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Discussion – 

40

Discussion – 

40

Why I Bought a Penthouse in Cali, Colombia, to Rent on Airbnb

Jasper Ribbers
Airbnb Investing Cali Colombia

After I arrived in Cali, the third largest city in Colombia with almost 2.5 million inhabitants, it only took me a few days to realize the potential of renting out on Airbnb here: growing tourism, very little high-end accommodation available, and very affordable real estate prices.

The only issue I faced was: it's illegal to rent out for less than 30 days in Colombia, and most buildings strictly enforce this rule. A deal breaker at first sight. After all, I had to sell my apartment in Amsterdam for the same reason and I didn't want to run into the same issue again.

Unless…there's a way around the rules. And it turned out there is. The ministry of Tourism provides permits to certain companies to engage in short term renting. One of those companies, FAR International, happens to have four units for sale in a building that they have bought. As the building owner, no issues with building managers or home owner associations can arise.

Long story short, I decided to buy the penthouse unit in this building, and I'm VERY excited about it. In this post you can read in very much detail why I made this decision. If you don't like reading, you can watch the video below in which I show the unit and explain the main considerations.

https://www.facebook.com/getpaidforyourpad/videos/1347427621984041/

Here's a floorpan of the unit. The only thing that will be different is that I'm moving the master bedroom (on the left) to the other side of the apartment because the view will be better from that side. It will basically swap position with the bathroom.

Floorplan Cali Penthouse Airbnb

Now…if you're up for the full metal version, keep reading.

Airbnb Investing: Main considerations

There are three necessary conditions that have to be met by a property for me to consider investing in it.

1) The property has to be Airbnb friendly
2) It has to be a place where I would like to spend time
3) The unit has to be affordable, in the $100k – $150 range

These are the necessary conditions, meaning that if one of these conditions isn’t met, it’s a no-go. They are not sufficient conditions though, meaning that meeting these conditions isn’t enough for me to buy the property. There are other considerations that I will discuss later in this post.

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1 The property has to be Airbnb friendly

For a property to be considered “Airbnb friendly,” three conditions have to be met

1) there are no general short term regulations imposed by the local authorities
2) no regulation is expected to be implemented in the foreseeable future
3) there are no limitations imposed by the building management or home owners association

At first sight Colombia doesn’t seem Airbnb friendly, as there’s a national rule that prohibits renting out homes for less than 30 days. The enforcement hasn’t been very strict as of yet, but the government has been stepping up their efforts recently.

However, it’s possible to get a permit to rent out short term. You have to be fully vetted by the Colombian ministry of Tourism. The company that will manage my unit, First American Realty International, has this permit.

This turns the situation around. The regulation actually works in my favor. Not only will I be able to rent out short term, but in addition it will limit the competition as for individuals it will be very hard to obtain this permit.

I won’t have to worry about the building management or home owner association, as FAR has bought the entire building, that consists of four units. All units will be sold to investors who are buying it with the intention to rent out short term.

There’s an obvious risk here. What if FAR loses it’s permit to conduct short term rentals? Although this would certainly complicate matters, I think it’s unlikely to happen. FAR has a proven track record of ten years of business in Colombia with over 150 units under management.

2 Has to be a place where I would want to spend time

I look at the following factors in deciding if I want to spend time somewhere:

1) The climate
2) The cost of living
3) The culture

1 The climate in Cali

Cali has a very pleasant climate. The temperature varies from 19°C to 30°C and is rarely below 18°C or above 32°C. This is a result of its location close to the equator, which means there is no summer and winter really. The major variance isn't in temperature but in rainfall.

Cali yearly average temperature

It's not as hot as in some other areas in the country because the city is located at about 1,000 above sea level. Another positive factor is that its proximity to the pacific ocean causes a cooling breeze to sway the city most of the day.

2 Cost of living in Cali

Cali is very affordable. You can get a beer for as little as $1 and a meal shouldn't set you back from than $5 to $10. According to Numbeo, the cost of living in Cali is about 25% of that in New York.

Cali Colombia Cost of Living

3 Culture in Cali

The South American culture is my favorite culture in the world. I remember the first time I visited I was blown away by the hospitality of the people. It's a cliche, but people are much warmer then in other parts of the world. I feel very good in that environment.

Another thing I like about the culture in South America is that it's not conformist. There aren't very many rules, it's vey laid back. You eat when you're hungry, you sleep when you're tired, you wake up when you wake up. There's no designated time for these activities. If something doesn't go according to plan, it's shrugged off quickly instead of going into panic mode.

