Real Estate in Uruguay

Frequently Asked Questions from the Prospective Expatriate

 In 2006 I left the comfortable confines of California, USA for the dark "unknown" of South America.

Miraculously, before I moved my family to Uruguay, South America, I'd never even stepped on the continent.  There was precious little information on what to expect.  I had no job prospects whatsoever, and only a dusty memory of how to speak Spanish.

Since 2006, Uruguay has become a much more popular destination among English speaking expatriates.  And, because of the explosion in personal publishing outlets, many English blogs, hubpages (!), websites, and even a book have been published outlining what to expect living in Uruguay as an English speaking expatriate.

While there are many things to consider regarding living in Uruguay, including societal norms, the food, the weather, the people, crime, healthcare, the cost of living, etc, some of the most frequently asked questions I get from prospective and future expats has to do with real estate in Uruguay

Punta Carretas Neighborhood

Interesting Zoning Laws

One of the things you'll notice in the city of Montevideo is that there are some interesting zoning laws...or lack therof.

The result is an mix of single family homes, towering apartment buildings, schools, mufflers shops, mini-marts, restaurants, bars, and more single family homes....all with adjoining walls!

Think how cool it would be to purchase a home only to find out that a bar was going in place in the next door over -- and your walls touched! Now imagine that they tear down the next door and build a 10 story building completely blocking your view and/or your access to the sun.

This is just one of the many things that are done a little bit differently down here, and one of the reasons that I recommend renting *highly* to any expatriate in Uruguay -- especially one who is recently arrived.  Having to live next to construction or a building whose use changes to a nightclub (night clubs don't really have closing times here) for a year is one thing.  Imagine that you are stuck there the rest of your life or are forced to take a massive writedown in your "investment". 

It would not be a happy consequence, obviously.

Uruguay Real Estate

 While the topic of "Uruguay real estate" could have several subsections, including; investing in real estate, buying a home in Uruguay, renting an apartment, buying an apartment in Montevideo or Punta del Este, historical homes in Colonia del Sacramento, buying a farm in the Uruguayan interior, I would like to focus this hubpage on the process of getting settled when one first arrives in Uruguay.

After food, one of the first things an expat does is go looking for shelter that is cheaper and more flexible than the current hotel and aparthotel offerings.

Choosing a City in Uruguay

 Expatriates almost invariably choose something that is close to the rio plata and/or the ocean.  For obvious reasons this tends to be the most expensive real estate, and has the three major "metropolitan" centers that make up the bulk of the population in Uruguay.

The one exception to this "rule" seems to be those that move to Uruguay to start, own, and/or operate working farms or ranches in the Uruguayan interior.

There are three major cities working from West to East; Colonia del Sacramento, Montevideo, and Punta del Este.

Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia is a very old city originally settled by the Spanish and the Portuguese at different times.  It is a world heritage foundation city and has many historical buildings, very attractive architecture, and a lot of tourist areas.

Colonia is a 30 minute ferry ride from the thriving metropolis of Buenos Aires, Argentina and gets a lot of visitors from the other side of the river.

If you decide to buy in Colonia, you should be aware that certain buildings have rather strict building restrictions and your renovation plans will more than likely need to pass muster with the historical society.  Rentals can be less expensive than Montevideo or Punta del Este, however, summer rentals can be quite high as well.

Montevideo

Montevideo is the largest city in Uruguay, is home to roughly half the country's residents, is the capitol, and home to most of the government offices and large multinational corporations -- as well as a large port.

Homes and apartments in the city vary widely depending on the neighborhood, but most expatriates tend to conjugate in the higher priced neighborhoods.  In the next section, I will describe some of the more popular neighborhoods, and the pros and cons of each of them.

Montevideo has the large international airport, and for many visitors, Montevideo will be their first impression of Uruguay, regardless of their final destination.

Punta del Este

At the point where the plata river meets the Atlantic ocean is Punta del Este.  "Punta" as it is known, has become a regional mecca for vacationers and sun worshipers in the summer months.

Residents in Punta swell by around 10x during the summer months, and many shops, restaurants, and businesses, only stay open during the "high season", making it an interesting place to try to settle.

Punta has some well known casinos and crowded beaches.  Some of the most expensive real estate lines the coasts of punta del Este, and summer rental prices can be more than the rest of the year combined.

Neighborhoods in Montevideo

Montevideo, the most populous city in Uruguay has a funky, eclectic selection of neighborhoods. However, a handful of the neighborhoods in Montevideo, play home to a majority of the expatriates that reside here.

Ciudad Vieja

Ciudad Vieja, or "old town" is perhaps the "funkiest" and most "up and coming" of the neighborhoods foreigners choose. CV, as we'll call it, is the original portions of Montevideo near the port. Very old architecture, in varying states of decay line the streets of CV.

