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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Argentine slump spells property boom

By Nick Malkoutzis
In Buenos Aires

For-sale sign
For sale - and the foreigners are buying

Nestor Kirchner's primary task as Argentina's new president will be to keep the Argentine economy on the slow road to recovery - but some people could be profiting even if he fails.

The aim of the peso's dramatic devaluation a year ago was to jump-start the country's export sector; by making Argentina cheaper for outsiders, it has sparked the interest of foreign investors.

One of the most popular ways for foreigners to profit from reduced prices in Argentina has been to buy property, particularly in Buenos Aires.

Local estate agent Victoria Angeles says: "The increase in the number of foreigners coming to buy properties during the last year has been phenomenal."

Dollars to pesos

Argentina's Association of Notaries recorded 5,700 apartment sales in Buenos Aires in March.

Julian Martinez-Mansell
Mr Martinez-Mansell scents an opportunity
The price of a one bedroom flat in a sought-after district of the Argentine capital is currently around $25,000-35,000.

British entrepreneur Julian Martinez-Mansell came to Buenos Aires in January 2003 to buy a property.

"When I visited Argentina in 2000, it was very expensive," he says.

"What you paid then in US dollars, you now pay in pesos. That makes it three or four times cheaper and an extremely affordable place for foreigners."

Local newspaper Clarin reports that one- and two-bedroom flats have become so popular they are rarely on the market for more than a month, largely due to the interest of foreigners.

Holiday time

Apart from cost, property in Argentina is a fashionable form of investment because a marked increase in the number of tourists means there is a demand for short-let flats.

I don't see how a multinational investing in Argentina is any different from a person doing the same thing
Santiago Palma,
Having bought his property, Mr Martinez-Mansell is now setting up Letsgoargentina.com, a tourism portal.

He hopes to offer various accommodation options to cater for this new wave of tourism sweeping through Argentina.

"With the devaluation forcing prices so low, the tourism industry here is booming and it provides great opportunities for businesses dealing with property," he says.


Buying a property in Argentina is relatively simple, too.

Nick Latham
Paperwork's a breeze for Mr Latham
Nick Latham, a solicitor from London, took two weeks off work to come to Buenos Aires and buy a property.

He says: "Firstly I had to register with the police, then with the social security department, which took a couple of days.

"Then it only took half an hour to open a savings account."

The completion process is straightforward.

Once the price of a property has been agreed, a notary conducts a property search and draws up the contracts which both parties sign.

The money is then exchanged at a bank and the property has changed hands in as little as three days.

Ups and downs

Of course, the assumption is that the Argentine economy will pick up even more in due course and property will become more expensive.

This year, for example, the peso has risen almost 20% against the US dollar to stand at almost three pesos to the dollar, already reducing foreigners' buying power.

The concern for Argentines is that when their economy recovers, a great deal of property will be in foreign hands.

Consequently, when they want to rent or buy these homes, Argentine money will be leaving the country and possibly undermining the fragile economy.

Beats beef

Judging by the rising sales, it seems most Argentines are willing to accept that selling their property to foreigners is just as legitimate a way of earning much-needed income as is exporting their beef.

Santiago Palma, a 24-year-old university student, says: "Some people claim it's wrong to be selling so many flats to foreigners but I'm not concerned about it.

"After all, flats are a good like any other and there's a decent supply of them in Buenos Aires.

"I don't see how a multinational investing in Argentina is any different from a person doing the same thing."

But he confirms the fear in Argentina that large chunks of land are falling into foreign hands.

"What I'm worried about is pieces of Patagonia being bought up by foreigners because we're not talking just about bricks and mortar: this is valuable land."

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