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La Antigua, II

La Antigua, Part II

“Founded in 1543 as the capital of the Audiencia de Guatemala,” writes new Guatemala Correspondent Michael Paladin, “Antigua once comprised Central America, including parts of Mexico and excluding Panama. The city was devastated by a series of earthquakes in the late 1700s, and the capital moved to Guatemala City, 25 miles to the east.

“Today the city contains some 35,000 citizens and some 30 churches, monasteries, convents, and other historical buildings, spread out over a European-style street grid that takes 25 minutes to walk from one end to the other. Guatemala City and a new airport are 25 miles and 45 minutes away, respectively, by good highways.

“Antigua has been described as one of the world’s best-preserved cities. It is also called the Land of Eternal Spring. The rains start in May and end in October, and, for these six months, the surrounding valleys and mountains are lush with vegetation. The city is situated at 4,500 feet, so there’s little or no humidity, and temperatures are a perfect 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

“From the city, you can see three prominent volcanoes: long-dormant Volcan Agua to the south; Volcan Fuego to the southwest, which regularly emits smoke and ash; and Volcan Acanatengo to the west.

“The infrastructure and services are good–water, electricity, Internet, etc., are fairly constant and reliable. The city is well-served by three telephone systems (Moviestar, Tigo, and Claro), and the security is good, with continual Tourist Police patrols.

“There is nightlife, superb restaurants, and a vibrant cultural scene, and the entire city is an architectural treat with tile roofs, cobblestone streets, and pastel stucco exteriors. There is a charm about the place reminiscent of Granada, Nicaragua, and Havana.

“Antigua amounts to the most exclusive part of Guatemala. And the most expensive. Real estate in this town trades hands most often among the Guatemalans themselves. The market hasn’t been much affected by the meltdowns in the States and elsewhere.

“There are two internationally recognized real estate agencies operating in Antigua (Century 21 Casa Nova and ReMax Colonial)…and innumerable unrecognized agents. Anyone can call himself a real estate agent in this country, and lots of people do. There are no rules, with the exception of the newly inaugurated Camera de Corredores de Bienes Raices de Guatemala. Many attorneys are also real estate agents, as are many restaurant owners…and many tour guides…

“This is a cash market, though Century 21 Casa Nova recently began advertising the availability of mortgages from Guatemalan banks, with a minimum of 30% down, a credit check, an income statement, and an appraisal to be paid for by the buyer. I’m not sure how the appraisal process works here. If it is anything like in Costa Rica or Nicaragua, I suspect that the lender has his own staff do the valuation.

“Because Antigua is a World Heritage Site, no one can build taller than three stories. The emphasis is on retaining the colonial character and style, and there’s little room for expansion. This limited inventory is part of the reason the market is as expensive as it is.

“Values begin at the center of town, at Parque Central. Properties around the park command the highest prices. There are new condominium projects designed to mimic the colonial style for those who want the look of old but the convenience of new, but the majority of houses for sale are a few hundred years old, updated throughout the eras with varying degrees of modernization.

“Antigua is a walking town, with parking at a premium and garages a luxury. When considering a neighborhood, pay attention to the local nightlife and the bus routes. Nightclubs and buses both mean traffic and noise.

“Given the building height restrictions, properties with views of the city, the valley, and of the volcanoes command premiums.

“Again, this is the most costly city in this country. Still, prices can be reasonable, even appealing, for what and where you’re buying. For example, on the market now is a 1,000-square-foot renovation project on the outskirts of town for only US$49,500.

“Also for sale right now is a 3,100-square-foot six-bedroom, seven-bath house that could make a great bed-and-breakfast. Asking price is US$950,000.”

Kathleen Peddicord

FROM THE MAILBAG:

“I first visited Thailand three years ago. I was impressed with the country and its people and visited three or four more times in the next year. I enjoyed the weather, the natural beauty, and the friendliness of the people. It is a safe and convenient country to live and travel in, and that the cost of living is quite low compared with most Western countries.

“So I began thinking about buying a place to live in the country part-time, perhaps three to six months a year. I live now in Australia but would be able to qualify for a retirement visa, which would allow me to live indefinitely in Thailand.

“I made plans to return again in September 2006 to scout real estate. I had ruled out Chiang Mai and the north as being too distant from the rest of the country, and I was concentrating on coastal areas with tourist infrastructure, as well as Bangkok.

“I visited Koh Chang first, a beautiful and relatively undeveloped island near the southeast extremity of the country, and then worked my way up the coast via Koh Samet and Pattaya to Bangkok. I had only two days in each location, and I realized right away that this wasn’t enough.

“I was, though, able at least to form personal impressions of each area I visited. I liked Koh Chang but thought it distant from the center of Thailand around Bangkok, especially as, to get there, you have to take a ferry from the mainland. I wasn’t as keen on the nearer Koh Samet, although I may not have seen its best points, as I stayed there only one night.

“I found Pattaya impressive. It has the obvious advantage of being close to both Bangkok and the main airport. My visit was spoiled a little by heavy rains and flooding, and, like Bangkok, this is too big a market to get to grips with in a couple of days.

“From Pattaya, I continued to Hua Hin and to Phuket. I liked Hua Hin and noted that it was close enough to Bangkok via a highway that was being upgraded.

“Here my trip was interrupted by the military coup. And, frankly, I was spooked at first. I was unfamiliar with the civilized way the Thai people carry out these sorts of political upheavals, which can be dangerous in other countries. I realized quickly, though, that, in Thailand, I didn’t need to be worried.

“Still, I decided to return home and mull things over.

“In June 2007, I returned again, this time with a small tour group. For me, this made the difference. I returned to all the places I’d seen on my own, but, this time, I had others to help me judge what I was seeing. I moved Phuket to the bottom of my list, because it is the most expensive and it’s not well-placed as a base for touring (although it does have an international airport).

“Hua Hin I liked even more, but I wondered if it might be too quiet. It’s a much smaller town than Phuket or Pattaya.

“In the end, I chose Pattaya. I bought into a development called The Vineyard. They’re a little outside town but offer an outstanding combination and quality and price.

“Construction took a little longer than expected, mostly due to weather delays, but I was in no particular hurry. My villa was finally completed to my satisfaction a couple of months ago.

“I’ve yet to take up residence but am looking forward to it.”

— Michael J., Australia

***

“Kathleen, it is good to be getting e-mails from you. I started with you back in 1984, when you were starting out with International Living. I wish I had been able to act on your suggestions back then. I did buy in Costa Rica in 1988, and that was good.

“I so enjoy all your articles, as I believe in your truthfulness about places to look at and buy. I also remember your little stock suggestions, and you were always on target.

“I found my family roots in Croatia and have been back every year for the last five years. It took me 13 days to find the families of my grandmother and grandfather in Seget, just outside Trogir. Now if I do not go back ever year to see them, they are sad and so am I.

“I also went two years ago to check out the condos at Isla De Oro in Venezuela that you wrote about. I bought two units there. They need to be updated but what a buy.”

— Marlene M., Alaska

Thank you, Marlene, for your sweet and remarkable loyalty. Thank you, too, for your kind words of support and for taking time to get in touch. It’s all much appreciated.

Keep reading, if you can stand it. I intend to be at this another 25 years…

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