Medellín’s Meteoric Rise in Popularity

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Western Medellín at dusk, a view from the balcony of my friend's Estadio apartment.
Western Medellín at dusk, a view from the balcony of my friend's Estadio apartment.
Western Medellín at dusk, a view from the balcony of my friend’s Estadio apartment.

The chatter contradicts the news.

Medellín wins 2012 City of the Year.

I’m looking for a one-bedroom apartment in Laureles, but I don’t want to pay 1 million pesos ($520). No gringo prices!

U.S. real estate mogul Sam Zell says Colombia is the best place to invest in Latin America.

No gringo prices!

This story is going to explain some things, to tell all of you new expats how things really are here, something apparently necessary, like a post I did before about how to truly appreciate the culture here. Yes, Medellín is still economical compared to trendy parts of Australia, Europe and the United States, but prices have gone up.

The two headlines I shared are only half of the major accolades.

Did you see that Yahoo! Finance said Medellín is the best place to retire in the world outside of the United States? Or that Martha Stewart came here in March and took hundreds of photos and wrote three posts for her blog, all of it glowing reviews of this beautiful city? And I hope you know about Anthony Bourdain’s repeated trips to Colombia.

This is basic economics. Demand and taste will drive the market in any capitalistic environment.

Look at Southwest Florida.

An argument can be made that it was the epicenter of the housing boom, and bust. When I got there in 2002, you could buy a lot in Lehigh Acres for $30,000, house included. By 2005, that same place cost $300,000.

The place got popular and people drove up the market.

When I got to Medellín in 2011, you could find a nice one-bedroom apartment in Laureles for less than a million pesos, probably furnished, sometimes including cable, Internet and all utilities. Those days are over.

Paisas are smart. They understand the market. And while some of them will try to raise prices for foreigners, most of them will not.

That happens much more frequently on the coast, but not here.

Trendy dining options, such as Il Massimo in Laureles, have inflated the cost of living in Medellín.
Trendy dining options, such as Il Massimo in Laureles, have inflated the cost of living in Medellín.

The thing is, if you want to live by yourself in a nice furnished apartment that includes everything, in a neighborhood like Laureles, you’re going to pay anywhere from 1.4 to 1.6 million pesos ($740 – $845) per month.

My Australian friend lives in Estadio, in a one-bedroom place that includes everything, and he pays 1.4 million pesos.

He got it through a guy who helps find tenants for the apartment owner, which means the guy who found the apartment surely made a commission. But I know this: getting an apartment through one of the real estate companies, instead of someone who works alone, will cost more, sometimes up to 400,000 pesos ($210) more per month. And good luck with all the paperwork if you don’t speak Spanish.

If you don’t want to spend that kind of money, you have to share a house or apartment, which can be ideal. Dave found a great situation in Poblado where he paid 600,000 a month ($315), 700,000 when you include shared expenses: nice place, cool roommates, good location.

But do you always get all three amenities? No.

A British friend of mine had a nice place in a good location, for 600,000 a month, but eventually he didn’t get along with his roommates.

All I’m saying is, refrain from being accusatory until you’ve done your research. It’s disrespectful to the paisas who are honest, which I think is a super majority.

If you love Medellín so much, so do other foreigners. Just look around. There are a lot of expats here. They know about the agreeable climate, friendly people and seemingly limitless entertainment options, from day trips to nearby pueblos to nature hikes to nightlife.

The influx of foreigners is going to drive up prices in the popular neighborhoods.

The trick is finding a situation like mine: I have everything Dave had, but I pay half as much.

Why?

One of my roommates is the first friend I ever made here, and the house belongs to his uncle, and I’m the only foreigner in the neighborhood.

What’s that? You want to know which neighborhood?

I’ll never tell.

The original headline read, “Medellín’s Meteoric Rise in Housing Prices,” but was changed because it was too strong an adjective to describe the city’s real estate market. 

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Good article. You seem more forthcoming than Dave. First, he claims to have been robbed in Belen. Then contradicts himself and recommends the place.

