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Insider Secrets to Investing in Real Estate in Nicaragua
The word is out: “Nicaragua is the new Costa Rica” but with prices 45-55% lower than its southern neighbor. Nicaragua is well and truly coming back from its troubled and often misunderstood past and starting to transform into a sought after investment and tourism destination. Misconceptions still persist, but in many ways this only increases the opportunity that Nicaragua offers.
Nicaragua’s democratically elected government shows great capacity to reform in line with its commitment to a free market economy. The country is booming and tourism is now the number one industry, increasing by over 19% in 2005 even considering a record year in 2004. There is a real buzz in the air for this land of opportunity. Whether you are looking for a retirement or vacation destination, a place to start a business or a place to invest for the future, Nicaragua is definitely worth considering.
How much is good real estate information worth?
Market knowledge based on facts and basic trends, rather than exaggeration and hype (in either direction) can make the difference between a good investment and a great one. The purpose of this article is to capture the essence of the successful real estate investor in Nicaragua. We have consolidated the experience of hundreds of investors and identified seven successful strategies for successful real estate investing in Nicaragua.
We hope this encourages more investors to take the first step to explore real estate outside their home countries with confidence. Although full of Nicaraguan flavor for the purposes of this article, many of the principles and steps highlighted in this article will also apply in other investment destinations and contexts.
Seven successful strategies for real estate investing in Nicaragua
1. Understand the link between tourism and real estate
Tourism brought in nearly $200 million in 2005, according to the Nicaraguan government, more than any other single industry in its $5 billion economy. Current projections indicate that by 2007 there will be more than one million visitors to the country. The profile of visitors showed a marked shift from budget tourists to more affluent and sophisticated travelers and high-end hotels in tourist areas show consistently high occupancy.
There is a strong relationship between the leisure and craft markets and the market for second homes and retirement homes. The areas attracting the most tourism also generate the greatest levels of real estate activity. For certain real estates, the link between tourism and real estate is particularly direct and immediate. Pelican Eyes… Piedras y Olas the highest quality hotel in San Juan del Sur, boasting occupancy levels well above industry standards since it opened, offers the possibility for investors to purchase a villa or duplex unit and share in the income generated by the hotel. .
2. Know where you are in a property cycle
Nicaragua has seen considerable price increases in recent years. We calculated percentage price changes for serviced lots between 2002 and 2005 for seven known real estate developments on the Pacific that were active during this period (most developments are more recent) and continue to sell property. During this period prices rose by an average of 87%. Unimproved colonial homes in Granada have increased by approximately 25% per year over the past three years. These rising prices indicate that Nicaragua is now on the map as an investment destination, the positive price trend has begun, but we are only seeing the beginnings of a “second wave” of investors: the pre-retirement and retirement market.
Speculators continue to make up a sizeable proportion of investors but an increasing number of pre-retirement/retirement and second home buyers are emerging. Much has been made of the ‘baby boomer’ generation when analyzing future purchasing trends in many markets worldwide. Baby boomers began turning 50 in 1996 and 78 million of them began entering their period of highest earnings and largest discretionary dollars. It is said that over the next 20 years the baby boom generation will likely constitute the largest potential market ever for real estate, especially second homes and multi-share/fractional ownership offerings.
The real estate product on offer has also evolved from simple lots (sold mostly to speculative buyers) to turnkey products with sophisticated facilities and services for longer-term investors and the retirement market. Consistent growth in condominium construction and sales has been evident for 18 months and is accelerating.
3. Follow trends not events
The majority of foreign investment in the real estate and tourism sectors in Nicaragua is focused on the southwestern region. To take the Pacific coast as an example, together with Calvet & Associates, we cataloged more than 70 developments in Pacific marketing to foreign buyers between El Transito and the Costa Rican border. The southwest of the country also includes the colonial city of Granada, Nicaragua and the beautiful crater lake Laguna de Apoyo.
Some investors look for areas where there is less activity, for example coastal areas further north. The prices can be lower in the northern part of the coast – but for a reason – and it is important that investors consider this before they make a purchase of property. The southwest coast has more dramatic geography, whiter sand beaches, richer biodiversity, better surfing, safer swimming areas and cooling lake and ocean breezes and, yes, more recently investment momentum too. This does not mean that there will not be price appreciation and development on beach areas further north, but that a significant price differential is likely to remain in the future.
4. Build a good network
Investors often complain about market information overload and building a good network will allow you to triangulate and contextualize information you receive. Not surprisingly, given the excitement surrounding the real estate market, there is a lot of hype and hype that goes on. Do your due diligence, work with real estate agents who know the market, learn from the pros, and be skeptical of claims that you can flip your property for 100% more “when the International Living investors come to town in a few weeks.”
A solid tip is to only buy what you see. Make up your mind about what you think the intrinsic value is of the property you are looking at. Don’t factor the “new coastal road” the “new airport” the “new Marriott” into the price. Certainly not if you are investing in the short term. Coldwell Banker Nicaragua has a network of lawyers, project managers, master planners and investment analysts who have a long history of advising investors on the acquisition and development of real estate in Central America – these are independent third parties who can provide dispassionate basic advice.
5. Diligently everything
More specifically, retain competent legal representation and take out title insurance. Nicaragua has a particularly complex title history and some buyers who did not look deeply enough into the title history of purchased property are now mired in difficult legal problems. Some real estate agents try to persuade buyers to use their own legal team for real estate purchases. Our advice is to use independent legal advice to at least review (if not draft) the purchase contract you sign and check the title history of the property.
Coldwell Banker Nicaragua recommends investors take out title insurance. Other realtors do not recommend title insurance because the due diligence that results can slow down the buying process and raise difficult questions. Looking for title insurance will require your attorney to delve back many years into the property history of the property you are purchasing and follow a set of criteria in their reporting. If you are buying raw land off development, your due diligence list should be longer and will cover infrastructure issues, environmental issues and development permits.
6. Invest with confidence, develop with a conscience
This is the strap line of the Nica Dev campaign directed by Donn Wilson, a developer, entrepreneur and web developer who has made San Juan del Sur his home. Nica Dev recognizes that real estate investors are entering another country and have an obligation to respect the land, the people and the environment. When you arrive in Nicaragua, the impression you get is of a friendly nation that welcomes international visitors. In order for this warm feeling to continue in the future, local Nicaraguans must also benefit from the real estate and tourism activity that is happening in the country.
Las Fincas, a development aligned with the Nica Dev campaign, is designed with sustainability principles built in. For example a basic solar energy arrangement is provided for all who buy and the project runs a series of active community outreach projects introducing a very effective, however. cheap and low-tech, solutions for cooking and cleaning drinking water. Skills and suppliers for low-impact construction with elements such as rainwater harvesting, composting and recycling, difficult to find 18 months ago, are now readily available in the country. Coldwell Banker Nicaragua is launching its own campaign to generate funds for the Nice Dev fund as well as other projects our clients are involved in here in Nicaragua. We will give our customers the opportunity to contribute to selected projects at the time of closing.
7. Become and expert in real estate investing in Nicaragua…before you invest
Coldwell Banker Nicaragua Real Estate has launched a series of concise buyer briefings to assist investors interested in the real estate market in Nicaragua in their decision making. The briefings highlight real estate trends, analyze market trends and present value investment opportunities.
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