Thomas and Donna Dawson show what’s possible if you broaden your real estate search outside of Canada. In March 2006, the couple from St. Albert, Alta., visited Panama City for the first time. They loved the hot, sunny climate and were impressed with the efficient banking and phone systems. When they returned home, they decided to sell their Alberta home and buy their own place in the tropics.
Today they live in a three-bedroom, four-bathroom condo that overlooks the Panama Canal. Cost of their new abode? A mere $160,000 (U.S.). “We sold everything and took just a couple of suitcases full of clothes with us,” says Donna, 50, a horticulturist. She earns a living by arranging European gardening tours while Thomas works as a manager at a software company. “The great weather and amazing plant life makes it all worthwhile for us.”
As the Dawsons will tell you, looking at real estate outside of Canada can change your life. But navigating foreign legal and tax systems demands patience, say people who’ve done it. Research is vital and it pays to visit any location you’re considering at least a couple of times at different times of the year to ensure that you’re not falling for a one-season wonder.
To help you find your own foreign paradise, we asked six experts to name their top choices for safe, reasonably affluent parts of the world where attractive properties go for $250,000 or less. Our panel included Paul Owen, chief executive of the Association of International Property Professionals as well as author Roberta Giesea of Baja, Mexico, Paul Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Real Estate in Buenos Aires, and real estate developers Kevin Young of Kirkland, Washington, and Larry Schneider of Progresso, Belize. Their picks:
Culture, history and great cuisine have made France a perpetual winner in the foreign property sweepstakes. Languedoc, a region in the southeast of the country that borders on the Mediterranean coast, offers some of the best current bargains. Small two bedroom country houses in the region go for $250,000, while similar homes in the interior fetch even less. “The best deals,” says Owen, “are away from the coast, in places like Aude, Herault and Gard. You can’t beat the great hillside views, butcher and pastry shops and all the other aspects of French country life. Visit French Property Guide to see what’s available.
Progresso, Corozal, Belize
This Central American country — bordering the Caribbean Sea between Mexico and Guatemala — is a former British colony, where people speak English, the political system is stable, and a new 1,539-sq-ft, two-bedroom, two-bathroom bungalow sells for about $75,000 (U.S.). “The whole country is drop-dead gorgeous,” says real estate developer Schneider. As well, Belize has no income or capital gains taxes, although home buyers pay a one-time 15% purchase tax at closing for new homes. Visit the Belize Tourism Board’s website for more info.
Rosarito and Encinada, Baja Peninsula, Mexico
The Baja is a 1,500-km-long peninsula that borders California and sweeps into the Pacific. Cities such as Cabo San Lucas and La Paz at the southernmost tip of the peninsula are popular cruise ship destinations where homes go for $1 million or more. But if you head north, you can still nab great bargains in lesser known places such as Rosarito, just 30 minutes from the U.S. border. “Rosarito and Encinada are the unpicked plums of Baja,” says Young. Here, nice homes in the hills with an ocean view start at $120,000 (U.S.) and brand new two-bedroom, two-bathroom homes in a recently developed gated community start at $189,000. Visit Baja4uproperties.com for more info.
“Five years ago,” says Owen, “no one was in Bulgaria. These days, it’s the third-largest property market for the British second-home buyer, just after Spain and France.” Why this sudden rush of interest in such an unlikely destination? Because prices are dirt cheap, the mountains and beaches are magnificent, and buyers hope for big profits. Bulgaria became part of the EU on Jan. 1 of this year and is working to align its laws with those of other EU countries. This has set off a mini gold rush, especially in the coastal areas along the Black Sea where the coastline is still largely unspoiled by development. But the interior is stunning, too, with some of the best ski resorts in Europe. In some areas of the interior, you can buy a small village for what it would cost you to buy a house back home. Visit Bulgarian Dreams – 1 bedroom properties to get you started.
Montevideo, the seaside capital of Uruguay, enjoys a temperate climate, historic buildings and maritime air. The narrow streets and weathered houses of Old City look as if they were flown in from Europe, while the grass-fed beef at the local restaurants is reputed to be some of the best in the world. Dinner for two with appetizer, roast beef entree and wine goes for $40 and most other costs of living are just as low. Apartments go for around $110 (U.S.) a square foot (average size 1,200 sq ft). Check out EscapeArtist.com for more info on life in Uruguay.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires is a cosmopolitan city with opera houses, art galleries and cafes, but because of the country’s recent economic turmoil, you can pick up a simple one-bedroom apartment in this beautiful metropolis for prices starting as low as $75,000 (U.S.). The deals get even better the further inland you look. Bariloche, a two-hour flight south of Buenos Aires, is a resort town surrounded by towering mountains, lakes and trails. A 1,700-sq-ft house with hill views goes for $120,000 (U.S.). (Go to Argentinahomes.com for more deals like this.) But watch out for scam artists. “Put no money on the table when buying real estate in Argentina until certificates of inhibition of the owner are clear,” says Reynolds. “Some property owners in Argentina are inhibited from selling because of liens against their homes. Wait for these documents — usually no longer than 48 hours — before you buy any property in Argentina.”
Say goodbye to winter
A peek at what $250,000 or less will buy you outside Canada:
1. Reef village, Belize; $129,999 (U.S.)
This one-bedroom condo is under construction in Ambergris Caye, 30 km off the mainland of Belize. The development is slated to be ready for fall 2008.
2. North Caye Caulker, Belize; $35,000 (U.S.)
This 50 ft x 1,000 ft lot is a five-minute boat ride away from fishing and scuba diving. Every lot in this new subdivision has seafront access.
3. Montevideo, Uruguay; $79,900 (U.S.)
This two-bedroom apartment with patio is in a modern building with nice façade and garage.