Two years ago, the developers of a condominium project on Av. Ordoñez Lasso told real estate agents representing North American clients that they did not want their business. The reason? Gringos complained too much and sought legal remedies without trying to work out problems with the developer.
Today there at least seven projects, at various stages of construction, that won’t sell to North Americans. Two of them are on Av. Lasso, one is on Av. Remigio Crespo while the others are in the Primero de Mayo and Don Bosco neighborhoods.
A seller’s agent at the Remigio Crespo project, who asked not to be named, said that his project didn’t need the gringos. “They are a very minor part of our business but they seem to cause us the most problems,” he said. “For our project it just makes sense to concentrate on local buyers,” he said. He added that statistics show that English-speaking foreign real estate buyers represent only one half of one percent of real estate sales in Cuenca.
According to developers, real estate agents, and attorneys dozens of lawsuits have been filed by North Americans over issues of construction quality.
“Unfortunately for the buyers, very few of these cases will be settled in their favor due to the rules of the Ecuadorian legal system,” said attorney Carlos Calderon, who has several North American clients. “The cases most likely to come out in favor of the buyer are those where specifications in the sales contract were not honored by the builder. The problem is that even these can take many months to reach resolution, or even years.”
Calderon said he is sympathetic to many of the complaints by foreigners. “The developers here build for Ecuadorians who, many times, will accept inferior work. The Europeans and North Americans have higher standards and this is where the conflict starts,” he said. “I have a client from the U.S. who has a four centimeter gap between a window and a wall, cracking plaster and huge water stain on he ceiling that the builder promised to fix and hasn’t. I have called the developer a dozen time the repairs are still not done.”
Graciela Quinde, who rents and manages properties for North Americans, agrees that the lower standards of acceptance by locals allows developers to do sloppy work. “Many of my owners live out of the country and I have to deal with construction problems for them; I understand how frustrating it is to get things fixed here,” she says. “I explain to the developer that I need the work to meet standards of foreigners and they say they understand, but then it is very hard to get them to do what they promise.”
Gerardo Vasquez, who was a builder in New Jersey for 25 years before returning home to Cuenca in 2010, says he hears frequent “horror stories” of Ecuadorian contractors not following through on projects, both condos and houses.
“It is intolerable, some of the things I hear that they do, including simply walking off a job. I have worked with several gringo friends to finish houses where this happens,” says Vasquez.
On the hand, he says, builders told him they find it difficult to work with many North Americans. “They say that the gringos are too demanding and become aggressive over minor details. There is a cultural problem and language problem in many cases.”
He adds, “I know of situations when a gringo became violent, so I can see the situation from the builder’s point of view too. So I say yes, the standards need to improve, but also that some gringos need to control their emotions.”