Friday, January 19, 2007

Real Estate: Nicaragua Optimism Despite Ortega

"Despite a new, leftist government led by President Daniel Ortega, executives in Nicaragua's growing real estate industry remain bullish.

"The real estate market outlook continues to be positive," says Claudia Gonella, director of the Nicaragua offices of U.S.-based real estate agency Coldwell Banker."We are selling well out of both of our real estate offices, at approximately the same rate as this time last year."Timothy Thomas, owner and broker at ReMAX Monteverde, agrees. "I think [the government] will be OK," he says. "Our investors met with Daniel Ortega after the election and he wasn't the Danny Ortega of the 1980s, that's for sure."Nicaragua is one of the key growth markets in Latin America outside Mexico for U.S.-based First American Title Insurance Company. "The market has not slowed down as people seem to be optimistic about Ortega staying the course when it comes to investments in the country," says Turalu Brady Murdock, vice president of First American. "From an investment opportunity there are still very good opportunities in Nicaragua in the real estate market."

praise for appointing Arturo Cruz, a well-respected economist, as his ambassador to the United States. His new pledges stand in contrast to his last government (1979-90), when private property was expropriated, inflation skyrocketed and the economy went into freefall. "The Sandinista party has actually been one of our strongest allies in the resolution of title claims caused by the 1980 confiscations, so I do not foresee any problem with property rights during Ortega’s presidency," says Murdock.Ortega assumed Nicaragua's presidency last week, vowing to forge closer relations with Venezuela while continuing the country's close relations with the United States. "The release of pro-Chavez rhetoric, which we expect to continue through the term of the new government, is unlikely to undermine a working relationship with the US as long as democratic principles are upheld," Gonella says. "These next six months are crucial and provide an opportunity to sweep away once and for all the ghost of the Sandinista party that has hovered over the country for the last 15 years."

Thomas sees the next two months as key to determine whether Ortega means what he has said. Gonella expects price stability for a few months and, assuming the new administration keeps to its verbal and written commitments (in support of DR-CAFTA, private property rights, tourism, free market etc), the market could come back strongly in the second half of 2007. A NEW COSTA RICA?
Nicaragua has seen significant growth the past few years, partly helped by inexpensive prices, a reputation as a safe country, growing tourism and increased flight connections with the United States. Some realtors dub the country "the next Costa Rica.""It's close to America and one-fifth of the price of Costa Rica for the same properties," Thomas says.

The real estate market is driven by both residential and commercial properties. On the residential side, many baby boomers from the United States are discovering Nicaragua as a less-expensive alternative to Costa Rica and Mexico, while banks and factories are helping the commercial market.

Banpro bank is constructing a new $15 million building across the million factory to manufacture Levis. Meanwhile, a client of Thomas plan an ethanol plant in Nicaragua, while another one is expanding a chain of coffee shops in the country. Meanwhile, local real estate group is developing a major resort, Gran Pacifica Beach & Golf Resort, with hotels, apartments and gold courses on the Pacific coast.

While the asking prices from developers and owners usually increase during high season (which runs from December to May), that did not happen this time. However, neither have they fallen, according to Gonella. "The major developers are continuing to roll out their master plans with no delay," she says. "This is a sign of confidence."

Another reason for optimism is that tourism also is seeing stable demand. Hotels in key tourism towns such as San Juan del Sur and Granada are experiencing high occupancy levels as would be expected at this time of year and tour operators have bookings well into 2007, according to Gonella. "Real estate and tourism sectors are closely linked here," she says.

As more tourists visit Nicaragua, more people plan to come back to buy property, says Thomas. "Tourism is huge...and just getting bigger," he says. This weekend, some 5,000 tourists visited San Juan del Sur thanks to four cruise ships, he points out.Most of the real estate sales will take place in the residential sector focused primarily in key tourism destinations. "Investors will be looking for capital appreciation, but also for properties that they see as good candidates for rental income," Gonella says. "The strong outlook for tourism visitors for 2007 will support this trend."COMMERCIAL INVESTORS WAITColdwell Banker activity in the commercial sector in the early part of 2007, as many investors will take a wait-and-see approach. "Commercial investors tend to invest on a larger scale than the residential buyer, and for the longer term," she says. In terms of geographical areas, the more “established” markets for foreign real estate investment such as Granada and San Juan del Sur are likely to be where most investor activity will continue to be focused, while newer, more speculative, cities and areas for investment such as the colonial town of Leon and Inland Mountains around Matagalpa, are likely to see less activity, at least for the first part of 2007, Gonella predicts. "Investors are likely to feel more comfortable investing in areas where a positive growth trend is already established," she says." read more

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Panama Boom Despite Setback

"Over the next five years, nearly 11,000 apartment units will be built in Panama City, the company forecasts based on a recent survey. By comparison, a total of 11,967 apartments were completed in the Miami metro area between January 1st, 1995 and March 31st, 2006. "This means that in just the next five years, nearly as many apartments will be built in Panama City than were built in the entire city of Miami during the past 10 years," PrimaPanama said in its survey.

While Prima Panama and other experts warn that there may be too much supply, experts say that much of the boom is also driven by real growth in demand. Rogerio Basso, an analyst at Ernst & Young's real estate advisory services, says Panama is still one of the key growth
markets in Latin America for U.S. baby boomers looking at retirement or second homes

There is also a strong real estate boom outside of Panama City in areas like Boquete, Coronado and Contadora. However, the lion's share of new construction and investment is taking place in the capital.

The number of new apartments being developed in the Panama City area has gone from 10,980 units in July 2006 to 20,603 units units in December, an increase of 88 percent, according to research by Prima Panama. Their estimated market value went from $3.17 billion to $5.16 billion, an increase of 63 percent.

Apart from baby boomers, demand for Panama real estate will also be driven by a growing number of executives and workers coming to the country to participate in the $5.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal and the construction of an oil refinery by US-based oil giant Occidental. " read more