The first step to shopping for real estate in Nicaragua is to forget everything you know about the process back home… no matter where home may be.Let me make one thing clear from the start. There are incredible bargains to be had buying property in Nicaragua. In fact, there is no other market in the Americas where insisting upon a 40% return on investment or better is reasonable. However, there are few similarities between the rules and regulations governing the real estate industries in North America or Europe, and Nicaragua. It’s because of this lack of similarities that foreign investors often get into trouble. There is a preconceived notion on the part of foreigners that the Nicaragua real estate industry is as carefully regulated as it is elsewhere, and it is this incorrect assumption that sets foreign investors up to be cheated. The only universal real estate investing rule that applies as equally in Nicaragua as it does anyway else is Caveat emptor, buyer beware.Real Estate BrokersBasically there’s no such thing in Nicaragua as a real estate brokerage that a Canadian, American or European would assume the term represents. There are real estate brokerage offices. Some even have familiar franchise names, but that’s where the similarity ends.There is no mandated, formal training of real estate sales people, nor are there specific licensing requirements. Anyone can become a “realtor” by paying for a merchant license or incorporating a Nicaraguan company. I’m not suggesting this means “all” real estate sales people are incompetent or untrained… many are. In fact, there are a number of retired realtors who relocated to Nicaragua and maintain successful, upstanding businesses. However, there are many more who are not at all competent, and operate on the razor edge between honest business and outright fraud. Caveat emptor again!There are no district or federal regulatory boards governing the real estate industry in place. Real estate sales are no more regulated than a vehicle sale transacted by a street vendor. Outright criminality is not ignored by authorities, but having the perpetrator jailed is unlikely to result in recovery of any money lost. The revenge should make a fleeced buyer feel better though. Nicaraguan jails exist to punish criminals, not rehabilitate, and they are Hell on Earth. Unfortunately though, most issues that can arise in a real estate transaction are considered civil matters by law enforcement and have to be treated as such. In short, whatever money you think you were cheated out of… consider it lost. Even with a judgement in the plaintiff’s favor, collecting money owed in a judgement rarely happens. So again, caveat emptor.A serious shortcoming in the Nicaragua real estate market is that there is nothing similar to a Multi Listing Service (MLS). The lack of any form of MLS means there is no central registry of properties for sale, nor any information as to what a property sold for. The result is that it’s very difficult to decide what a house or commercial building in a particular neighbourhood is worth since there are no comparable property transactions to use as a guide. Appraisers base their appraisals on replacement cost mostly, and whatever else they provide is pure guess work. Ironically, banks require appraisals created by licensed Nicaraguan appraisers if mortgage funding is being requested.There’s no such thing in Nicaragua as a listing similar to what most foreigners would understand the term to mean. Real estate shoppers will hear a realtor say that he or she has a listing, but it’s common to see two or more real estate signs on a single property. Likewise, the same property may appear on multiple real estate company websites and be advertised online by numerous different people. More confusing, the prices advertised may vary for the same house, sometimes by tens of thousands of dollars. Nicaraguans selling their homes rarely lock themselves into an agreement with one party wanting to sell their land, house or commercial building. If you want to sell something, the assumption is the more people trying to sell it the better. And by more people that can be realtors, the owner themselves, their family and friends, a neighbor, or a horse drawn carriage driver. This seems chaotic to a foreigner shopping for a retirement or vacation home, but it makes perfect sense to Nicaraguans. Without an MLS service that allows numerous realtors to show prospective buyers a listed property, letting everyone try to sell a property seems to be the best way to get exposure.Another misconception foreign purchasers have when buying real estate in Nicaragua is that the seller is paying the real estate agent. This is sometimes the case, but even when it is the buyer may be asked to pay the commission. Yes, this is legal in Nicaragua. In fact, not only could there be a commission paid by the seller and buyer, but the real estate agent may have added an amount to what the seller actually wants in his or her hand. This too is legal. The worst case scenario is that the seller wants US$50,000 for his or her home. The sellers offers anyone selling the home US$1000 or a percentage. The real estate selling agent advertises the home for US$59,900, allowing for negotiating room. A buyer settles on US$55,000 but is told that in Nicaraguan the buyer pays the commission. Not actually the truth, but common enough that people think it’s a rule. The requested commission can be anything up to as much as 10%, or it can be a flat fee. Once all is said and done and the buyer agrees to purchase the property for US$55,000. In a case such as this, the ‘agent’ will insist on a nonrefundable US$5000 down payment. At closing the seller receives the US$50,000 that he or she wanted and the selling agent pockets the rest.I know of a purchasers who handed a ‘realtor’ US$65.000 to purchase a 3 acre farm with a small house on the property. The ‘realtor’ then went to the owner of the property and paid him US$20,000 to buy the land. It gets worse… the ‘realtor’ never bothered to make the title transfer until the buyer discovered he was not the owner when he tried to pay long overdue taxes. In the end the property was purchased by a developer for little more than the original US$65,000, but 8 years of appreciation later. In another case Europeans purchase a home and overpaid US$85,000. Of course basing their offer on the European real estate values they knew, it was assumed they were getting a bargain. The ‘realtor’ pocketed the US$85,000 and a commission he charged the buy as well. Again, perfectly legal in Nicaragua… so caveat emptor.The way to navigate through what foreigners view as market chaos is to use a knowledgeable real estate consultant to find a property you want, negotiate the price, terms and conditions, conduct the necessary due diligence, validate the title and survey, and so on. This is a fee based service but far less expensive than a percentage sales commission, and far, far less than a costly mistake would be. One such service is Nica Investments, a real estate consultancy that assists foreign investors purchasing real estate or businesses in Nicaragua.
