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.