There's a drawback of course. Never knowing if someone will show up at an appointment (unless you received confirmation in the last 30 minutes), not being able to plan ahead and not always being able to rely on people for example. However, as long as I'm not involved in any businesses, I can live with that.

What I like in particular about the culture in Cali is that people are very outgoing and have a lot of positive energy. They are the most “alegre” of the Colombians. Another great feature of the city is the salsa dancing. It's the capital of salsa, in Colombia at least.

Conclusion: All in all Cali definitely meets my requirements as a place where I would want to spend time.

3 Has to be affordable (around $150k)

The price I'm paying for my unit (about $150,000 for 86m2) fits my budget. The price comes down to about $1750 per square meter. Now that's actually quite expensive for Colombia. You can find much cheaper even in more developed cities like Medellin and Cartagena.

However, given the fact that it will be completely remodeled and includes furniture, I don't think it's a bad deal. Sure it might be cheaper if I were to buy, pay for closing and legal costs, remodeling, furnish to high rental standards and do the interior decorating costs myself. In the end of the day, FAR is obviously making a profit on it. The way I see it is that I'm paying a premium for not having to spend any time and resources on the unit myself, which fits my situation very well as I don't have the time right now.

Other considerations

There are some other considerations that are part of my decision making process. The most important one is of course profitability. I want to make an attractive return on my investment. But there are some other considerations. The expected future value of the asset for example. Currency fluctuations and the economic outlook play a role here.

Profitability

Here's an overview of the projected return on investment as created by FAR.

Cali Airbnb Investments

This looks great, with an expected ROI of around 10%. The question of course is, is this a realistic expectation?

To estimate that, I did a competition analysis. I looked at prices of similar short term rental properties as well as hotels. Let's start with the competition on Airbnb.

Airbnb competition in Cali

To analyse the competition on Airbnb in Cali, I had to go the old-school way since sophisticated tools like Airdna and Mashvisor that can be used to analyze profitability of rental properties only cover US markets.

Instead, I did a search for Airbnb listing's in the El Peñon area. I made sure to exclude dates as to not miss out on properties that are booked for certain dates and searched for a group of four guests.

Airbnb Competition El Penon Cali Colombia

About 15 listings show up, ranging in price from about $30 to over $200, although that's just one listing. The average is about $65. However, if we leave out the $235 listing the average is about $50.

Airbnb El Penon Cali Listing Overview

Taking a closer look at these listings, it becomes clear that a lot of these units lack what a western tourist would be looking for. For example, after adding the filter “air conditioning,” which I consider a must in a place that averages 30 degree Celsius (85F), only two listings remain:

A new way to stay in our city

This listing is pretty good, but it only has one bedroom, so it's not really competition for groups of four and pairs of travelers who don't want to share a room. Also, the host charges $15 extra for the fourth person, so the price per night comes to $60.

Great apartment with the best location in the city

The last remaining listing is very good. Price comes to $45 for four people. The furniture looks pretty decent and the host Roman has great reviews. Fair play to him.

I also noticed that a number of listings have the minimum nights set at three nights or more, cutting themselves out of short stays, which is a significant percentage of demand as almost 50% of foreign visits are three nights or less.

To conclude this section, I think it's clear that there just isn't very much competition on Airbnb in the neighborhood of El Peñon for the audience that I'm looking to target, the western tourist looking for high end accommodation, particularly the groups that prefer to have two bedrooms.

There's only one listing that's a good alternative at an attractive price. That's not a lot of competition, and with the ban on renting out for less than 30 days in combination with building managers being quite strict, I doubt this will change any time soon.

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Competition from hotels

Now lets look at hotels. Below you can see the prices of hotel rooms that are most likely alternative candidates.

Hotel El Peñon

Hotel Intercontinental Cali

Hotel Dann Carlton Cali

Hotel Dann Cali

The prices vary from $50 to $140, for one room. Since my apartment has two rooms, we should compare what the cost would be for a group of four people. Two rooms would be between $100 and $280. However, that includes breakfast. Let's value the breakfast at $5 which is what an average breakfast would cost in a cafe.

Subtracting $20 from the prices, we get a range of $80 to $260 per night. Therefore, the prices projected by FAR reflect the lower end of the price range if someone were to stay in a hotel.

Both options have additional benefits. A hotel has daily cleaning for example, and the more expensive options have amenities such as a pool or gym. They all have a concierge and reception and some have free parking.

