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Cuenca Real Estate Scams And Cons

Updated on December 17, 2016

Cuenca, Ecuador - As growing numbers of retirees arrive in Cuenca to take advantage of the lower cost of living, many real estate agents and locals are waiting to take advantage of them. Unsuspecting or uninformed expats are the most popular targets for real estate scams and real estate cons in Cuenca. With few local friends to warn them away, these new arrivals make for easy prey.

To avoid real estate scams in Cuenca, you need to do your research. Understanding the most common types of real estate swindles in Ecuador will also help. Here's a quick overview of some of the real estate con jobs that have popped up on the radar in Cuenca to help close your knowledge gap and help you avoid being taken to the cleaners.

Cuenca Con #1: Not Owning The Property

One scam that is seen in Cuenca is when the person selling the house is not the actual owner of the house. This real estate scam is more common when dealing directly with locals rather than through a real estate agent. In Cuenca, most professional realty agencies offer some kind of title research or title insurance to protect against this scam. Part-time agents who are not affiliated with an agency or "friends" helping you buy a place do not do this research, and it makes you more vulnerable as a buyer.

This scam has become less common as expats buying a home in Cuenca become more informed. However, it's worth mentioning because it has some of the most serious consequences for you as a property buyer. Often you will discover the scam only after the money has been transferred and your "friend" has disappeared.  Ecuador does not have a great system in place for tracking people down who have ripped off foreigners, and there is little chance that you will be able to recover your money.

Sample Home in Cuenca:  But is the yard included in the floor space?
Sample Home in Cuenca: But is the yard included in the floor space? | Source

Cuenca Con #2: Misrepresenting The Property

Another very common real estate scam in Cuenca is misrepresenting the size of the property for sale or for rent. Basically, before you buy anything in Cuenca - or anywhere in Ecuador - get your own measurements of the property and figure out what is and isn't being included in the square footage.

Sometimes this scam isn't even meant to be evil - it's just that Ecuadorians often include areas of the home in their square footage descriptions that expacts don't. For example, terraces, garages, and even sidewalk space has been known to be counted as a part of the home. I've always felt that if you can't sleep in it, eat in it, or use it as a bathroom, then it's not a room. Since the price per square foot is an important apples to apples data point when comparing properties, you'll want to be sure that you get your own set of measurements.

Cuenca Con #3: Misrepresenting Themselves

Along with misrepresenting the size of a property in Cuenca, some property sales agents scam buyers by misrepresenting themselves and their relationship with the property in question. They may pass themselves off as licensed real estate agents and they may insist they have an exclusive listing on the property. Some "friends" may even pose as the owners of a property to make you feel like you are getting some insider deal on a place.

Run away, fast! If something sounds too good to be true, it is. This is doubly true in Ecuador.

It is not currently required for real estate agents to be licensed, and so most are not. Even CuencaRealEstate, one of the oldest expat-oriented agencies in the city, does not have its own (it operates through an associated agency's license). There's no scam going on there and I don't want to imply that - I just want to point out that the guideposts we have in other places, like licensure, don't apply here.

Instead, it falls to the buyer to do extra due diligence on their real estate agents here. Ask about longevity in the market. Ask for testimonials. Ask around at Carolina's Bookstore, the Inca Lounge, or at one of the city's gringo nights for information about local real estate agent reputations. The owners will give you an earful, as will local residents, about their experiences, positive and negative, with the various players in the real estate market. If your agent is unknown, be wary - the expat community here is still relatively small and close-knit, so reputable agents are well-known. Shop around and don't let anyone pressure you into immediately buying something if you're not 100% confident of their character.

Concluding Thoughts

Buying a new home in Cuenca or any other foreign city requires you to be on guard and do more research on your own.  Cuenca real estate scams and cons do exist, and they are perpetuated by gringo realtors and locals alike.  If you are a new arrival, you will find many friendly and wonderful people here, but the few bad apples can leave a big mark.

If you know of a real estate scam in Cuenca or have heard of a Cuenca real estate swindle, mention it in the comments below!  I'll moderate for obscenity and verify where I can with my local sources, but it's my hope that this article can grow and provide some protection for new arrivals so that their real estate experiences in Cuenca can be positive.


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