How to Rent or Buy Real Estate in Unregulated Markets

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Retired couple on the beach
Tongpool Piasupun /

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Live and Invest Overseas.

You want to be sober when considering a property purchase in a foreign land.

Certainly, you want your wits about you when it comes time to sign on the dotted line.

Trouble is, in the lands of mañanas and fiestas, the rum flows and so do the promises.

The key to success in navigating an investment in property overseas, especially in a developing market, is avoiding the liquor and turning a deaf ear to the assurances.

Here’s How This Will Go …

Retirees enjoying a walk outdoors
Monkey Business Images /

You’ll arrive in the country where you’re dreaming of launching your new life.

In the terminal at the airport, the lobby of your hotel, and the restaurant down the street where you go for dinner, you’ll be approached by friendly fellows with houses and beachfront lots to sell.

Every taxi driver, bar owner, and shopkeeper will have a piece of property for sale or a cousin in the real estate business.

You won’t have to seek out an agent to help you find your new home. They’ll find you.

My Nicaragua Experience

Ppictures /

Years ago, in Granada, Nicaragua, I was early for a lunch meeting and took a seat at the bar to wait for my friend. Two minutes later, a fellow gringo sat down alongside me. “Hello,” he offered. “Have you just gotten into town?”

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s a great place to live. And real estate is a bargain. The Spanish-colonial haciendas of this city are a treasure. I know of two available right now for very good prices. I could take you to see them after lunch if you’d like?”

“I’m waiting for a friend. I don’t think I have time for a real estate tour today.”

“Well, then, maybe tomorrow. I’ve been in this city for five years. In fact, I’m the local representative for Live and Invest Overseas. I’ve been working with the publisher for that organization, Kathleen Peddicord, for years. Maybe you’ve heard of her? Kathleen has been writing about investing and retiring in Nicaragua for a long while. She’s considered the expert.”

I’d never seen this man before. It didn’t seem worth the effort to point out whom he was talking to … so I let the guy finish his pitch. Finally, my friend arrived and I broke away. I never ran into that Granada property expert again, but the memory of my exchange with him has stuck with me because it’s a good example of the absurd lengths these guys will go to hook a buyer.

The Real Challenge

Woman holding a margarita
giuseppelombardo /

As I said, in these markets, the challenge isn’t finding a real estate agent to take you shopping. The challenge is finding one you feel comfortable doing business with.

How can you do that? Speak with as many agents as possible and take nothing any of them tells you at face value.

Focus on what you’re seeing with your own eyes rather than the picture your property guide will try to paint.

He’ll drive you out to the beach … to a palapa on the sand. “Come in, have lunch, enjoy a drink,” he’ll say. “The fish is fresh. My guys caught it just offshore from this beach this morning. And the rum is local.”

Like Falling in Love

Happy senior couple at a beach
wavebreakmedia /

After you’ve eaten your fill, the guy will take you out in his 4X4 or maybe on horseback to explore. As the sun slips toward the horizon and the ocean’s surface glistens in the day’s fading light, the sky above fire red and orange, your new friend will direct your attention.

“Over there,” he’ll say, “is where the clubhouse will be constructed. Down there will be the dock, over there the marina. On the hills all around us will be houses …

“Just look at that,” he’ll instruct. “Look at that sunset. This could be the view from your front porch. You could have a front-row seat for this show every evening.”

“Come on,” he’ll continue. “Let’s head back. It’s time for some Sundown Rum Punch.”

You’re smitten. Who wouldn’t be? Nothing wrong with appreciating what’s being put on the table in front of you.

Savor the Experience, but …

happy couple
sirtravelalot /

The coasts of Nicaragua, Panama, Belize, the Dominican Republic — these are extraordinarily beautiful places.

Seeing them for the first time can make you weak in the knees. The feeling can be something like falling in love.

Don’t resist. Lean in and savor the experience.

But don’t so lose your balance that you marry the first beach that charms its way into your heart. Ask yourself, is this the beach you want to grow old with?

Enjoy the developer’s hospitality, his fresh fish, his rum cocktails. Let him make his pitch. Then take your leave. Find out what the guy at the next beach has to offer. And the beach after that.

Then go home, sober up, and consider your options from a distance. I enjoy a rum cocktail at sunset as much as the next girl, but I’ve learned to wait until the effects wear off before talking business.

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