A former high school classmate and cherished old friend when reconnecting with Roger through Facebook quoted the old saying: "When God closes a door, he opens a window." The years have seen a number of life changes for us that make that adage ring true. After being blessed with good fortune, a wonderful son and great experiences, we decided to look out that window and prepare for more of what this wonderful life has to offer. We hope through our blog to share our journey from this point forward with family, with friends and with many others. Hopefully we'll make some new friends along the way. We hope you find our tales of some interest, even amusement and perhaps an inspiration for you to treat each and every day as an opportunity and an adventure to share with those who are an important part of your life.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Moving to Ecuador....Do I Lawyer Up or Not?

We had made an offer on a new home in Cuenca that was accepted. We were awaiting the paperwork process for our closing and had arranged to visit again what we hoped would be our new home to take some room and window measurements. While going through the house with the seller, she turned and inquired: "Senor, why are you using a lawyer to help you buy this house? It must be costing you extra money"? That same week Immigration officials from Quito held a public meeting to review the various visa processes for expatriates in which they touted the new website tracking process for applications. They virtually told the audience that spending money to hire lawyers to help with visa applications was expensive and not necessary.

As part of our two month exploratory process in this city last summer, the Yazells researched the types of assistance available to hopeful expatriates, both from the professional legal community as well as other services offering assistance as simple advisors and assistants. We interviewed attorneys and before we returned to the U.S., we had formally retained a pair of lawyers to assist and advise us in both the visa application process and in procurring home ownership. We had even filed powers of attorney with them so they could legally act on our behalf in Ecuador, if necessary, before our planned return in January. Were we spending money excessively or unnecessarily? We didn't think so at the time and now that we have become home owners in Cuenca and have been approved for residency in Ecuador, we still don't think that hiring our attorneys was an unnecessary or unwarranted expense. To the contrary, we think that not having hired our attorneys and having saved the fees we paid them would have been, as the Brits say, been "penny-wise and pound-foolish". Our legal fees were to us money well spent.

As I responded to the Senora who had inquired as to why I had involved a lawyer. I am a newcomer to this land, not at all well conversant in the language, unfamiliar with common practice and customs, uneducated as to the rights of citizens and visitors, thoroughly unfamiliar with the intricacies of Ecuadorian law. Hiring a lawyer gave me a reference resource, a sounding board, and (presuming I hired wisely) a strong advocate for my interests and for my protection. I look upon the legal fees that we've spent in the much the same way as I would at insurance premiums. If there aren't any issues that require attention, it may not be obvious as to the benefit but when an issue arises is when the expenditure shows its value.

In our case, problems have been relatively few and were quickly addressed. Part of the reason was probably the time we spent with our attorneys. We were very forthright in what kind of help and assistance we needed and were also prepared with what could best be described as a humongous boatload of questions. (When we ran out of questions, we went home, put on a pot of coffee and reviewed all the answers we had until at least a dozen or more questions came to mind!). Our attorneys were equally as forthright in what we could expect them to do, what OUR roles and responsibilities were and they were as productive(not to mention patient) in providing answers, instructions and suggestions as we were in proving inquiries. In short, we were fortunate in creating a partnership with our attorneys.

Each of you has to make the decision for yourselves, but based on our experience and some of what we have seen and heard, we think hiring a competent bilingual law firm to assist in the process is a sound insvestment in your transition to becoming an expatriate. Having said that, keep these things in mind:

1. You are responsible for doing YOUR due diligence and making good decisions. Paying for a lawyer does NOT absolve you of this responsibility.

2. If you fail to execute or make a stupid decision, no amount of legal fees will be able to quickly resolve the problems that will result. Nor will you be able to point your finger at the lawyer for those problems.

3. As in most business relationships, the key is for you and your lawyer to thoroughly discuss upfront what the goals and objectives are, to formulate a plan to reach them and to decide on a proper division of tasks and responsibilities to reach them. Your lawyer is a strategic advisor and counselor in this process and you're the decision maker, but you both must be in agreement in order for the plan to be successfully executed.

4. As in all tasks associated with your move, do, do, do your homework and when you think you've done enough, do some more. Ask, ask, ask all the questions you can can and then ask some more.

In our case, I think the process of working together well with our attorneys (as well as some good old fashioned luck) contributed greatly to our being able to close on the house we wanted within ten days of first offer, despite having to work through a utility enchroachment issue. It was also evident in getting final approval for our residency visas in just under eight weeks from first filing (holiday period included).

Time and effort are equivalent to spending money. You'll save those if you carefully choose your legal representative and work well with them. Our experience may not be yours, but we will always say "YES" to those who ask "Should I lawyer up or not if I plan to move to Ecuador?"

