Martin Birch first set eyes on Argentina 15 years ago and has returned every year since. “I love the space, the easy-going nature of the people, the simplicity of the way of life,” he says. So much so that Martin, who is resident in France, recently bought a flat in the centre of Buenos Aires.
It is in the Caballito district, close to the smart quarter of Palermo. “You can get great bargains in the areas that straddle the posh and the poorer parts of town,” he says. “I paid £11,000 for a two-bedroom apartment. It’s delightful, with wooden floors and lots of big windows.”
With its old European flavour, Buenos Aires is often called the Paris of Latin America. Elegant boulevards lead to quiet squares, and around every corner is a stunning façade. But its opulent appearance is deceptive. Since the economic crash of 2002, property has been going for a song. Flats cost less than a car does at home, so it’s no surprise to find an increasing number of Britons investing in the Argentine capital.
Martin, who previously ran a property business in France, has now set up a company in Argentina to advise buyers. “A lot of people are prepared to buy unseen, as I was,” he says. “When you can pick up a property for less than £15,000, there isn’t much downside.”
Areas that attract foreigners include the Barrio Norte, Palermo and Belgrano, but the most popular of all is Recoleta, with its smart shops and classical architecture. Here prices start at about £22,000 for a two-bedroom apartment with a terrace or balcony. Palermo is the home of polo and the most fashionable district in the city. “This is where Prince Harry hangs out,” says a local British buyer; “It is the Chelsea of Buenos Aires.”
But it is not only in the capital city that foreigners are investing. One of the major draws for British buyers is space, which in Argentina is in almost unlimited supply. The country covers more than a million square miles, with a population of just 39 million. Compare that with the UK, where more than 60 million people are squashed into just 100,000 square miles.
The distances are vast and you can buy your own sizable chunk of paradise for the price of a semi-detached house in Harrogate. Wild, undeveloped land in the hills above the Córdoba region, for example, costs as little as £50 per acre. This is one of the most popular places to buy despite being around 500 miles away from Buenos Aires – and the landscape looks like the south of France.
Property outside Buenos Aires is going up in value as the economy stabilises. Mark Kegan, a farmer from Cumbria, bought a 12,500-acre sunflower and wheat farm near Córdoba three years ago. With fellow investors, he paid £1.25 million for prime farmland. “I think it has increased in value significantly,” he says.
Kegan still owns an estate in Cumbria, but finds his business in Argentina easier to run. “I was sick and tired of having to talk to 700 different departments in order to cut a tree down. Out here I could build a palace in the middle of my farm and no one would care.
In addition, I’m making money from the farm here, something that is becoming increasingly difficult back home.”
Another Briton to take advantage of the Argentine good life is Charlotte von Winterhalder, a silversmith from Oxfordshire who recently married her Austrian-Argentine boyfriend.
The couple are planning to buy a house in Punta Chica, half an hour north of central Buenos Aires, paying about £94,000 for a four-bedroom house with a garden. “Punta Chica is a great district,” she says. “We have one of the best schools in Buenos Aires, the jockey club, the sailing club, and the Tigre Delta, where we can go waterskiing. The quality of life is wonderful.”
There are, however, drawbacks to Argentina, as was discovered by one family who planned to buy a block of 10 apartments near Palermo, in Buenos Aires, but have pulled out. “We agreed a price of £234,000 and then it kept going up as every person involved wanted his bit of commission,” says one family member, who works as a property developer in the UK. “Argentina is an extremely difficult place to do business.”
A more surprising lure to foreign buyers is Patagonia, the vast and stunning region in the south of the country. “The most popular areas are San Carlos de Bariloche and San Martín de los Andes in northern Patagonia, and the provinces of Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego in the south,” says Hubert Gosse, the head of Burco Argentina, a Belgian-owned developer. “Tierra del Fuego is traditionally a sheep-breeding area with lots of English-style estancias. British buyers love the nature, the climate, the low prices and the wide-open spaces, as well as the freedom to do whatever they want with the land.”
At the top end, prices for land on Burco Argentina’s exclusive country club development, with sporting facilities, near Bariloche start at £20 per square metre (about £100,000 per acre), – “still a tenth of the price of a similar development in North America,” says Gosse. A three-bedroom house on the golf course or polo field, where prices are most expensive, with land, costs about £390,000.