NICARAGUA real estate is booming. If you don’t believe it, try catching a real estate agent in Nicaragua in a spare moment.
But if you’re eyeing parcels of land on the hills and coasts of Costa Rica’s northern neighbor, rest assured the red carpet will be rolled out for you, and that enough deals are out there for you to live like royalty.
San Juan del Sur, on the southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua, continues to be a hub of development.
“YOU will not recognize this area three years from now,” says Herm Hamhuis of Nicaragua Properties S.A. (505/458-2180, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.realestatenicaragua.com). “It will be hugely developed.”
A Barceló resort is even starting construction this year in the once-sleepy Playa Remanso, five kilometers south of San Juan.
Nicaragua Properties has several projects on the table for this year, including several residential, tourism and humanitarian developments.
An example of a resort village project on the board will have ocean views and start at around $150,000 for a 150-squaremeter house with its own pool. Lots can run as low as $40,000-$60,000. Fifty-five lots in the area have been sold in the last eight months.
As always, Fortune has come with rising values nipping at her heels.
“PRICES for all types of properties have risen,” Hamhuis said. “I calculate an average 15% increase for properties annually over the last three or four years around San Juan del Sur. I expect there will be a faster acceleration of prices over the next year, since there are more buyers around.”
Restaurants are absorbing the increase in permanent and temporary population and taxi drivers are keeping pace, but other areas are playing catch-up.
“There’s only one gas station [in San Juan] and it’s busy,” Hamhuis admitted. “But building programs are including stores in their plans; one plan involves a building-supply outlet.”
Retirees, future retirees and investors have been watching the trend in Nicaragua and liking what they’ve seen, Hamhuis said.
One of the major concerns – the uncertain status of land previously confiscated by the Sandinistas – has become more history than major threat.
“Most of the past land issues have been resolved,” Hamhuis said. “Caution is necessary, as it is anywhere in the world, when buying properties. It is easy to determine the title history and registration of almost any property. The records in the Land Titles offices are quite accurate and go back more than 100 years.”
He also notes that the Latin American office of First American Title Insurance Company (email@example.com) offers title insurance in Nicaragua.
GRANADA is still the inland Mecca for ex-pats, and wears its history of foreign investment proudly. Regally positioned at the northwestern edge of Lake Nicaragua, its wide streets, bare of stoplights and full of bicycles, are now framed with glorious multicolored, renovated colonial homes that allow pedestrians peeks into their lush inner courtyards.
It’s true that the days of the dirt-cheap fixer-uppers are fading, said Larry Hustler of Snider’s Realty in Granada (505/863-2466, firstname.lastname@example.org).
He said he’s seen 20% growth per year during the last few years – but that hasn’t slowed the market much.
“Just in the last week we sold a house for $150,000, $250,000 and $350,000,” he said. “It’s going full steam ahead.”
He estimates no more than 20% of the colonial houses have been fixed up, and good opportunities abound.
LAGUNA de Apoyo, a beautiful lake about 30 minutes northeast of Granada, is still sparsely developed, but doing well.
Homes in the Norome Villas development that sold for $60,000 two years ago now go for around $120,000, says Hamhuis.
Hustler estimated prices at $15 per square meter, touching water, or about $10-12 with a view.
The novelty of Las Isletas, the islands scattered off the lakeside shore of Granada, is wearing off for some, Hamhuis said, but are still selling.
“They were more popular about four years ago,” he said. “They’re not that easy to build on, the transport system is limited and power and water can be a problem.”
But any float through the islands, some mansioned and some delightfully deserted, provides evidence the allure is still there. For $30,000, a small undeveloped island can be yours. If you want to just bring your clothes and live in style, you can spend up to a million dollars.
AS the flow of tourists increases, so do the number of restaurants and hotels in Granada. Those who choose to operate in the tourism sector find generous state support.
“The Law 306 Investment Incentive is alive and doing well,” said Nicaragua Property’s Hamhuis. The law, geared toward the tourism industry, offers exonerations for sales tax on building materials, import duties, property taxes and income taxes for 10 years after a business opens its doors. This doesn’t extend to those who are purchasing private homes, but the country is still attractive to nonentrepreneurs.
“U.S. citizens ask how easy it is to get residency,” Hustler said. “It’s very easy.
It’s like Guanacaste 25 years ago.” What’s not so easy is finding a place to rent.
“The supply of good rental properties is very limited in all areas,” Hamhuis said. “Condos and apartments are rare, and good-quality North American standard houses are hard to find. These [in San Juan] rent for anywhere from $650 to $1,200 per month.”
HUSTLER says rentals in Granada are available for $300-600 per month. In Managua, he said, rates are higher, and although some apartments can be found, they are rare.
Foreigners who arrive with families will find international schools only in San Carlos, where Lake Nicaragua feeds into the San Juan River, and in Managua. Buses run from Granada to the school in Managua, however.
English speakers seeking general information can also look to The Nicaraguan Chamber of Real Estate Agents and its president Lucia Sacasa of Porto Nica Real Estate (505/270-6816 in Nicaragua, 305/318-3790 in Miami, email@example.com ).