    • well, to be fair, you can get robbed anywhere in this city and dave realizes he made a mistake that led to the robbery. not a big mistake, because playing with your blackberry/iphone in a cab shouldn’t cause any problems, but dave has blond hair and blue eyes so he does stand out here.

      and i would recommend belén too. there are some neighborhoods better than others, of course, but i truly believe it’s one of the best places to live in the city. that said, in the spirit of being forthcoming, most people here think i’m colombian so i’m not always the best litmus test for things.

      my last post on parque bolívar required me to take pics at the park, something that can easily lead to the loss of my camera, but nothing happened other than the wet cement incident i wrote about in the story.

    • Hi Larry,

      I didn’t “claim” to be robbed, it’s something that actually happened in 2011.

      I don’t think I contradicted myself. I spent a month living in Belen Malibu in 2010, but moved to Poblado because I like the area more. It wasn’t until a year later that I was robbed.

      I never said I wouldn’t live in Belen or take taxis through it because of that event, I only relayed the story that I was robbed. I leave it to others to decide if that should influence whether they want to live there or not.

      If I were robbed in Poblado, I doubt I’d turn around and stop recommending the neighborhood. I’d like to think I’d suck it up, recognize what I like about it, and carry on.

      I hope that clears up any confusion, I’m not trying to speak out of both sides of my mouth on this.

  2. Good article.
    To Larry.

    I’m unfamiliar with context of Dave’s article ie, being robbed in Belen yet also recommending it. I can tell you that I had a gun pulled on me by a cab driver in Colombia over a lousy 3,000 pesos dispute regarding the agreed upon air conditioning ‘rate’. This did happen, naturally I disliked the event, yet I would still highly recommend Colombia as a place to visit despite the unfortunate event.

    My point I suppose is, in my case I felt more pissed off at the situation and how it panned out. I was not terrified, I was just pissed, plus something like that never happened to me anywhere but I still love the place.

    One dipshit cab driver won’t ruin the entire experience for me.

    Cheers-

    Good luck.

    • thanks for your comments, nigel.

      i think the main thing to remember is, we should take basic precautions to protect ourselves no matter what neighborhood we’re in, such as not showing off things of value and trying to dress as much like the paisas as possible, which mainly means pants and shoes for all the expat guys who want to rock the shorts and flip flops.

      i understand larry’s point, though. he just wants to know how we can recommend a place when something bad has happened to one of us, and i think i properly addressed that in my response, just as you have in your comments.

      the bottom line: there’s a lot to love about medellín, but like any big city, it’s not perfect so it’s up to us to do our best to ensure a positive experience here.

  3. Nice article… but I only disagree with one issue: There is not such a thing like ” seemingly limitless entertainment options” specially wheh it comes to nightlife. Medellìn is a boring postcolonial city. Few cultural choices like theater, ballet or opera. Besides beautiful girls you will end your weekend in the same two or three options every time you go out.

    • I don’t think Medellin is boring at all, there are actually tons of theaters hosting music, dance, and theater performances. If you only speak English, you may feel limited.

      There’s more than enough nightlife hotspots to last even the hardest partiers for quite some time. If going out to clubs is the only thing you do every weekend, of course you’ll get bored.

      Sports fans have 3 pro soccer teams to follow, and there’s endless terrain for cycling, excellent swimming facilities, and perfect weather for skateboarding, BMX, etc.

      Is it New York City or London? No, but Medellin is far from boring.

    • Sorry Dave, but I have to agree with Elias. I lived in Medellin for 2.5 years. Came back to visit for 11 days and in the first 2 days I am already feeling claustrophobic. There is NOTHING to do here if you do not drink. This place is a bust, especially for women. But you already know I feel that way. I just wanted other women who are planning to come here to know that this will be a great possibility for them as well. Of the 6 foreign women I know living here with their Paisa boyfriends, all of them were miserable. I’m not saying that 6 is a large number to sway you either way, but show me a foreign woman who has been here more than a year and is happy.

      • “There is NOTHING to do here if you do not drink.”

        You know that’s NOT true. To me, this a reflection on your attitude and feeling about the city after so much time here, not a reflection of what’s available to do any given week.

        There’s plenty to do here, which is why we started monthly “Events” posts to better communicate the annual festivals, and big concerts and sporting events.

        Will you find the same volume and variety of activities happening in NYC or London? No, but it’s a different city. It’s smaller, greener, and much more affordable.

