We Canadians are a venturesome lot when it comes to travelling abroad. We’re also pretty bold when it comes to investing in foreign real estate.
So says Michael Cobb, chairman and chief executive officer of ECI Development Ltd., which focuses on investment and vacation property development in Central America.
In fact, Canadians are more adventurous than people from the United States, he says. “U.S. buyers tend to focus more on the return on investment more than lifestyle.”
Still, monied Canucks aren’t strangers to mixing business with pleasure, either, often seeking out the next up-and-coming hot spots, including these destinations.
Old World charm in Cascais, Portugal
Across the Atlantic, Portugal remains a foreign buyers’ destination with its “golden visa” resident permit that offers EU citizenship to foreigners who buy property. “The program has been a big mover of real estate values in the country and it will continue to do so,” says Kathleen Peddicord, author of How to Retire Overseas: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (For Less) Abroad.
The long coastline of pristine beaches, café culture and Old World charm don’t hurt, either. In Cascais, a coastal community outside Lisbon, a “nice villa” starts at about $600,000, she says.
Big, beautiful Brazil
Brazil is so much more than Rio de Janeiro, says Ms. Peddicord. “I’m an American, so when someone asks if such-and-such is a safe place, I will say, ‘Well is the United States unsafe because some neighbourhoods in Los Angeles are unsafe?’” Because of outsized fears regarding crime, foreign investors overlook gems such as Brazil’s northeast coast in and around the city of Fortaleza.
“It is the quintessential Brazilian beach that you think of – white sand and long stretches of coast,” she says. Oceanfront condos run between US$125,000 and US$250,000. “This is a safe and quiet place because it’s off the radar, and being off the radar has its advantages.”
Top-drawer community in Arizona
While some Canadians are drawn to red-tile-roofed McMansions in Scottsdale, those for whom price is no object are heading to the Arcadia neighbourhood of Phoenix. One of the city’s toniest areas, it was built on a former citrus grove and offers landscape irrigation.
“Everything looks lush and you have grass, so it definitely appeals to the wealthier buyers,” says Debra Allen, realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services.
Named one of the best places to live by Money Magazine, Arcadia homes range from about US$600,000 to a few million dollars.
Nicaragua, believe it or not
Violent political turmoil is a turnoff for most property seekers, but Mr. Cobb says value investors should not overlook Nicaragua because of its recent troubles. “You can find an oceanfront condo for US$139,000 and you don’t need high ADRs [average daily rental rates] and occupancy to make it work” as a rental property that can pay for itself when not in use by the owner, he says. The average night’s stay in coastal regions is US$180, he says, with about 40 per cent occupancy. That equates to an average yield of about 6 to 8 per cent relative to a property’s purchase price. Belize offers a similar return but at more than double the cost of investment, he adds.
Mr. Cobb isn’t alone in his view on Nicaragua. A recent New York Times article espoused its tropical climate, beaches and affordable real estate prices. “As long as you keep your head down and stay out of politics, you’ll be fine,” Mr. Cobb says.
Dreaming of Tuscany, in Italy
Buyers seeking an economical foothold in Europe can look to Italy, where some towns are offering properties for one euro, so long as buyers renovate, she says. Of particular interest is Abruzzo, on the Adriatic coast. “It’s for someone who has the dream of the Tuscany lifestyle,” only that farmhouse in the pastoral countryside doesn’t come with the Tuscany price.
For example, a restored property in Tuscany would cost $2-million, but about $600,000 in Abruzzo. Still, she warns would-be buyers shouldn’t expect to see their investment rise in value. “It would be a purchase for someone who wanted an Italian lifestyle.”
Beach-bumming in Ambergris Caye
Belize is already one of the more popular destinations for Canadian buyers, particularly in this town on the Caribbean, long popular with divers and sport fishers, says Mr. Cobb. “Ambergris Caye is a long-time expat destination.”
Buyers seeking hassle-free ownership can buy into branded residences, including an existing Marriott offering. Despite experiencing a recent development boom, the town’s beach-bum atmosphere persists. Ironically, its beaches aren’t the best, but the fly fishing, snorkelling and scuba are world-class, he adds.
He likens it to Key West 30 years ago, saying, “US$250,000 to US$300,000 would get you a nice one-bedroom on oceanfront.” That’s about half the price of the Cayman Islands and about a third of Turks and Caicos.
Luxuriously laid back in Florida
Florida has long been a favourite of snowbirds. But the more popular destinations such as West Palm Beach, Naples and Fort Lauderdale can be too hectic for Canadians seeking a laid-back beach experience, says Carla Rayman-Kidd, a realtor who works with international buyers for Coldwell Banker.
Buyers seeking a slower pace should check out the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater region. “It’s the same kind of real estate but for less money,” she says.
Its relative affordability also makes it appealing to buyers seeking a little more return from their investment. According to data from Florida Realtors, the median price in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater region in April was about US$235,000, up 9 per cent year over year. By comparison the average price in the Naples region was about US$480,000, with a 5.5-per-cent rise. And in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, average prices were about US$350,000, with a 7.7-per-cent increase.