The hope for many a real estate investor in the area is that the process of gentrification that seems to be taking over the community continues and drives up the value of real estate and some of the more "edgy" characters that roam the streets, without giving up the charm

Punta Carretas

PC used to house a prison.  The old shell of the prison now houses Montevideo's most upscale mall and lots of high end eateries and shopping surround the area.  While those from the US hear "mall" and think endless parking lots and bad real estate by the freeway interchange this is nothing like that.

PC sits on a point with a lighthouse, and sports a rocky shoreline, ideal for fishing, or siteseeing, but not so great for swimming. 

In addition, PC has one of only two golf courses in the MVD area and it is owned and operated by a private clube.  The large apartment towers with views of the golf course and the river tend to have some very toney price tags and attract foreigners and locals with money.

Pocitios

Pocitos is home to the cities most populated beach.  Pocitos is a giant crescent shaped bay lined with a broad beach with tons of activities, sunbathers, and people wading into the river to cool off during the summer months.

In addition, it is a very densely populated neighborhood with ALL of the homes that lined the river in years past having been replaced with 10 story apartment buildings.  Many of the apartment buildings that line Pocitos' coast were built in the 1980s, with 1970s building materials and will appear very dingy and uninspired to the tourist from the north, or discerning expat real estate shopper.

In spite of this, charming tree lined streets, high end stores, plentiful restaurants and lounges make Pocitios a very walkable and livable neighborhood, and probably the favorite haunt of urban dwelling expats.

Carrasco

While expats in the city of Montevideo line the river throughout the city, another large, favorite neighborhood for foreigners and those with resources, to congregate in is the neighborhood of Carrasco.  Carrasco is the "upscale" suburb of Montevideo

Renting vs. Buying

 One of the decisions that a new expat has to make (suprisingly) is the "rent vs. buy" calculation.

I say, "suprisingly", because to me, it should be self-evident that an expat (especially a new one) should never consider buying.  The transaction costs alone should make it prohibitively expensive for anyone not considering staying in their property for at least 7 years.

However, recent (now deflating) long running real estate bubbles have brainwashed many from the north with the concept that real estate always goes up.  They feel they are missing out by not buying.

In addition, there is a certain number of people who feel that not having rent to pay somehow lowerrs their expenses, without taking into account the time value of their money -- which admittedly is quite low these days.

Renting - What to Expect

Renting in Uruguay is a little different from renting up north.  I'll try to run down some of the big differences here:

Unfurnished

Unfurnished in the U.S. at least usually means there is no furniture -- It's the same here.  What you'll also find, however, is that it also means: no fridge, no stove, no light fixtures (other than naked bulbs hanging from wires in the ceiling if you're "lucky"), and no water heater even!

While this is somewhat "expected" in Uruguay, and custom practice, it is a quite unwelcome occurance for the expat since the chances of someone having the foresight to put a hot water heater in their overhead compartment on the flight down is quite low.  For the North American expat the difference in voltage means that he is starting from "scratch" in refurnishing the entire apartment without even the inlaw hand-me-downs to get started.  An expensive endeavour.

Realtor commissions

If you rent through a realtor, the standard is for them to charge you and the owner 10% of the rental *each*, or one month of rent *each*.  If you want a different deal and are working through a realtor to find you a rental property, negotiate this upfront.

Deposits and Guarantees

This is a very socialist state, and they fancy themselves socially conscious.  As such, it is rather difficult to evict someone from a property, and the result is that the government has mandated a standard 5 month deposit (!)

This can be a very unwelcome expense when trying to get setup.  It can be negotiated down a little bit, but it is not easy.

In some extreme cases, especially those with houses, go to the ridiculous step of asking for a "guarantee".  A guarantee is someone with a house of equal or greater value pledging their house as collateral against the house that you are renting. As absurd as this sounds, some of the more hardened locals are pretty accustomed to this.

This, of course, is on the face of it absurd -- because as an expat, unless you are marrying a uruguayan, you have no relatives who can come up with such a guarantee, and would probably be living in such a house if you had a handy one on personal inventory and not renting in the first place.

Purchase Commissions

The purchase commission when buying Uruguay real estate should be negotiated up front, however commissions will be roughly equivalent to what you are used to elsewhere.  In total, including the taxes, fees, escribano (glorified notary and title searcher) etc etc. you should expect to pay close to 10% over and above the purchase price in closing and transaction fees

Comments 14 comments

perfumelover profile image

perfumelover 7 years ago

i love to hear of stories from people who've gone outside their comfort zone and even further than that to live outside their native country. what a big move, all the way to uruguay! would love to hear more of why you were inspired to go to uruguay specifically. so intriguing!


offshorebanker profile image

offshorebanker 7 years ago Author

Hi,

thanks for the comment.

