A large pool and an Irish pub within stumbling distance of home? A beautiful beach just five minutes away?
Sounds about right to me.
Off we went to take a look.
Elisha and I wanted to get a realistic idea of the time it would take to get to Congo Hills from our rental house in San Juan del Sur, so when we pulled out of our barrio I set the timer on my watch. Even though we got stuck behind a bus – that stopped every 100 meters – we still managed to arrive at Congo Hills in just 10 minutes.
Our tour started with a walk around the property. We immediately noticed how nice and breezy (and quiet) it was up on the hill.
The club house, hot tub and two pools overlooking Playa Remanso promptly captured our attention. From our vantage point we could see the rolling hills and valleys that lead down to the ocean.
Seamus let us in on a little known secret.
The owner of O’Shea’s (the most popular Irish pub in Granada) is opening a second pub and restaurant in this location. Renovations for the restaurant are already underway and to ensure smooth sailing into the pub some road work along the entrance of the development is also being done.
We made our way over to the spec homes that are situated about 100 meters from the club house. Colourful fruit trees and beautiful bright flowering plants surround the casitas.
Two of the homes have already been purchased by yet another Irishman. He currently uses them as vacation rentals to generate income.
We checked out a two bedroom, two bathroom home. The design was very North American with an open kitchen, dining and living room; a great layout for entertaining.
The 1200 square feet of living space is a little more than what we are used to, but a little extra space is always welcome.
As we made our way up the staircase and onto the roof top deck we could picture ourselves enjoying beautiful sunsets and a cold Tona (local beer) or two.
Currently priced at just $99 000 USD the houses are move in ready just waiting for someone to make them a home. Conservatively speaking this price is 20% – 30% lower than similar real estate listings that we’ve seen in the area.
Congo Hills sits on a 90 acre parcel of land, so the options are endless. Anything from a one-third acre to ten acre lots are available. The land can be used for single family homes, condominiums, a B&B or even a small hotel.
An area close to the club house – just across the road from the existing homes – stood out to us.
Seamus described these parcels as “non-view” lots, which we found highly entertaining considering we could see the ocean from where we were standing.
He went on to explain that the lots on the ridge, closer to the ocean, have more sweeping and dramatic views so those are the ones he classifies as ocean view. At least he isn’t into over promising or exaggerating the truth.
We’ve given it some thought and decided that our preference would be to buy a lot and build an energy efficient, environmentally friendly and inexpensive earth-bag home.
What’s great about Congo Hills is that as long as your home has white outside walls and a red clay tile roof it fits the current home design restrictions of the development.
Next steps for us?
Do some more research on earth-bag construction while we wait for our investments to mature and become available.
…get financing through Seamus (something that is almost unheard of in Nicaragua) and start construction now.
At as little as $20 000 USD for a “non-view” one third acre serviced lot we are seriously considering pulling the trigger while Congo Hills is still in its infancy.
As mentioned previously Congo Hills does not have a website, nor is it listed with a realtor. This is one of those special word of mouth cases we talked about in our last article.
We will be looking for a few neighbours so we wanted to share Seamus’ contact information with you. Please note: Uncool, unfriendly and not fun people need not apply.
(505) 8895-5728 Nicaragua
Alternately you may use the form below to contact Seamus.
1. NOT REALLY FOR SALE
These are properties where the owner advertises an outrageous, out of market price and says,
“If someone will pay “x” amount of dollars, then I’ll sell it”.
Here’s an example:
Two homes in Granada are side by side, have the same exterior (aside from color), the same square footage and were built by the same developer. The interior lay out is slightly different, but comparable, as are the finishings.
One house recently came on the market for $149K. The other house has been for sale since we started looking at real estate in Nicaragua 3 years ago. It is currently listed at $229K.
Without MLS (and no practical way to track comparable sales) this situation is more common than you might think. We’ve come to learn that real estate – especially in Nicaragua – is worth what ever someone will pay for it.
2. THE MOTIVATED SELLER
Sometimes properties owned by motivated sellers never actually make it onto a real estate agency’s website because agents already have buyers waiting in the wings for this type of deal to come along.
Also in this category are a number of developers and single property owners that prefer not to work with real estate agencies.
There can be some really interesting properties to be found in this particular category. But unfortunately – since they aren’t actually listed anywhere – they can be challenging to find.
Word of mouth is great for these types of deals, but if you aren’t living here finding these hidden gems proves to be very difficult.
3. THE DESPERATE GRINGO
We’ve often thought about starting a website called desperategringos.com.
Every once in a while we hear about a Nicaraguan expat who wants to leave immediately and needs to liquidate everything.
This is a great way to make a purchase if…
- The type of property you hear about happens to be one that interests you
- You have readily available cash
- You actually hear about it in time.
This category is by far the smallest market segment.
We’ve been focusing our search within the second group. We live in Nicaragua and have good connections, so it’s been our hope to find a property that wasn’t listed.
