Last Halloween I reached out to our Live and Invest Overseas friends and experts who shared some scary, creepy, and downright strange stories from several overseas locations. If you missed that spooky collection, you can read it here.
I also asked these world travelers for their most helpful hints and “lessons learned” to share with you, dear reader, so we can all benefit from their experience.
The tales range from property maintenance woes, to crooked real estate agents, to buying and selling tips, and even dining snafus. These stories all have one thing in common—if you expect the unexpected and go with the flow… you’ll be fine.
Let’s start with some agent-related stories…
One time an agent in Belize City—a 50-something balding gringo with a huge beer belly and bad teeth—picked me up in his old, beat-up pickup truck and took me for a drive. I was 23 or 24 years old. I kept asking where, exactly, we were going… what, specifically, we were going to be looking at… and he just kept telling me how wonderful it would be and how impressed I would be. Finally, he turned down a road that led to a flat expanse of swampland. Much of what I could see was under water… even though we were a little ways back from the coast.
“It’s just like Florida, isn’t it?” the guy asked enthusiastically. Then he wanted me to get out to tour around… but it would have been like wading through grassy mud… so I politely declined and suggested we should get back to the city… could he please take me back to my hotel.
“Well… we could sit here a while and drink some beers,” he suggested. “I’ve got beers in the back… they’re in a cooler and everything.”
After a little more back and forth, I finally persuaded the guy to drive me back to my hotel… but looking back now, decades older and wiser, I wonder about this guy sometimes. My encounter with him predated the internet and cell phones. I was very much all alone with him in that pickup truck that day.
Let’s Make A Deal
Once in Punta del Este, Uruguay, I went into a realtor’s office to get a price on a house I wanted to see. Instead, I received three different prices within 20 minutes—in the same office! One from the receptionist, one from a selling agent, and one from the listing agent. The difference between the highest and the lowest price was US$30,000.
The Price Is Right… Or Is It?
Another time, I viewed an apartment on the old town square in Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja. It was a nice, art deco-style building overlooking the square, for an asking price of US$65,000. Two weeks later, at a real estate event, an agent presented the exact same apartment for US$85,000. (I called him out on it, of course.)
In Granada, Nicaragua, a real estate agent sat down next to me at a bar on the square and offered to show me property for sale in that city. He boasted that he, “worked with Kathleen Peddicord… had been working with her for years… and was her representative in Nicaragua.” I had never met this man before.
Lucky Number 13?
Did you know Irish homes with the number 13 in their address are typically 4,700 euros (US$5,350) cheaper than similar homes of a different address? Also, 1 in 10 people avoid buying or living in a property whose address includes the number 13. Not surprisingly, fewer property sales are closed on Friday the 13th than on other Fridays.
Incidentally, the number 13 is not considered unlucky in all cultures. Some Chinese buildings omit 4 and 14. Japan considers 9 unlucky and in some cases, hospitals and airlines have removed the number from their interiors so as to not cause anyone bad luck. Italy believes 17 to be unlucky and Friday the 17th is their equivalent of Friday the 13th elsewhere.
It pays to be aware of these quirky issues which may affect the property you are buying or selling. Now that I’m thinking about it, the apartment building where I live hasn’t a floor 13.
A Cold Welcome Home
I live in a high-rise building with round-the-clock security. I often chat with our security guards, and they help us navigate Colombian issues. Last year, before my husband and I left for a six-week trip to the States, we told the guards that we would be gone and to please keep an eye on our apartment. Apparently, they also notified the man who maintains the entire building.
After returning from six weeks of travel and landing after midnight, we fell into bed exhausted. The next morning, when we tried to shower, there was no hot water, and then no water at all. After frantically trying to figure out what had happened, we found the valves were turned off in the hallway outside our apartment.
I’ve learned that Colombians have a fear of natural gas and always shut the gas valves in their apartments when they travel. Because the maintenance man couldn’t access our unit, he shut off our main gas and water valves in the hallway. No one told us this might happen. We now have friends check in on our place when we travel and we no longer tell anyone in the building how long we’ll be gone.
The Case Of The Missing Eggs
With a tour group in Sarteneja Village, Belize, my manager asked, “Mr. Phil, what you would like for dinner?” He gave me three options: chicken, fish, or lobster. Because we had fish for lunch and planned to serve lobster the next day, I opted for the chicken.
The next morning I got up with the sun and met with my manager to plan a full day of touring and review the breakfast menu. To keep things simple we chose a traditional breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and fruit. He took off into the village to purchase fresh ingredients and I stayed behind waiting for our guests to rise.
Twenty minutes later the first guests arrived on the veranda to join me for coffee and enjoy the beautiful sea view. Thirty minutes later more guests joined us, but still no manager and no breakfast ingredients. Forty-five minutes later the whole tour group was assembled for breakfast, but still no manager and no food.
An hour later the manager finally arrived, pulled me aside, and showed me his bag, which contained fruit, bacon, bread, and beans. No eggs. He apologetically said, “Mr. Phil, sorry I’m late, but I searched the whole village and there are no eggs in the village.” I joked that we should’ve ordered the fish last night.
We learned a valuable “village life” lesson—if you want eggs for breakfast, don’t eat the chicken the night before.
The Mold Monster Moves In
I grew up in the Northeastern United States, so I was excited to own my very first property in the humid tropics of Belize. However, I didn’t really know how to “maintain” my condo. I left for a monthlong trip without leaving the fans or air conditioning on—so there was no circulation whatsoever.
After a really long, exhausting trip back to Belize from Europe, I turned on the lights in my condo only to be greeted by a thin layer of mold covering literally everything from my wooden furniture to my shoes and purses. It took me a few weeks to clean between all of the nooks and crannies and to get rid of the smell. Talk about a lesson learned the hard way.
I hope you don’t encounter these types of situations in your search for the perfect overseas property, but if you do, you may end up with a great story to share. I’d love to hear about your adventures.