My reasons for moving to uruguay were multi-fold:

1.) it's pretty safe

2.) it's sea level and on the ocean

3.) good fresh food and dairy

4.) it has nice weather but is outside of the tropics zone

5.) close to, yet ahead of nyc timezone for trading the markets

6.) great bank secrecy rules

7.) great property ownership rules for foreigners

8.) easy residency requirements for foreigners

9.) relatively benign leadership

10.) in 2005/06 felt a big downturn in the markets coming...akin to what happened in the great depression.

11.) in 2005/6 i saw a big wave "down" in the markets coming...something not seen since the great depression. south america was one of the only places that did ok during the last great depression, and i figured maybe it's time in the cycle was due again :) of course, last time wwii had an influence as well.


GiL GADGETS profile image

GiL GADGETS 6 years ago from WORLDWIDE

The best little gem on earth in my opinion and I've been living in the US for 30 years.


offshorebanker profile image

offshorebanker 6 years ago Author

uy definitely has its appeal...especially in the northern hemisphere's winters.

btw, i saw that uruguay's economy continued to grow in 2009 as the other big econs in south america were shrinking. it'll be interesting to see what 2010 and beyond have in store.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Looking more and more into Uruguay as a possible move for my family and I. Are there opportunities for public artists? I like the liberty of Uruguayan politics similar to British Columbia and Argentina in some respects, great hub!!!!


offshorebanker profile image

offshorebanker 6 years ago Author

ben,

what's a 'public artist'? is that like the guy who dresses up like statue for spare change from tourists? :-)

seriously, there are very little opportunities for earning anything from locals -- tourists a little bit more, but it is very seasonal and south american tourists tend to be very poor or very snooty...so it's a different vibe.

only foreigners that can really make a go are getting their income from somewhere else - internet included.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Roger dodger, thanks offshore. A public artist is an artist who makes art and displays it in the public realm (for money of course) sometimes if there is a lot of new architecture being built, there is some room for artists to make money, like in the country of Dubai. Thanks for the perspective, I've been trying to get a better handle on Uruguay's weather, there's a lot of different info on it!


sondra 6 years ago

I'm interested in moving to Uruguay eventually. I went to visit it last June and fell in love with Salto. I was even thinking about buying a ranch with a house in Salto for 30K USD. I'm currently too young to retire with residual monthly income. However, I do have a doctorate in education that could land me a job as a teacher in Uruguay. What do you think about this plan?


Gabe Gomez 6 years ago

Heading down to Uruguay for the holidays, will look for real estate while there. Staying at the Regency Suites in Carrasco with my family. Looking to hit great restaurants in Pocitos, PC and Ciudad Vieja. Any suggestions?


offshorebanker profile image

offshorebanker 6 years ago Author

great restaurants....there are a LOT of the same thing the guy on the next block serves...

after you are sick and tired of parilla food (barbeque and mediocre italian, try out these (mostly in punta carretas...)

el perdiz -- best fish probably, close to the sheraton

don ciccio -- best italian pizza

BM Bistro -- fanstastic salads, fish, and quiches, etc.

juve -- probably the best chivito (sandwich with everything)

da pentella -- good pasta and southern euro dishes

sacramento -- nice atmosphere and well executed 'fancy' food

good luck.


offshorebanker profile image

offshorebanker 6 years ago Author

sondra,

i think working in uruguay is a really bad idea for most people with other options.

there maybe some exceptions for someone a private school would want to hire, but you can generally expect to make a LOT less, and after you consider everything you'll need to enjoy a lifestyle that is even a near equivalent to what you'll enjoy in the US it ends up being very very close to the same (expense wise).

yes, it's true there are MANY things that are cheaper there, but it's mostly homegrown food, and homegrown labor.

unfortunately, the cost of energy (gas included), cars, clothes, plane tickets for trips out occasionally, electronics, kitchen stuff, appliances, all run about 2X what you can expect to pay for similar quality in the US.


Vanderleelie profile image

Vanderleelie 4 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

Uruguay is not a cheap place to live, and not a safe haven either. I recently moved back to Canada after living in Montevideo, and I have to say, Canada is cheaper, cleaner, safer, and more user-friendly than Uruguay.


offshorebanker profile image

offshorebanker 4 years ago Author

vanderleelie,

i agree that uruguay is NOT a 'cheap' place to live (anymore)...at least if you want to live like a North American...safety...that depends what you consider 'safety'.

i think on both accounts 'it depends'.

i can certainly point to numerous neighborhoods in vancouver (the one canadian city i'm familiar with) that are more expensive than montevideo, and i can certainly point to several neighborhoods that are more dangerous.

i would also say that your home country will ALWAYS be more user friendly than anywhere you expatriate to...and if you're expecting efficiency or a smile as the bureaucrat stamps your request to have your water turned on, that goes doubly so for Uruguay.


ruso 3 years ago

A few days ago I was researching to buy an apartment in Montevideo, I have found some very interesting sites also:

1 - http://www.masinfinito.com.uy/

2 -http://www.uruguay-real-estate.com/

I also agree that the prices are very expensive and security is no longer a few years ago

good luck.

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