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Rediscovering Argentina

by Neil Rushen
Mendoza Property

Mention Argentina to anyone and people usually think of Fray Bentos corned beef, the Falklands Conflict, people being pushed from aircraft by the military, Diego Maradona’s “hand of God”, a very large economic crash in 2001 and some old dear warbling “don’t cry for me Argentina”.

Well it ain’t like that anymore! Fray Bentos is actually in Uruguay for starters and whilst the Argentines still claim “Las Malvinas” you won’t be rabbit punched in the kidneys when they discover you’re British. People being launched from aircraft today are usually indulging in one of the country’s many and varied tourist activities. Diego Maradona is still a sight to behold, but only because he resembles the “Tango” genie, well almost, he’s actually fatter, more orange and has a very bad haircut! With the recent debt restructuring the economy is growing and the country is the most politically stable in South America. The song, alas, remains the same!I discovered Argentina in July of last year whilst researching Central America, slightly off geographically but boy did it turn out to be bang on the money! I now live in the wine producing region of Mendoza. 28 kilometres from the town of San Rafael is a 25 Hectare finca with an old adobe house built in 1890. It’s where I live, along with my wife, 2 children and my in-laws (life is a compromise). As well as my house, I also have a guest chalet, 400,000 litre swimming pool, wood of 8000 eucalyptus trees and river frontage of about 100 metres on the Rio Atuel where I can relax in the evenings and fish for trout. To finance the deal I sold a small 2 bed terrace I was letting in Burton on Trent in the Midlands (UK). The 2 bed terrace in Burton is still about the same price, my new home is now worth 30% more than I paid for it in July and that’s before I’ve installed the vineyard! A finca half a mile from me in full production and owned by an investment group from Buenos Aires is currently on the market for GBP8,000 per hectare so the vineyard should make a difference!

So why choose Argentina? Argentina is far more European than South American. With 97% of the population being of European descent it often feels as though you’re in mainland Spain, but at a fraction of the prices. A litre bottle of beer costs 60p in my local cafe, a litre of petrol runs at about 35p and a fantastic 3 course meal for 2 with wine (only one bottle, we’re being good) in a very high standard restaurant might set you back GBP8.00 – that’s for two people, not each! I employ 2 men clearing my land prior to planting, they start at 8 in the morning and finish at 6 in the afternoon and each earns GBP5.50 per day. My Mother and Father-in-law are currently having a two bedroomed house built. Total area is 89 m2 with both bedrooms en-suite and granite work surfaces in the kitchen. Outside there will be a carport and veranda. The cost? GBP6500, and that’s for everything!

Healthcare and dentistry are plentiful and very cheap, no NHS waiting lists and targets here. And if you’re thinking of bringing the kids, schooling is very good, my five year old is enrolled at the local village school and her Spanish is coming on in leaps and bounds. Policing in San Rafael is highly visible, but very low key and as a result there is very little in the way of crime. Two weeks ago a car theft and two smashed windows made the front page of the local paper.

Living in this area is an absolute joy. The climate lends itself to a very active and outdoors lifestyle, summers (November- February) are hot and dry (250mm of annual rainfall) and temperatures get into the thirties, plenty of time for Asados with friends (an Argentine BBQ) and rafting, climbing, hiking or para gliding at Valle Grande or windsurfing at El Nuhuil. As autumn approaches the harvest starts and the roads are filled with lorries full of grapes, plums, peaches and apricots. The weather is still clear, bright and warm during the day but cooler in the evenings and at night. Come winter and it’s time to go snow boarding at Las Lenas, a world class resort less than 2 hours drive away; spend the day skiing and snowboarding and the evening sharing a beer with the Portenios from Buenos Aires. A season pass costs just over GBP100.

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It was obvious from word go that this was an area that would sell itself very easily and so along with some local professionals I decided to set up an estate and relocation agency: www.mendozaproperty.com was born. The concept was very simple; we would offer the properties at local prices with local fees for the estate agency and legal services. There would be an additional fee of 4% for non Argentine nationals to cover assistance with accommodation and travel arrangements, organising the opening of bank accounts and application for an AFIP number (similar to an insurance number). The fee also covers orientation tours of the area and basically ensuring your stay in San Rafael is enjoyable as well as profitable. Following on from the buying process we identified the need for good quality management and administration. The majority of purchasers are buying for investment purposes and want to make sure they can get the maximum returns from their investment. Not only can substantial gains be made simply by holding property, you can increase the property value by developing the potential of the land. In some cases this means planting vineyards, olive groves or orchards on previously uncultivated land. In other cases it means installing hail netting. We do have hail in the region during summer, and believe me, it’s a bit different from British hail! Then there’s always the income from the harvest to consider. With land to vine figure on about 15,000 kilograms of grape per hectare. 10 hectares will realise roughly GBP16,000 per annum. Obviously this figure can alter with hail or frost problems and there are the finca costs to consider as well i.e. the price of a contradictor (caretaker) but I’m currently marketing a 10 hectare finca in full production for GBP26,000. Your money back in two years and a 3 bedroomed house and barn to boot can’t be bad. On a larger scale I’m currently in negotiations to offer 17,000 hectares of land that goes right to the shores of El Nuhuil. There are a number of houses on the land (which is uncultivated) but the area would lend itself spectacularly to tourism. The price will be in the region of $250,000 US!

The buying process is very simple in Argentina and there are no requirements to set up companies or hide property acquisitions in any way, the constitution allows foreigners to buy land freely. Getting into and out of the country is very easy with a 90 day tourist visa being issued at the airport on arrival. These visas are renewable so you can stay as long as you want to while you search for your dream property or investment. The easiest way to get a more permanent visa if you wish to stay in Argentina is to apply for a “migrante con capital” visa after purchasing a property. If you’ve invested over 100,000 pesos (about GBP18,000) you can apply for one of these 2 year renewable visas. After 5 years you can then apply for full citizenship. At www.mendozaproperty.com we are able to assist with all aspects of visa application having gone through the process ourselves.

Whatever your plans, Argentina has something to fit, as an investment or as a place to retire to. A year ago I would never have thought I’d be planting a vineyard on my own land. I couldn’t have imagined riding my horse around the finca to open and close irrigation gates. I was preparing to watch my property portfolio do nothing over the next couple of years as house prices stagnated at the very least. Now I’m looking forward to visiting Puerto Madryn and watching killer whales take sea lions off the beach, and maybe travelling down to Tierra Del Fuego to catch the Southern Lights. If property prices do get to GBP8,000 per hectare, that’s just a bonus!

So what’s the down side? Curry! Although we are setting up a curry club with some friends so that should sort that one out! The shops hold stock of pretty much everything you want and steak comes in at about GBP1.00 per kilo. Other than that, it’s going to be nice to cheer on a team at the next World Cup that might actually win!