My House in Jinotega

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Well, I had been planning to spend some of my inheritance on a trip to Europe, but my landlord wants to sell the house I've been renting for over a year in April and so any other big expenditures are out for the duration. We've discussed this several times in the past. I rented with the understanding that I'd have first refusal of it; we discussed the buying price about eight months ago when I got some of the payouts from the estate; and both of us have been back and forth on this. He's a good landlord, but most of the repairs have been made by a guy I know, so I'll just be dealing with him more directly. Price is set on 10 years rent, so realistic. I didn't bother with a counter offer -- sometimes, those are just an insult -- and I think would be in this case. I've been in Jinotega long enough to know realistic prices from "The gringos are dumb and have money -- let's rock" prices.

Putting the money in the house is probably better than spending it down in trips and electronic toys, but there's a certain finality to doing this (I'm not one to bet that investment in Nicaraguan real estate is a good thing and think anyone who believes it's a sure thing is just not paying attention). If I didn't buy the house, I'd have to move a ton of stuff, including one fish tank that's over six and a half feet long and around two feet in the other dimensions.

A couple of expats said that at five years, living here get stale. I think it's more that it stops being exotic, and the reality of living in a poor country with less than full fluency in the language or culture sinks in (those of you who are fully fluent, my hat's off to you).

I'm pretty sure I'm going to buy the house, but I don't really have any illusions about it or me.

Mi Casa (the mustard colored one with the fake stone tile at the bottom):

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  1. cookshow's Avatar
    On the upside, if you do decide to buy and then sell there are plenty of Gringos looking to be fleeced....
  2. MizBrown's Avatar
    The only people willing to pay stupid prices here are Miami returnee Nicaraguans who didn't inherit houses.
  3. vinyljunkie77003's Avatar
    im surprised the number is 5 years. I think the "exotic" aspect wears off long before that. Its not common to see foreigners staying for more than 2 or 3 unless they are here for work, church, or family (married a nica, etc)......and even then.
    I can only think of a few people i know in person who have lasted more than 5 years.
  4. catahoula fan's Avatar
    I agree with vinyljunkie, the exotic wears off early. It's comin' up on 11 years full-time in my Nicaland, and it's mostly a matter of figurin' out what's gonna work in your area. We had to try different areas and change plans (albeit forcibly) a time or two, till we found "the place". Had the buyin' talks as you did with the owner, but we're so far off-base, it's silly.
    Can't say as I agree with the rent out 10 years for a price comparison, though. That's like me "renting" that dang stereo from Aaron Rentals back in my 20s. I think I ended up paying like $600 for a crappy $200 set. Lucky for us, a city fella came by about a year ago to handle some of the family business for our neighbors, and we got a current value of the land in this immediate area. Nice to know.
  5. MizBrown's Avatar
    Vinyljunkie77003 -- Yeah, I think the exotic wears off sooner than that, and people either figure out how to find people who share their interests in Nicaragua (FB Spanish language groups are good for that, also force me to practice my Spanish more) or they end up in all expat groups and often those become echo chambers of expat paranoias about Aduanas and the mail. One other expat has college-educated Nicaraguan friends who surf.

    Jinotega has a number of people who've lasted more than a few years -- though one of them has left Jinotega something like seven times before deciding that he's going to get residency. I've heard some are leaving and some show up who don't last the year (and some not the week). More people who haven't got a clue are likely to show up in the more highly promoted places.

    Catahoula Fan -- The price for this house strikes me as reasonable. The rent's reasonable for what it is (lot nicer place than the first rental I had where the asking price of the house to gringos was $50K and the current asking price in Encuentra24 is $46K US, and the total rent when I left was $200 a month (two apartments at $100 a month). At the 10 year rule, that shouldn't have been more than $24K, but the owners turned down an offer of $43K, then changed their minds but the guy had already bought something else. The house I'm in now is in better shape, just doesn't have a big patio.