        I don’t disagree Medellin may not be a great place to live as a foreign woman. I wish that weren’t the case.

        Jasmine Stephenson is a female expat, been here more than a year now, and is happy (as far as I know). She’d previously lived in Bogota for a year too, but after leaving Colombia and later deciding to come back, she chose to make her home in Medellin.

  4. Hey Ryan – Great article here as it shows some deeper experience in the city. And, I’ll take the contrarian posture and say THANK YOU SO MUCH for not mentioning the neighborhood you’re in. If we all post our secrets, soon the place will really be run over with gringos. Cheers

    • I’m all for keeping some things secret, but sooner or later the information and recommendations will reach a wider audience.

      The combination of increased attention on Medellin from blogs and major media ensure it’s inevitable. You’re only buying time 🙂

  5. I disagree with this post about “meteoric rise” in housing prices in Medellín. I have been renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín for about years and I have not experienced this. I recently checked prices in several neighborhoods and the prices are about the same as three years ago. I rent a relatively new 3-bedoom apartment in a highrise building in an estrato 5 neighborhood in Belén and pay 1,200,000 pesos per month and I can find similar prices in other estrato 5 neighborhoods like Estadio or Laureles. This is the exact same price I paid to rent a similar sized unfurnished 3-bedroom apartment in Estadio in an estrato 5 neighborhood about three years ago.

    There are unfurnished apartments available for rent all over Medellín making it fairly competitive and difficult for owners to increase prices very much. But there are much fewer furnished apartments available for rent in Medellín so owners can typically get higher prices and prices may be going up for those furnished apartments based on demand and limited supply. And prices quoted for gringos may be higher in my experience. I always have looked for apartments with my Colombian girlfriend and thus avoid gringo inflation.

    And as far as buying property in Medellín, I am aware that prices have gone up for the past three years as I have been watching prices for several years as I have been considering buying at some point — but it has definitely NOT been a “meteoric rise” in prices. Check out Rich Holman’s fairly recent post on Colombia Reports – “Colombia’s real estate bubble, fact or myth?” And Rich knows this well he owns First American Realty in Medellín.

  6. Well, the article focuses on furnishes apartments because most foreigners are not here long-term. And I’ll agree that meteoric is a strong word, and something I was unsure of and debated, but ultimately, that’s what ended up being the adjective in the headline.

    I already read Rich Holman’s article. I remember in Florida when Realtors were saying the same thing and more. An “unstoppable market,” to quote a prominent Realtor in Fort Myers. Well, look what happened.

    And for the gringos who are getting inflated prices, to me that’s a symptom of being a poor negotiator. It happens to Colombians who are not good at negotiating either, although most seem to have that skill so it’s a moot point I suppose.

  7. I have been traveling to Medellín since 2007 and I have lived in furnished apartments in Estadio, Laureles, El Poblado and Belén so I have a lot of experience in renting. And honestly I have only seen a few furnished apartments that I would feel comfortable living in that rented for less than 1 million pesos per month. I paid more 1 million pesos per month for every furnished apartment I rented in Medellín (typically 1- or 2-bedroom apartments) in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

    For furnished apartments in Medellín – the higher-end furnished apartments haven’t changed pricing that much over the past few years as I have friends that have rented these recently that paid similar prices to what I paid four years ago. There is a pretty decent supply of these nicer furnished apartments in El Pobaldo from a few large rental companies including Rich Holman’s agency with about 80 apartments. It is only when you get to the lower-end furnished apartments outside of El Poblado that backpackers would be interested in that don’t want to stay in hostels – but this is also where the furnished apartment supply is tighter so that is why prices may have risen somewhat. The cheapest option would still be renting a room in a shared apartment like Dave is doing – but if you want privacy and to live in a better neighborhood like Laureles, you will have to pay for it.

