When we arrived for the event, we were excited about Belize, Ecuador, and Costa Rica, but had wide-open minds and were willing to consider anything, anywhere. Wendy was reluctant to take vacation time to sit in a conference rather than playing in Orlando, but it was a great decision for us. It was at this conference that we got our first taste of Colombia. Before I continue with our Colombia story, I want to take a minute to say something about the conference itself. And I want you to know that Live and Invest Overseas has not persuaded me to say this. I asked for the chance to say this because I want anyone else out there thinking about making a move like the one we're making to understand this. The Live and Invest Overseas conferences are simply amazing. At the event in Orlando, while our heads were spinning with questions, facts, ideas, dreams, and investments, we were also getting a chance to talk to people who already lived and worked in all of the countries we had ever considered. We were focused on Latin America, maybe eight countries, but at the conference we could learn about places all over the globe. Some of the speakers were natives to their countries, others were expats who had been just like us a few years earlier. We asked frank and blunt questions, and we got frank and blunt answers. Every answer led to more questions, of course, but after the conference we knew we had to do some visiting to these countries. Time to get the passports out and get boots on the ground. We ended up attending conferences and taking extended stays in Belize, Colombia, and Ecuador. We loved all the countries, but Colombia, especially Medellin, just felt like home. We made another two-week trip to visit Medellin so we could see it at a different time of year, and we made sure to stay like we lived there instead of vacationing. We shopped and cooked and located common everyday items so we could feel like we lived there. We didn't have time to stay longer, but we knew this was the place for us. We have always lived in small towns and loved them, but 3.5 million people in Medellin was no problem at all. Frankly we were overwhelmed by how friendly the people were. Whether they were expats or Colombians, we met many people who were willing to help us out, answer questions, give advice, and just generally be wonderful. We even had six people give us phone numbers or email addresses to contact them when we finally moved to the city so they could help us out any way that they could. So it was an easy decision for us to choose Medellin. We got back home to Illinois, suffered through some more brutal winters and stifling, humid summers, and finally got our house sold. We started selling all of this stuff we had accumulated that we had to have at one time but that now was just in the way of our new life. Medellin inspired us to start our new life right now, not at retirement age. Why wait when there are so many ways to make your dreams come true? Now we are learning Spanish and buying new computers and a camera. We are still reducing our possessions every day and saving money. We have a place to stay for three months while we look for our more long-term place, and our friends in Illinois are throwing "deportation" parties for us while they make plans to come visit. We can't wait to start living our dream in Medellin. If any Live and Invest Overseas reader reading this would like to get in touch with us directly, we'd welcome that. Live and Invest Overseas—Kathleen, Lief, Lauren, and all of the amazing guest speakers and associates they bring to their conferences—has impacted our lives, and we are grateful. Now we want to help others make their dreams come true, too. Darren Howarter
By now the dining room was full, and our tour-goers were visibly unhappy.
I set the tables as quick as I could with the mismatched china we found in the kitchen cabinet, poured water all around, and took orders (fried versus scrambled), while Josianne fired up the gas stove. We served eggs, toast, juice, and tea that morning to our 40 guests and made it out the door in time to meet the bus scheduled to take us on our first property-viewing appointment of the day.
If you were among the 40 participants at that long-ago event, thank you. You’re a good sport.
I hosted the second conference of my career a year later in Belize. Again, Josianne was my cohort.
Infrastructure isn’t Belize’s strong suit, even today. But 30 years ago this was a seriously undeveloped, unappointed little country. After two days of meetings in Belize City, we wanted to take the group south along the coast to look at beachfront lots and houses for sale. We needed a bus to transport the 50 of us. The bus we’d organized in advance was promised to be “modern.” The bus that showed up outside our hotel that morning was an old U.S. school bus with broken windows, torn seats, and balding tires.
The best thing that could be said about the bus was that it was there, on the scene, as expected, at 8 o’clock that morning. The same wasn’t true for the real estate agent who was to act as our tour guide for the day. The guy finally showed up an hour-and-a-half late and, Josianne and I realized quickly, drunk.
We knew Belize well enough to know that substitutions were not an option. The bus was the bus and the agent was the agent. We either went off with them for the day or we cancelled the day.
We loaded the group and set off.
The road we traveled was dirt (today it’s paved). As we had no air conditioning, we opened the windows for ventilation. But, with the windows open, the bus filled with dust from the road. With the windows closed, temperatures became unbearable. So we pushed the windows down when the air became stiflingly hot and back up when the air became stiflingly dusty.
Josianne and I reviewed an itinerary for the day with our agent guide, who we positioned in the front seat so he could give instructions to the driver. Then we wandered up and down the aisle chatting with our tour-goers, trying to keep spirits up in spite of the transportation discomforts.
