Forget Florida, I’ll take Granada

Opinion.

My wife and I bought a casa in Granada two years ago and today, more than ever, we are certain that it was the ideal choice for us. It’s something others might want to consider, too.

There are a few things that make Granada different from other vacation or retirement destinations such as, say, St. Petersburg, Florida, where we just visited our friends in their condominium apartment, which cost them the same as our casa in Granada. Now we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples here—for starters Granada is on a lake, not an ocean—but for $225,000, you are not going to be on the beach in St. Pete’s either. If ocean is what you want, Nicaragua has plenty of that too, and for less money and less carrying costs.

In Granada, you get to meet and interact with local residents who—as far as we are concerned—are a friendlier and warmer (not to mention younger) than those we encountered in Florida. Yes, Granada is a bit scruffier about the edges compared to a high-rise condominium or managed complex in Florida, but unless you like looking at miles of asphalt and traffic, Granada is a lot more scenic.

You don’t need a car to go out and pick up a cup of coffee or a bunch of bananas in Granada; just walk around a corner and remember exercise is your friend. Or, you can just flag down one of the beat-up taxis circulating around Granada and for 50 cents you’ll get where you’re going. You can also rent a car and a driver and go visit Mombacho Volcano or go swim in one at the Laguna de Apoyo—and you can’t do that in Clearwater. While you’re out exploring, you can grab lunch for $5—in a restaurant that isn’t McDonalds—and wash it down with a $1 beer.

So, what kind of place do you get to buy in Granada with you your holiday home investment, keeping in mind a two-bedroom furnished condo apartment in fairly nice building in St. Pete’s will run you $225,000. If you’re looking for a condo, you could buy a unit in a small managed secure condo complex such as Xalteva Condominums, which requires no work on your part (they’ll even rent it out for you when you aren’t there). This will give you about the same square footage as an apartment in Florida, but with a much different ambiance.

Or take the hands-on approach by buying a fixer-upper home and investing as much or as little time in it as you want to bring it to your standards of comfort.

Once you have your Granada vacation home, it’s easier to rent it while you are away because you’re not facing the same level of rental competition as you do in Florida— there just isn’t a lot of high-end, short-term rentals available in Granada. I use Granada Property Services and don’t worry about it.

There is also a big difference in the amount you pay in property taxes and labor costs in Nicaragua. Taxes are a fraction of what you would pay anywhere in the United States; for my house in Granada, I pay less than $200 a year for property tax on a $200,000 property. Maid service is so reasonable it’s almost mandatory. I also have a great English-speaking dentist in Managua who charges half of what I’d pay at home, and an excellent hospital and English-speaking doctors and specialists just 40 minutes from Granada.

Now comes the hard part: explaining just how different yet comfortable Granada is. Granada is a colonial city with older buildings that have a unique charm. It’s also a destination for savvy travelers, so there are more great places to eat and other services that harder to find on the Pacific Coast.

Granada is getting better every year as new investors and Nicaraguans catch on to the city’s potential. The Garden Café and Lily’s Café are just two musts; they’re as good as any eatery you’d find tucked away someplace in Italy, Spain or Portugal. The steakhouses (more than one) give you the kind of meal you’d expect to pay $40 or more for at home for only $12.

The drawbacks of life in Granada? Well, expect to be polite and considerate; Nicaraguans are not aggressive people and do not like confrontation or disrespect anymore that we do. Also, learn at least some Spanish because most locals will not speak English. My carpenter doesn’t, but his son does and we manage to get by. My ironworker doesn’t at all, but he draws well so we communicate primitively.

I mention tradesmen such as carpenters, ironworkers, plumbers and electricians, because if you buy an older home here, it will most likely require substantial updating to it to your standards. And though many things are now available in stores—though often at higher prices in Managua—locals and smart foreigners have things custom-made for their homes, which can result in a terrific bargain (if everyone involved understands what is going to be delivered) as well as a boost to the local economy.

Our personal experience involved falling in love with Granada and the people who live here. We found a house we liked and gave it the TLC and complete furnishings it needed. We put on a new roof, refinished all the exposed woodwork, did lots of painting, and had custom-made fixtures and furniture built: four wardrobes, tables, chairs, wrought-iron chandeliers, and headboards for the beds.

We also completely ripped out two bathrooms and had custom vanities installed along with new tiles and fittings. Oh, and we also commissioned some huge, custom-made California blinds that would have cost thousands of dollars back in the U.S. It all didn’t happen overnight—it required lots of time and planning on our par—but with the help of all the hardworking Nicaraguan craftsmen and builders, it all came together wonderfully in the end.

Yes, the home-buying process is different in Nicaragua than it is in North America, especially when it comes to paying realtor’s commissions and transfer taxes.
But we worked with a local attorney who came recommended with solid references and he looked after us properly.

Now we have our vacation dream home. It’s not quite Florida, but that’s the point.

 

Fred Cressman is partners with his identical twin brother at Polylabel.com. He’s an ex-banker and commercial insurer, married to Lilian, his wife of 42 years. Fred and Lilian have traveled extensively in UK, Europe, Cuba, and Costa Rica.

