rugged mountain peaks and medieval villages where the food is amazing and the wine is local. If you yearn for Mediterranean views, long beach strolls and fresh seafood, then the Languedoc has that, too. Inland you’ll find wild mountain ranges, dramatic gorges, and handsome hill towns.
For Francophiles, it doesn’t get more authentic than the Languedoc. And like I say, it’s very easy on your wallet too. An impressive two-bed property I discovered in the village of Le Tech, near the Spanish border, is available for just €120,000 ($144,643).
Situated on the hill overlooking the village and the Coumelade river, and boasting amazing views of the forested Pyrenees hills, it’s a perfect spot to bask in the modest splendour of French country life.
Note: Unless I say otherwise, I haven’t seen the properties mentioned above in person nor have I conducted any due diligence. As always, it’s critical you do your own due diligence on any real estate.
Your Real Estate Questions Answered
Joseph asks: Hello. I appreciate your articles on properties. I am only starting to consider a place to live. I am somewhat timid, as I don’t know a lot about buying property or where to look. I’m intrigued by Ecuador, and I like what I’ve read about Cuenca, especially the weather! What are your thoughts on this city? Or do you recommend other places as far as security and investing go?
Ronan responds: First things, first. I love Ecuador. In 2008 I bought a condo in the mountains at the edge of Cotacachi. the perfect bolthole. It had excellent views of the volcano. The sun was always warm and the air fresh. There was space for a big open fire if the nights ever turned chilly. The best part was it came with a price tag of just about $40,000 for over 1,000 square feet.
So, your real estate dollar goes far in Ecuador. Property prices are still low, whether you’re looking for a beach condo or a highlands home.
However, when it comes to investing, I don’t have much faith in Ecuador. Remember, just because you can find bargain prices doesn’t mean they will increase in value. And in Ecuador I don’t expect they will in the short- to medium term at least. So, only consider buying if this is a place you want to hold on to and live in.
Another big problem in Ecuador is shifting goalposts. For example, the capital gains tax was arbitrarily hiked to as much as 75% in late 2016. The law was eventually repealed in 2018, but it had already done significant damage to the real estate market and the perception of the country by potential investors. Like I say, I love Ecuador as a place to live. And I would totally recommend Cuenca. It’s an attractive colonial town with colorful festivals, distinct food, and breathtaking scenery. But when it comes to holding profitable real estate, I go elsewhere.
Jorge asks: Hi, I just wanted to know if you have come upon opportunities involving developer or owner financing in the Baja California area.
Ronan responds: Hi Jorge. Many of the deals I bring to members of my Real Estate Trend Alert group come with exclusive developer financing. It’s one of the great benefits of being a part of our little group. As of writing, I’m working on two different deals in Baja that I expect to bring to RETA members this year—both in Cabo San Lucas. One of them will have developer financing.
We’ve already done incredibly well on our Cabo deals. My condo here in Cabo’s Quivera community, where I’m writing from, was part of a RETA deal in 2015. Our RETA-only price was $336,156. Last time I checked, I was sitting on paper gains of over six figures.
In June 2018, RETA members could lock down a two-bed, two-and-a-half-bath condo in the Fairways at Mavila—another Quivira community—for just $259,800. Less than a year later, the project was unveiled to the Cabo brokers’ community. The retail price on similar remaining condos was from $357,000 up. A gain of $97,200.
I hope to have the deals in front of RETA members soon.
Editor’s Note: You can email Ronan with your questions and comments at email@example.com. Please note that we may publish your question along with Ronan’s reply, in his Your Overseas Dream Home e-letter or right here in IL magazine. If we do so, we will not use your full name or your email address. If you wish us to use a pseudonym, please state this clearly in your feedback email. All manner of feedback is welcome. Ronan will respond to as many emails as possible. (Ronan McMahon is the editor of Real Estate Trend Alert and a contributing editor to IL.)