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.

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".

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