If asked for a reccomendation, we will proudly disclose that our legal representatives were the professional, Cuenca-based husband and wife team of Nelson Idrovo and Grace Velastegui. They and their two assistants, Rebecca and Priscilla were, and continue to be valued and trusted resources as we make Ecuador our home base and as we continue "juntos en el camino de la vida".

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Buying a Home in Cuenca

The Yazell's search for a home in Cuenca actually began last summer during our two month "trial run". We looked at a number of condos and houses and made the decision back then that purchasing a house was our preferred route to follow. For us, the desire to have living space "outdoors" outweighted some of the security advantages of a condominium. Deciding the type of home you want to find in Cuenca is probably as important as setting a price range, so we really suggest that anyone seeking to move here do some homework and really hone in on the type of property that makes sense for them. Rental vs purchase is probably the first initial choice. House or condo will probably require a lot of research. Most houses will require some extensive remodeling (by the way, this is probably true of rental as well as purchased property). Location is another big factor. Initially we set a 2 km radius of Parque Calderon but later modified that area. As we explored a lot of neighborhoods and also became familiar with bus routes that allowed us to go beyond own "walking distance" and also helped defined areas we felt were the kind of neighborhoods we would enjoy. There is nothing that beats walking a neighborhood and talking to the people that reside there for deciding if you would enjoy living in that area.

By the time we returned to the US in August, we had a good idea of what we were looking for. We had also decided upon an attorney that would assist us in the closing process. Further, we had met and decided upon an architect we would use for any remodeling needs. In fact, we had estimates for remodeling one house that we decided to make an offer on after we returned to the US. We ended up not getting that house as another buyer out bid us on the price.

After losing out on that house, we decided that we would, as they say, "hit the ground running" upon our return in January. We had made arrangements to recruit the help of an Ecuadorian friend we had met over our summer visit. We emailed all the new friends we had met in Cuenca shortly before our return and nearly every one responded with ideas, references to realtors they had worked with or they sent notes on houses they had seen personally, online or in the paper. We really felt prepared.

There were a few hiccups. Our Ecuadorian friend was in Panama upon our return helping his son relocate. One of the realtors we had contacted was a no-show for our appointment, another emailed and called but took ten days to even set a time to get together and then spent more time trying to get us let her handle our resident visa application than showing us property. To cap things off, Suzanne and I both came down with a case of the Cuenca bubonic "gunkies" which sidelined us for almost a week

You have to realize that house hunting is a very "hands-on" and involved process here. There is no MLS service to make searching easy. Most home owners will attempt to sell property themselves. While there are dozens of real estate agencies in Cuenca, if you are not bilingual, you probably won't find most of them or even their websites. The most easily found real estate websites in English are well executed with good listing information. Quite frankly, while their listings are well presented and informative, they tend to represent the highest priced listings in the market. Also their services can almost be described as mercenary, often charging commission fees simultaneously to buyer and seller and even charging by the hour to show property to prospective buyers. They are obviously fulfilling a need and obviously very successful at what they do. However, the expatriate who utilizes these services will likely pay wel above the market average for property he secures through them. If you are unprepared to do your own market research, homework, legwork and due deligence, these services may end ubeing your only viable and best option.

We were fortunate enough to have learned some of the basics, developed a little understanding of the marketplace and to have formulated a good sense of what would meet our needs. We were also blessed to have been referred to an excellent, hard-working, bilingual, Ecuadorian real estate agent: Monica Rodas Albornoz with Consorcio Cuencea Bienes Raices. Their office is located on Doce de Abril near the intersection of Av. Unidad Nacional. (online at www.cuencabienes Within a couple of days Monica had really honed in on the kind of property we wanted (she had even taken the address of some houses we had seen on walks and investigated them for us). We very quickly ended up with two viable candidates. One was a house that required some repair and remodeling so we arranged to have architect Marcelo Sempertegui prepare some plans and a quote. The other house was virtually new, having been completed only the previous Semptember. It had never been occupied due to relocation of the owner. It was a true find and was virtually move-in ready even down to meeting our "gringo" standards for multiple outlets in every room and multiple prewired locations for TV, internet and phone. We decided to go for this house and our offer was accepted within hours.

We had some concern about a utility pole anchor that was implanted smack dab in the middle of our front courtyard so we added a contingency clause to the sales contract. (This is something very rarely done in Ecuador). We were concerned this might cause a long delay but we actually resolved the utility company encroachment, cleared the title, closed the sale and took possesion of the property within ten calendar days.

Suzanne and I are now the proud owners of a 218 sq meter beauty in the western part of Cuenca. We've already met two of our new neighbors and are looking forward in the next couple of weeks to getting enough basics installed so we can move in ahead of our container arrival.

After being vagabonds here, in Thailand, and in the U.S. for the past eight months, we are now looking forward to our new home and base as we continue "juntos en el camino de la vida".