How Wrong Things Can Go…

Confessions Of A Foreign Property Owner

“This is the wettest rainy season in a long time,” our guide explained, as we followed him up the hill. “It’s been raining every day for at least three weeks, and, some days, the rains are torrential.”

He was trying to prepare me for what we were about to see. I braced myself…we turned the corner…and there stood our little yellow house…and what was left of its roof.

This is a tale of how wrong things can go when you’re a long-distance foreign property owner.

The roof flew off our house about two months ago, as best I can figure…but word of the event was slow to reach us. And, when it came, the report didn’t do the situation justice.

“Do you have the key?” Harry asked as we approached the house.

“It doesn’t look like we need it,” I replied, as I inspected the front door…which was so warped and bloated with water it couldn’t be closed.

I pushed the door open and stepped inside. Slosh went the floor beneath my sneaker. In some places, the water came over my ankles. The furniture had been pushed to one side, to try to keep it away from the deep pools on the other.

“It was much worse yesterday,” my guide offered. “I asked the girls to sweep out the water as best they could.”

Harry and I spent the next couple of hours poking around. That is, we tested the extent of the damage to the wooden window frames and door moldings…to the inlaid wood in the ceilings…and to the wooden legs of the tables and chairs by poking them all with ballpoint pens and our fingernails. I hadn’t thought to bring a screwdriver…

Years ago, shortly after we’d bought our house in Waterford, Ireland, I had a similar experience.

The rains aren’t seasonal in Ireland. The country is wet year-round. And the old stone house we bought had witnessed 200 years of water and damp.

“Rising damp,” the Irish call it. And our house had it. The general contractor we called in took one look and made a suggestion:

“You need to have someone see about the damp.”

We didn’t understand, exactly, what that meant, but we told Noel to go ahead and bring in his rising damp expert.

The guy came a few days later. He carried a single tool: a screwdriver, which he poked into our shutters and door jambs…through our floor boards and window casings…all over our shutters and moldings…

Everywhere he poked, the screwdriver slid in easily. And the more he poked, the more solemn he grew.

Thus began our first total gut-job, as we now refer to it…our first experience of taking a place down to its shell…and then rebuilding it.

I fear we’re in a similar situation now in Nicaragua. Our house there isn’t two centuries old. It was built for us but a few years ago. But property management has been thin on the ground in this case…the property hasn’t been properly maintained…and, now, Mother Nature has dealt a serious blow.

We bought this little house for family holidays but, mostly, as a rental. The first couple of years were promising. We believed the returns would grow as the country’s tourism reputation developed.

Then came Ortega. Tourists chose to go elsewhere.

These past couple of years, we’ve seen virtually no occupancy…thanks to the Sandinista president, but also thanks to muddled management. From Paris and now from Panama, we’ve tried to keep up…tried to understand the ups and downs and backs and forths of the situation.

It’s been hopeless, though. Finally, I was able to make time to go have a look for myself.

Standing in the flood waters, surveying the damage, I realized I had to make a choice. I could write the whole thing off…chalk it up as so much more global investing experience…or I could make a plan.

Here’s my plan: To put new rental and property management in place.

OK, it’s not brilliant. But, standing in my wet and moldy little yellow house last week, making this decision was a start.

We won’t walk away. We’ll try to focus. And we’ll seek out someone who knows what he’s doing to help.

I’ve told you this before, dear reader, but it bears repeating: The key to a successful foreign rental experience is your rental manager. I’ve done this in a dozen markets…been an absentee rental owner…mostly without success. When we have been successful, it’s been thanks, without question, to the rental manager on the case.

I’ve got a line on a guy in Granada, a serious guy…a pro…with a decade of experience managing property in the States. I’m hoping to be able to persuade him now to add our house to the pool of rentals he’s building in Granada.

If he goes for it…and is interested in other properties for his portfolio…I’ll let you know.

Meantime, we’re interviewing roofers…

Kathleen Peddicord