A Rural Retreat in Southern Uruguay
$390,000 (14.4 MILLION URUGUAYAN PESOS)
This two bedroom, two-bathroom house sits on 12.4 acres outside the town of Pueblo Edén, Uruguay, about 25 miles north of the coastal resort of Punta del Este and 80 miles east of the nation’s capital, Montevideo.
Built in 2016 atop a hill, the 1,292-square-foot house offers panoramic views of Punta del Este and the Sierra de las Ánimas range. Federico Astigarraga, the architect who designed the home for his parents, said it was built with floor-to-ceiling windows and a large wooden deck to take advantage of “extraordinary views” in three directions. At more than 1,100 feet above sea level, one of the area’s highest elevations, “you have a feeling of floating above the land,” he said.
Made of concrete with steel framing, the house is clad in stone from the property, in a “reinterpretation of the history” of local buildings, Mr. Astigarraga said. Adjacent to the outside deck, which includes a 215-square-foot infinity pool, is a traditional asado, or stone barbecue and grill.
A gravel road leads through a pine-tree stand to a clearing where the house sits. Inside the front door, a glass-walled hallway separates the two en suite bedrooms from the open-plan common space, which includes living and dining areas and the kitchen.
In the living area, sliding-glass doors open to the deck and the pool. The wood-beamed ceilings are made from local pine, and the floors throughout are ceramic tile. A cast-concrete fireplace in the living room provides the primary source of heat, although the bedrooms have air-conditioning-and-heating units.
The kitchen has a Whirlpool refrigerator and a gas range that are not built-in but are negotiable, as is the furniture, said Juan Palacios, the managing director of Engel & Völkers Carrasco Montevideo, which has the listing.
The house is 10 miles from Pueblo Edén, which advertises itself as a “slow town,” with fewer than 100 residents, although its profile was raised in 2007 when Roberto Giordano, a well-known Argentine stylist, bought property there. The town has a square with Spanish-style architecture, and the area attracts visitors with its wineries and rustic accommodations.
“For a lot of foreigners who live in big cities, this is the type of house they’re looking for,” Mr. Palacios said, noting that the town is “close enough to take advantage of services” in Punta del Este and Montevideo.
The international airport in Punta del Este, a resort city with about 10,000 residents, is 35 minutes away. And Montevideo, the economic, cultural and educational hub of Uruguay, with some 1.3 million residents, is consistently ranked among the most livable cities in South America.
Prices are higher in Uruguay than in its larger neighbors Argentina and Brazil, said Mark Teuten, a Montevideo lawyer who specializes in real estate transactions. “The quality of life here is very high compared to other countries in South America,” he said.
In Montevideo, recent housing prices reflect “more than 10 years of constant economic growth in Uruguay,” as well as an increase in upscale developments, said Arndt Ohletz, the managing director of Casco Antiguo Propiedades, in Montevideo. Those developments include the Forum Puerto del Buceo, a nine-story apartment building on the Río de la Plata, and others bordering the Rambla, a promenade that extends for nearly 14 miles along the shoreline.
Uruguay’s National Institute of Statistics reported in 2018 that the average price of newly built houses in Montevideo rose 9.1 percent from the previous year, to $1,334 a square meter ($124 a square foot), although when inflation and the declining Uruguayan peso were factored in, the increase was only 0.7 percent.
On average, sale prices for existing homes have increased between 1 and 1.5 percent every year since 2013, when Mr. Palacios’s agency started tracking sales, he said. But because Uruguay doesn’t have a multiple listing service, “it’s hard to know what’s going on in the market for real,” he added, noting that properties often sell for 10 to 15 percent below asking price.
With new attention to preservation, especially in Montevideo’s old town, demand for historic houses is higher than supply, agents said. A “typical example” of what is available, Mr. Ohletz said, is a three-bedroom, one-bathroom townhouse built in 1931 in the Parque Rodó neighborhood, listed for $360,000. (Agents often list properties in American dollars because of the fluctuations of the Uruguayan peso.)
Olenka Bethe, the managing director of Urban Heritage, a Montevideo developer and real estate agency, said the city’s historic area is “particularly attractive to foreigners who are interested in unique neo-Classical or Art Deco architecture they can’t afford in their own city.”
Distressed properties dating to the late 19th century, with original details like marble staircases, wrought iron and vaulted ceilings, can go for $600 to $800 a square meter ($56 to $74 a square foot), she said, but once they’re restored, they can be sold for as much as $1,800 a square meter ($167 a square foot).
Newer developments in coastal neighborhoods, she said, typically range from $2,000 to $4,500 a square meter ($186 to $418 a square foot).
Who Buys in Uruguay
Because of its proximity to Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay has historically attracted buyers from those countries, who are primarily interested in beach resorts and estancias, or farms, in the country, agents said.
But in the past decade, because of its reputation as a “safe and stable country,” there has been increased interest from Europeans and Americans, said Karen A. Higgs, a Welsh expatriate living in Montevideo, who produces the Guru’Guay website and guidebooks to Uruguay.
In Montevideo, buyers include early retirees who “remain active and are drawn to the city during six months of the year when the coastal areas are too isolated,” Ms. Bethe said. “Here, foreigners find a European-styled city with a high quality of life and top-line cultural and culinary offerings.”
Gated communities have also experienced “huge growth,” she said, particularly for foreigners with families, although “the rental returns are low and the properties do not appreciate in value.”
Punta del Este, which has a thicket of high-rises, is “like a different country within Uruguay — a lot of wealthy Brazilians living there,” Mr. Ohletz said. “It’s an international town on the coast.”
José Ignacio, a fishing village 20 miles north, is also popular with foreign buyers. Ralph Haverkate, an agent with the Haverkate Team affiliated with Engel & Völkers, said the laid-back area — which is often compared to Tulum, Mexico, before it became a trendy destination — attracts Americans and “feels like the Hamptons or California 30 years ago.”
There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Uruguay. Most transactions, including contracts and title searches going back 30 years, are handled by a notary public, who often represents both the buyer and the seller.
But “my strong advice to any potential buyer is to have your own independent notaries,” Mr. Teuten said. And while a lawyer is not required, he said, hiring one can “make the process more understandable.”
A deposit of 10 percent is usually required at the contract signing, and transactions typically close within 30 to 60 days.
While opening a bank account in Uruguay is easy for foreigners, obtaining a mortgage is not. Agents suggested that buyers finance through their home banks or, if paying cash, arrange for an electronic funds transfer. Such transactions will require certification as to the origin of the funds, Mr. Palacio said.
Languages and Currency
Spanish; Uruguayan peso (1 peso = $0.03)
Taxes and Fees
Mr. Teuten estimated that transactions costs total about 8 percent of the sale price: 6 percent for agents’ commissions and notary fees, and 2 percent for search and registration fees.
The annual property tax on this home is 950 pesos ($25), Mr. Astigarraga, the architect, said.
Juan Palacios, Engel & Völkers Carrasco Montevideo, 011-598-26002503; engelvoelkers.com