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Having tossed Agent overboard, our load feels much lighter. Ahhhhhh……
Our initial goal on this visit to Ecuador was to be sure this was a country we could call home. Right away we fell for Ecuador’s landscape and charisma. Discovering a shared love, Captain and I both knew we would be happy to plant roots in Ecuador. After hearing The Seller’s actual price of The Perfect Property, we became much more interested. As we talked about this property and the land’s potential, its perfection became more apparent.
The Perfect Property is 5 acres on the edge of a cliff. There is a long drive way to reach the land and it is surrounded with old growth jungle. With the exception to the trees along the steep coastline, the property is clear of thick jungle and is mostly a flat pasture. Along the southern border of the property is a stream etched into the cliff’s rock bed. At the cliff’s edge, the stream falls into a waterfall during the wet season.
Day after day we found ourselves coming back to the neighboring village to The Perfect Property. I remember falling for the village the first time we drove through it. Each resident looked at peace. If they weren’t already smiling, a smile followed a friendly wave directed their way. Wedged between two cliffs, the village doesn’t have the capacity to expand, only improve. The short beach is sandy in most areas and swallowed up by high tides; on the weekends locals come to this quaint village and enjoy a day at the beach. Good surf is located out front and there are never lines to catch a wave. Captain and I began daydreaming of our life if we moved to this remote area of the Esmeraldas Province. It was easy to see ourselves becoming part of the community.
Captain and I stewed for many hours as we wrote emails to The Seller using our honed ‘Craigslisting’ skills. With our aggressive negotiating, we told The Seller every reason he should come down in price. He gave us the usual run-around. “There are 2 other interested real estate agents and another prospective buyer. I won’t go any lower!”
Our anxiety levels rose. Were there really other interested buyers? Possibly. But considering the demand for land in these remote areas, we were sure we were the only potential buyers. Were we bidding against ourselves? Was The Seller referring to Agent, The Representative, and us through Agent as the other prospective buyers??? We couldn’t let our anxieties cloud our decision-making. Captain and I had to stay clear about our budget, the time we had left in Ecuador and our hopes, dreams and desires.
The Seller’s greatest selling point was ‘the anti-seismic, 3 story’ structure on the property. He boasted that is could withstand an earthquake of grand scale. I acted as if I was the least bit impressed in the structure with hopes to bring down the value of the property. This is my role in what we call ‘Craigslisting’! When The Seller said most people thought he was building a 6-story hotel because of the sturdy structure, I felt the Universe was adding an element of foreshadowing to my tall tale.
Captain and I had not seriously planned on buying land during this trip. As we got serious about investing in land, questions had to be answered. How much could we afford at this point in our lives? How much are we willing to invest in property? Are we ready to commit to a life overseas in Ecuador? What will we have to sacrifice to build the life of our dreams and transform raw land into paradise? We had to be very honest with ourselves and one another.
Captain got The Seller to come down significantly from his original price and then another $10,000. If we would have been more patient we may have gotten it cheaper. We strategized about being less interested to test The Seller and his bottom dollar. After talking with Captain, we decided against this tactic. If The Perfect Property is truly The One, this is not the time to ‘Craigslist’-especially if there really are others interested. The Perfect Property is a gem…
When the seller read our final offer he accepted.
How interesting is it that days ago Agent had predicted this property was The One? It’s a shame that he was a shady character-he could have made some money in the deal…
With only 8 days left in Ecuador, each day had to be fully utilized. I took a deep breath and held on; we were about to take a big plunge and it was going to be awhile before I could come up for air.
The Seller lives out of the country and would not be to Ecuador until all the paperwork was complete and the sale was ready to be finalized. Captain and I would be dealing with The Representative. Mr. Lion recognized us from our original showing with Agent. He claimed that Agent, acting as a translator between us and Mr. Lion, was not allowing an open dialog to make a deal. Not surprising…we knew he was up to something!
Mr. Lion speaks only Spanish so Captain and I needed a translator. An Ecuadorian couple just arrived in the rental below ours who we instantly connected with. Impeccable timing! This kind gentleman owned a business in New Jersey for a few years but returned to Quito, Ecuador to retire. His English was good enough to help us arrange an appointment with Mr. Lion for the initial business meeting. Mr. Jersey and his wife didn’t know what they were getting into when they befriended us. No one ever does!
Captain had done a lot of research about buying property overseas. We brought along a checklist of everything that needed to be done. The To Do List made buying property seem so simple. Get a lawyer. Check. Ensure title is free and clear. Check. Next: write a contract and do the paperwork.
First of all, we have never made such a large purchase-it is overwhelming. On top of being a first time property buyer, here we are in a foreign country where little of what is being said is not understood. I did my best to comprehend it all but I bet my face looked pretty confused through the whole process!
The first meeting was going to be in Esmeraldas with Mr. Lion. Mr. Jersey offered to drive us to Esmeraldas and stand as an unofficial translator. He and his wife had yet to go to the city and wanted to check it out. I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to occur but Captain and I had already discussed what may transpire. We were in agreement that we would not sign anything or give anyone money!
Esmeraldas is a large port city with a population comparable to that of Miami. The city is busy and hot! We had followed Mr. Lion and his wife into the city where Mr. Jersey found a tight parking spot along the crowded street. Mr. Lion led us into a two-story building wedged in between a hardware store and a small restaurant. Everywhere we went Mr. Lion was being greeted by people passing by. Who is this guy???
