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The waters in Maceió are warm and blue and calm thanks to a barrier reef just offshore. The beaches in town are clean and well kept, with fine sand and swaying palms. They're fairly busy, too, especially during holidays and weekends. But at the city's edge the crowds disappear...
leaving miles of uncrowded beaches fringed by palms and natural vegetation.

The property market here has performed well, and its growth looks to be at a sustainable rate. Prices for beachfront in Maceió have gone up about 35% since 2009. That's about 7% per year, which is respectable but, again, also sustainable.

And right now, thanks to the exchange rates, even though values have gone up 35% in Brazilian reais, the prices in dollar terms stand at 2009 levels. So it's a very good time to be looking at Maceió.

Ponta Verde is my personal favorite residential neighborhood here, its beach my favorite beach. Ponta Verde is the southern starting point of Maceió's best area for restaurants, the boardwalk, and the city's best hotels. It is also the start of a long stretch of sandy, palm-lined beaches heading north.

Jatiúca is adjacent to Ponta Verde and is Maceió's most popular area for visitors and travelers. Jatiúca starts at Ponta Verde and continues the same stretch of terrific beachfront northward. It's Maceió's best area for nightlife and has the highest concentration of hotels and resorts.

The Farol district sits on a hilltop overlooking the beach neighborhoods about 8 blocks away. Property prices are lower here, and you can find some with super views. Farol is definitely worth checking out if you enjoy ocean views, don't need to be near the beach, and would like to save some money.

Bottom line, prices in Maceió and Farol are deep into bargain territory.

Lee Harrison

Editor's Note: Correspondent Lee Harrison writes a free weekly update on key property markets around the world. His Overseas Property Alert dispatch this week features a complete overview of Maceió, including details of particularly appealing properties currently on the market. If you aren't receiving Lee's OPA yet, sign up here now. Again, it's free.

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June 9, 2014

"Ms. Peddicord, I would first like to thank you for all of the information regarding overseas retirement options. You have opened my mind to the possibilities outside of the USA. I am a 63-year-old single woman and only have a retirement income of US$1,500/month. I would like to find a place where I could exist comfortably on that. I have a very adventurous spirit but also wish to be cautious as I would be venturing out alone.

"Are there any places that stand out as best options for someone such as me? Any advice would be truly appreciated."

--Debbie B., United States

Indeed. On that monthly income you have several good choices, depending what kind of lifestyle you're in the market for, including:

  • Ecuador—you could retire anywhere in this country on US$1,500 per month...
  • Nicaragua—again, your budget would buy you a comfortable, interesting, and adventure-filled retirement anywhere in this country...
  • Panama—not in Panama City but in the mountainous interior of the country or on the coast outside the most developed regions...
  • Thailand—in most of this country, your monthly income would support a top-shelf retirement
  • Vietnam—more exotic but also even more affordable
  • Philippines—where you could get along with English only if you wanted

This is the kind of thinking we'll do during this year's Retire Overseas Conference taking place in Nashville, Tennessee, August 29–31. Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, Thailand, Vietnam, and Philippines are all on the featured haven list for this special event...along with 15 other countries.

Details are here.

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The first opportunity that jumped out at me was in real estate.

I spent several days looking at properties available for sale in the city, reading newspaper ads, photographing signs in windows, and combing the streets. Never did I find a single English-speaking real estate agent in downtown Loja.

And the Spanish-speaking agents I worked with were nothing to write home about. They couldn't keep appointments. In one case, I persisted for three days but ended up seeing only one house...despite having made my initial appointment more than a month in advance. Another real estate agent had more than 20 listings...but only 3 homes that had not already been sold.

The first North American who opens a real estate business here will have a wide-open market. Team up with an energetic and well-connected local entrepreneur, and you could grab a good share of the local market just by running a tight ship and providing good service.

Granted, there are not a lot of North American clients in Loja right now. But remember Cuenca. The first professional English-speaking real estate agency in this city pre-dated its discovery as a top expat retiree destination. In fact, to some extent, CuencaRealEstate.com helped to enable the expat migration that followed.

The second opportunity I noticed was for a good Spanish-language school.

