House Hunting in Uruguay: A Sprawling Former General Store for $975,000

Built as a general store in the late 19th century, this 5-bedroom house is located on the outskirts of Pueblo Eden, a rural village in the Maldonado section of southern Uruguay, about 40 miles from the popular resort town of Punta del Este.

The 6,800-square-foot home was purchased by its current owners, Margarita Arsenal, a Canadian expatriate, and her husband, Michael Arsenal, in 2009, and has been renovated for several years. “It was a disaster,” Ms Arsenault said. The couple renovated the structure’s original stone walls and added doors and floors they bought on trips to and around Uruguay.

“They have preserved its historical character by using materials rescued from old estancias,” or estates, said Bettina Waldraff of Team Haverkate to Engel & Volkers, one of the many agencies listing the property. “Their mission was to restore the building to its former glory.”

12-foot wooden double doors open into a lovely room, whose stone walls and beamed ceilings complete a large stone fireplace. Intricate antique floor tiles around the perimeter of the room surround light-colored tiles with radiant heating underneath.

The dining kitchen has a wooden vaulted ceiling, stone walls and wooden furniture, as well as commercial quality appliances and two ovens. “The vendors have enjoyed it as a private residence, but it could easily house an inn, gallery or restaurant,” Ms Waldraff said.

The five bedrooms – each with a private bathroom – and the living room surround a courtyard with a specially designed parrilla, the traditional Uruguayan barbecue for meat and bread, as well as various living areas. A spiral staircase leads from the courtyard to a rooftop terrace overlooking the Maldonado Pastoral Landscape.

The house is located on more than two acres, with a stream, eucalyptus grove, lemon and peach trees, and lemongrass and louis bushes.

Pueblo Eden, a village of 0.25 square miles with less than 100 inhabitants about 40 minutes north of Uruguay’s Atlantic coast, has emerged as a modern destination for wine lovers. Viña Eden, a winery owned by Brazil, has gained worldwide recognition and tourists also travel to La Posta del Vaimaca for Uruguayan rustic staples such as roast lamb and potatoes.

“Pueblo Eden was unknown a few years ago,” said Charles Wright, owner of La Cite Real Estate / Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, in Punta del Este. “It simply came to our notice then. I’m surprised by the changes and a lot of people are settling in there. “

While the city has a monthly organic food market and a “tiny” convenience store, residents travel to Punta del Este for groceries, banking or personal services, Ms. Waldraff said. Punta del Este International Airport is 38 km south. Montevideo, the capital and financial center of Uruguay, is located about 80 miles west.

Uruguay’s borders have been closed to all but citizens and residents since March 17 last year, which has paralyzed property sales. “The market is stagnant,” said German Gomez Picasso, co-founder / director of Reporte Inmobiliaro, a site based in Buenos Aires that covers real estate in Uruguay, speaking Spanish. “Things went from bad to worse in 2020 because of the pandemic.”

Enrique Argüello, managing director of Curiocity Villas brokerage in Punta del Este, which specializes in luxury real estate, said that “closing the border has led to a 90% reduction in sales volume this year in Punta del Este and the region. Many foreign customers are waiting for a trip to make so they can buy. “

Meanwhile, changes in immigration policy are helping to alleviate demand. Last July, in an effort to attract investors, the Uruguayan government lowered the real estate investment threshold to acquire a tax residence in Uruguay from about $ 1.7 million to about $ 400,000. The minimum stay to maintain the residence was reduced from six months to 60 days.

The Maldonado coastal region is “the most sought after area by foreigners,” looking for property in Uruguay, Wright said. “And they do not want apartments.”

Along with the pandemic, which has buyers looking for more space, the rush to stay has fueled interest in homes that have less supply than apartments. “There are currently thousands of apartments for sale in the $ 300,000 to $ 400,000 area in Punta del Este, and more under construction,” said Martina van Bevern, co-owner of van Bevern Properties in Punta Ballena. “They have to offer a special feature, a special building or a special view in order to have value.”