    I started renting unfurnished apartments in 2010 in Medellín – first in Estadio and now in Belén. I know there is a wide range of unfurnished apartment rental prices in Medellín, depending on neighborhoods as I have helped several Americans find apartments. For example, I know someone living near El Centro paying 400,000 pesos a months for a decent unfurnished apartment with two bedrooms in an estrato 4 neighborhood. His utility (electric, gas, water) plus Internet/TV bill is around 200,000 pesos per month. And I helped someone recently find a one-bedroom unfurnished apartment in Estadio for 560,000 pesos per month. Most unfurnished apartment rentals are done through real estate agents and it is true that real estate agents get paid commissions by the owners. But if you speak sufficient Spanish you can sometimes negotiate directly with the owner. And it is possible to rent an unfurnished apartment without a fiador (guarantor) through a real estate agent as I do this.

    You can also furnish an unfurnished apartment fairly inexpensively in Medellín. If you know where to shop, just about everything but electronics like TVs you can find cheaper in Medellín than in the US. I know this as I furnished a three-bedroom apartment in Medellín.

    The bottom line is that I completely disagree with the title of this blog post of “meteoric rise” in housing prices in Medellín. There is a wide range of options and prices in Medellín in my experience for places to stay – both furnished and unfurnished rentals as well as apartments and houses to purchase. And I haven’t seen prices rise at a “meteoric” pace in the seven years I have been spending time living in Medellín – for the first few years I spent time living in Medellín there wasn’t much of any price increase that I saw – it is only more recently that I have seen some modest price increases. However, I believe that almost anyone can still find a cheaper place to live in Medellín than in the US. But Medellín (and Colombia) is becoming more discovered, so prices for the limited supply of furnished apartments in an area like Laureles that doesn’t really have that many furnished apartments (compared to El Poblado) there likely will be some price increases.

    • And by the way, another point is that tourist growth in Colombia is also not seeing a “meteoric” growth in popularity – it is more of a slow growth. Colombia posted 1.8% tourist growth in 2012 and 7.2% growth in 2011 according to the government. And the most popular city is not Medellín for visits – Bogotá is #1 followed by Cartagena, with Medellín coming in third with less than 10% of the visits to the country. I have been traveling to Colombia for years. When I first traveled to Colombia in 2006, normally there was only a handful of gringos on flights and now the percentage is higher but still there is a higher percentage of Colombians on flights than Americans.

      And there aren’t even that many flights to Medellín each day from the US. There is only five direct flights from the US to Medellín each day and if they were all full plus if you included all the connections from Bogotá that is still a drop in the bucket compared to the full population of metro Medellín of over around 3.6 million. All airline passengers to Medellín from Miami and Fort Lauderdale for the entire year last year totaled only around 400,000 – and those are not all Americans.

      Medellín and Colombia still have an undeserved negative reputation to overcome resulting from the drug cartels and violence at the end of the 80s before turning into a major tourist location. Bottom line is that the facts show no evidence of a “meteoric rise” in popularity of Medellín as a tourist location or in terms of housing prices in Medellín.

      • Ryan and I both recognize “meteoric” wasn’t the right word, at least not to describe the change in rental prices. We’ve changed the article’s title as a result.

        But I do believe, since 2009, there’s been a huge shift in perception with regard to the general world view on travel to Medellin, and Colombia as a whole. It’s through a combination of word of mouth, and marketing.

        If anything, Ryan may have invoked a bit of hyperbole, exaggeration for the purpose of making a point.

      • those are fair points, but you have to put it in context to what this place used to be. that’s the point. and while the numbers are still not equal to another place that you would use to highlight a huge boost in popularity, it’s going that way, from everything that’s been in the news this year. sure, it’s not going to end up being like some places in the caribbean, but all things considered, it’s big. sooner or later, people are going to find out about the citibank contest, and the yahoo story, and what sam zell said, and what martha stewart wrote, and the jump will be higher. this is just looking ahead, looking toward the future, while considering what has happened considering what this place once was.

  8. Having spent just 3 months living in Medellin I think a lot of people come to the city thing its some kind of Latin paradise ,unfortunately this could not be further than the truth , yes the climate is very pleasing and for a Latin city its fairly well organized however the city feels soulless ,the people are polite but distant ! I am fortunate that I have a job that takes me to many parts of the world and I will be the first to agree that Medellin has done wonders to reinvent itself over the past 15 years but its still way off from being a major city in Latin America and like me I think a lot foreigners will come and leave disappointed.

