The combination of Ecuador’s low cost of living and high quality of life is getting the attention of Americans.
“Tale of Two Cities”
Cuenca, Ecuador’s third-largest city and economic center of the southern sierras in the Andes mountains, is known for its rich intellectual, cultural and artistic traditions. Famous for its food, festivals and breathtaking scenery, Cuenca is one of Ecuador’s three UNESCO World Heritage Trust sites along with Quito and the Galapagos Islands.
Ranked among the top 10 best retirement destination in the world by International Living, Cuenca’s housing market is dominated by two sets of buyers and considered to be a “tale of two cities” by Zach Cashero, president of MLS-Ecuador,an English-language property listings and data site.
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Cashero said, “It’s a seller’s market if you’re selling to foreigners. But for local buyers, who make up most of the market, there’s too much inventory.”
Pandemic-Spurred Demand for Rural Living
Xavier Amoroso, owner of the HouseHuntEC agency in Cuenca, said, prepandemic “…the expat community was mostly retirees seeking small apartments in the low $100,000s…” in the historic downtown district, the surrounding “new town” or in condominiums near the banks of the Tomebamba River.
Now, however, the pandemic has inspired younger and wealthier buyers to want homes in rural areas. Amoroso said, “They don’t want condos. We have beautiful mountains here with animals and nature. With a detached house, you can see it from your garden.”
Resident foreigners also want access to fresh air and more space in the country, said Ashley Rogers, founder of Ecuador At Your Service.
Despite the country’s continuing economic challenges, Rogers said that prices in Cuenca have held fairly steady over the last decade. She estimated “…a nice high-rise condo that an American would consider” averages about $1,300/square meter or $120/square foot. A “high-end home in a nice area” costs about $800/square meter or $75/square foot.
Amoroso said the “…average upscale house in the outskirts,” on .5 acre of land goes for approximately $550,000 – $580,000.
Cashero with MLS-Ecuador indicated that mid-market condo prices average $125,000 – $150,000 while a “middle-of-the-road detached home that a foreigner would look at” averages $150,000 – $200,000, “with the top end at $600,000 or $700,000. Those are more like country estates.”
Prices in Cuenca’s historic, old town with scant inventory, strict building regulations and Spanish-colonial architecture now go for approximately $1,600/square meter. Juan Heredia, founder and CEO of ISAM Proyectos Inmobiliaros, said, “Foreigners want to be here. It’s where social and cultural life happens.”
Although locals power the market in greater Cuenca, Americans “…see the cost of groceries here compared to home, and they’re amazed,” said Maite Duran, founder of the Gringo Visas consultancy. Additionally, Duran said, “Services here are pennies to the dollar.”
Ecuador launched its Digital Nomad visa program in March 2022 to court foreign buyers. Foreigners need only provide prove of a monthly income of $1,250 from employment or pensions, dividends or Social Security in order to receive the same access to government health insurance, the ability to work and the ability to open a bank account as Ecuadorians. Visas are valid for 24 months.
Basics of Buying
Grace Velastegui, co-founder and partner at the Grace Nelson law firm in Cuenca, said there are “virtually no restrictions on foreigners” except around borders with Peru or Columbia but “foreigners don’t buy there.”
Notaries oversee property transactions. Attorneys execute title searches. Velastegui encourages foreign buyers to retain attorneys because “…a lot of people here claim to be real estate agents, but they’re not.”
Mortgages are not available to foreign buyers until they’ve lived in Ecuador a minimum of three years. However, foreign buyers can and often do get mortgages via the homeowners who are selling their houses to them.
Thanks to The New York Times.
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