Head to Uruguay, Italy, and Malaysia for real estate deals that let you live la dolce vita.
(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- With the U.S. real estate market in the doldrums, look south - way south - to Uruguay. Uru-where? The tiny South American nation is wedged between Brazil and Argentina, whose sputtering currencies have been attracting globe-trotting bargain hunters in recent years. But it's getting harder to find a real deal in those countries, with all the competition from euro-flush investors and increasingly prosperous locals. That makes largely overlooked but delightfully cosmopolitan Uruguay the place to be.
Known as the Switzerland of South America, Uruguay played host to the jet-setting crowd in the '60s. These days the likes of Ralph Lauren and Naomi Campbell hit the beaches of Punta del Este.
Where to buy: Punta developers are cranking out luxury condos and oceanfront villas that range in price from less than $200,000 to as much as $5 million. You can still buy a four-bedroom house two blocks from the beach for $160,000. Go farther up the coast and you can snag 360 acres of ranch land - with lagoon - for $5.8 million.
To be near the heart of Uruguay's culture and commerce, head to Montevideo. With its cafes, galleries, and Old World opera house, the city offers the colonial charm of Buenos Aires without the high prices. The Ciudad Vieja neighborhood is considered the place with the greatest headroom for real estate appreciation in the coming years. Bargains abound: A three-bedroom house for less than $50,000 is not uncommon. Or, for the price of a Subaru, you can get a two-bedroom apartment with its own courtyard three blocks from Montevideo's waterfront market.
Bill Reed, a San Francisco-based wholesaler of grass-fed beef, had previously invested in Argentina but is now busy closing his next property deal in Uruguay. "The pricing is really good on everything down there," says Reed, CEO of Estancia Beef. That's the beauty of Uruguay: Get in for a song now and spend your winters in the sun - or cash out when it's time to retire.
Making a deal: Buying Uruguayan real estate is fairly straightforward because foreigners have the same property rights as locals. The first step is to put down a 10 percent deposit. A lawyer handles the title search and other paperwork. Expect the process to take more than a month. With local mortgage rates topping 10 percent, cash is the way to go.
Other bargains: If Uruguay is not your cup of maté, there are plenty of other places ripe for real estate appreciation. Calabria, on the toe of Italy's boot, is where rock-bottom prices meet the Mediterranean sun. A two-bedroom apartment in the ocean-side town of Scalea can be snapped up for $83,000. If Southeast Asia is more to your taste, try Malaysia, with its steamy climate, beaches, and cheap eats. Best of all, you can still pick up a two-bedroom home in a good part of Kuala Lumpur for less than $100,000.To send a letter to the editor about this story, click here.