Comparing Latin America’s Property Prices Across Markets

Our Annual Global Property Survey Reveals Cheapest Markets, Biggest Currency Discounts, And Best Lifestyle Buys

If you’d like to see a quick, efficient snapshot of what’s happening with Latin American property prices, then you’ve come to the right place.

Each year, with the help of my Global Property Advisor team, I take a snapshot of property costs in 19 key markets around the region. I use this data as a means of comparing markets and of monitoring changes throughout the year.

All prices are expressed in our universal measure, U.S. dollars per square meter. For purposes of this report, in cases where properties are priced in the local currency, the exchange rates are those in effect on Jan. 24, 2016.

For each of the cities included in the survey, our team confirms local listings for 10 to 12 apartments, each of two bedrooms and two baths and about 75 to 100 square meters of living space… or as close to that as the local inventory allows. The neighborhoods are those that are favored by expats and places where I’d look for property myself.

Let’s start with the biggest price drops in the region over the past year.

If You’ve Been Waiting For A Bargain, Check Out The Biggest Price Drops Of 2015

The beach resort of Santa Marta, Colombia, wins the prize for the largest price drop in 2015. Properties in this popular seaside getaway fell from US$2,091 per square meter last year to an amazing US$1,032 at the start of 2016… a drop of more than 50%.

Prices in Santa Marta actually increased in Colombian peso terms, but the dollar’s gain on the peso of 61% kept prices in check in dollar terms.

In Santiago, Chile, properties in its best neighborhoods fell slightly this year in peso terms. And, when you combine that with a 20% strengthening of the dollar, we end up with a 24% price reduction in Santiago for 2015. This is a good time to buy into one of the best lifestyles in Latin America.

Prices in Medellín, Colombia, fell by 13.4%, which is a good discount for this great-weather-year-round destination. Interestingly, 13.4% is not much when you consider that the dollar gained 61.3% against the Colombian peso last year. This is because prices here in peso terms have gone up smartly. (The same holds true for Cartagena, Colombia.) Medellín is in demand by a broad spectrum of expat retirees, part-year residents, and investors.

When the dollar turns around on its next downward cycle, these local price increases will result in super returns for today’s buyers.

Here’s a list of the surveyed markets whose prices fell in 2015. The “FX Change” column shows how much the U.S. dollar gained on the local currency in places where real estate trades in a local currency.

Country City 2015 2016 Price Change FX Change
Colombia Santa Marta $2,091 $1,032 -50.6% 61.3%
Chile Santiago $3,057 $2,323 -24.0% 20.0%
Uruguay Montevideo Carreteras $2,679 $2,210 -17.5%
Colombia Medellín (El Poblado) $1,330 $1,153 -13.4% 61.3%
Peru Arequipa $1,136 $1,047 -7.9%
Bolivia Santa Cruz $1,068 $998 -6.6%

The Strengthening U.S. Dollar Has Caused Many Of These Price Drops

As you can see, some of the price drops above were aided by a favorable swing in exchange rates for U.S. dollar holders.

Here’s how the U.S. dollar fared against the currencies of countries in our survey:

Country FX 2015 FX 2016 FX Change
Colombia COP 2,052 COP 3,310 61.3%
Brazil BRL 2.56 BRL 4.09 59.8%
Mexico MXN 13.61 MXN 18.45 35.6%
Chile CLP 596 CLP 715 20.0%

Here Are The Five Least Expensive Markets
In Latin America

Santa Cruz, Bolivia, takes top honors for the least expensive market in the survey. The center of Bolivia’s wealth, Santa Cruz, is not the most colorful or most “Andean” city in Bolivia… but it’s a sophisticated city in which I’d look for a full-time home in this country.

It’s also worth noting that another Andean venue made the “least expensive” list this year, Arequipa, Peru. With 12 months of brilliant sunshine and amazing weather, this 16th century colonial city is easily my #1 retirement choice in Peru. Thanks to its altitude of 7,650 feet (2,350 meters), Arequipa enjoys days that average around 71 degrees (22˚C) all year.

Cuenca, Ecuador, is still hanging in there on the inexpensive list, despite the fact that Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar and has no currency advantage. With a modest gain of less than 2%, it’s still a great value for the lifestyle. It’s been the top retirement choice for North Americans for almost 10 years now and is still holding its own in popularity.

Here are the five top markets in the “least expensive” category:

Country City 2015 2016 Price Change FX Change
Bolivia Santa Cruz $1,068 $998 -6.6%
Colombia Santa Marta $2,091 $1,032 -50.6% 61.3%
Peru Arequipa $1,136 $1,047 -7.9%
Colombia Medellín (El Poblado) $1,330 $1,153 -13.4% 61.3%
Ecuador Cuenca $1,199 $1,222 1.9%

These High-End Markets Offer Some Of The Best Lifestyles In The Region

Punta del Este, Uruguay, tops the charts in the high-end Latin American markets, followed closely by nearby Buenos Aires. I lived in Punta del Este for six years and also lived in Montevideo’s Punta Carretas. I believe that these prices are a very fair value for the lifestyles these destinations offer. Same goes for Santiago and Buenos Aires.

It’s interesting to note that premium properties in Panama City, Panama, appreciated at a healthy rate of 11.2% in 2015. This includes properties on Balboa Avenue, Punta Pacifica, and Buena Vista. Panama City is one of the world’s most business-friendly, tax-friendly, and convenient locations, with many years of economic health in its future thanks to the Panama Canal expansion.

These are the five most expensive markets in the survey:

Country City 2015 2016 Price Change FX Change
Uruguay Punta del Este $3,350 $3,547 5.9%
Argentina Buenos Aires $2,660 $2,758 3.7%
Panama Panama City $2,300 $2,558 11.2%
Chile Santiago $3,057 $2,323 -24% 20%
Uruguay Montevideo Carreteras $2,679 $2,210 -17.5%

Where To Take Action In 2016

Exchange rates are still extremely favorable in Colombia, and I continue to strongly recommend Medellín for a part- or full-time home overseas. Prices are appreciating nicely in local-currency terms, so when the U.S. dollar enters its next cycle, gains will be dramatic.

Santiago, Chile, has long been a top choice for an elegant First-World environment. What’s kept many people away has been the price. Over the past few years, however, it’s become far more affordable.

If you like Santiago, I’d buy now, for two reasons. One is that the dollar may turn around at any time, causing prices to rise… and the other is that properties in Chile may start trading in dollars, as they have in the past, if dollars stay strong.

Arequipa, Peru, is a good choice if you want spring-like weather year-round, lots of sunshine, and reasonable prices in a beautiful, historic colonial city. If you’re considering Peru, put this city high on your list.

Santa Marta, Colombia, is a real bargain right now. If you’re interested in a Caribbean vacation getaway, now is the time to check it out.

These are exciting times in the world of international properties. Today’s exchange rates are presenting us with opportunities that we may never see again… at least not for a long time.

Don’t let this window pass you by.

Lee Harrison
Editor, Overseas Property Alert