International Real Estate
This two-story corner house in Bogotá’s oldest historic neighborhood, La Candelaria, is nestled among stucco buildings with Spanish tile roofs. A rustic open-air courtyard with terra cotta floor tiles is the central feature of the 8,445-square-foot-home; it has a fountain, jasmine, bougainvillea, potted plants and a large avocado tree.
The house was built in 1870, in the Republican architectural style. Its large windows and doors, along with open spaces and skylights, are characteristics adapted from French architecture to lighten up the Spanish Colonial style. The courtyard provides much of the natural light, as numerous large windows, doors and glass-enclosed passageways on both levels open up to it. At the time the house went up, it was typical for an owning family to live upstairs, while shops and servants’ quarters were housed downstairs. Many original interior details are intact, among them the French doors made of Romerón pine and glass; carved transoms; decorative window frames; and ornate ceiling moldings. Floors throughout are either tiled or made of hardwoods, including guayacán, teak, cedar and nazareno, an exotic wood known in English as purpleheart amaranth, which according to the owner, Bertha Herrera, is “the color of red wine.”
The house, divided into seven residential units, also has about 540 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, currently occupied by a pizza parlor with a street entrance. This configuration was the result of a 1990 renovation that also overhauled the plumbing and electrical systems.
Overlooking the courtyard on the second floor is an enclosed interior passageway with expansive windows made of small glass panes and thin metal latticing. The owner lives on this floor, in a one-bedroom unit with a large living room; a fireplace; an open kitchen connected to a skylighted dining area; a home office with a view of the street; and a tiled terrace with a barbecue area and views of the mountains outside Bogotá.
On the first floor, the owner has rented out the six studio apartments of various sizes. Each has a living area, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a lofted sleeping area. One unit also has a small terra-cotta-tiled patio and a one-car garage.
The property is being sold as a single-family home. The commercial unit, soon to be vacated, will remain empty until the sale, according to Francy Saldaña, the listing agent, of Century 21 Colombia. Three of the six rental units are occupied; the leases are day-to-day, up to a maximum of three months. If the new owner decides to keep all the rental units intact and rented, the total received per month is about $8,870. Historic preservation rules prohibit altering the facade, but interior spaces can be renovated.
La Candelaria is home to many of Bogotá’s theaters, museums and cultural centers, among them the Luis Ángel Arango Library, which houses the Botero Museum, as well as government buildings including the presidential palace. Historic churches, parks and plazas punctuate the area, and several universities are close by. La Candelaria, once considered dangerous, has gentrified considerably over the last decade.
The Bogotá housing market is robust. “At this moment the prices are very high,” said Ms. Saldaña, adding that 2011 was a particularly strong year.
According to Sam Miller, the owner of New Horizons Real Estate, prices nationwide fell about 20 percent around 2008 but have nearly recovered. “It seems to be a steady growth of 5 to 7 percent a year,” Mr. Miller said. He added that although the global financial crisis had been a factor in the 2008 decline, a more important one had been the construction boom that swept Colombia starting in the early 2000s — after the country reduced crime and improved security.
WHO BUYS IN COLOMBIA
Ms. Saldaña says that most foreigners who buy in Colombia, including Bogotá, are from Venezuela, the United States, Mexico and Chile. Mr. Miller says he often gets inquiries from Americans interested in buying property for their retirement years, especially in Cartagena because it is on the Caribbean coast. “They might have a Colombian spouse, or some connection to Colombia,” he said. “There are also the investment buyers, mostly from the States, some from Europe and England.”
There are no purchase restrictions on foreigners. Colombians, especially in Bogotá, do not customarily hire lawyers for real estate transactions. And if a seller doesn’t use a real estate agent, a family member who has sold a property in the past acts as the agent. Once the buyer and seller agree on the terms of the purchase, the transaction must be conducted at a notary’s office.
But Francy Adriana González Torres, a lawyer with the firm González & González, strongly recommends that foreign buyers hire a lawyer. “I wouldn’t recommend, not in a million years, a person from the States buying a property on their own.” Ms. Gonzáles explained that properties can have hidden complications, such as old debts or a questionable history of ownership. “If you get a house with some type of inconvenience,” she said, “it’s a long process in our courts to fix that. It’s better to check everything from the very beginning.”
Mr. Miller, the agency owner, has no such qualms. In his view a straightforward purchase, with a recent certificate stating the property has no debts, does not warrant the hiring of a lawyer. “As long as the agent they acquire is professional and adept in the nuances of finalizing the sale,” Mr. Miller wrote in an e-mail.
Most Colombian banks don’t offer mortgages to foreigners.