My penthouse has benefits too. Extra space for example. The hotel rooms are typically around 25m2 per room, so 50m2 for the group of four. My penthouse unit is 86m2. It also has a kitchen and a living room. It will have fast Internet, something that's always a question in hotels. Often you have to login every time you want to use it or it's limited to a certain amount of devices. Finally, it has a rooftop overlooking the city.

Staying at a hotel is different than staying at an Airbnb, it's a different experience. Therefore, it's kind of like comparing apples to pears. However, looking at the hotel prices I certainly think it's reasonable to expect that people would be willing to pay around $100 for my penthouse unit.

Future changes in value of the asset

House prices can go down and up. No-one can predict the future value of an asset, no matter what the trend has been historically. Therefore, I don't want to base my investment decision on the hope or expectation that the price of my asset will increase over time, even if it seems likely. That's called speculation, not investing.

I think it's a common misconception that house prices always go up. Fundamentally, a house is a depreciating asset, like any other asset that experiences wear and tear, like a car. You need to spend money to maintain it for it to keep it's value or slow it's decrease in value.

However, demand and supply changes can cause the value of a house to go up. This has historically been the case over the long term. The reason is simple. Supply is limited because of a limited amount of space. Demand however, can increase significantly due to demographic and economic changes.

For example, as an economy grows, there is typically a shift from an agriculture economy to an industrial one. This causes people to move from the country-side to cities. As people get richer, they want to live in nicer areas of the city and the average number of people that live in one house goes down.

Finally, a house is an “inflation-protected asset.” This means that its value will typically go up with inflation. This is because it is not a fixed income asset, as opposed to a bond for example. When life gets more expensive because of inflation, you can increase the rent or nightly rate that you charge.

This is only true if you don't fix the rent for a very long term, which is often the case with commercial real estate, where the renter pays a fixed rent for several years. That's why commercial real estate trades more like a bond.

There are a few local considerations that seem favorable. The neighborhood of El Peñon seems like an upcoming neighborhood. The fancier hotels have all established themselves in or around the area, such as the Inter Continental, the Marriot and the Hilton.

There's a luxury hotel being constructed in the heart of El Peñon currently, the Sagrada Familia Hotel, which will include a rooftop bar that will surely draw crowds to the area. I expect more businesses to open op in the neighborhood to cater to the guests that will be staying at this hotel.

Another good sign is that the Bogota Beer Company (also known as BBC) has recently opened up in the neighborhood. This is a chain of artisanal beer bars that was founded in 2002. It's now the second biggest beer brewer in the county.

These guys don't just open up shop somewhere, they do their research. And they probably do a good job at it, as the company has been very successful with over a dozen bars just in Bogotá.

Currency exchange fluctuations

The Colombian peso is at a very favorable exchange rate against the dollar and, to a lesser extend, against the euro. This is partly due to lower oil prices, as Colombia is a top 20 oil producing nation. Again, no-one can predict the future, and expectations of currency appreciation shouldn't be a fundamental factor in the decision process.

However, I do expect the peso to appreciate over the medium to long term as it moves back to it's historical average. If this happens, the value of the penthouse will appreciate in euro and dollar terms even if the price in pesos doesn't change.

USD to Colombian Peso Historic Chart

Euro Colombian Peso Historic Chart

This only matters if I were to decide to sell the unit of course. As long as I keep it, its value is more or less irrelevant. What matters more is the rental income that I can expect to make. Therefore, the more important question is, how would fluctuations in the currency affect rental income?

If I were to rent mostly to locals, it's simple. The pesos that I receive from renting out would be worth more dollars and euros. If I were to live in Colombia, this wouldn't matter much, as I wouldn't be spending any dollars or euros. However, if I'm in the US or Europe, which will be the case for part of the year, this does help me.

However, I'm expecting to rent mostly to foreigners from the US and Europe. This means that if I keep the rental rate equal in pesos, the price in euros or dollars would go up when the currency appreciates. This could dampen demand. Therefore, it may be more optimal to keep the price the same in dollars and euros.

I still think an appreciating peso would help me though, as my competition will likely charge in pesos. In other words, alternative accommodation (other Airbnbs and hotels) will get more expensive for American and European visitors, increasing the demand for my unit. As a result of the increasing demand, I may be able to raise prices a bit after all.

A small negative would be that the increased value of the peso may result in slightly fewer tourists visiting Colombia in the first place, or at least the number of tourists visiting may increase at a slower rate, as tourism in Colombia has seen double digit growth recently.

What if the peso doesn't appreciate, but loses value instead? Well, the opposite of the above would happen. I may have to lower prices a bit as a result of the competition, but this effect could be partly mitigated by an increase in tourism as the country would become a cheaper destination for visitors.

