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House Hunting … in Colombia | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Credit Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

This contemporary four-bedroom five-bathroom home is on a hillside in the suburban town of Envigado, in the Aburrá Valley, about six miles from the center of Medellin. Viewers of the Netflix series “Narcos” will recognize Envigado as the hometown of the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was killed in a shootout with police officers and soldiers in 1993.

Medellin, about 260 miles from Bogotá, is the second largest city in Colombia, with more than three million people in the metropolitan area.

Envigado is “more of a bedroom community, more family oriented” than Medellin’s urban neighborhoods, said Rich Holman, the sales director of First American Realty Medellin, the real estate company marketing the property.
Built in 2013, this 4,900-square-foot house sits on a little more than a half-acre, with broad views of the surrounding mountains, the Central Cordillera section of the Andes. The exterior facade is a combination of stucco and carob wood. A small pond surrounds the base of the house, near the entrance. A bridge of wooden steps leads to the front door.

The large open living room immediately off the entrance has Spanish marble floors and two-story windows. From the living room, glass doors open onto a teak deck. There is a separate TV room and office on the ground floor, as well as a space the current owner uses as a fitness room. The furniture is not included in the price, but is available to buy, Mr. Holman said.

The living room connects directly to the kitchen, which has an island counter for casual dining. All the appliances are Italian, including a steam oven and a range on the island. The current owner uses the balcony off the living room for formal dining.

A wood spiral staircase leads to the second floor, where there are three bedrooms and three bathrooms and the floors are made of carob wood.

The master bedroom has a dome-shaped roof with indirect lighting and two balconies. The bathroom features natural stone walls, a double shower, two sinks and a Jacuzzi; circular windows offer views of the city. There is also a large walk-in closet. A guest bathroom is on the ground floor, along with another bedroom and bathroom.

The backyard has a large lawn with banana, lemon and avocado trees. The current owners tend a small garden with cilantro, carrots, onions and tea plants. There is a carport-style garage with room for two cars.

The house is about a five-minute drive to hiking and biking trails, as well as an off-road track for trucks, ATVs and dirt bikes. The stores, restaurants and nightlife of Envigado are less than a 10-minute drive, and local buses connect to the center of Medellin. The house is about 30 minutes from the Medellin international airport.


Medellin’s property market still suffers from lingering images of “the drug days,” Mr. Holman said. “It takes some time to get rid of the stereotypes.” The recent public rejection of a peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has had little impact on Medellin, beyond perpetuating the perception of turmoil, agents said.

As a result of that perception, Medellin homes sell at a steep discount compared to those in Bogotá and Cartagena, Mr. Holman said. High-end properties in Medellin are priced at about $190 a square foot; those in Bogotá are around $318 a square foot.

But sales in Medellin have been steadily increasing in recent years, and prices have risen an average of 7 percent a year since 2003, Mr. Holman said.

This year the local market is on pace to sell more than 74,000 homes, a record number, the Real Estate Association of Medellin reported a few weeks ago. Prices in the area rose 8 percent in 2015, according to the association’s data.

The market has been aided by an improving economy, a growing middle class and increasing tourism, agents said.

The property market “is booming,” said Brad Hinkelman, the owner of Casacol Medellin, a real estate agency. “Colombia is a classic emerging market economy.”

The affluent neighborhood of El Poblado, adjacent to Envigado, is the most popular area for foreign buyers, agents say. Prices in some areas of El Poblado have risen more than 15 percent in the last year, Mr. Hinkelman said. And “there is very little new construction coming on to the market in the most coveted area of the city,” he added.
The second most popular area in Medellin for sales and rentals by foreigners is Envigado, agents say. It is seen as an alternative to the higher-priced central neighborhoods, said Mr. Hinkelman, who lives in Envigado: “If you are trying to get more for your money, you go to Envigado.”

Medellin neighborhoods are rated by the government on a scale of one to six based on social and economic conditions, with six signifying the wealthiest neighborhoods and one the poorest. (The ratings are used to determine property taxes, utility fees and other charges.)

Most parts of El Poblado are rated six, while Envigado ranks between two and five, depending on the area, Mr. Holman said. This house is in a neighborhood rated five.


The domestic market is driving home sales in Medellin, which is a popular vacation and second-home destination. “A lot of investors from Bogotá are coming to Medellin,” Mr. Hinkelman said. “There is huge rental demand.”
The number of foreign buyers in Medellin is also growing, especially with the strength of the dollar against the Colombian peso, agents say. But international buyers still make up less than 5 percent of the market, Mr. Hinkelman said.


There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Colombia. Agents recommend hiring a lawyer to handle the paperwork and research the title.

And while regulations are strict and there is a lot of paperwork, “Colombia protects ownership,” said Diana Pizano, a partner in the Medellin law firm of Colombia Legal Partners.

Down payments are usually 10 percent to 20 percent of the purchase price. Colombia does not use escrow accounts, but the purchase agreement is “legally binding to the parties and enforceable,” Ms. Pizano said. If there are no problems with funding or the title deed, deals can close within 45 days of an accepted offer, she said.
The majority of transactions are all-cash. Even for locals, mortgages are very expensive, with interest rates of around 12 percent, Mr. Holman said, and they usually require 30 to 40 percent down payments.


Official Colombia tourism site: colombia.travel/en
Government investment information: investincolombia.com.co


Spanish; Colombian peso ($1 = 2,922 pesos)


Buyers’ closing costs are usually about 1.4 percent of the purchase price, Ms. Pizano said. Agent commissions are typically 3 to 4.5 percent of the price, and are paid by the seller, she said, and the legal fees are typically $1,000 to $2,000 on top of closing costs.
Property taxes on this house are about $1,700 a year, Mr. Holman said.

The New York Times