It’s the rainy season here, so I took yesterday off to take a look at a couple of apartments here. I’m interested to see if real estate is the screaming bargain everyone says it is. My focus is on a “bachelor pad”, for lack of a better word, so my (excellent) English-speaking agent, Simon Sjoberg, has chosen two penthouse suites in the El Poblado district for our viewing pleasure.
Apartment number one is a three bedroom, three-bath affair on two levels with about 1800 square feet. It features a huge covered terrace with expansive city views and thoroughly modern and remodeled kitchens and baths. Light and bright, there are windows on three sides, and the huge master suite features a walk-in closet. Wood and tile floors complete the feeling of luxury, though there are few touches that would be needed to completely update the unit. As an additional bonus, you get two parking and storage lockers included in the deal. The price? A few hundred million pesos…which works out to only $200,000 ($211,000 furnished), but I suspect the American owner is somewhat negotiable.
By the way, the owner was an interesting fellow, as many expats are. He’s a short, wiry, bright-eyed man who looks to be in his 70’s. He says he moved down here from Costa Rica 10 years ago and hasn’t been in the States since the early 1990’s. He originally hailed from Denver, which, (of course), is also a Mile High City, where he was a carpenter. There was a very attractive woman at his apartment who appeared to be in her 30’s at most. For a variety of reasons, I’m guessing he was her “sugar daddy”. Age disparity is not so much of an issue in Latin America, where you see many older men, especially gringos, with younger women who are, I suppose, seeking a better life and an escape from poverty. I don’t mean this as a judgmental remark, but I think that’s more likely the reality than true love as a motivator. The fact that there is no social stigma attached to these relationships in Colombia is just another indicator of the live-and-let-live Latino attitude, even though they DO have very strong family ties and values as a societal whole.
Apartment number two is also a bi-level penthouse, but features a smaller terrace with a Jacuzzi as one of its main selling points. Its 1300 square feet contain 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, and features a sleek, modern, Euro-inspired kitchen with a separate laundry area. The vaulted ceiling draws attention to beautiful exposed beams and rafters. The entire unit has been redone from the floors to the ceiling and the overall effect is of a turn-key luxury bachelor pad, especially when you check out the to die for view from any of the three open terraces. You can just imagine yourself soaking in the hot tub with a bottle of bubbly and…J The price? $187,000 furnished with huge flat screen TVs and brand new appliances (about $179,000 unfurnished). And yes, it also came equipped with a very attractive 30-something woman! Such a deal! J I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the owner of this unit, who I didn’t get to meet, was also an expat from America.
Both apartments featured a community swimming pool and had great city views, though apartment one was adjacent to a tropical park that could never be built on. An absolute necessity is the 24 hour guard gated security that almost all upscale apartments here offer. Both buildings seem solidly built from poured concrete with a brick façade. Yet, though I thought unit 2 was slightly more attractive, the exterior architecture of most condos here is somewhat bland and dated, at least in this price range. Generally speaking, what you see is a relatively unadorned rectangular stack of red brick punctuated by windows, like a college dorm. Inside, they are magnificent. Outside? Not so much.
I liked apartment 2 better. Though smaller, it was in a newer building and the taxes and monthly maintenance fees combined for a $111 monthly savings over unit 1. Specifically, taxes on unit 2=$57/month and HOA was $112. For unit one, taxes were $106 per month and the HOA fees were $174. As in America, the older units tend to naturally have higher HOA fees here, and of course unit 1 was larger as well as being older.
But what I really liked about unit one was the open, airy feeling and the sybaritic splendor of its outdoor areas. It just screamed, “move on in, there’s nothing you need to do.” And that’s what potential renters think as well. Simon says (LOL) that apartment 2 could be rented out for $2500 a month at about an 80% occupancy based on his experience, but that apartment 1 would never have the rental cache’. It seems most people coming here for short stays just don’t need the extra space. And it doesn’t hurt any that I’m told the owner of apartment 2 is desperate for cash and would probably bargain down 10% or more, while the carpenter doesn’t want to budge.
So I’m sold on apartment 2. But of course, everyone is different, and the value is in the eye of the beholder. If you need more space and are willing to do some very slight remodeling, apartment one could also be a show-stopper.
In sum, is real estate a deal here? Yes, I think so. Similar apartments in the exclusive sections of similar-sized American cities like Chicago go for far more, and that is after a very significant decline from the roaring 2000’s. Now, if you compare it to, for example, Florida beachfront, maybe not, but that’s apples and oranges. If you believe as I do that Colombia’s troubled past is behind it and that burgeoning new industries are going to spur more growth, I think you can expect a steady appreciation in prices while enjoying a very high ROI in the meantime. It’s easy and fairly transparent for foreigners to buy here, so what’s stopping me? I don’t know. I’m looking at some more tomorrow to get more comps.
Today (Sunday), I’m checking out of my highly recommended hotel, the Diez. I’ll miss it. I’d give it 5 stars except for the lack of noise insulation. But then, I’ll admit I’m very sensitive to any kind of intermittent mechanical sounds. I can plainly hear conversations in the hallway, I know every time the toilet is flushed above me, and the air conditioner chatters and shakes like an old car. Other than that, it’s been superlative in every respect.
If you’re interested is speaking to Simon, you can reach him here:
US Landline 305-393-8872 (office)
Medellin Cell Phone 321-605-2225
Medellin Office Phone 312-5473