How to buy into the Finca lifestyle of Medellin

This article was originally published on Medellin Living.

Amazing Finca

If you’ve spent any amount of time visiting or living in Medellin it’s just a matter of time before you’ll be invited to someone’s finca. The word finca literally translates to “farm” in English but practically speaking we are talking here about recreational farms, weekend getaways, ranches, cottages, cabins, however you’d like to call them. And just like the Hamptons is to New York, Martha’s Vineyard to Boston, Lake Tahoe to San Francisco, or Lake Muskoka to Toronto, the area to East of Medellin in and around the Rionegro Airport is collectively called “El Oriente” or The East. The Oriente is where if you have the extra money, you buy yourself an acre or two (or 10!) to call home on the weekends within 60-90 minutes out of Medellin. And I can speak from personal experience, there’s nothing more rewarding than finishing a long week in the city of Medellin with a weekend getaway in the mountains.

The Oriente however is not the only place where the Paisas maintain their fincas. To the North you have Girardota and Barbosa, to the West you have San Pedro, San Jeronimo and Santa Fe and to the South in La Estrella, Caldas and further beyond into citrus and coffee country and the coffee axis or eje cafetero.  Guatapé is another popular destination for fincas but can lead you into 2-4 hour traffic jams on the weekends.

Regardless of location, the finca lifestyle can be a perfect balance to the sometimes hectic and stressful life in the city of Medellin. As soon as you get up and over the Aburra Valley of Medellin the air is cleaner, the extra elevation makes the temperature a few degrees cooler, and life just tends to slow down as you mix with the locals in the dozens of villages or pueblos that dot the region of Antioquia.

As the people of Medellin have become wealthier so too has the land become more expensive within a 1-2 hours drive. The Las Palmas corridor between Medellin and the airport has some of the most expensive $/meter or $/hectare rural land in Colombia where prices can fetch up to $500k USD per hectare and more in some parts.

Local Lingo and Terminology

When looking at rural land it’s important to know the local measurements and local lingo. You’ll hear these kinds of terms and measurements below thrown around and asking questions in Spanish like “cuantas cuadras?”, “cuanto por hectaria?”, and “donde son los linderos?”.

Measurements:
1 hectare = 2.47 Acres
1 hectare = 10,000 meters
1 acre = 4,000 meters (apprx)
1 “cuadra” = 6,400 meters

Note: Acre measures are not used at all in Colombia, the conversions are for US/Canadian readers. Most often you’ll hear size of lots referred to in meters (smaller lots), hectares (larger lots) and “cuadras” (regional).

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Finca Vocabulary – just to get you started!

Lot = lote
Property line = lindero
Utilities = servicios
Septic tank = pozo septico
Well water = usually just pozo or “agua que sale del pozo”
Sub-division/project = parcelación
Water rights = derechos de agua
Fence = cerco/lindero
Mayordomo = care taker
Gate = porton
Pavement/paved road = pavimentada
Dirt road = careterra destapada
Toll road = peaje
Coffee Region = eje cafetero
City planning = planeación
Zoning = POT

Many people ask me “how much does a finca cost”?
This is not the right question to ask. If you’re in the market for a finca you’re best to set a budget range and work backwards into location, size of lot, presence/quality of house/construction, and other factors/priorities. Generally speaking larger fincas will have (all else equal) lower values per square meter, and a nicely built house can add $1,000,000 COP per square meter to the price. Land values for average sized lots in the East of Medellin are approaching $100,000-$150,000 COP/m2 with close/direct proximity to paved roads with services (water/electric). Santa Elena can be cheaper in parts, Llanogrande will be more expensive. Guarne is where you can still find bargains in the East, San Pedro to the West and Girardota to the North, with prices ($/m2) as low as $25,000 COP/m2 (or apprx $80-90k USD for a 2.5 acre lot). Farms in the coffee region can be had for as little as $5,000 COP/m2 but don’t expect easy access or water rights or frequent visits from friends/family.

The bottom line: like all real estate there’s something for every budget, you just need to trade off priorities until you find the right finca that you’ll be happy with.

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Land Titles

This is an important topic when discussing fincas because much of the rural land in Colombia is not surveyed/defined by the local municipalities, property titles sometimes don’t exist, family inheritances are often a factor and all of these things can affect your purchase and long term value of your property.

In my finca for example there were no property lines, and the seller had only an estimation of total area. The property title (escritura) existed but referred to property lines only by the location of pine and eucalyptus trees, boulders and a neighbor’s 50 year old fence post (I’m not kidding). I had the seller assume the costs to have the lot professionally surveyed and the exact area corrected in the Rionegro land titles office (registro). In the end we found that the lot was actually larger than the seller had thought, oops.

In my office I’m fortunate to have a real estate lawyer on staff, but I can’t imagine trying to have navigated these things on my own. Not doing things properly or rushing rural land purchases could lead to mistakes which could cost you dearly. Perhaps the most high profile land title issue in Medellin at the moment is with the Meritage project where it appears that the historical involvement/ownership by drug traffickers/their agents has called into question the future of the project. A Google News search for 2016 articles on “Meritage Medellin” will give any interested readers some more background.

Building/Construction

One should not look at raw land and jump to conclusions about what you can build on it. Every finca/lot pertains to a municipality and every municipality is going to have some kind of guidelines that pertain to construction/zoning/development. If your goal is to buy and build or add on, etc., it’s wise to first determine in what quantities you can do so. Lot size, road frontage, trees, streams, wild animals, can all affect your ability to get construction licenses/permits approved. It goes without saying to do your homework here before you jump into purchase agreements.

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Gardening/Animals/Farming

Perhaps one of the most rewarding benefits that come with a finca is doing what you wish with the land. I for example have more than 30 fruits, vegetables and herbs planted, free range goats and chickens, a dozen citrus and avocado trees among a series of flora that I can’t even pronounce. You’ll learn that some things grow well in your local micro-climate and some things do not! A year-round growing season means multiple harvests but also lot more attention to fertilizers or you strip the soil. The lack of a freeze will also cause the expert gardener to calibrate his/her strategy, pesticides, etc. Timing rainy seasons is also important to crop health. But what if you want the fruits of the finca without doing all this dirty work?

Enter the Majordomo

For those who can afford it the majordomo makes the finca investment all worthwhile. A majordomo is usually an older gentleman and sometimes his wife who will live on/near your finca in a dedicated residence (that you pay for) apart from your main house. In return for a monthly stipend ($700,000-$1,000,000 COP/month) salary (plus social security, healthcare, etc.) the majordomo and his wife will tend to all the needs of the finca. He’ll cut grass, feed and take animals to the vet, prune trees, collect eggs, and clean the pool, she’ll keep the house tidy, have coffee/arepas ready for you on arrival, garden and tend to flowers/herbs. This my friends is the finca lifestyle.

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In Conclusion

This article was designed to give readers a short introduction to the search/purchase of rural land opportunities in/around Medellin but is not exhaustive by any means. The purchase of rural land requires more time, patience and a much higher degree of due diligence than residential property in the city for the reasons discussed within the article. The assistance of a lawyer specialized in real estate transactions and with experience in rural land transactions will go a long way to ensuring a safe investment. And while Casacol is primarily focused on residential investment properties we have helped a number of clients successfully purchase their fincas in and around Medellin. I can be contacted at brad@casacol.co and our lawyer juanjose@casacol.co helped contribute to this article as well.

Thanks for reading!

Brad Hinkelman – brad@casacol.co

Founder/Owner – Casacol SAS

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