Loja is known throughout the country for its Spanish. The version spoken in Loja is crisp, clear, well-enunciated, and true to form. Lojanos take pride in the quality of their Spanish. I've seen bumper stickers calling out their linguistic purity.

Yet I couldn't find a Spanish-language school. I went to the department of tourism to ask about this, and the best their agent could come up with was a tutor I could hire privately. (She was the young lady's mother.) I asked at a couple of English schools (there are plenty of these in Loja). They all said they could fix me up with private lessons with a freelance tutor, but none offered actual Spanish courses.

So, again, the first person to open a quality Spanish school in this city will have the market to himself. As with the real estate idea, there is not a huge pent-up demand for language study in Loja right now, but one big reason is that there's nowhere to study. With a good quality school in place, I think Loja's linguistic reputation (and maybe some smart international exchange student agreements) would bring plenty of students.

My final observation was in the area of short-term rentals.

On my most recent visit, I looked at a good bit of real estate, again, both for sale and for rent. But I found only one quality furnished rental. It wasn't bad, but it wouldn't be among the finalists for a Good Housekeeping Award either.

I'd say there is a market for a handful of modern, short-term, furnished apartment rentals, built and equipped to higher-end U.S. standards, apartments of the type that are so popular in nearby Cuenca.

A skeptic might say that, if there were a good market for these kinds of units, there would already be a supply of them. In a more developed market, that would be the case, but, in Loja, we're at a pre-market stage. The demand for these kinds of short-term rentals is coming. As Loja becomes more popular as an expat destination, this demand will grow. At the same time, the existence of these kinds of rentals will create their own demand.

I'll use Medellin, Colombia, as an example. In Medellin, the existence of these high-quality units has actually changed people's habits and enticed many travelers away from hotels. In my case, I'd never used short-term rentals for business travel. But when I found out that I could get a luxury apartment, all to myself, for less than the price of a hotel, I switched to short-term rentals right away. And I'm not alone.

Lots of expats like Loja. I hear from more and more people each year who find Loja's cultured, low-key lifestyle to be just what they're looking for. But, in the end, almost no one actually moves to Loja. And I think I know some of the reasons why.

I'll use Cuenca's success as an expat destination as a benchmark.

Of course Cuenca is a great city to start with. But when a potential expat comes to check it out, they can stay at their leisure in a quality, furnished, short-term rental, equipped with cable TV and high-speed internet. They can shop for real estate on an English-language site with a good inventory, and they can view properties with an English-speaking agent. Meantime, then they can master Spanish at one of Cuenca's excellent language schools.

In other words, they can pretty much just show up and rely on this infrastructure to get them going.

In Loja, none of these things exist yet. But once they are available, the scene will change. And it will be a handful of expat entrepreneurs who are paying attention right now who will help to make that happen.

Lee Harrison

Editor's Note: We'll explore business and entrepreneurial opportunities available in Loja and elsewhere in Ecuador at our Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference in Quito Sept. 17–19.

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June 5, 2014

"Kathleen, I'm writing in response to the article you published recently on purchasing a lot in the Galapagos.

"It compels me to point out that in Antigua and Barbuda there is a tax on the sales price of a purchase that can be 5% or more AND the attorney can also charges 5% on the transaction at resell.

"This means the property needs to appreciate 10% before you approach breaking even, not including the other seller costs when you transact again being figured in—for example, current survey and seller tax.

"I have transacted many real estate sales as a real estate agent in Antigua and Barbuda and this is the norm.

"It takes strong analysis in each individual country to reach the whole picture for ROI and a careful selection of barrister or attorney. One does not take recommendations of taxi drivers for this!

"With best regards for all the work you do to help inform purchasers."

--Bonnie S., Antigua and Barbuda

No question. It's important to analyze all the costs of both buying and selling a piece of property, especially if you're buying for investment.

In fact, full round-trip costs of buying in Antigua and Barbuda run more than 20% of the sales price; that's definitely on the high side relative to the rest of the world. However, it sounds like your attorney is seriously overcharging, as attorney fees shouldn't be more than 2% of the transaction. I know attorneys in many countries who think they should make as much as real estate agents, but they don't understand the role a real estate agent plays. If your attorney is charging 5% of the transaction cost to process a real estate purchase, I'd find another attorney.

