The Ecuador Chronicles - 2010-20
Ecuador Real Estate and the Wild West;
Is It Gunfight at the OK Corral;
Or, Dodge City with the Marshal in Charge
by Ray Almand
Many people are considering the purchase of real estate outside their home country. And they have many concerns as they begin to look into this. The process is quite different in Latin America than in North America - and there are variations from country to country. For one thing, the original basis of the legal systems is different. The North American legal system evolved from English Common Law. The Latin American legal system evolved from the Napoleonic Code - also the basis for much of Europe. Some legal scholars consider legal systems based upon the Napoleonic Code to be somewhat weak in enforcement of contracts - and a real estate purchase is certainly a contractual agreement.
Another concern when considering a real estate purchase in a developing country is whether the legal system actually works - or is it more like the Wild West with outlaws everywhere and no one in control.
When I was growing up one of my favorite TV shows was Gunsmoke. It is one of television's longest running series, from 1955 to 1975 - with several follow on movies after that. For me, the show ran from the time I was 5 years old until 25. I can't say I watched them all, but Matt Dillon was a hero. My father probably saw most of them. He used to say that Gunsmoke was an "A-dult" western, saying the "A" like you do in the alphabet, with emphasis. Gunsmoke did deal in more mature storylines than previous westerns - and generally there was a moral theme. My father considered himself to be a Cowboy, although we only had 100 acres in Georgia, often with more goats than cows, and he worked by day in a bank.
After he retired from the bank he was mostly seen in western attire - cowboy hat, western shirt, boots and of course a (Chevrolet) Suburban and (Ford) pick-up truck. He even had a western cut suit for more formal occasions complete with a bolo string tie that my mother bought him on one of their trips to Mexico in the Suburban. Our 85 year old Great Aunt Sudie, also a Gunsmoke fan, often told him he looked like Matt Dillon - my father really enjoyed that compliment. My father had a couple of theories about Gunsmoke that I never saw supported in any of the episodes: He thought that Marshal Matt Dillon was half owner, with Miss Kitty Russell, of the Long Branch Saloon; He also thought that Matt and Miss Kitty were more than just good friends.
Some of the Gunsmoke Cast -
Only Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) and "Doc"
Galen Stone (Milburne Stone) made it through all 20 years; Miss Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake) and Festus Hagan (Ken Curtis) were ever popular
Ok, So How Does a Real Estate Transaction Work in Ecuador
Well, Dodge City was the Wild West, but life was simple, justice was swift, and while there were nasty outlaws, Marshal Dillon maintained Law and Order. I will go through our real estate purchase in Quito; from the outset I will say that I felt good about the straight forward process and it seemed like the Law and Order "Good Guys" were running the show.
After we decided we wanted the apartment we went through a negotiation process both on price and certain things we wanted taken care of before purchase (for example, there was no water heater in the apartment - we wanted a working water heater). During this time we also hired our lawyer, Doctora Maria del Carmen Cevallos, who kept things on track - including the purchase of title insurance.
We arrived in Quito the day before the closing. We had one more look at the apartment - everything was fine.
The closing took place in a conference room at the Office of Notary of the Canton de Quito. In Latin America a notary is a lawyer - not just a person who witnesses signatures. The Office of Notary is kind of like the place at the county courthouse in the United States where all property records are maintained - closings take place there, not in a lawyer's office. Present were: The Notary; our Lawyer - Doctora Maria del Carmen Cevallos (La Doctora); our real estate person - Mathieu Guillory (now LWE Principal); the sellers (a septagenerain couple - they were the original owners, in fact their family had constructed the building in the mid 1950's); a couple of witnesses from the Notary Office; and Dalynda and me - directly across the table from the sellers.
The Notary ran the show; he stood at the head of the table and read the entire contract, including the complete legal description of the property. This took maybe 15 minutes. If you don't understand Spanish you are required to have a translator present. The legalize might have been over my head in Spanish, but I had reviewed a copy several times prior to the closing so I was comfortable without a translator. And we had La Doctora working in our interest, and Mathieu has been through the process many times.
After the reading the sellers and Dalynda and I signed in the appropriate places - all very straight forward - but there were some interesting moments. Keep in mind, the national currency of Ecuador is the US Dollar, so the transaction was in Dollars. Our payment consisted of two parts: A cashiers check for most of the money and $2,500 in cash - in $50 bills.
The first interesting moment was the arrival of our Attorney - La Doctora was well received by the staff in the Notary Office; everyone seemed to know her, wanted to speak to her, hug her - we felt comfortable that she was well known and respected.
Then after signing the contract the scene could have been from a Western. The old gentleman reached into his pocket and pulled out two sets of keys - he pushed them to the middle of the table. Mathieu reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out the cashiers check and handed it to me. I pushed it to the middle of the table. I reached into my inside pocket, pulled out the envelope containing the cash and placed it beside the cashiers check.
The old gentleman reached over and pulled the money to his side of the table; I pulled the keys over to my side. He picked up the cashiers check, and holding one end with each hand, carefully studied it for about a full minute - he handed it to his wife who began her own careful inspection. He then took the cash out of the envelope and counted it - twice - and handed the cash to his wife. She was not yet satisfied. She picked up the top $50 bill in both hands and gave it three good snaps; she then held it up to the light and looked at it for maybe 15 seconds and finished off with three more good snaps. She picked up the next bill.......I knew there were problems with counterfit money coming into Ecuador from Columbia, and I knew $100 bills were not well received in Ecuador - hence the $50's......She was on the third bill - we were going to be here a while. I told her I had brought the money directly from the United States the day before. She thought for a minute, handed the cashiers check back to her husband and (naturally) put the cash in her purse. I gave a set of keys to Dalynda, put the other set in my pocket. Everyone stood up shook hands and left the room. The deal was done. We were property owners in Ecuador.
Am I naive enough to think this is a perfect process - no. No doubt things can go wrong. Therefore always have a good, well respected Ecuador real estate attorney working in your interest; work with a dependable local real estate person. In addition, we decided to purchase title insurance to mitigate the risk even more - it offers protection against problems with the title - and another set of (North American) eyes look at everything to do with the transaction.
But overall it was a straight forward process, not as complicated as a closing in the US (no 4 inch stack of papers), and it is directly supervised by the office that maintains the official property records. And it also seemed that there was respect for private property built into the system - nothing was haphazard.
Mat Dillon - Cowboy
John Wayne - Cowboy
Your Correspondent - Not a Cowboy (but raised by one)
Take a look at Apartment Renovation - After the Purchase
Would you like to visit Ecuador and become a Real Estate Cowboy -
Find out how atLive Well Ecuador: