IT'S TIME

Colombia 2014 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | FOCUS: REGIONAL REAL ESTATE

Why this year may be the best one for investing in Colombian real estate beyond Bogotá.

Colombia's capital Bogotá has many attractions: a booming economy, an educated workforce, world-class universities, and excellent historic attractions, but real estate buyers should not overlook Colombia's regional centers. Like any nation of Colombia's size and prosperity, at around 47 million people and a GDP of close to $400 billion, the country's population and its geographic and cultural heritage are divided among a number of important cities.

It is in these regional cities, Medellín, Cartagena, Cali, Barranquilla, and others, that some of the year's best deals may abound. 2014 may be the year to buy in Colombia. Prices have risen rapidly in other high-performing Latin American economies like Brazil and Mexico, and Colombia's GDP growth results for the first quarter of 2014 have just come in at 6.4%, higher than expected and the greatest in six years, despite low oil production. Colombia has also seen a decade of resounding economic success from a nadir in the mid-1990s. Crime has fallen drastically, GDP has almost quadrupled, and FDI has risen. These are all indicators of an economy capable of continued growth.

While in Bogotá's finest neighborhoods there are luxury condos available at international rates, $175–200 per square foot will buy a surprising amount of luxury in most of the country. In Medellín, the murder capital of the world 15 years ago, the homicide rate has declined by over 90%, and a steady stream of government investment has made it a hub of innovation. The city's urban development plan has received record funding of $10 billion this year, only 10% of which will go to operating costs. The remainder comprises investment in parks and other facilities that, over time, will raise housing prices.

In an interview with TBY, Aníbal Gaviria Correa, the Mayor of Medellín, said that, “Medellín was known internationally as the most dangerous city in the world… We have changed that, and today the city has become the most innovative and resilient city in the world." Correa was referring to a recent award that Medellín had received from The Urban Land Institute and the Wall Street Journal naming it “Innovative City of the Year," an accolade it competed for with New York and Tel Aviv. As high rises crop up across the city, the newest and most desirable retail space is at around $167 per square foot, whereas property in the secondary markets range from $75–$130 per square foot. This may be some of the cheapest real estate available in any of the world's cosmopolitan cities.

Cartagena, another major regional hub, is also an option for real estate investment, although prices seem likely to rise soon. The coastal city has seen significant international investment from hotels and developers, and several large-scale luxury hotels are currently under construction. Once these projects are complete, it is only a matter of time before the world becomes privy to Colombia's real estate market, which currently has foreign ownership of less than 1%.

Barranquilla is another promising port city that has seen a marked increase in foreign investment and in tourism over the past decade. In Barranquilla the housing market has been particularly strong since 2010, and in 2012 the increase in housing prices was almost exactly the national average, the capital was higher than average. Several notable high-rise apartment complexes are under construction, with more being considered.

Bucaramanga is another fast-growing Colombian city in the state of Santander. It is a location famous for retirees due to its scenic charm and low cost of living, but also may be a wise place to look for real estate. Its middle class population is riding the wave of development in the country and may spur a wave of buying over the coming years.

In sum, Colombian real estate is attractive if carefully examined, and there are several other locations in the country that deserve their own articles as well. Fiscally, the country's conservative saving culture and responsible credit policies mitigate against the risk of bubbles. If the country continues to grow as it has been over the past few years, it is unlikely that prices will remain as advantageous compared to other destinations as they are today.