The scenery could have been the backdrop for an old western movie. We climbed the steep flight of stairs up to the second floor. What is this place? A municipal building? Business offices? The courthouse? I had no clue but the ceilings were very high and the place felt as if hadn’t been cleaned in years; it was awfully dusty…
The office we were led to seemed to be the busiest of the five in the building. At the front of the room was a woman sitting at a small desk and this half of the room was lined with white plastic chairs. No matter where you go in the world, I guarantee you will find these chairs in many colors! (I have vowed to myself this is not an ‘investment’ I will be making. I hate plastic chairs.) A handful of people were sitting in the chairs waiting their turn. Mr. Lion said hello to a few of the persons in line and walked right back to the desk behind the partition separating the room.
In Ecuador, it is not unusual to experience line cutting. In America, this would never go unnoted but here it is common; it amazes me as the Ecuadorians say nothing. More plastic chairs were found occupied with a few customers/clients. We had obviously interrupted a meeting but no one said anything as Mr. Lion’s matters took precedence.
There was heaps of paperwork on Big Man’s desk. Well, I am assuming it was a desk. The manila folders were stacked upon more folders. How important were these documents? It seems there was no filing system and papers at any given moment could vanish. I sat in one of the few plastic chairs around the desk and made myself as comfortable as I can be in a plastic chair. Whatever we were doing, hopefully it wouldn’t take too long. Big Man opened up a Word Template and asked for our passports. He plugged our names in the document and then asked our translator how much we were buying the property for. So much for confidentiality!
With our crew of six, the two people we interrupted, and two employees that were coming and going, the small space was very cramped. It was only a matter of time that the noise in the room became a distraction. A tall window was open letting in the thick city air as well as the chaos from the city. The fan sitting at the window also added to the noisy soundtrack.
Captain went on to tell me Big Man was preparing the minutes. The minutes are necessary to determine the amount of taxes that will be paid by the buyer at the initial sale. It seemed like it should have been a very quick process. But the office was bombarded several times by outsiders asking Big Man questions, having paperwork signed, etc.
At one point, Mr. Lion announced, “This gentleman is my cousin. This guy is my nephew. So and so is my uncle!” Mr. Lion had a large smile on his face and was proud to share his family tradition! Was this supposed to be comforting?! Waves of unease churned in my stomach as I felt we could be in the middle of an Ecuadorian Mob scandal. I remembered my plan with Captain. No signatures and no monetary exchange!!!
After sitting patiently and watching the Big Man for a solid hour do very little for our case, Captain and I were then told we needed to make copies of our passports. What kind of office is this? Mr. Lion escorted us to the Ecuadorian Kinkos. Each computer was occupied by young kids on Facebook, with their music and You Tube videos blaring. Making copies of our passports turned into a 40 minute affair.
We returned expecting the minutes to be completed. Yeah right. With Big Man’s typing speed of one word per 10 minutes, I should have known the minutes were not finished. Once the paper was complete, EVERYONE in the room got to read the ‘minutes’ (even Mrs. Jersey). When the minutes finally got around to me, I glanced at the paper and thought, “this took 4 hours!!!”
Next step was to go to Muisne tomorrow and pay the 1% taxes. Cash only? We knew there was a tax to pay but we did not want to do this without speaking with our lawyers. I wonder how legitimate any payment is when only cash is accepted-it wouldn’t surprise me if Mr. Lion is related to the tax collector!
A call was then made to The Seller via Skype on Mr. Lion’s computer. I was relieved to finally be meeting him ‘face-to-face’. Doing business with an Italian man who lives in Columbia only adds unnerving elements of a possible scam!
Skyping was absolutely ridiculous. Firstly, there were repeated disconnection of the service so once a conversation began it was quickly interrupted. Second, many people in the room were having conversations on the side. Mrs. Lion even had a five-minute chat with a friend on her cell phone. On top of the noisy fan and the open window letting in all the city sound, all the side talk made it very difficult to hear The Seller and vice versa.
The Seller had been writing to us in English so I assumed he was English-speaking. He must have been using Google Translator because his English was very poor. The purpose of the Skype call was to coordinate a meeting time to finish business and legitimize the deal. Captain and I sat very close together on our plastic chairs attempting to converse with The Seller but if he could hear us, he couldn’t comprehend us. If he could comprehend us, he couldn’t hear us. Mr. Jersey would then grab the computer and have the camera on his face in order to translate between us all. Every minute or so, the internet connection would give out and Mr. Lion would turn the computer his way, hit a few keys, reconnect and turn the computer back to us. What a mess.
Our quick trip to Esmeraldas became a 4 hour excursion. We should have known there is no such thing as ‘timely’ in South America. Mr. and Mrs. Jersey were so kind to bring us to the city-had they known this adventure was going to interfere with both suppertime and bedtime?! As Ecuadorians they probably are used to the pace…
Before we all left, I was sure to make a pit stop. I was directed to another office where I was given a key. Appearing as a professional setting, I assumed the facilities would be decent. After using the key to remove the pad lock, I found myself in what felt like the janitor’s closet. It was so dark. The silhouette of the toilet appeared as my eyes adjusted. The darkness was a good thing. If I had seen how disgusting this ‘bathroom’ was, I probably would have held it. I didn’t dare touch anything after hovering over the pot. There was no flusher to be found-I wouldn’t have touched it anyways! Washing my hands would have been great. The only available water was old milk jugs full of water and that didn’t seem too sanitary. Later Captain explained the water jugs were to flush the toilet…oh well!
This was nothing like doing professional business in America! Next To Do? Talk with our lawyers. A neutral party was necessary in this deal. Doing business with Mr. Lion and the rest of his family doesn’t seem legit!!!