The Best Places To Buy A Small Property Overseas

The Abruzzo landscape

I’m watching the latest season of “Tiny House Nation” on Netflix.

If you’ve never seen the show, each episode follows the story of a “tiny home” construction—and, for the benefit of us on the couch, the many emotions behind it.

Some of the buyers are young, constructing their first home on a restricted budget. Older couples are downsizing, selling up their big family home to put the kids through college.

The final results are always outstanding. Think a micro, moveable version of an MTV crib.

Now, don’t worry… I’m not going to suggest that you should invest in a home on wheels.

But watching Season 5’s first episode reminded me of an important point…

In this episode, a young couple plans to move from Georgia to Maine, where the guy is starting a new job. They don’t want the financial commitment involved in buying a home in a place where they may not stay long term. Their tiny, moveable home will give them the freedom to move on up to Maine… and easily get out if needed.

Again, no need for you to go tiny. But, when you’re looking at a country where you’d like to dip a toe, it helps to think small… and have a clear, easy exit strategy in mind.

The most sensible first overseas purchase in a country where you want to spend time is a small house or apartment with a reasonable expectation of generating some cash flow as a rental.

Given a budget of US$50,000 to US$100,000, you could buy a piece of property that you could use part-time and rent out otherwise in Abruzzo, Italy; Béarn, France; Cuenca, Ecuador; Medellín, Colombia; or Cayo, Belize; for example.

You’d be buying small and modest rather than big and fancy. But that has its advantages…

Big and fancy means heavy carrying costs. Property taxes usually depend on the size of the property. A big house on a big lot needs lots of cleaning, landscaping, and caretaking. And a fancy house is one you’re more likely to worry about being damaged by renters.

Starting out, especially if your budget is limited, you want one or two bedrooms and standard finishes, fixtures, and furnishings.

Fortunately, in looking overseas, this doesn’t mean you need to compromise on charm. In Abruzzo and Béarn, for example, even US$50,000 to US$100,000 can buy you a lot of character.

To give you an idea of the kind of foothold you could buy right now, I’ve dug up some current property listings—all based on the following criteria:

  • Asking price is less than US$100,000
  • Property is in move-in condition (no major renovation costs to incur)
  • Livable area is no greater than 100 square meters
  • Property is in a good location (e.g. close to amenities, has tourist appeal, or expat community nearby)

From the international beach community of Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, to a country cottage on Ireland’s west coast, here’s what I’ve found:

Two-bedroom detached house in the Pescara province of Italy’s Abruzzo region—a part of Italy that has the advantages of both sea and mountain proximity. This 93-square-meter property in a historic village has been completely restored and is 20 kms from a ski resort, 30 kms from Pescara airport, and 40 kms from the beach. Price: 61,000 euros (US$69,075).

The artisan village of Cotacachi, Ecuador is famous for its leather and handicrafts (an ideal place to base yourself for an import-export business). This one-bedroom house in a gated community is just 15 minutes out from the village with views of the surrounding Andean countryside. Price: US$55,000.

In the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of France’s Béarn region (popular with skiers in winter and hikers in summer), this renovated, second-floor apartment covers 58 square meters. It has two bedrooms, a bathroom, equipped kitchen and open living room, shared garden, and private cellar. Price (including agency fees): 64,000 euros (US$72,475).

Several one-bedroom units available in an apartment building in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. On the Samaná peninsula, this beach community is popular with tourists and home to thousands of expats (mostly European). Units are 60 square meters with air-conditioned bedroom, bathroom, kitchen/dining/living area, and shared swimming pool. Property is close to services and a 15-minute walk to the beach. Price: US$69,000.

In County Clare, on Ireland’s “Wild Atlantic Way,” this 94-square-meter cottage sits on 1 acre. It’s close to the village of Doonbeg—a popular spot with summer tourists and home to Trump International Hotel and Golf Resort—and less than 30 minutes to Shannon International Airport, which operates direct flights to the United States. It has a kitchen, living room, shower room, three bedrooms, and a large outbuilding. Price: 85,000 euros (US$96,240).

This luxury studio in Tulum, a beach town on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, would make for an ideal vacation rental. The area is popular for having the largest coral reef in the Atlantic and some of the best-preserved Maya sites. It’s in a modern, 12-unit development close to the beach. The property is 40 square meters with a bedroom, bathroom, open-plan living room and kitchen, and a shared swimming pool. Price: US$99,000.

Two-bedroom home in Corozal, Belize. Corozal offers a small-town, Caribbean lifestyle, only a convenient 16 kms from the Mexican town of Chetumal and its shopping malls. This 78-square-meter property is part of a private residential community and has open living/kitchen/dining area, laundry room, and access to a shared pool. Price: US$75,000.

If you’re coming from North America, where the average size of a newly constructed, detached home home is 240 square meters, you may have your doubts about surviving in a 40-square-meter studio in Tulum.

But how much space do you really need?

Japan, it seems, has the answer.

The Japanese government publishes guidelines on how much space you need to maintain a “healthy and culturally fulfilling” lifestyle…

For a single person living in a city apartment, its minimum recommendation is 25 square meters; the ideal space is 40 square meters.

Moving to the country, the amount of space you need to live comfortably is 55 square meters.

Food for thought…

Lynn Mulvihill