Laura Madden, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Often referred to as the “esquina do continente” (corner of the continent), Natal in Rio Grande do Norte State is perhaps best known for its vast sand dunes, a playground for tourists taking dune-buggy rides. The entire region however, which gets around 300 days of sun per year and has an average year-round temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, has a strong draw for those looking for the good life.
In 1942, the city became a refueling air base for the allied forces during World War II’s Operation Torch. That base today is the city’s international airport, Augusto Severo, where approximately two million tourists pour in each year from all over Brazil and around the world. Natal is also home to the Centro de Lançamento da Barreira do Inferno, Latin America’s first rocket base.
With nearly 800,000 inhabitants as of the 2010 census, Natal is Brazil’s fourteenth safest city, and the capital city with the least violent crime. Natalenses have been ranked the fourth-highest-paid among northeastern cities in terms of formal (contracted) work with the fifth-highest buying power in the country.
A housing and construction boom began in the early 2000’s when the Euro was approximately 3.5 to one against the Real. Adriana Paschoalino, owner of P.C. Imóveis describes how the market exploded.
“A foreigner would arrive, see a fisherman’s house and ask, ‘How much?’” she says. “The fisherman would tell the foreigner some absurd price, which cost next to nothing for the foreigner, and later a building would go up in its place.”
“Another thing that helped business during that time was that charter flights were coming in every week from Europe,” says Ricardo Dantas, manager of commercial sales at Brasil Brokers, a national real estate chain and the largest in Rio Grande do Norte state.
“Up until around 2005, the cost per square meter in the Natal area was around R$7,000,” Dantas recalls. Though Europeans were the basis of the housing and construction boom, it has continued despite the economic crisis in Europe. Now, he says it is mostly Brazilians buying.
“We have people buying here from Brasília, where the price is around R$10,000 per square meter,” says Dantas.
Today, Natal’s cost per square meter is around R$4,000. The most sought-after locations in the city are Areia Preta, where one square meter can set you back as much as R$7,000, and Ponta Negra.
Along the northern coast, towns like Genipabú and Maracajaú are big hits. Still further north, in Jacumã, the area’s most expensive condominium costs R$3 million per house.
Heading south, Cotovelo is home to the area’s first resort, In Mare Bali. Further along the coast, Pirangi and Pipa are very popular among foreigners as well as Brazilians.
“We have Paulistas coming to escape the poor air quality and traffic problems,” says Dantas. “You can sell a place in São Paulo, and with the same money get an excellent place here in Natal, with a much better quality of life.”
Those interested in renting can expect to pay around R$200/day for a cozy one-bedroom with air-conditioning during high season. Between Carnival and Christmas, that price is cut approximately in half and long term rates are available as well.
“The time to buy is now. The [Brazilian] Real is very stable, and Natal still has a lot of growth potential past the World Cup,” notes Dantas.