House Hunting in Nicaragua: A Solar-Powered Ranch for $650,000
- by NewYorkTimes
- May 13, 2020
This eco-friendly equestrian estate is set on about nine acres outside the popular coastal town of San Juan del Sur, in southwestern Nicaragua.
Built in 2009 using salvaged roof tiles and doors, locally sourced wood and other antique or handcrafted materials, the colonial-style property includes nine total bedrooms, stables for up to 18 horses and a swimming pool, and is powered entirely by solar energy (with grid backup).
The estate, named Rancho Chilamate for a chilamate tree growing on the grounds, is anchored by a 3,800-square-foot, four-bedroom main house. An adjacent house has a garage and two staff bedrooms, and a stand-alone casita has one bedroom. Two additional staff bedrooms are near the stables.
“If you love horses, it’s absolutely fantastic,” said Robert Cooper, a director of 7th Heaven Properties, a luxury agency specializing in the Caribbean and Central America, which has the listing. “It’s not too far from the beach and it has that quintessential Nicaraguan feel.”
“Particularly now,” he said, “I can certainly think of worse places to be self-isolating,” adding that the price was recently reduced from $729,000.
Heather van Doorninck, the seller, said she wanted to honor Nicaragua’s architectural heritage when she built the estate. “All the cement is by hand,” she said. “Every single rock here is cut in the forest with a chain saw. Nothing is milled here. It’s authentically grounded and gorgeous.”
Ms. van Doorninck has rented rooms for $200 a night and led guests on horseback tours to the beach or through a riverside jungle inhabited by howler monkeys. “The cacophony of jungle noises here is amazing,” she said.
A long driveway leads to a parking area and a white security wall surrounding much of the property. Through the gate are a stone courtyard with a barbecue and an outdoor dining area. Two faded blue antique doors open into the home’s great room, with 20-foot vaulted ceilings and tropical hardwood beams. The space includes a dining table for 10, a TV area and the kitchen.
Past the kitchen, saloon doors lead to a hallway with a half bathroom, a pantry storage area and a tack room. To the right are three bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, including the master suite, all of which open out to the pool terrace through French doors. A fourth bedroom and a bathroom with an outdoor shower are across a courtyard off the great room.
The 10-by-20-foot pool and surrounding flagstone deck have a variety of areas for sitting and dining, including a built-in nook with a Moroccan-style daybed, hammocks and a covered outdoor living room. Each of the home’s two towers disguises a water tower.
A separate 700-square foot, one-bedroom, one-bath casita with a kitchen and terrace is about 200 feet away, nestled under shade trees.
Besides the stables, the facilities include a round training pen, a barn, paddocks and a forge. The property is being sold turnkey — with option to be operated as a bed-and-breakfast — and the horses can be purchased separately.
The estate, located just outside the village of Escamequita, is 10 miles south of San Juan del Sur, a former fishing village that reinvented itself as a hub for surfing and tourism in the late 20th century. The Pacific Ocean is about 45 minutes away by horse and 10 minutes by car. Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport, in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, is about 100 miles north, and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Costa Rica is 90 miles south.
Nicaragua remains one of Latin America’s poorest countries, though its economy saw encouraging gains in the years after the global recession as the country became more popular with tourists and second-home buyers, especially as an alternative to pricier Costa Rica.
In 2017, the nation’s real estate market was poised to “boom,” Mr. Cooper said: “At that time, it was one of the fastest growing tourism destinations out there, in terms of the numbers of arrivals.”
That changed in the spring of 2018, when Nicaragua’s government clashed with protesters, prompting the U.S. State Department to issue a travel advisory “due to civil unrest, crime, limited health care availability, and arbitrary enforcement of laws.”
The turmoil took its toll on the housing market. Along the country’s southwest coast, which includes San Juan del Sur and the Emerald Coast, sales prices dropped an average of 30 percent, and in some cases as much as 50 percent, said Julio Cesar Lacayo, a founder of Aurora Beachfront Realty, based in San Juan del Sur.