  • Carla Chamorro

    Good article, nice story!
    Don’t forget the fact Granada has such rich history as the oldest city on Continental America (1525 I believe….) and most influential during Colonial days as a commission departed from Granada to form Costa Rica among others. Granada had also plenty to do with the California gold rush and Commodore Vanderbilt, it’s so much part of US history. Food is way better and tastier than most.
    Did you know that actually Granada is a port to the Atlantic ocean?

    • http://www.polylabel.com Fred

      Close, founded in 1524 but at that time St. John’s Newfoundland was already bustling. Mind you given the choice and considering the weather I’d have rather settled in Granada.

      “When the English mariner John Rut visited the settlement (St. John’s) in 1527, he found Portuguese, Breton, and Norman ships in the harbor. He wrote a letter to King Henry, describing the voyage and his findings. Water Street was built in the 1540s and is known as the oldest street on the North American continent. “

  • Ternot MacRenato

    Perhaps Granada’s best kept secret is La Terraza, the restauant by the lake. Excellent food, great service with a great view of the lake. My wife and I love it. We took some friends there from Colorado and they thanked us profusely. We live in San Diego and always visit the restaurant when in town.

    • http://www.polylabel.com Fred

      Maybe everyone should list their own favourite eating place as it could point out some places some of us overlook. I’ll try La Terraza next time I’m down. Beats sitting around the pool and ordering in Tele Pizza (mind you they are handy for the odd ‘fill everyone up’ evening at home)

  • Adolfo

    Hello all!

    I feel so torn about this article. I am a Granadino, born in Granada lived most my life in the States, but have spent a lot of time in Nica. My grandparents live on Atravesada and uncle on Calzada

    On one hand, the tourism, creating jobs, this is fantastic. To see how La Calle Calzada has changed in a span of 10 years is incredible. Helping people learn English, creating jobs remedies the extreme poverty of Nicaragua. And I am happy that you have fallen in love with Granada. I admire that you respect our culture. ANd that you have found peace in your retirement.

    On the other hand, even before the tourism trend, there was a dilution of Nica culture. So many Nica’s go back and forth from the States to Nica it was inevitable. English words invading the language, TGIFS. And with more tourism, more expats it will become more Americanized.

    I mean, I love the diversity of the States. That is what I love about it. At the same time, I loved Granada for Granada. Everyones Nica, Nicoya’s speaking nicanol eating gallo pinto jocotes tona flor de cana. Now I go back and it’s not the same.

    This makes me get to my main point. I do not want Nica to become an Acapulco, a Cancun, or a Costa Rica. Tourism is great but we must proceed with caution and do it correctly. We must take huge strides to preserve Nica language, architecture, religion. We must respect the environment and protect Nicaragua’s natural beauty. Tourism that benefits Nicas more than anyone.

  • http://www.polylabel.com Fred

    Couldn’t agree more and I doubt many Gringos in Granada want to see that kind of change. They bitch about Tourists more than locals. Mind you they’ll push for better water/electricity/internet infrastructure and help pay for it too.

    Can’t you just imagine a McDonalds in the Central Square? Shudder just to think of it.

  • Mela Pellas

    One difference between Granada and Florida you forgot is, that in Fla no one is going to take your house away for any reason, and in Granada they might for any reason. Look at all the property disputes between ex-pats and the sandias. The former head of property relations at the US Embassy said she would never buy real estate in Nicaragua, as everything there seems to have at least two owners. Enjoy your property ehile you can.

    • http://www.polylabel.com Fred

      I would dispute your comment partially because it’s not clear. Of course you can lose a property in Florida for certain reasons just as you can a property in Nicaraugua for certain reasons. If you don’t make sure you have clear title you’re at risk. That goes for almost anywhere.

      Now buying property outside of Granada where titles are not usually ‘clouded’ and in particular in the countryside requires a lot more digging. There actually is title insurance available in Nicaragua but you won’t get it unless thorough examination of title documents is done and just like in the USA it will cost you.

  • Anthony

    Couldn’t agree more with you Mela, but things are changing in Nicaragua an many property issues are becoming obsolete. The old owners settled for good in Costa Rica, USA or wherever country they fled during the war, besides this is a very old generation from the Somosa times and most of them are probably dead by now. You have to be really smart when buying land in Nicaragua and find a good, honest lawyer to help you unrolling the history of any propety you are interested and only then move on with the purchase. I have experience in buying a propety and trust me that sometimes it was too good to be true but my advice is not to let your money go so easy without digging out all the dirt behind any house or property for sale. In overall I think Nicaragua is the best place to live in all Central America, the crime is low or pretty much is reduced to common problems and not organized crime, the people is friendly but their culture is not for sale so you have to respect them too and last but never the least it’s a beautiful country with lots of lost paridises, beaches, mountains, lakes, vocanos, rivers etc with a weather to die for in most cold countries.

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  • Natalie

    Couldn’t agree more except Granada is getting a little too touristed for me. We just bought a house in Las Penitas (on the beach outside of Leon), with the aim of showing our kids a different style of vacationing and exploring the world.

    • http://www.polylabel.com Fred

      Leon is indeed an even more overlooked Nicaraguan ‘Gem’ than Granada. I believe also a bit less expensive? We all have our priorities and nice to hear that Las Penitas (Leon) ticks all your boxes.

  • carly

    Retirement and Good Living just selected Granada as a top retirement locations for 2013 at http://retirementandgoodliving.com/best-retirement-locations-abroad-2013/

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