Home hunting in Ecuador: A retreat in the Andes outside Cuenca for $550,000

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Perched on the eastern edge of El Cajas National Park, a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve, this contemporary home sits on four rolling acres outside of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third-largest city.

With the 110-square-mile park as a backdrop, the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home “is secluded and surrounded by nature,” said Ashley Rogers, founder of Ecuador At Your Service and listing agent. “But in less than 30 minutes you can be at dinner or at the Cuenca Symphony.”

The sellers worked with Cuenca architect Sergio Zalamea to create “a modern home where nature invites you, but a private, safe and secure home,” Ms Rogers said. Its design includes underground tanks for fuel and water storage, and a discreet 818 square foot apartment below the 1,830 square foot main house.

From a paved local road, a winding dirt road climbs up to the house’s electronic gate and steel-framed carport. The front door opens into a large, airy room with floor-to-ceiling windows offering stunning mountain views. “The house is near a cloud forest, so the landscape is constantly changing,” Ms. Rogers said. “Cajas is also one of the best bird watching areas in the world. You might see condors or a llama, but you won’t see anyone.

The great room, heated by a wood stove imported from Chile, opens to a kitchen with steel countertops and stainless steel appliances. Opposite the kitchen, the owners have hidden a small office behind a free-standing entertainment center. German-made vinyl tiles, resembling wood panels, cover the floors. Sliding doors open to a floating deck that juts out from the house.

The master bedroom, with an adjoining bathroom, is on the same level. An oversized headboard conceals storage space behind the bed, and the view from the large window offers views of the rolling landscape of Cajas. A guest bedroom and a bathroom are located in a small hallway. The home, built in 2012, is being sold fully furnished, Ms Rogers said.

Ten feet below the ground floor, the owners have designed a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchenette and living room, as well as a “huge pantry and food storage space, perfect for preppers or chefs. “said Ms. Rogers. The level is accessed from its own exterior entrance or via a drop-down staircase under a steel door into the great room.

An antenna-based WiFi system compensates for the spotty internet access in the area, and the Mazan River, which runs through the property, supplies the house with water.

A city of about 700,000 people in Ecuador‘s central Andean highlands, Cuenca is Ecuador’s top destination for expat shoppers, said David Morrill, editor of CuencaHighLife, an English-language news site. “It’s a cultural hub with a rapidly increasing level of sophistication, and it’s relatively comfortable if you don’t speak Spanish,” he said. “You have the advantages of big cities without the problems of megacities.”

Mariscal La Mar International Airport, about 2.5 km east of central Cuenca, connects Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador’s two largest cities.

Because expat buyers tend to prefer a limited range of locations and home types, Cuenca’s market is “a tale of two cities,” said Zach Cashero, president of MLS-Ecuador, a site of announcements and data in English.

“It’s a seller’s market if you’re selling to strangers,” he said. “But for local buyers, who make up the bulk of the market, there is too much inventory.”

Before the pandemic, “the expat community was mostly made up of retirees looking for small $100,000 apartments,” said Xavier Amoroso, owner of the HouseHuntEC agency in Cuenca. (Ecuador adopted the US dollar as its national currency in 2000.) Most preferred to live in the downtown historic district, the surrounding “new town,” or in condos along the banks of the Tomebamba River. But a surge of younger, wealthier buyers is increasing demand for 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.

In the wake of the pandemic, resident foreigners are also moving to larger homes. “If they lived in high-rises, now they want access to fresh air and more space in the country,” said Ms Rogers, the listing agent. At the same time, retirees who had chosen rural areas “decided they needed to get closer to medical care. So we are seeing a reshuffling among the people who were already here.

With continued economic challenges for Ecuador, prices in Cuenca have remained stable over the past decade, Ms. Rogers said. “There are a lot of new high-rises going up, and their prices are going up because construction costs are going up,” she said, feeling that “a nice condo in a high-rise that an American would consider “costs on average about $1,300 per square meter. ($120 per square foot). A “high-end home in a nice neighborhood” costs around $800 per square meter ($75 per square foot).