I recently checked the Forbes Rich list of the wealthiest Americans. I could not help but notice the pattern of wealth creation; almost all the wealthy individuals were entrepreneurs or off springs of entrepreneurs. Secondly, they derived their wealth from owning or investing in real estate, technology companies, stock market, manufacturing, entertainment industry, retailing and commodities.This pattern of wealth creation reinforces my belief about the primacy of investing in real estate as vehicle for creating wealthy. I believe you can succeed, investing in real estate. What you need is to have the right attitude and mindset.I have learnt by trial and errors some of the important lessons in real estate investing. My main area of focus has been residential properties. Even if you are an experienced real estate investor, some of the tips I share still apply to your investing, because they are timeless tips that will set you on the road to success.Here are some specifics about investing in real estate that could propel you to wealth quickly. I urge you to take these tips seriouslyTip#1.Start small.The reason you want start small is you are on a learning curve. You want to keep your risk small. I would suggest you invest a lot of time learning the basics of real estate, and a little money in your first deal. Unfortunately most people do the opposite…they invest little time and spend a lot of money. This is the reason many investors fail and they wander why they failed. The fact, real estate is a wealth generator does not mean you don’t have to learn about -how it works to make you wealthy.Tip#2. Invest for value. Avoid speculationWhen you invest for value, you are on the right path to wealth creation. How do you invest for value? The answer is simple. Look for properties with cash flow and potential capital gains. This is important because value investing in real estate is the basis for wealth creation. Donald Trump, Sam Zell, Donald Bren and all the other real estate moguls you can find in the Forbes richest list made their fortune in real estate by creating value. There is a difference between a value investor and a speculator. A value investor buys a property based on overall value, both today and in the future. A speculator buys with a hope that the price of the property will increase…this kind of approach is no different from playing at the casino tables in Las Vegas.Tip#3. Start and stay close to home.When you are starting out as a beginner investor, it’s important to concentrate on an area close to home…one you can get to know very well. When I say close to home, it means you can drive, walk, or cycle around the area regularly. When you concentrate on an area close, you can observe if it’s declining or growing. You can observe the trend in sales and property rentals. Also, look for the top brokers who operate in your area, call them to find out more about the area. This is important because when a property comes on the market, you can know quickly if it is a good deal or not and you’ll be able to act fast. My first real estate deal was a disaster because I bought a property that was 3 hours drive from home. I failed because, I was not close enough to understand and observe the trends in the local real estate market.Tip#4. Expect to make mistakes.When you start investing in real estate or in any business, you are bound to make mistakes-everybody I know does. Remember your mistakes aren’t setbacks. They are steps in the learning process. What is important is to learn from your mistakes, correct and keep on taking action. The fact you can make mistakes is one reason to buy properties with positive cash flow, because it can help you buffer those mistakes. There is a theory for success called accelerated failure. The reasoning behind this theory is that you are most likely to fail at the initial stages of starting any business, however the faster you can fail forwards the faster you can begin to succeed. So don’t let the fear of failing stop you from starting investing in properties…it’s all part of the learning curve.Tip#5. Know what you can afford. This means finding out how much it will cost you for the cash flow you want. In other words, what will it cost you to get an ROI (return on investment) of 20%, 30%. Secondly, if your assumptions about the property deal are wrong, can you afford the losses from your mistakes. Before you start investing, ask yourself these questions; how long can I afford a vacant property if my tenant moves out? If there is a costly maintenance problem, can I afford it? Remember, the purpose of real estate investing is to solve your financial problems, not give you bigger ones to solve.Tip#6. Look for Ugly ducklings you can turn to swans.One of the best ways to make money in real estate investing, is to look for is a property that someone has walked away from because of a problem. Figure out how to fix the problem and you can instantly increase the value of the property. One example that comes to mind is a one bed flat I bought recently in an apartment building. The problem with the property was presence of mould and damp in one of the rooms. Because of this problem, I was able to buy the property and 25 percent below market value. I solved the problem with the help of a building specialist, and as a result, I was able to increase the value of the property and charge more for rents. The lesson here is focus on turning “ugly ducklings to beautiful swans” so you can create value for your portfolio and get rich in the process.Tip#7. Always remember to look at the numbers. One of my mentors, Robert Kiyosaki, bestselling author Rich Dad, Poor Dad often says, “Think with your calculator, not your heart”. This is important because once you understand the area you’ve chosen to invest in and know what property you are looking for, you need to follow through by looking closely at the numbers on your chosen property. The numbers are; the price you pay; the mortgage interest; rental income; maintenance cost; vacancy rate and every other factor you need to analyse the profitability of your investment. These numbers should all add up to…making you, money or else you wind up with financial problems.Warning, Cheap may mean expensiveOne of the commonest mistakes I see investors make is the assumption that because a property is cheap it’s going to be profitable. This is far from the truth because price is not the only factor for success when you are investing in real estate. You should never let your guard down or sacrifice your principles by what seems an attractively low price. The important point to bear in mind; Does the property meet your criteria? Does it have positive cash flow? Remember this… Because a property is cheap does not mean it’s a good deal. In fact, if you buy a cheap property that has no value, it could be the most expensive property you can buy.You can become wealthy investing in real estate. All you need is a goal to succeed, a determination to persist until you succeed. You can accelerate your path to wealth, when you follow my tips