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House Hunting in Ecuador: An Andes Retreat Outside Cuenca for $550,000

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Perched on the eastern fringe of El Cajas National Park, a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve, this contemporary home sits on 4 undulating acres outside of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third-largest city.

With the 110-square-mile park as its backdrop, the four-bedroom, three-bath house “is isolated and surrounded by nature,” said Ashley Rogers, founding father of Ecuador At Your Service and the listing agent. “But in lower than half-hour, you may be at dinner or the symphony in Cuenca.”

The sellers worked with the Cuenca architect Sergio Zalamea to create “a contemporary house with nature inviting you in, but a house that’s private, protected, and secure,” Ms. Rogers said. Its design includes underground tanks for fuel and water storage, and a discrete 818-square-foot apartment beneath the 1,830-square-foot major home.

From a paved local road, a winding dirt path ascends to the house’s electronic gate and a steel-framed carport. The front door opens to an airy great room whose floor-to-ceiling windows offer sweeping mountain vistas. “The home is near a cloud forest, so the scenery’s ever-changing,” Ms. Rogers said. “Cajas can be one in all the world’s best bird-watching areas. You would possibly see condors or a llama, but you won’t see people.”

The nice room, heated by a wood-burning stove imported from Chile, opens to a kitchen with steel countertops and chrome steel appliances. Opposite the kitchen, the owners tucked 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 terrace that juts from the home.

The first bedroom, with an en suite bath, is on the identical level. An oversized headboard conceals a closet area behind the bed, and views from the wide window absorb the rolling Cajas scenery. A guest bedroom and toilet are down a brief hallway. The house, in-built 2012, is being sold fully furnished, Ms. Rogers said.

Ten feet below the major floor, the owners designed a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchenette and a front room, in addition to a “huge pantry and food storage area, perfect for preppers or chefs,” Ms. Rogers said. The extent is accessed from its own exterior entrance or by a pull-down staircase under a steel door in the good room.

An antenna-based WiFi system makes up for spotty web access in the realm, and the Mazan River, which runs through the property, supplies the house’s water.

A city of about 700,000 within the Andean highlands of central Ecuador, Cuenca is the leading destination for expatriate buyers in Ecuador, said David Morrill, editor of CuencaHighLife, an English-language news site. “It’s a cultural center with a rapidly rising level of sophistication, and it’s relatively comfortable when you don’t speak Spanish,” he said. “You have got the big-city benefits without the megacity problems.”

Mariscal La Mar International Airport, about 1.5 miles east of central Cuenca, connects with Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador’s two largest cities.

Because expatriate buyers are likely to prefer a limited range of locations and residential types, Cuenca’s market is “a tale of two cities,” said Zach Cashero, president of MLS-Ecuador, an English-language listings and data site.

“It’s a seller’s market when you’re selling to foreigners,” he said. “But for local buyers, who make up many of the market, there’s an excessive amount of inventory.”

Before the pandemic, “the expat community was mostly retirees looking for small apartments within the low $100,000s,” said Xavier Amoroso, owner of the HouseHuntEC agency in Cuenca. (Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as its national currency in 2000.) Most preferred to live within the downtown historic district, the encompassing “recent town,” or in condos along the banks of the Tomebamba River. But a wave of younger and wealthier buyers is increasing demand for homes in rural areas, Mr. Amoroso said: “They don’t want condos. We have now beautiful mountains here with animals and nature. With a detached house, you may see it out of your garden.”

Within the wake of the pandemic, resident foreigners are also upgrading to larger homes. “In the event that they lived in high-rises, they now want access to fresh air and more room within the country,” said Ms. Rogers, the listing agent. At the identical time, retirees who had chosen rural areas “decided they needed to maneuver closer to medical care. So we’re seeing a shuffle amongst individuals who were already here.”