The things I didn’t know back then about managing conferences and leading tours could have filled an encyclopedia. One of the things I didn’t know but have learned since, for example, is that you don’t, at any time, want to hand over control of the group to a drunk real estate agent.
After two hours had passed, Josianne and I became concerned and walked up front to check in with our intoxicated friend. The guy had passed out. We shook him awake and asked how much longer until we’d arrive at our destination.
The guy looked at us, at the driver, at his lap, out the window....
After a few long minutes, something finally registered and the guy began yelling at our driver. We’d missed our turn, Josianne and I came to understand, which was an hour-and-a-half back up the dusty road we’d just traveled.
Now what? Turn around? No. Better to continue on to our next stop. This, the agent explained, was another hour in a different direction.
“Where can we go for refreshments?” I asked the guy. “We need to take the group somewhere they can use a bathroom and buy drinks and snacks.”
He knew a place, he said, and gave the driver new instructions. About 20 minutes later, we pulled up to a roadside shack alongside a river. We unloaded the bus. Our group used the facilities and ordered bottles of Coke and water, then stood in the shade of a big mango tree. The morning had been a bust, but the drinks and the shady respite cooled and calmed everyone down. Onward.
But where was the real estate agent? He wasn’t in the shop. Our male tour-goers assured us he wasn’t in the bathroom.
Josianne and I stood, with the group, at the door to the bus trying to figure out what we’d do if we’d lost our guide altogether.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guy walking toward us. He was stripped down to his underpants and dripping wet. He’d gone for a swim in the river.
The agent, carrying his clothes, climbed back on the bus and took his seat. Josianne and I looked at each other, shook our heads, and followed, along with the rest of the group.
By the time we arrived at our next destination, the guy had put his pants back on and sobered up enough to explain to us all what we were looking at. We toured for several more hours that day then returned late, dusty, and exhausted to our hotel in Belize City.
Josianne and I went on to lead tours and conferences together for several years, in Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, and Argentina. I have more stories from those early years. Ask me about them next time you see me. Some are better told over a cold rum and Coke while watching the sun set.
I’ve been thinking about these stories from a lifetime ago this week as my current conference team has been finalizing our calendar for the next 24 months. Looking through 2015, we’ll be returning to old haunts that continue to offer great opportunity for the would-be retiree and investor, including Belize, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador, and Colombia. In addition, we’ve added new destinations of special appeal, including Uruguay (for an investment conference focused on agricultural opportunities), Paris (for a Live and Invest in Europe event that will focus on France, Italy, Ireland, and Spain), and Roatan (for our first-ever Live and Invest in the Caribbean Conference), and we’ll be continuing our annual Offshore Summit and Global Property Summit.
I’ve learned a few things since those early years, and this much I can promise you: Breakfast will be served every morning, buses will be air-conditioned, and real estate agents will wear pants.
Cartagena is clearly one of the world's treasures. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's one of the few remaining walled cities in the world. Its cobblestoned streets are lined with faithfully maintained Spanish colonial architecture and wrought-iron balconies overflowing with bright flowers, and its many parks and plazas, vibrant colors, and cheerful atmosphere provide for days of fun exploration.
The downtown sectors of Cartagena--those inside the wall--are in a state of preservation that's unlike anything I've seen in Spanish America. Almost 100% of the colonials have been restored and are well-maintained. People come from all over the world to admire them and enjoy the atmosphere they create.
Cartagena's tourist infrastructure is excellent, with small boutique hotels, plenty of luxury lodgings, interesting shops, cheerful sidewalk cafes, and loads of fine dining.
These offerings bring plenty of tourists...and plenty of tourist annoyances. Everywhere you go, you are greeted by an army of vendors selling everything from Cuban cigars to tablecloths, as well as Cartagena's fast-handed moneychangers, who offer the country's best exchange rates but are also true experts at short-changing you.
As colonial cities go in the Americas, I could argue that Cartagena is king.
But just over 100 miles up the coast from Cartagena, is the colonial city of Santa Marta, Colombia's oldest city.
When I planned my first trip to Santa Marta, my outdated guidebook said to stay away from its colonial center, reporting that it was dirty, dangerous, and held little that was worth seeing.
So my expectations were low, meaning I was in for a surprise. Colombia's been investing seriously in Santa Marta, and they mean business.
What I found was a city that is clearly on the move and improving by leaps and bounds. Santa Marta boasted a newly refurbished waterfront, a seafront promenade, beautifully restored parks, and a new array of sidewalk cafes from which to take it all in. A giant cruise ship sat peacefully in the harbor.
The just-completed marina can accept 256 boats, and it's already hosting both resident yachtsmen and travelers from around the world. And, of course, the adjacent shoreline has sprouted its first handful of seaside condo buildings, which are selling quickly.
The tourist infrastructure is growing in Santa Marta, in pace with the city's downtown renovations. A handful of boutique hotels have set up shop, with larger projects under way. But you won't find anywhere near the dining and lodging options that you'll find in Cartagena, which has been a mature tourist destination for generations.
