Guatemala House Hunting: Among the Volcanoes of Antigua for $299,000

This two bedroom townhouse is in a gated community on the outskirts of Antigua, the colonial town and UNESCO heritage site surrounded by volcanoes in the central highlands of Guatemala, approximately 25 miles east of west of Guatemala City.

“It’s close to Antigua, but not in the hustle and bustle of commercial areas,” said Glenn Wilson, an agent for Century 21 Antigua Fine Homes, which has the listing. The development of 39 houses is laid out like “a big square, and in the middle of the square there is a park with benches, gardens”. From various locations on the ground, he said, residents can observe the dormant Agua Volcano.

Built circa 2010, the 1,991 square foot cinder block home is accessed through its one-car garage. Mr Wilson said that sometimes in gated communities in Antigua the garage is not used for cars, which are instead parked right outside. These repurposed garages create additional space for storage, or for a family or a living room or, in other cases, a bedroom. “I’ve seen all kinds of uses for it,” he said.

“Because it’s a corner house, there are a lot of windows,” Wilson said, “so you have nice natural light coming in.” The Great Hall’s handcrafted fireplace, with a wrap-around wood mantle, is “more than adequate” to heat the residence in the winter, he said, and air conditioning isn’t necessary given the town’s mild climate. region. The house conforms to modern earthquake building codes.

A bedroom near the entrance has an en-suite bathroom. From the living room, richly tiled steps lead up to the master bedroom, which has sloping ceilings. With a dressing room, en-suite bathroom and access to a small private terrace, the bedroom is a sanctuary despite being partially open to the ground floor space below.

The city of Antigua, with around 50,000 inhabitants, is renowned for its colonial architecture and religious monuments, including the 17th century Santa Catalina Arch, as well as the volcanoes on the horizon. Restaurants and shops are within walking distance of this property, while Antigua’s Central Park is a 30-minute walk or 10-minute drive away. Guatemala City and La Aurora International Airport are 40 km to the east, although the drive takes about an hour.

Guatemala lacks a centralized multiple listings service, making it difficult to track price trends, agents said. Wilson said demand for homes in Antigua – a tourist and retirement destination for Guatemalans and foreigners – picked up last year, fueled in large part by buyers able to work remotely.

“How’s the Internet?” That seems to be the bigger question. ‘Is it strong enough for me to work?’ And it is,” Wilson said. As a result, he found that the real estate market at the start of 2022 was “more active” than it has been in years, estimating that prices are 10-15% higher than before the pandemic.

Not all local brokers see the same trends. Rolando León, managing director of Nova Antigua Real Estate, called Antigua a buyer’s market, with weakened demand and abundant supply due to market uncertainty.

“Nobody tries to make lifelong decisions like spending $500,000 if they don’t know what’s going to happen with the economy and the pandemic,” León said. With fewer buyers currently looking, sellers have become “more flexible” on pricing, he said, although overall selling activity has remained stable.

Pedro Ramírez Fait, president of the Guatemalan Chamber of Real Estate Brokers, said the country’s housing market has done very well in 2021, and especially in the past six months. After a temporary slowdown in sales due to pandemic-related restrictions and lockdowns, the market has picked up with the same vigor as before the pandemic, he said. (Guatemala’s government currently requires proof of vaccination and a recent negative Covid-19 test to enter the country.)

Guatemala’s economic recovery from the pandemic, including its projected 5.1% GDP growth in 2021 and the stability of the Guatemalan quetzal against the dollar, gives “confidence and hope” to investors, Ramírez Fait said.

Although Guatemala has long struggled with violent crime, particularly in Guatemala City, and political corruption – including corruption allegations against its current president – ​​Ramírez Fait said the perception of Guatemala as dangerous is perpetuated by the media. “It’s different from reality,” he said. “People come to Guatemala and they don’t have any security problems,” he said, adding that the country has worked for decades to improve its security.

Prices in Antigua are higher in the city center and lower on the outskirts. Mr Wilson said a centrally located three-bedroom house could cost between $300,000 and $600,000, depending on quality and location. Most buyers want to spend under $500,000.

At the upper end of the market is an exclusive downtown gated community, Jacarandas de Antigua, where 4,800 square foot lots average $550,000 and home prices average $1. million bucks. A second phase, with lots priced below $260,000, is underway, León said.

Mr. Wilson and Mr. León said buyers priced out of the center are increasingly looking to its southern suburbs. “Most of the big coffee plantations are located there, and eventually they are sold for new real estate developments,” Mr. León said. “The cost of land is rising so rapidly that coffee growers tend to sell for cash in order to buy more land outside the cities.”

The majority of buyers in Antigua are second home buyers or retirees from other parts of the country, Wilson said.

International buyers generally come from the United States (many have a direct link to Guatemala), followed by Europe (particularly Spain) and Canada.

“We are currently seeing a mini-boom in people who went to the United States when they were younger, who have succeeded and who are now planning their retirement,” Wilson said.

Mr. León said about 60% of buyers from Antigua are Guatemalan and the rest are foreigners. The mix was “different a few years ago when foreigners bought most of the houses”, he added. “One of the main reasons for this is that local banks offer fewer restrictions for Guatemalans, unlike foreigners, who usually end up paying in cash.”

Foreigners are not limited to buying real estate in Guatemala, Ramírez Fait said, although they cannot own property next to bodies of water, such as seas or lakes.

Mr. Wilson said that because the industry is unregulated and agents are not licensed, it is important that buyers hire an ethical agent with at least five years of experience. He suggested vetting agents with three questions: “How long have you been in business? How many houses have you sold? What is your experience ? »

Buyers often hire an attorney, whose fees typically range between $1,000 and $2,000, León said. The purchase tax, paid by the buyer, is between 3 and 12% of the registration value of the property, depending on whether it is new or used.

Spanish; Guatemalan quetzal (1 quetzal = $0.13)

In 2021, the annual property tax on that home was around $200, and it will increase for a new owner, Wilson said. Monthly condo fees of approximately $150 (1,200 Guatemalan quetzales) include security, landscaping, lighting, and maintenance of common areas.

Glenn Wilson, Century 21 Antigua Fine Homes, 1-888-445-2170;

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