    I'm looking over Encuentra24 now and basically the asking prices in Jinotega are more than what the asking price on this is, though most have more bedrooms (which I don't need, one is fine). I haven't found that dickering over prices worked here. Used to be able to get house here for $8K, but that hasn't been the case since I moved here. Cheapest I've heard of something going in the last four years to a gringo was $15K and I don't know what shape that was in, and that was about three years ago.

    Some photos of the house: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rebecc...57645937558710

    This one is of the sala looking into the kitchen. My landlord had four dogs, so there's some damage from wet dogs wiping themselves off against the walls.

    [IMG]View into kitchen area by rbb_56, on Flickr[/IMG]
  6. el duende grande's Avatar
    congratulations, you have been here long enough to make an informed decision. My late mother-in-law bought a similar house in (greatlly over-priced) Esteli about 5 years ago for 15k, but it was not finished. She had to pave floors, paint, etc. Its a shame she never got to see the city finally get around to paving the street.
  7. MizBrown's Avatar
    Today, I talked to Geraldo, who used to own the larger house that's now divided into three. He bought the whole house about 30 years ago. Now, he uses his part as a weekend get-away from Leon. His mom lived in this part. After his mother died, either Geraldo's sister or niece owned it before giving it to the couple who has it now (Fausto and his wife). The properties have been legally divided, and Fausto put in a lot of rehabbing here compared to Geraldo's side which is rustic (not their primary home). Geraldo also told me that replacing the rafters with metal wasn't necessary -- the wood (canela?) used for them is something that resists insects and they were in good shape when he re-zinced his roof a few years ago (obviously, part of the cost of having a house here).

    One real advantage of living somewhere a while is being able to ask people about various neighborhoods and the history of properties.

    Probably easier to sell later if I raised the roof in front and added another bedroom, but Geraldo said that I'd have to build a new wall since the existing wall is a party wall and probably wouldn't take the weight of a second floor. My further guess is that eventually someone will want to buy all three properties and either tear them down or do a serious remodel to bring them all together again. Geraldo has the patios with fruit trees; I just have a passageway; and I don't know what the guy in back has, or even where he gets in to his back house.

    My German friend said that he's seen houses here for more money here with no interior partitions or kitchens, and no laundry hook-ups. This one had been remodeled relatively recently, though the green paint almost sent me running. Prices is roughly $10K lower than the next cheapest asking price, but those people said they would be willing to negotiate (but the house was much narrower and the interior rooms were plywood partitions and the kitchen was smaller and the bathroom not as nice as this one).

    I think some people bring their US price expectations with them and can't imagine that a sub-$100K house would be worth buying. I saw something offered on one of the FB groups for $65K in the Managua area and one poster immediately wanted to know what was wrong with it. And then I saw something that looked quite nice south of Managua on the Nicaragua Craig's list for under $30K, and know of something that was bought for $30K on Ometepe which was featured on House Hunting International as a $130K property.

    I've been looking at photos of the place I lived in when I was in the DC area and photos of here. About the same space -- $150 a month here; $1150 there, a thousand dollars difference for more yard, and I had to have a car there.

    House in Annadale:

    [IMG]HouseInAnnadaleExterior by rbb_56, on Flickr[/IMG]


    [IMG]Jinotega-2.jpg by rbb_56, on Flickr[/IMG]