One positive consideration for me to invest in foreign countries to start with is the diversification of risk. By owning one expensive apartment in Amsterdam, a big part of my net worth is in Euros. If the value of the Euro goes down (which it has recently), this significantly affects my purchasing power in countries outside of the Euro zone. By buying multiple properties in several countries, I'm less dependent on the value of one particular currency.

Conclusion: Overall, an appreciating peso would be a good thing for me and I expect this to happen over the medium to long term. It's not a crucial factor in my decision making process, as it's a very uncertain one, but it's worth giving it some thought at least.

Visa eligibility options

In Colombia foreign investor can be eligible for a resident VISA, based on the amount of money invested. They measure the amount in “Salarios Minimos Vigentes,” or SMVs. Basically, the amount of minimum wages that the investment represents. Currently, the minimum wage is 737,717 Colombian Pesos, or about $257 using the exchange rate of 2864 pesos per dollar.

There are two VISA options:

● 1 Year renewable TP7 VISA
Minimum Investment 350 SMV, about $90,000

● 5 Year renewable resident investor visa
Minimum Investment 650 SMV, about $167,000

Tourism

Tourism in Colombia has been growing steadily in recent years, with foreign tourist visits rising from about 600,000 in 2007 to almost 3 million in 2015. If this trend where to continue, it would certainly be a positive for my investment, and I believe it will.

Tourism to Cali has been growing at a compound rate of 13% per year and the first six months of 2016 shows a gain of 21% compared to 2015. The United states is the biggest source of foreign visits, which indicated that there should be solid demand for high end accommodation.

About 50% of foreigners visit for three days or less. This is important to know when setting the minimum nights that guests can stay. As mentioned before, a lot of Airbnbs in Cali have the minimum set to between three and seven nights. Finally, over 70% of foreign visitors are between 21 and 45 years old, telling me that a location near bars, restaurants and nightlife is a positive.

Safety considerations

A lot of people perceive Colombia to be a dangerous place. This is the result of its turbulent past and the violence that took place mostly in the late 20th century, caused by the drug cartels and the FARC. Although things have changed, (apparently Peru now produces more drugs than Colombia), looking at the numbers, there is still reason for concern.

Colombia ranked as the 7th most violent country in Latin America, as measured in the number of homicides, at 25 per 100,000 inhabitants.

To put things in perspective, that's about the same as in Washington DC and lower than some other cities in the US like Detroit and Baltimore, but it's still a high number. The good news it that it's decreasing, as 2015 replaced 2014 as the year with the least amount of homicides since the 1980s.

Cali is not the safest place in Colombia, with a rate of 56 homicides per 100,000, almost double that of Medellin and Bogotá.

As is true in most places, most of the crime is gang related and concentrated in certain areas. About 50% of the city of Cali is a no-go area, but that leaves plenty of areas that are perfectly fine.

Cali neighborhoods safety

Conclusion, yes safety is definitely a concern in Cali and common sense measures such as not pulling your phone out on the street are recommended. Having said that, El Peñon certainly seems like a very safe neighborhood with a solid police presence. In any case, I didn't feel unsafe at any point during my visit, not even at night.

So what does all this have to do with increasing tourism? Well, I think a lot of people currently perceive Colombia as much more dangerous than it really is. Over time, I think Colombia will slowly get rid of its bad reputation and more and more people will realize that things have changed. The peace agreement between the government and the FARC that was approved by the Colombian congress certainly helps.

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Update June 2018

After a year of renovations, the day I had been looking forward to finally came: on April 30th, I was handed the keys to my kingdom. I couldn’t wait to see the final result, and it didn’t disappoint me.

I'm just waiting for a pump to be installed to improve the water pressure for the showers, once that's done I'll be ready to list on Airbnb! I did however welcome my first guest, who booked through FAR International: two nights at $80 a night.

Information and resources about Cali and Colombia

If you want to learn more about the city of Cali, the Valle del Cauca region or Colombia in general, here's a few cool videos and a list of resources.

Video about Cali and Valle del Cauca from an investment perspective (in English)

Video about the Valle del Cauca region (in Spanish)

Other resources

Cali Adventurer Comprehensive blog about the experiences of Patrick, who runs the FAR projects in Cali.

Best Things To Do In Cali – Wandering Trader

Cali, Colombia with a Side of Salsa – Johnny Jet

THINGS TO DO IN CALI, COLOMBIA – HOW TO ENJOY THE SALSA CAPITAL?

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