Real estate developer and entrepreneur Michael Cobb is a visionary. In the mid 1990s he went on a trip to Ambergris Caye in Belize, and looked into the future. They idyllic tropical isle reminded him of Key West, and in an “impulse buy”, guided by intuition, he purchased a condo there. Twenty years later he has seen Ambergris Caye sprout into a world-class tourism and retirement destination, and has launched a company that has developed high-end “livable” communities throughout the region.
Currently his ECI firm is developing projects in Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, and is expanding into Cuenca, Ecuador this year. Cobb sat down with PanAm Post English editor David Unsworth in Las Vegas at the tenth annual FreedomFest to discuss his vision and share practical advice for those who may be considering investing or retiring south of the border.
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Cobb launched his company when he identified a critical need for the burgeoning ex-pat community in Central America: a lack of mortgage financing. Whereas American and Canadian consumers were accustomed to putting 10% or 20% down and financing the rest, they quickly discovered the difficulty of getting a mortgage in Central America. Development companies were also hesitant to offer finance, not wanting to tie up their cash flow. ECI was thus born.
Cobb’s company is keen on creating communities, not merely building buildings. He notes that sufficient research should be a fundamental prerequisite for anyone considering a move and/or real estate investment. And he encourages potential clients to carefully consider the social and cultural aspects of their decision. Cost considerations are often a primary motivating factor for such “snowbirds”, but they should also consider community, churches, dining and entertainment options, leisure and recreational activities, and their potential neighbors.
ECI has excelled because it identified a demand for a product, and worked hard to meet the needs of its clients. Cobb notes that a place like Ambergris Caye in Belize is more like the Jimmy Buffet lifestyle: with its tropical cocktails, lush beaches, and fun-in-the-sun mentality, while Pacific Nicaragua is more like country music: with horseback riding, arid cactus-strewn landscapes, and cowboys.
He suggests that from a legal, political, and economic point of view, Central America confers a degree of optimism. While Americans and Canadians have long flooded traditional favorites Panama and Costa Rica, he notes that Belize and Nicaragua offer great value for your real estate dollar, with great potential for cash flow and appreciation with a real estate purchase.