Because some buyers now want to live in the area all year round, refurbished homes with features such as heating (which is less common) are in greater demand, Mr Wright said: “We have a large stock of homes that need to be refurbished to suit in four seasons. “

He estimated that a house with a garden, swimming pool and barbecue in the luxury resort of Jose Ignacio would have an average of about $ 800,000. A similar house in Punta del Este would average around $ 450,000. Coastal properties could cost almost twice as much.

Foreign property preferences vary, Mr Argüello said, with Americans tending to prefer beachfront villas and British buyers looking for multi-acre properties not far from the coast. The entrance fee for a house in Jose Ignacio is about $ 1 million, he said. Near Jose Ignacio, beachfront homes start at $ 750,000. Prices remained stable at the high end, he said, despite a slowdown in the market.

Mr Argüello noted that some buyers from Argentina – who share part of its eastern border with Uruguay – were forced to sell their holiday apartments because currency devaluations in their homes made it difficult to meet costs. “This created an opportunity for discounts, but it is not at the highest point.”

Michael Oliphant, owner of Focus Properties in Punta del Este, agreed that “everyone is waiting for the Argentines to return and prices will rise when they do.” Meanwhile, he said, most of the market activity was local: “People from Montevideo who have a good nose for the macroeconomic situation are opportunistic, buying properties here that can be moved to foreigners when the border opens.”

The Maldonado area has long been a shining spot for the richest Argentines and Brazilians. While the region continues to attract the super-rich, “it is now a place to live – it is still exclusive, but low and without touring,” Mr Argüello said, adding that Uruguayans “are not the priority investors here”.

Recently, Maldonado is attracting more Europeans, with a smaller group of Canadians and Americans, Ms Van Bevern said. “We are Germans and 90% of our customers are foreigners,” he said. “Everyone thinks of property as a ticket to come to Uruguay for accommodation.”

As of March 22, the country had reported 81,537 Covid-19 cases and 792 deaths, according to the New York Times World Map of Virus Crowns.

Ms Waldraff, the registrar of the property, said her company “sees increases in daily surveys by foreign buyers that we have never seen in the 10 years we have been here. Uruguay is considered safe. We have a good health system. The government is pursuing its people. There is a secure banking system. “

“Anyone from Uruguay can buy a property and the process is clear,” said Federico Carrau, a certified public accountant and associate at PKF Uruguay in Montevideo, noting that the government has long lured foreign investors with policies that simplify policies. “Uruguayans and foreign buyers have the same rights. All you need is a valid passport. “

Most foreign buyers pay cash instead of receiving financing, he said. The funds can come directly from a US bank account, “although foreign investors usually open a local bank account, which can be in any currency.”

John Leaman, an associate in charge of the real estate department of the Guyer & Regales law firm in Montevideo, said that when both parties enter into a preliminary sale agreement, called the Boleto de Reserva, the buyer’s lawyer pays 10% of the purchase price. a guarantee account. Once the title search is completed, usually by a notary, the title is transferred to the buyer. The process can take up to 60 days.

Due to the closure of the border, the government has allowed buyers to delegate power of attorney to real estate agents or other local agents who can make a purchase on their behalf.

Spanish; Uruguayan peso (1 peso = $ 0.02)

Uruguay real estate agents and notaries are required by law to be up to 3 percent, Mr Carrau said, “but can negotiate with a professional.” Buyers and sellers pay a broker’s commission to their respective agents, along with a 22% value added tax on the commission.

Buyers cover notarial costs associated with certificates, stamps, registration fees and other public registry fees. These range from $ 300 to $ 800, Mr Argüello said. Buyers also pay property transfer tax 2 percent of the “land registry” or estimated value of the property. “The budget value is usually less than 50 percent of the market value,” he said.

Ms. Arsenault, the seller, said the annual tax on this home is about $ 1,000.

Bettina Waldraff, Team Haverkate / Engel & Volkers 011-598-94-299-200, realestate-in-uruguay.com

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