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"Now back home in California, I am pondering the logistics of an Ecuador/Andean import business of some sort. What do I do with all these beautiful and unique crafts, and how do I share them with others?

"I brought back a sampling of all their handmade crafts that I could fit into two 50-pound suitcases. Their wares are beautiful and exquisite just like the people. It was a journey of a lifetime, and I truly hope to return to work with these people. This was not only a unique experience, but a heartwarming one, as well."

The fact that Jan undertook this adventure in Ecuador was no accident; there are few better places to export from. First, Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, so there's no currency risk. They've also got favorable export laws.

And, in Ecuador, it's easy to find your way to the warm and friendly craftsmen who are actually creating the product...eliminating a bunch of middlemen. If you work your way from San Antonio in the north to Loja in the south, you'll find dozens of villages, each with its own specialty—wood carvings, clothing, candy, sweaters, leather jackets, jewelry, guitars, even hand-crafted cellos...

Finally, prices are super on the Ecuadorian end, yet the quality products can command great prices on the retail end.

The question is, how can you follow through with the great import/export opportunities that present themselves in this country? Finding quality merchandise, getting good prices, and meeting the artists who create the products is a great start. The next step is creating a business from all this.

One thing I've found paying attention to the import/export opportunities available in Ecuador over the years is that one secret to making a success of this and building a profitable business is where you sell your imports.

I remember, years ago, discovering hundreds of beautiful Talavera vases for sale in a market in Puebla, Mexico. They were US$8 each. A few months later, at a Third Avenue street fair in Manhattan, I found those same vases for US$25...a good markup, but not earth-shaking.

Then, a few months later in Mystic, Connecticut, I saw the same vases again, this time for sale for US$65. I struck up a conversation, and the owner described to me how he'd personally brought them from the market in Puebla and how much fun he had traveling the world to stock his shop.

I've had the same experience with the small, hand-woven rugs you can buy at the market in Otavalo, Ecuador, probably the largest indigenous market in South America. I've bought many of these rugs in Otavalo, paying US$8 apiece. The same rugs sell for US$20 in Queens, New York, and for more than US$100 at the Andean import store in Sacramento, California. In Scottsdale, Arizona, the very similar "Native American hand-woven rugs" are US$295 each!

As you can see, you can make a slim margin or a handsome one, depending on the retail location you connect with. The best location may not be near home, so you may need to find a trusted associate, friend, or family member to manage the retail end for you.

Alternatively, you could sell your treasures as a wholesaler, to a shop or chain. Going this route, you'd be sharing a large piece of the margin to cover their costs. You could still do well with this model, but if you can control the retail end, then more of the profit—and more of the intangible rewards of the experience—are yours.

Jan took the first step in the way most Ecuador-exporters do, by bringing things home in a suitcase, while figuring out the business bigger picture. This is a low-risk, low-cost way to get started.

I met a guy named Peter in Nicaragua who took a different approach. He jumped in with both feet. Peter and I met at an investment seminar in Managua, after which he scoured the country looking for local hand-crafted items. After a month of shopping, he shipped an entire container of clothing and handicrafts to Long Beach, where he sold them in his own, new, retail shop.

He didn't want to carry the items little-by-little, so he bought his entire inventory at once. As he shipped a container, he had to pay the duty when it arrived. However, he had done his research and knew that the duty isn't much on Native American handicrafts. For him, this expense was worth the convenience of getting everything at once. Peter's approach can work well if you've already identified your target retail market.

That's the beauty of starting up your own import/export business. You can go big-time, or you can keep it small. You can make a good living or simply fund your rich and rewarding travels abroad.

Either way, there are few better ways to generate an income overseas. And few better places to try out the idea than Ecuador.

Lee Harrison

Editor's Note: The potential of an import/export business in Ecuador is one of the many topics that we'll be covering during our Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference taking place in Quito Sept. 17–19.

Registration is now open, and the Early Bird Discount (as well as other important discounts) are in effect. Details are here.

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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