    • Sorry to hear you had a disappointing time in Medellin. Your comments remind me of a guy who spent a few months here a couple of years ago, and also said the city lacked soul. Of course I respectfully disagree.

      Now that I’ve seen all of Central America and most of South America, I can’t think of a country where you’ll hear salsa played publicly as much as you do here. It’s everywhere, which is part of what originally inspired me to learn to dance to it.

      I’ve also found it’s not hard to make Colombian friends. The people have always come across as warm and welcoming to me, especially my first year in 2009 before tourism really took off. I have Couchsurfing to thank for immediately connecting me with a great social circle back then.

      “its still way off from being a major city in Latin America”

      You say this like it’s a bad thing. One of the reasons I prefer to live in Medellin is that it still feels a little like a pueblo. It’s not impossibly large like Bogota, Quito, Lima or Buenos Aires. It may not be as cosmopolitan as Bogota or Buenos Aires, but I’ve never lacked for things to do here.

    • I retired from my job in the U.S. and moved to Medellin with my Colombian wife. As of September 2014, we have lived in Medellin for almost four months. We came here with the intention of buying an apartment. We have looked at approximately 50 properties. Most of the properties we looked at are in Envigado. We’ve also looked at properties in Sabaneta, El Poblado, Laureles, and Rio Negro. Most of the properties we looked at were apartments; some were houses and townhomes.

      My overall assessment is that real estate in Medellin is overpriced. I’ve shared this opinion with fellow gringos. I’ve had three agree with me. No one has disagreed. The gringos who agree with me have been here much longer than me. One fellow gringo told me that the time to buy in Medellin was in 2009.

      I agree with Jett Appleby’s comment about “a lot foreigners will come and leave disappointed.” I think if foreign retirees from developed countries like the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, etc. come to Medellin, they are going to be surprised and dismayed. Some of the properties we’ve seen here are at almost U.S. price levels, yet the quality of infrastructure, overall security, level of unemployment, amount of crime, etc. in Medellin makes these properties almost insanely overpriced. I just don’t see why a 65 year old retiree and his or her spouse would want to move here, buy overpriced housing, and live in an environment like Medellin. I don’t doubt other peoples’ opinion about how the city is better than what it used to be, but in my opinion, Medellin has a long, long way to go before it can lay claim to being a retirement destination.

      • I respectively disagree. I have lived in Medellín for over three years. I agree that it can be expensive in Medellín if you are looking to buy in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods. But if you limit yourself to looking only at properties in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods you exclude nearly 90% of the properties in Medellín. My experience is that if you look in nicer estrato 3 or 4 neighborhoods you can find some good deals in Medellín.

        I am currently living in an apartment in an estrato 4 neighborhood in Belén and across the street is estrato 5. I am currently renting but I know of a nice three-bedroom apartment nearby that recently sold for 140,000,000 pesos ($71,000).

        I haven’t bought yet as I like the flexibility of renting. Renting can also be inexpensive in Medellín. There are unfurnished apartments available for rent all over Medellín making it fairly competitive and difficult for owners to increase rental prices very much.

        I am paying only $526 per month in rent for the next year. This is for an unfurnished three-bedroom, two-bath apartment in a high-rise building with 24×7 security, a pool and gym. My apartment also has two balconies with incredible views of the city. I am not aware of somewhere else where you could find an apartment like I am renting in a place with the climate of Medellín for the price I am paying.

        I haven’t yet bought real estate in Medellín but I have looked at the pricing of hundreds of properties over the past three years helping some other expats looking to buy. Not everyone is looking to buy the $150,000-$250,000+ apartments that are found in El Poblado.

        In my experience, the infrastructure in Medellín is better than many places in the US. Medellín has its inexpensive and convenient metro and a big competition between Claro and UNE for triple-play services that is helping keep prices lower than the US. My Claro Internet/TV/phone service has been much more reliable than my Verizon FiOS was in the US and is much cheaper. And where in the US can you find a fleet of taxis for such cheap rates?

        The retirement community in Medellín is still small. However, I believe that foreign retirees from developed countries like the U.S., Canada, Western Europe if they come planning to learn Spanish and stay away from ritzy El Poblado they can be pleasantly surprised at the quality of life in Medellín they can have for the price.