    I had more stuff then . The bedroom was a 20 by 10 upstairs loft, and the bathroom was downstairs at the opposite side from the stairs, so this one is way more convenient for this old lady.
  8. el duende grande's Avatar
    Housing is a real shocker here. The ``average`` house is of such low quality that a US shed would have more potential. I fell into the trap of NL and others that you can build a house for $10 to 15 /sf. Once I started building I found out the truth and have been fixing up/adding on ever since.
    A lot depends on where you lived in the US. If you were in an area away from the job markets and in the Sun Belt with relatively new/modern housing, you are used to low prices for the quality. If you lived in the big cities you were used to high prices. I have some Nica relatives renting a 1br apartment in L.A. for a grand a month. In small town AZ you could BUY 2 houses for a grand a month!
    One caution I would make to anyone buying an old house here is to check to see if there is any cement/iron in the walls. A lot of houses have none and it is all covered up with stucco so you cannot tell unless you drill into it. One common type of construction here in the past was to have wood framing in a brick wall. Among other things, when the wood rots there is nothing to connect the rafters to. Some friends went through this and cut out the wooden wall sections and put in the cement and iron pilares and vigas. Not the end of the world because their son was an engineer and masonry work is fairly cheap, but it was an extensive repair job with the added cost of refinishing and painting the walls on top of fixing the roof which is what started the whole process.
  9. MizBrown's Avatar
    Couple of people found out the hard way that if water ever gets into mud and cane walls (oldest type of housing here) or adobe, the walls can actually collapse (Granada, close to it in Matagalpa by a third hand report). People here often replace adobe/mud and cane with cinderblocks reinforced with rebar. This house has at least one non-bearing wall (separating my passageway from Geraldo's house) that's tufa block reinforced with rebar and concrete and there's rebar and concrete in the ceiling over the end of the passageway (Fausto chipped away some of the concrete to have rebar to tie a boxing bag to which I use for my clothes line. The visible house gable is brick. I don't see the sorts of cracks that I saw in the other house I lived in (those cracks were active cracks and would reopen after they were repaired).

    My guess is that people who are actually physically building their own homes, with some hired help but doing the material purchases themselves and not using a contractor, can build for relatively little. People who are hiring a supervisor/contractor probably aren't going to come out any cheaper than building in the less expensive areas of the US.

    Problems with this house are minor compared to the problems with my house in Philadelphia which had a rusted out Ideal Bend in the upstair bathroom that intermittently overflowed (my plumber showed it to me and I've got a picture of it somewhere), a couple of rotten and cracked treads on the stairs (my dog was afraid of them and they were covered with carpet strips so they weren't obvious, and the leaky roof that I left to the guy who bought it.

    One of my friends in Philly said, "You buy an old house to build a new house inside it." But Philly house prices were very low for the Northeast. I paid $61K for mine in 2000 and sold it seven years later for $120K. Spent circa $10K on repairs, and bailed before getting into the roof job. The guy who bought it was a landlord with a crew and could get the work done (heard that he put a skylight so he did do something to the roof).

    Renting a house with option to buy has some real advantages. I know the house after living here for over a year.

    Current house was rehabbed inside not that long ago. My German friend did some of the cabinet work and knows the species of wood that Geraldo said was used in the rafters. I'll ask him peal back one of the zinc panels to see if there are any surprises.

    The rental in Annadale was a converted tool shed . Wouldn't have bought it. Hate carpet and plywood floors.

    My guess is that people who have houses with leaking roofs that can't be repaired easily get rid of those. My Philly house had already been roofed over old roof enough to have three roofing layers. The next roof, to be legal, needed to be a complete take off, repair rafters if necessary, replace plywood deck if necessary and then do a membrane roof over the deck. The property had been a rental and the city put a lien on it because of the leaks from the bathroom area into the dining room. Seller wasn't interested in putting more money in the house so sold it since it couldn't be rented without a major plumbing repair, which I had done. Eventually, I sold it on, but I didn't hide the problems.

    Getting rid of houses that need major work is a thing that anyone buying an old house anywhere in the world needs to watch out for. All of them are going to have something that will need work, just how much work is the big question.

    I've noticed that Nicaraguans don't tend to be sentimental about old houses and build new if they can. I know my dentists looked at my former house, but ended up building new.
  10. MizBrown's Avatar
    This is inside the ceiling beam in the back of the passageway.

    [IMG]InsideOverheadBeam by rbb_56, on Flickr[/IMG]
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