FAQ: What should I do? Buy, rent, build... a house, apartment, condo?

When it comes to housing in Ecuador there are many options. Choosing the best one for you in your particular situation requires careful consideration of many factors.

I'm sure you have heard that housing prices here are much, much cheaper than in North America. For example, in Loja, an unfurnished apartment of 1000 square feet might be had for only $200-250 per month. Construction costs for a new build might be around $50-70 per square foot, compared to a U.S. average of $100-150. I think you can quickly see the potential for significant savings by relocating to Ecuador.

In the U.S. and Canada of the 1950's many people were "sold" on the idea of being individual homeowners. The single family house with a garage and lawn became a symbol of success in society. That attitude has carried through to today such that many expats believe when relocating to another country they need that house and yard. But wait. You need more information.

For instance, are you planning to stay put for a few years (or for the rest of your life) or do you have a bad case of wanderlust and might want to move on to another locale before too much time elapses? Even if you are absolutely certain you want to remain in Ecuador, are you sure you have found the perfect spot within the country? Perhaps you will discover the weather is not exactly what you anticipated, or the neighbors have a smelly farm, or they make too much noise.

Have you considered the economics of buying versus renting? Many rents are super reasonable and one could live for 20 or 30 years before spending as much as the cost of buying or building a home. Know this, too - mortgages for expats are pretty much non-existent so you will need to pay the full amount upfront for your purchase which begs the question - how much potential interest might you lose out by not having those funds invested in CDs or retirement accounts?

Ecuador's inheritance laws should also be considered. There are strict rules about who will have a claim to your property after death which may create some weird family dynamics. For instance, a spouse only inherits one half of the property, with the other half being divided between your children. Is that agreeable to how you want to leave things, or would renting help avoid some potential infighting?

OK, let's say you still want to own your personal piece of Ecuadorian heaven. Of course you have done your due diligence and feel the purchase price is fair and not inflated because you are a foreigner, or the construction costs sound good for a new build. You should understand that it is not uncommon for construction costs to exceed the initial estimate, sometimes by a lot. Have you allowed a sufficient cushion if something untoward happens? Do you have a reserve if your health takes a turn for the worse, or you need to return to your home country?

And what if you suddenly need to relocate? Selling a house and/or a property can take a very long time, and even then you may need to take a loss if you spent too much initially. Flipping houses or real estate in Ecuador is not a surefire moneymaker like in the states.

Whether a house, condo or apartment, materials and construction techniques are quite different here compared to most of the US or Canada. Much of what is built in Loja is masonry - often a combination of poured concrete plus blocks or bricks. Building codes inside the city specify the generous use of rebar to provide earthquake resistance. Most wiring is run through flexible conduit buried in the walls or ceilings as few walls are hollow. In outlying areas you may find buildings of adobe and, with fewer code restrictions, some interesting owner-built structures using earthbags, recycled shipping containers, or even bamboo. "Stick-built" edifices are rare.

Owning your own place also puts you on the hook for any necessary repairs that crop up, instead of being the responsibility of the landlord/landlady if renting. Granted, some leases are worded in ways that leave repairs up to the tenant but most Ecuadorians are fair and understand that a malfunctioning water heater, for example, is not the fault of "normal wear and tear" but is the obligation of the lessor to repair or replace.

Purchasing property requires very careful due diligence to avoid potential future problems. Land surveys are relatively new in Loja but are now required. If a survey has not been done previously, they can sometimes turn up some border disputes with neighbors. Obtaining a clear title also requires careful "legwork" to be sure there are no outstanding claims by distant relatives or a government entity. It is up to the buyer to ensure that you will have access to good water and necessary utilities. And if your property has a natural feature, such as a river, then be aware that the public has a right to access it as they desire - you cannot deny them access.

This article is largely written from the perspective of an immigrant who is older and either retired or will be soon. Younger expats may feel that the risks of owning outweigh the expenditures of renting because they will have more time to see a benefit from holding an investment. But even young people should take into consideration that employment may change, or new opportunities present, which require a greater flexibility in lifestyle and location.

Photo of Loja by Nathaly Poma Photography

It is our understanding that Loja is uniquely situated to be one of the best places if you are looking to minimize the impact of climate change. Our daily temperatures throughout the year and available water resources, height above sea level (but not too high), along with wind-generated electricity combine to make Loja an ideal "go-to" place to live now and in the future.

Life in Loja offers relocation services to help you determine if your ideal home is to be had in Loja or its surroundings. Whether you are in the market for an apartment, house, or a place in the country we can show you the best neighborhoods, connect you with professionals, and help you explore the diverse options available.

If you would like to know more about our custom tours and relocation services then contact us by email or phone/WhatsApp at 593-098-674-5994 to begin a conversation.


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