The only downside to Santa Marta is that it's a work-in-progress in many areas. But that's what gives the city its upside market potential.
Now if you move far from the Caribbean to Colombia's southern sierra, you'll find the best-hidden colonial treasure of all--Popayán. Situated at an altitude of just over 1,700 meters (5,600 feet), Popayán (pronounced poh-pah-YAHN) enjoys a mild, spring-like climate all year.
The historic center in Popayán is built around the central plaza in the Spanish colonial style. It serves as the bustling social center of the city from 6 a.m. onward. The stately cathedral overlooks the square from one end, and the beautiful architecture extends outward through the entire downtown.
What's really remarkable about Popayán is that all the buildings are uniformly white in color, with gold trim. Even the streetlamps and the accents and signs match the overall color scheme, which is maintained consistently throughout the historic center.
I found Popayán to be a comfortable place and could see myself settling there full-time. The city sees some tourists, which explains the presence of a fair number of nice restaurants and hotels. But by and large, Popayán feels more like a place you might like to call home than a tourist mecca...far more reserved and tranquil than its Caribbean counterparts.
If I were choosing a colonial environment for a base in Colombia, Popayán would be my pick, thanks to the nice weather and the pleasant Andean setting.
Also, there's another important difference between Popayán and Cartagena and Santa Marta. Have a look at these regional property prices, at today's exchange rate of 1,930 Colombian pesos per U.S. dollar:
If you're looking for a colonial bargain, Popayán is the clear choice.
Lee HarrisonContinue Reading:
We're in Medellin this week, enjoying our first family stay in our just renovated apartment here. Sitting on the terrace the other afternoon, I thought about resale marketsâ€¦and how much sense Medellin makes in this context. This is an active market with a large local population plus a growing expat population. If we were to put our apartment up for sale today, it would likely sell quickly for a decent price. The location is good, the size of the apartment appeals to a large section of the market, and it's been renovated, meaning no work required of the new owner. It's turn-key.
Another property I saw recently, not here but back in Panama, didn't meet those criteria. It's a lovely house in a pretty setting, but the location would really only appeal to a niche expat market, narrowing the pool of potential buyers. When you factor in the million dollar-plus price tag, the resale market narrows further. The owners are aware of this and have reconciled to the idea that it could take up to two years to sell the place. Additionally, they didn't buy for investment. They bought a place where they wanted to live themselves and knew the consequences down the line could be a slow resale.
This example brings another real estate adage to mind: If you're buying for investment, don't buy the nicest house on the block. It won't have as much upside as the least nice house in the same neighborhood.
In the current global real estate climate, you want to focus on opportunities in active markets. You also want to focus on properties with the potential to generate yields, as capital appreciation is no longer a forgone conclusion in most markets. Yields are key, but my point is that you want to balance the yield potential with the potential to resell your property when the time comes. A market's buyer base is more important than ever.
Again, Medellin hits all the marks. You can find good yield-producing opportunities (when you buy the right type of property in the right location), and you can feel pretty comfortable about your prospects for resale down the line. The local market is broad, and the expat market is growing.
Furthermore, this is one market where I'd go out on a limb to project appreciation over the coming few years. We've seen it already since we started shopping here two years ago. Values are up say 15% across the board in that time and continue slowly, steadily up.
Finally, there's a lot of inventory across all types. You definitely don't have to buy the nicest place on the block to have a nice place.
While, again, prices have gone up over the last couple of years, since we started paying close attention, you can still find good choices for rental investment properties in the US$100,000 range. Boost your investment budget to US$150k, and the number of available properties increases significantly. If you're open to a renovation project, you can find gems for less.
The one drawback in this market is to do with short-term rentals. This is the kind of rental that will earn you the best yields. The trouble is that short-term rentals are illegal according to Colombian law unless the building specifically allows for them. Right now, only a few in Medellin do. The good news is that, in Colombia, a short-term rental is anything less than 30 days. That means you can legally rent your apartment for as little as 30 days (that is, a month at a time) with no worry.
Yields have come down as prices have gone up. Two years ago, you could buy certain properties with the expectation of a net yield of as much as 15% to 20%. Today, anticipated net yields are still above my generally acceptable range of 5% to 8%, but they are moving down. However, again, I'd say that you do have some capital appreciation to look forward to in this market, as the Colombian economy continues to grow, the Medellin stigma continues to fade, and more expats and retirees discover what the city has to offer.
All things considered, this remains one of my favorite investment markets in the world right now, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. That's why we've scheduled another Live and Invest in Medellin Conference for September. This is a place that should have your attention, both for investment and as a world-class lifestyle and retirement choice. We'll show you what we're talking about when we convene in the city with local contacts Sept. 10-12.
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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.
Read more here.
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