By Sylvan Hardy
Over the years, I’ve heard from dozens of prospective North Americans who tell me about the dream home the hope to find in Ecuador.
A man from Georgia asked what he would pay for a house with a detached garage with an apartment above, set in the middle of a two acre lawn. “I really enjoy spending a day or two every week on my riding mower taking care of the grass,” he said.
Another prospect, a woman from Virginia, provided a detailed description of beach communities in Virginia and Florida and said she wanted the same thing in Ecuador. “I need a place where I can ride my bicycle to the nearest Starbucks, pick up the Washington Post, and sit by the ocean, reading my paper to the sound of the surf. A Starbucks is an absolute MUST for me.”
A retired bottling company executive from Washington state sent several real estate agents literally hundreds of pictures of his home in Washington state. “As you can see, I am accustomed to luxury and my wife and I will accept nothing less than what I have now. Please find me a comparable property.” The man even provided a series of photos of his wife’s preferred style of bidet.
An email writer from Atlanta who described herself as a “rural suburbanite” said she wanted the same set-up near Cuenca. “I’m looking for a two or three acre hobby farm but it needs to be near a freeway so I can get to a mall and Walmart in 15 or 20 minutes. I need for people at the mall to speak English since I do not speak Spanish.”
Needless-to-say, none of these folks will find what they’re looking for in Ecuador.
With a few exceptions, the big lawn surrounding a suburban home does not exist in Ecuador. Even if it did, it would be absolutely scandalous for the homeowner to be seen tooling around on a riding mower. Ecuadorians are infinitely puzzled, in fact, why anyone would want spend hours of their free time mowing a lawn. Yard work, after all, is the domain of the gardener.
As for the bicycle-riding, Starbucks-sitting, Washington Post-reading lady, she’s dead out of luck. Although there are a handful of beach gated communities suitable for biking, there are no Starbucks and the Washington Post does not deliver to Ecuador.
Neither will you find “rural-suburban living” in Ecuador, where it’s possible to drive from your hobby farm to a mall within a few minutes. And few store clerks in Ecuador speak English.
The retired bottling exec did, in fact, move to Ecuador. After buying and remodeling two condominiums and a house in three different locations — at considerable expense, I might add — he returned to the U.S. in a huff. He made no secret of the fact that he was bitterly disappointed in his Ecuador experience and the fact that locals could not comprehend his concept of luxury. And his wife never did find a suitable bidet.
Reality check: Don’t expect to find the same types of properties and neighborhoods in Ecuador that you’re accustomed to in North America. Although many newer condominiums and houses have the similar floor plans and finishings, older homes generally do not. Even in the newer homes, North Americans will discover many stylistic differences.
Apartments and houses built more than 20 years ago for middle class Ecuadorians typically have a maid’s suite consisting of a small bedroom and bath. Kitchens, as well as laundry areas, are often considered the maid’s domain, and kitchens are seldom open to the living areas (no serve-through counters).
For in-town neighborhoods, contiguous walls between houses is the norm. We may call them townhouses, but they are simply houses, or casas, to Ecuadorians. Even on the outskirts of a town or city, contiguousness of houses is common. Although there are stand-alone houses in the suburbs, they generally have very small yards. A 1/8 acre lot is considered large. And yards in South America are generally called gardens, or jardines.
If you want a half acre or more, you likely will be looking for something in a rural area where you can expect cows, pigs and chickens as neighbors.
Almost all new construction in Ecuador is masonry, even interior walls. Unlike North America, there is little stud and drywall construction in Ecuador; what there is, is used mostly for ceilings.
This is important to understand if you’re thinking of building or renovating a property in Ecuador. Builders and carpenters are trained to work with cement blocks, bricks and mortar and would need to be retrained to work with other construction systems.
Until 75 years ago or so, most buildings in Ecuador were built with mud, using adobe bricks and rammed earth, and many of them are still standing, some of them for as long at 450 years. Although rarely used today, adobe and rammed earth construction produced excellent houses, providing good insulation and long-lasting shelter.
If you are thinking of buying and rehabilitating adobe or rammed earth buildings, find out what you are getting into before you commit. Many expats find out too late that their rehab projects are much more complicated and costly than they anticipated.
Plan to spend some time in Ecuador before setting your heart on a particular style of house or apartment. If you do this, you will have a realistic idea of what’s available, the styles, the neighborhoods, as well as prices. Very possibly, you’ll decide you like what you see in Ecuador and will be happy to adapt.
Updated and reposted from 2014