International Real Estate: House Hunting in … Ecuador

International real estate

House Hunting in … Ecuador

Despite a recent downswing in the market, Ecuador’s low cost of living and access to affordable health care make it a popular destination for North Americans.

This 19th-century hacienda is in Susudel, Ecuador, a small town about 50 miles south of Cuenca, a city in the Andes Mountains whose many historic buildings have made it a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The estate, which covers about 62 acres, has been owned by the same family since the late 1800s, said Veronica Arpi, the owner of Cuenca’s Best Properties, which has the listing. It comprises three buildings, with a total of nine bedrooms and nine bathrooms: a six-bedroom main house, including an adjoining chapel; a two-bedroom guesthouse; and a one-bedroom building currently used as servants’ quarters.

All are built from adobe, using local methods, accented with eucalyptus beams, flooring and windows. Traditional elements can be found throughout the property, including antique light fixtures, painted tile floors, gothic windows and terra-cotta roofs. The main house was once used as a factory to produce sugar-cane liquor.

A short dirt road leads from the highway to the property, which is fronted by a covered terrace. The two-story main house underwent an extensive renovation in recent years, and has a new kitchen and bathrooms, as well as new electric and gas lines, Ms. Arpi said.

On the ground floor are the living room, with tall windows and tile floors; the dining room, with a paneled ceiling and an antique chandelier; and the kitchen, with quartz granite countertops, hardwood cabinets and imported fixtures. The chapel features relics and paintings imported from Rome in 1920. (Traditional homes often had a chapel on the property, Ms. Arpi said.)

Upstairs, there are five bedrooms and two bathrooms, one en suite and one shared, along a narrow hallway with vaulted, wood-beamed ceilings. An open area between the bedrooms serves as a TV room. The furniture is included in the asking price, except for a few specific pieces, Ms. Arpi said.

Manicured lawns and stone paths separate the main house from a guesthouse that was once the main residence. This house has two bedrooms, a kitchen with a traditional wood-burning oven, a large living room with painted-tile floors, and a wide balcony on the top level.

The chapel, attached to the main house, includes large gothic windows, a baroque altar and relics imported from Rome in the 1920s.CreditBicubik Photography for The New York Times

The third building, used as servants’ quarters, has a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen and two covered patios.

The grounds also include a garage that can accommodate eight cars, a man-made lake and groves of avocado, macadamia and coffee plants. About 17 acres of the property are on flat land, while the rest is in the hills, Ms. Arpi said.

This forested area of southern Ecuador, about 100 miles from the Pacific Coast, is more than 8,000 feet above sea level. The region is known for its parks, hiking and Incan archaeological sites. Cuenca, Ecuador’s third-largest city, with about 400,000 residents, is an hour’s drive from the property. It is renowned for its cathedrals and museums, as well as its crafts and textiles.

While this property is about an hour from the city center, there are several small towns with restaurants and markets about 15 to 20 minutes away, including Saraguro, known for its traditional artisans and ties to ancient Incan traditions. José Joaquín De Olmedo International Airport is in Guayaquil, about four hours from the property.

In recent years, Ecuador’s housing market has been hurt by falling oil prices, a devastating earthquake in 2016 and uncertainty over the 2017 presidential election, said Sean Kelly, a founder of Ecuador Expat Realty. But he added that optimism has returned in the past two years.

“Prices have continued to increase since 2017,” Mr. Kelly said. “Not only expat buyers have returned to the market, but local buyers have increased heavily as well.”

A relatively low cost of living, access to affordable health care and an economy based on the American dollar make Ecuador a popular destination for North American second-home buyers and retirees. While many focus on the capital city of Quito or coastal areas, Cuenca is often the subject of travel articles and “best places to retire” features, which helps attract buyers, agents said.


The kitchen in the main house was part of an extensive renovation, including quartz granite countertops, hardwood cabinets and imported fixtures.CreditBicubik Photography for The New York Times

“Cuenca is definitely the most desired destination for expats and foreigners coming to Ecuador,” said Juan Heredia, the director of Cuenca Properties, a sales and rental company. While there is no official data, he estimated that 70 percent of foreign buyers in Ecuador buy property in Cuenca.

But while sales in Cuenca are rising, prices remain well below peak levels, said Isaac May, the owner of Expat Realty Cuenca.

“Many owners are selling their properties at steep discount,” up to 30 percent below the original asking price, Mr. May said. “Recently, many listings that were on the market for over a year have suddenly sold with such discounts.”

Condos and apartments near the historic center of Cuenca are the most in demand, agents said. “Snowbird expats especially tend to buy apartments because they can ‘lock and leave’ while they return home for the summer or travel the world,” Mr. May said. He added that in rural areas outside the city, many buyers are wary of the costs of “maintenance and security,” making property there tougher to sell.

There is also no formal pricing data in Ecuador and few comparable prices in rural areas, often making it hard to determine appropriate pricing levels, Mr. Kelly said.

North Americans traditionally have been the primary international buyers in Ecuador, but the demographic has been broadening recently to include more Europeans and Asians, including buyers from China, Russia and the United Kingdom, Mr. Kelly said.

Most are retirees attracted by the mild climate and relatively low prices, Mr. May said. He estimated that 65 percent of his clients are foreigners, primarily from the United States, although an increasing share are from Canada and Europe.

But buyers are getting younger, he said, and include more investors looking for alternatives to higher priced property in places like Costa Rica.


A view of the 62-acre grounds, with the main house and chapel on the left. The property also has avocado, macadamia and coffee trees, and a man-made lake.CreditBicubik Photography for The New York Times

Mr. Heredia estimated that 50 percent of his buyers are foreigners, primarily from the United States and Canada. “Foreigners are buying to retire themselves or as investments for renting to others looking to retire,” he said.

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Ecuador. Most foreign buyers hire a lawyer to confirm that there is no debt on the property, that it has clear title and that there are no issues with the registration, said Sara Chaca, a lawyer in Cuenca who works on real estate transactions.

Potential pitfalls include mistakes in past property recordings by notaries, or claims on the property by relatives of the owner, she said: “The current owner might still owe some contractual or familial duty.” Rural properties may also have issues with unclear boundaries or disputed water rights.

Most foreign buyers pay in cash; mortgages are hard to obtain and the rates are high, usually more than 12 percent, Mr. May said.

Final payments are usually made by bank wire, Ms. Chaca said, and the closing process generally takes two to four weeks.

Spanish; United States dollar

Taxes and fees paid by the buyer typically add 2 to 4 percent to the total sale price, agents said. The seller pays the real estate agent’s commission, typically 3 percent of the sale price.

The property tax on this home is about $150 a year, Ms. Arpi said.

Veronica Arpi, Cuenca’s Best Properties, 011-593-994-748-668;

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Published at Wed, 23 Jan 2019 14:31:28 +0000