South America Braces for Influx of European Property Investors | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 18.02.2007
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South America Braces for Influx of European Property Investors

The rapid devaluation of Brazilian and Argentine currencies since the 1990s has lured Europeans to act quickly on the renewed attractiveness of real estate in South America's largest economies.

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Brazil's cheap property is one of the South American power's less obvious attractions

"Argentina: Europe at a third of the price," says one investment-promoting internet blurb. Another market observer puts the prices as low as one-tenth of European prices.

While price is the key factor, cultural affinity also plays an important role, with the Portuguese drawn to Brazil and Spaniards and Italians to Buenos Aires, many to consolidate family ties.

In Argentina, where global tycoons have been buying up land in Patagonia since the 1990s, middle-income investment is concentrating in the more up-market areas of its capital.

"(Investors) consider that Buenos Aires is a very similar city to any European capital, but with much lower real estate values," Guillermo Rivanera, vice president of Tizado Propiedades, told the dpa news agency.

Preferred investment is in the pre-construction sale of large developments, and he said foreign interest has not yet had a significant impact on prices paid by locals in the city of more than 12 million.

Brazil and Argentina share several qualities: With high interest rates and a history of economic uncertainties, mortgages are relatively rare, and real estate is usually paid for in cash.

Brazil's real, valued 1-to-1 with the dollar in the mid-1990s, has fallen by more than half to 2.1 to the dollar. Argentina's peso, after being allowed to float in early 2002, dropped from 1-to-1 with the dollar to more than 3-to-1.

South America now a retirement destination

Buenos Aires Avenida 9 de Julio

Buenos Aires: Argentina's "European" capital

Meanwhile, the appreciating euro now punches more purchasing power in Latin America, but not enough to keep up with the soaring property values in traditional second-home or retirement destinations in southern Europe. Overcrowding in Spain, Portugal and Greece have eroded those countries' charm, making distant South America even more attractive.

"The scenery and beaches in Brazil are quite simply breathtaking, the cost of living (can range to) 20 percent lower than the average UK or European equivalents, property prices are incredibly cheap and the country is highly accessible," international property consultant AmberLand tells prospective buyers on its Web site.

Brazil places no restrictions on the purchase of real estate by foreigners, who are only required to have an identification number for fiscal purposes.

Argentineans fight to keep land out of foreign hands

Rürup-Kommission Rentenreform Ältere Damen auf Parkbank Senioren

These ladies could be sunning themselves in Rio

Argentina however bans foreigners from buying property within 100 kilometers of the country's borders. The purchase of huge tracts of land by tycoons like Ted Turner, Douglas Tompkins or Luciano Benetton, in fact, has stirred public sentiment. Author Gonzalo Sanchez claims in his book "Patagonia Sold" that at least 10 percent of Argentina's territory is in foreign hands.

With the influx of money, prices are starting to rise in Brazil. Foreign-driven development along Brazil's coast and a property boom in the country's northeast, around Natal and Recife, have boosted land prices substantially.

"In the cities, there is not so much difference," Brazilian real estate agent Johannes von Leiben told dpa. "Rio is expensive, Sao Paulo also, but they always were. The really big difference is at the beach, that's where prices went up in the last years."

In this context, some dare to point to Uruguay -- sandwiched between the regional giants and once known as "the Switzerland of South America" -- as next in line for a property boom.

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