Since 2018, Mr. Lacayo said, his company has shifted more to rentals as sales in Managua have remained scarce — a situation exacerbated by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Most of my day-to-day activity surrounds itself with rentals,” he said of business in Managua. “I don’t do very much sales.”
Sales activity has limped along in San Juan del Sur, however, because investors “are seeing opportunities to buy at a lower price,” he said.
Jesse “Pedro” Resau, the owner and broker of RE/MAX Coastal Properties, a Nicaraguan agency, said the market in San Juan del Sur had begun to pick up in mid-2019 and into 2020. In March and April, the pandemic all but stamped out his business.
Two-bedroom houses selling for around $300,000 before the turmoil of 2018 are now selling for 25 percent less. At a higher price tier, homes that sold for $500,000 to $700,000 in early 2018 are now going for $300,000 to $400,000. At the luxury end, homes that had been listed for between $900,000 and $1.2 million in early 2018 were selling for between $500,000 to $700,000 in mid-2019, but the luxury market is currently stagnant, Mr. Resau said.
“There has been no movement in luxury homes here, not in the San Juan del Sur area, since last year,” he said.
But his business has begun picking up again. A few properties that offered video tours and price cuts are in contract, and that prospective buyers have made offers from abroad on homes they toured during earlier visits.
Agents said there are discounts to be found, though many sellers haven’t lowered asking prices on homes, even as land prices have fallen.
“They’re basically trying to see how this pandemic is going to shake out before they make a determination of what they’re going to do with their properties here,” Mr. Resau said.
Despite the “double blow of the period of the crisis followed by this outbreak,” Mr. Cooper said, “interest was looking very rosy again at the beginning of this year. And people even now are doing virtual viewings.”
Mr. Cooper said asking prices for condos in the San Juan del Sur and Emerald Coast region currently start at around $100,000 and climb to around $700,000. Detached homes start at around $200,000 and range up to $1 million, with a few listings in the $2 million to $3 million range, he said.
“We have a wide variety of investors and retirees, but the lion’s share of the investor population are North Americans,” Mr. Resau said.
Mr. Lacayo said that Nicaraguans have made up about 20 percent of his company’s buyers in the past year. The rest were from Canada, the U.S. and Europe, particularly Germany and Spain. (Real estate transactions in Nicaragua are often done in U.S. dollars and recorded in Nicaraguan córdobas, he said.)
Mr. Cooper said his agency’s website for Nicaraguan properties attracts 63 percent of its traffic from the U.S., about 20 percent from Canada and about 15 percent from elsewhere, mostly Europe and Latin America.
Foreigners can own real estate anywhere in Nicaragua except near international borders, where ownership is forbidden, said Marlon José Blandon Argeñal, a senior managing partner at Galex Soluciones Notariales, a law firm in Granada.
Foreigners need a permit from the federal government to purchase property near bodies of water, he said. The permit is free and typically takes two to three months.
The seller normally pays the sales commission of 3 to 7 percent, though this can be negotiated with the buyer, agents said.
Transactions are handled by a lawyer who performs notarial duties, Mr. Blandon Argeñal said. It is important for the notary to conduct due diligence, particularly for issues related to property titles. The notary’s fee, 2.5 percent of the purchase price, covers a 1 percent registration tax, due diligence and the closing services.
The seller typically pays a transfer tax of 1 to 7 percent of the purchase price, as well as the annual property tax.
“It is important in the closing to talk about these payments,” Mr. Blandon Argeñal counseled buyers.
Nicaragua tourism: visitnicaragua.us
U.S. Embassy: ni.usembassy.gov
Nicaragua Multiple Listing Service: mls-nica.com/en
Spanish; Nicaraguan córdoba (1 córdoba = $0.03)
The annual property tax on this home is $1,200, Ms. van Doorninck said. She added that she is offering financing, subject to negotiation with the seller.
Robert Cooper, 7th Heaven Properties, 1-855-364-8776; 7thheavenproperties.com