House Hunting in Guatemala: A Restored Colonial-Era Villa


This four-bedroom, Spanish Colonial-era house occupies a quarter-acre lot in the historic center of Antigua Guatemala, a city and UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by volcanoes.

The 7,643-square-foot house, with three interior courtyards and two rooftop terraces, was restored and modernized about 11 years ago, a project that included the addition of a swimming pool, sauna and other amenities, said Glenn Wilson, the broker-owner of Century 21 Antigua Fine Homes, which has the listing.

“The house is an original Colonial dating back at least 250 years, according to municipal records, though parts of the house are surely older,” Mr. Wilson said. “It’s a corner lot, so there are lots of windows, which is wonderful. It has a very expansive feeling, with arches, pillars and long corridors with antique tile.”

The walled corner lot also allows for two separate entrances. At one, heavy wooden doors open to a cobblestone passage leading to a large courtyard and a 20-by-30-foot swimming pool. A patio to the left leads to the sauna and changing room. Beyond the pool is a wall-mounted fountain, or búcaro, and a stairway ascending to a rooftop terrace with views of the city and the Agua, Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes, Mr. Wilson said.

A long corridor, laid with antique red and yellow tiles, leads to the rest of the house. To the left is a sunroom that divides the pool courtyard from a second courtyard. Farther along is the main living area, with a living room, a sitting room with a staircase up to a mezzanine level, and one of two dining rooms. The living room has a vaulted wood ceiling and a wood-burning fireplace with a chimney that reaches up to a mezzanine fireplace. It also has glass doors that open to a third courtyard, with a central fountain.

Along the corridor to the right are the kitchen and laundry room, the second dining room and four bedrooms with en suite baths, including the master suite at the end. The kitchen has a center island, mahogany cabinetry, marble countertops and slate tiles. It also has the home’s original cupola, now a skylight. The walls in the kitchen, as in many of the rooms, have elaborate handmade relief designs in plaster, and were painted with a lime wash and antiqued by local artisans.

All four bedrooms face the third courtyard. Two, including the master suite, have fireplaces. The master has vaulted ceilings, a sitting area, a walk-in closet and an en suite bathroom with dual sinks, a soaking tub and shower. A passage from the courtyard outside the master leads to the other street entrance.

The courtyards are landscaped with hanging ferns, avocado trees and a rare black-pepper tree. Hot water is generated by rooftop solar panels, and a remote security system can be controlled online. There is a fully equipped service area for staff, along with garage space for three cars.

The house’s furnishings — including antiques from India, pieces made by Guatemalan artisans, and art and artifacts from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America — are included in the sale, Mr. Wilson said.

The nearly 500-year-old city of Antigua Guatemala (usually referred to simply as Antigua), is cradled by volcanoes and known for its historic Spanish architecture, including a world-renowned collection of Colonial-era houses, churches and convents. The city, which has about 46,000 residents, is 20 miles west of the capital, Guatemala City, and the international airport. This property is a couple of blocks from Parque Central, as well as restaurants, hotels and other businesses, Mr. Wilson said.

With almost 18 million residents, Guatemala is the most populous nation in Central America. It also has the region’s largest economy, according to the World Bank, yet its housing market is still emerging and largely unregulated, brokers said.

“There’s no centralized housing data,” said Armand Boissy, broker-owner of Atitlán Solutions, based in Panajachel, on nearby Lake Atitlán. “There is information collected here and there by different associations, like the Chamber of Construction, but it’s not covering the entire housing market.”

Mr. Boissy said that Guatemala has lagged behind Central American neighbors like Panama, Costa Rica and Belize in developing programs to attract investors and retirees. Years of civil discord and government corruption have resulted in poverty, economic inequality, high crime rates and onerous taxes. And despite 150 miles of Pacific coastline, Guatemala lacks world-renowned beaches to attract foreign visitors.

The country “is not known as a retirement destination,” Mr. Boissy said, although he noted that tourists often become home buyers after experiencing the country’s many attractions, including its temperate weather, diverse landscape, neo-Classical architecture and living Mayan culture. “More people are traveling here and suddenly will say, ‘Oh, wow, this is a country that maybe I’d like to live in.’”

Guatemala’s low cost of living also appeals to foreign home buyers, Mr. Wilson said, with monthly costs (apart from housing), including food, gas and utilities, as low as $1,500. (Real estate professionals often cite figures in American dollars, he said, rather than Guatemalan quetzals, “for the convenience of international buyers and compatibility with international listing systems.”)

Guatemala City, with its 900,000 residents and commercial centers, draws some foreign buyers, many of whom work in the country, Mr. Wilson said. Brokers noted that the city’s reputation for being dangerous and unattractive is slowly improving.

Still, said Alberto Sujuy, a sales agent with Antigua-based Remax Colonial, “Antigua Guatemala is the city that’s most attractive and touristic in Guatemala for living and for retirement.”

Home prices in Antigua and its suburbs have grown about 4 to 6 percent a year over the past five years, Mr. Wilson said, citing data spanning more than 15 years compiled by Century 21 Antigua Fine Homes. And in the city’s historic center, where homes are protected and limited in number, prices have climbed into the millions of dollars for some larger Colonial houses, he said.

Houses in other parts of Antigua and its environs are much more reasonably priced. “Prices for a three-bedroom home, not luxury, within a 15-minute drive of Antigua, start at $86,000 and go up to $450,000, depending on location,” Mr. Wilson said.

Most foreign home buyers in Guatemala are from other Central American countries, as well as the United States, Canada and Europe, in particular Britain and Spain, brokers said.

“We’ve seen a steady interest from home buyers outside of Guatemala, in particular retiring Guatemalans who are returning home after years of working outside the country,” Mr. Wilson said, including couples in which one member is a Guatemalan native.

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying homes in Guatemala. However, housing transactions are conducted in Spanish and the market can be difficult to negotiate, so brokers recommended hiring a reputable real estate agent and a local English-speaking lawyer.

In Antigua, most properties are deeded, meaning they’re guaranteed by the government, which keeps a registry, brokers said. “It’s easier to buy in Antigua Guatemala because the properties are mostly registered and financing is available,” Mr. Boissy said.

The government tax on home sales ranges from 3 percent on a resale to 12 percent on a new home, brokers said. Along with the lawyer’s fee (which can be 2 to 3 percent of the sale price, Mr. Boissy said) and other fees, that can bring the total transaction costs to as much as 15 percent.

The seller pays the broker’s fee, which is typically about 5.4 percent, Mr. Sujuy said. While financing is available from Guatemalan banks, it is often difficult to obtain without a local co-signer, so many buyers pay in cash.

Spanish; quetzal (1 quetzal = $0.13)

Taxes on this property are less than $1,000 a year, Mr. Wilson said. There are additional fees for services like garbage collection.

Marlon E. Catalán, Century 21 Antigua Fine Homes, 011-502-2278-7116;

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.


Sahred From Source link Real Estate