Mr. Amoroso said the “average high-end home on the outskirts,” on a half-acre of land, costs an average of $550,000 to $580,000.

Mr. Cahero of MLS-Ecuador said average mid-market condo prices are between $125,000 and $150,000, while a “detached house in the middle of the road that a foreigner would look at” averages between $150,000 and $200,000, “with the high end at $600,000 or $700,000. These are more country properties.

Prices have soared in Old Town Cuenca, with its limited inventory, strict building regulations and Spanish colonial architecture. “When we started in 2009, nobody cared about these properties,” said Juan Heredia, founder and CEO of ISAM Proyectos Inmobiliaros, which converts older commercial properties into multi-unit residential buildings. Now they cost around $1,600 a square yard, he estimated, much more than they cost a decade ago. “Foreigners want to be here. This is where social and cultural life takes place.

While Ecuadorians fuel the Greater Cuenca market, the city has long attracted retirees with its low cost of living and high quality of life. Most of them are Americans, with a small portion from Canada and Europe, according to Maite Duran, founder of the consultancy Gringo Visas, which helps foreigners obtain visas. “Americans see the cost of groceries here compared to back home, and they’re amazed,” she said. “Services here cost pennies on the dollar.” In 2018, the International Living website named Cuenca one of the best retirement destinations in the world, prompting a new wave of arrivals.

The Ecuadorian government wooed foreign buyers with accessible and inexpensive visas. The most recent, the so-called Digital Nomad visa launched in March 2022, requires proof of employment with a minimum monthly income of $1,275, Ms Duran said. The most popular visa remains the retirement visa, which requires a monthly income of $1,275 from sources such as pensions, dividends or social security, and specifies an income of $250 per month for dependents or additional applicants. The visas, valid for 24 months, “allow the same benefits and guidelines as any Ecuadorian, including access to government health insurance, opening a bank account and the ability to work here,” said she declared.

About 30% of the real estate market is driven by repatriating Ecuadorians, said Ms Rogers, the listing agent. “They drive up the prices as much as expats do,” she said. “They are opening new businesses like restaurants. It’s a creative pool of newcomers.

More Ecuadorian shoppers are now moving to the Old City, said ISAM’s Heredia. “When we started, 85% of our buyers were foreigners,” he said. “Now it’s 50% local. And since the pandemic, we are seeing more and more families with young children and young people working remotely. »

There are “virtually no restrictions” on foreign buyers in Ecuador, said Grace Velastegui, co-founder and partner of the law firm Grace Nelson in Cuenca. “Some exclusions apply around the borders with Peru and Colombia, but foreigners are not buying there,” she said.

Notaries oversee property transactions, “although we always advise foreign buyers to hire a lawyer,” Ms Velastegui said. “A lot of people here claim to be real estate agents, but they’re not.”

The lawyer performs a title search and both parties sign an “earnings payment agreement”, with a small goodwill deposit to take the property off the market.

Most of Velastegui’s foreign clients grant her power of attorney for real estate transactions, “and not just people outside Ecuador”, she said. “If you don’t speak Spanish, it is mandatory to have a representative who translates for you when closing.”

Most overseas buyers pay cash “because they have to,” said Mr. Amoroso of HouseHuntEC. Mortgages are not available to foreigners until they have lived in Ecuador for three years, he said, although in rare cases cash-strapped buyers can take out a mortgage directly. with sellers.

Spanish; American dollars

Buyers in Ecuador can expect to pay a total of about 3% of the selling price in taxes and closing costs, Ms. Velastegui said. This includes notary fees, a 1% transfer tax and municipal registration fees which vary by region and sale price.

Attorney’s fees generally total around 1% of the price; a power of attorney agreement costs an additional $80.

Visa fees start at $450, Ms. Duran said. His company charges $1,550, including visa fees, to complete the applications.

Brokerage commissions in Ecuador range from 4% to 6%, Rogers said. Annual property taxes on this home total approximately $40.

Ashley Rogers, Ecuador At Your Service, 011-593-99-547-5116, ecuadoratyourservice.com

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