By Doug Gray, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – With a degree in chartered surveying and several successful projects in the British Isles behind him, James Lomas moved to Rio in 2007 to set up the international branch of Indigo Real Estate Investments, lured by the relatively low cost of property, favorable exchange rates and of course the city itself.
The premise for the business was straightforward on paper, but less so in practice. Due to the high interest rates there is a history of rental rather than ownership in the city’s housing market, purchase prices were stagnant and rental returns low. Not the sort of situation that will attract your average investor.
James had a fresher take on the situation. Devoting all his time upon arrival in the city to meeting estate agents, brokers, owners and landlords, it was easy to develop a feel for the market. “What those early meetings showed most clearly was that to make money here you had to do things a bit differently, not straightforward buy-to-lets” he explains.
Searching out uninhabitable or derelict penthouses in affluent and highly sought-after Leblon and Ipanema took time, but ultimately paid off. Scouring the neighborhoods penthouses from rooftops he soon developed a keen eye for an opportunity, including one where an over-excited owner had built a new swimming pool, only to see it fall through the ceiling.
“House prices are appreciating slowly in Rio so we try to find lower priced properties in poor condition enabling us to buy at a lower price, giving us a blank template to totally redesign and add in the extra value.”
“That’s why I look for coberturas (penthouses).” He continues, “Only on the top floor do you get the opportunity to add in swimming pools, terraces, even entire floors to really open up a property.”
Only then, he says, can you really start to look at the kind of returns that make investing in property worthwhile. “If you’re not getting around 20% return, you might as well keep your money in the bank here, interest rates are that high.”
In the favor of companies such as Indigo is the booming Rio oil industry that has seen the likes of Shell, Exxon, and BP relocating workers by the handful and affording them sizable budgets to ensure they get the best and safest locations for their staff. “Rental returns for higher end properties have almost doubled in recent years, so rather than complete a project and sell immediately, the prospect of long term letting has become far more attractive.”
And one look at the completed project on Rua General Artigas shows exactly why he would be reluctant to sell on, and indeed has made it his home. The relatively humble looking exterior of the building hides a four bedroom duplex penthouse with a view of the Atlantic, extensive terrace and top-end finish from appliances right down to the intricately designed lighting.
The same is true of newest and nearly-completed project in Rua Joao Lira, also in Leblon, where the jaw-dropping 360 degree view that the glass walls and full-circumference-decking affords make it clear that he has achieved exactly what he wanted at the property.
Where once was a small, gaudily painted hut on the roof there is now a four bedroom, 500 square meter penthouse with panoramic views of Zona Sul. Due to be ready in April, it looks likely to be one of the most spectacular properties in the neighborhood, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.