With continued economic challenges for Ecuador, prices in Cuenca have held regular over the past decade, Ms. Rogers said. “There are numerous recent high-rises going up, and their prices are rising because construction costs are going up,” she said, estimating that “a pleasant high-rise condo that an American would consider” averages about $1,300 a square meter ($120 a square foot). A “high-end home in a pleasant area” costs about $800 a square meter ($75 a square foot).

Mr. Amoroso said that the “average upscale house within the outskirts,” on half an acre of land, average $550,000 to $580,000.

Mr. Cashero, of MLS-Ecuador, said mid-market condo prices average $125,000 to $150,000, while a “middle-of-the-road detached home that a foreigner would take a look at” averages $150,000 to $200,000, “with the highest end at $600,000 or $700,000. Those are more like country estates.”

Prices have soared in Cuenca’s old town, with its limited inventory, strict constructing regulations and Spanish-colonial architecture. “After we began in 2009, no one cared about these properties,” said Juan Heredia, founder and CEO of ISAM Proyectos Inmobiliaros, which converts older business properties into multiunit residential buildings. Now they go for about $1,600 a square meter, he estimated, significantly greater than what they cost a decade ago. “Foreigners wish to be here. It’s where social and cultural life happens.”

While Ecuadoreans power the market in greater Cuenca, town has long attracted retirees with its low price of living and prime quality of life. Most of them are Americans, with a small portion from Canada and Europe, in accordance with Maite Duran, founding father of the Gringo Visas consultancy, which helps foreigners obtain visas. “Americans see the fee of groceries here in comparison with home, and so they’re amazed,” she said. “Services listed here are pennies to the dollar.” In 2018, the web site International Living named Cuenca one in all the world’s best retirement destinations, spurring one other surge of arrivals.

The Ecuadorean government has courted foreign buyers with accessible, inexpensive visas. The latest, 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 preferred visa stays the retirement visa, which requires a $1,275 monthly income from sources like pensions, dividends or Social Security, and specifies an income of $250 a month for dependents or additional applicants. Visas, valid for twenty-four months, “allow the identical advantages and guidelines as any Ecuadorean, including access to government medical insurance, opening a checking account, and the flexibility to work here,” she said.

About 30 percent of the property market is propelled by Ecuadorians who’re repatriating, said Ms. Rogers, the listing agent. “They’re driving prices as much as expats,” she said. “They’re opening recent businesses like restaurants. It’s a creative pool of newcomers.”

More Ecuadorean buyers at the moment are moving to the old city, Mr. Heredia of ISAM said. “After we began, 85 percent of our buyers were foreigners,” he said. “Now, it’s 50 percent locals. And because the pandemic, we’re seeing more families with young kids and young people working remotely.”

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

Notaries oversee property transactions, “though we all the time advise that foreign buyers retain an attorney,” Ms. Velastegui said. “Quite a lot of people here claim to be real estate agents, but they’re not.”

The attorney executes a title search, and each parties sign an “earnest money agreement,” with a small goodwill deposit for taking the property off the market.

Most of Ms. Velastegui’s foreign clients grant her power of attorney for property transactions, “and never just people outside Ecuador,” she said. “If you happen to don’t speak Spanish, it’s mandatory to have a representative translate for you in the course of the closing.”

Most foreign buyers pay money “because they need to,” said Mr. Amoroso of HouseHuntEC. Mortgages aren’t available to foreigners until they’ve lived in Ecuador for 3 years, he said, though in rare cases buyers short on money may arrange a mortgage directly with sellers.

Spanish; U.S. dollar

Buyers in Ecuador can expect to pay a complete of about 3 percent of the sale price on taxes and shutting fees, Ms. Velastegui said. That features notary fees, a 1 percent transfer tax, and a municipal registration fee that varies by region and sale price.

Lawyer’s fees generally total about 1 percent of the worth; a power-of-attorney agreement costs an extra $80.

Fees for visas begin at $450, Ms. Duran said. Her company charges $1,550, including visa fees, to finish applications.

Broker commissions in Ecuador vary from 4 to six percent, Ms. Rogers said. Annual property taxes on this home total about $40.

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

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