We recently found a great example of this type of real estate.
The development is called Congo Hills.
We met with our friend Irish Seamus for coffee and he told us a little bit about the history of the project.
Seven years ago the real estate market was booming worldwide. Nicaragua was no exception. Many developers were selling properties before water, electricity or even roads led to the lots.
Seamus Fitzgerald and his business partner Bendt Bregstein wanted to have a project they could be proud of so they built roads, dug a huge well and installed underground electricity. They even built a club house with a pool and hot tub before starting construction on their spec homes.
With the infrastructure in place, some lots cleared off and a handful of homes built Seamus and his partner started selling properties.
But unfortunately this time frame coincided with the global financial crash and all construction came to a standstill. Seamus and Bendt decided to lay low for awhile. Thankfully their project was not leveraged with bank loans, which meant they could afford to wait for better times.
These two Irishmen were confident the market would eventually bounce back so they’ve had a cuidador (property caretaker and security guard) on-site maintaining the existing homes, clubhouse and pool.
And with the luck of the Irish on their side the market in Nicaragua is starting to heat up again.
Seamus thinks the “time is now” and we think he might be onto something.
The crazy thing is that we can’t even get a sneak peak. Congo Hills isn’t listed with a real estate company and – as of this post – doesn’t have a website. We’re pretty sure this won’t be the case for long so our plan is to check out this development ASAP!
Lately we’ve been receiving a lot of emails from followers with questions regarding real estate in Nicaragua. We are far from experts on this subject, but we have learned a lot in the last sixteen months that we’ve been here.
One thing in particular we’ve learned is that locale is paramount for us being happy long term.
Prior to making the move to Nicaragua our home was in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We were a one hour drive from the beautiful snow-capped Rocky Mountains, but a ten hour drive from the ocean.
Our plan when arriving in Nicaragua was to move around a bit in the first year, so that we could get a feel for where we wanted to settle down. And that’s exactly what we did.
Our first rental home was situated on the tranquil beach of Poneloya. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore was amazing.
But unfortunately it didn’t take long to learn that life in Poneloya wasn’t for us. This lovely little beach town was too tranquil for our liking. After a couple of weeks there we were already craving more stimulation.
We also learned that owning a beach house doesn’t come without drawbacks. Salt air does major damage to a home. It causes electronics to expire long before they should. And, unless you paint it multiple times throughout the year, metal will rust. Wood work also needs to be stained or painted annually.
After one month in Poneloya we moved into a guest house in the bustling city of Leon.
Although there’s a lot to do in Leon, there aren’t many expats living there. Getting to know a few locals was great, but we soon realized we needed at least a couple of friends with similar interests, outlooks and life experiences.
Another downfall of Leon is the unbearable heat.
During the last month of dry season temperatures soar upwards of 40 degrees Celsius (that’s 104 Fahrenheit for y’all Americans) with nearly 100% humidity and no breeze for relief.
When there is wind, it comes from the inland volcanoes rather than the ocean. It blows across the dry, dusty fields and into the city. There were days in Leon when we felt like we were standing in a giant hair-drying sand blaster.
Granada was the next city we called home. It’s similar to Leon in size and pace, but offers cool lake breezes.
We loved the location of Granada. It is close to Managua, the airport, Laguna de Apoyo and the National Handicraft market in Masaya.
Granada also offers more westernized options to coincide with the plethora of expats. But unfortunately for us, our parents fit in much more naturally with the age group of most expats who are currently living there.
Next stop? The coastal town of San Juan del Sur.
Originally we thought San Juan del Sur would be too small a place for us to settle down in, but boy were we wrong. Within a very short period of time the town had won us over.
Even though San Juan del Sur is touristy, there is a great mix of locals and expats in all age ranges. The expat community here is very diverse.
The house we currently rent is located in town about three blocks from the beach. We are up on a hill so we can take advantage of the cool breezes from Lake Nicaragua.
Sounds great? Right?
Well, it probably would be if dogs and roosters weren’t barking and cock-a-doodle-doing all day and night. Last week they were competing to be heard over parades, firecrackers and the techo beats of Semana Santa. It seems as though every second week there is a holiday accompanied by a celebration, that can sometimes last for days.
After sixteen months of moving around we think we finally have figured out it.
The San Juan del Sur area is definitely where we want to settle down. We have been (and still are) passively looking for a property to call our own.
In a perfect world our ideal location would meet the following criteria:
- Close to town
- On a hill (so we’ll have breezes)
- Ocean view
- Close to a beach
- Priced right
- Away from dogs, roosters, parades and fireworks
- Flexibility and options for house construction
Our list is long, but amazingly enough we think we’ve found something that gets a check in all the boxes.
We are super excited to be meeting with a friend (and developer) later this week to learn more about his plans for his 100 acre development located just outside of town.