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A Brazilian Island Home With Ocean View For Less Than $68,000


The island rises in front of you like a lush, green paradise…its verdant hills fringed with thick, tangled mangroves and studded with tall palms. As you approach from the mainland causeway, Brazil’s Itamaracá looks like an oasis rising out of the Atlantic.

But the island’s western tropical forest is only half the picture. On the eastern shore, you’ll find bustling towns and miles of sandy beaches lining turquoise waters…with a protective reef just offshore.

And in reality, Itamaracá (pronounced ee tah mah rah KAH) is not as remote as it first appears. This
four-by-nine-mile island is home to around 17,000 permanent residents, and its population can exceed 50,000 on a holiday weekend.

It’s also the site of a thriving expat community, year-round tropical weather, and some of the best grilled, fresh seafood you’ll find anywhere.

Life on the island is simple and basic, with no malls, auto dealers, or high rises. The tallest building is four stories, with a two-story limit on the beachfront. Almost all island properties are single homes.

People come to enjoy the beaches, hike the hills, snorkel and swim…as well as to appreciate the camaraderie of their fellow islanders.

Today, there’s an infrastructural development unfolding that will affect Itamaracá’s traditionally low property prices. It’s an event that will change the island for the better. But it will lift its property market to be more in line with the rest of Brazil. It’s all about prisons…

Back in the 1980s, Itamaracá was a popular weekend getaway for wealthy Brazilians who came mostly from the nearby state capital of Recife. Owning a property here was prestigious. But then the island fell out of favor. This was partly due to the promotional efforts of Porto de Galinhas (one hour south of Recife) declaring itself to be the new, trendy destination.

But more importantly, the three prisons located in the remote forests of the island’s west side were tarnishing its reputation, and inmates on work release were reputed to be causing trouble.
Beachfront properties were hard to sell…even at $50,000 or less.

The prisons eventually cleaned up their act, and the inmates were restricted to within the prison walls. In fact, by 2008, most new residents and visitors to the island didn’t even know these remote prisons were there.

Meanwhile, the first few expats (primarily from the U.K. and Europe) noticed the depressed beachfront prices. Within a short time, an English-speaking expat community of about 45 homeowners sprang up.

Next came North Americans, mostly IL readers. Those prime beachfront properties started to disappear, and prices started to rise. By mid-2010, Itamaracá was enjoying a fairly hot property market, with a rental market to match. Today there are about 75 expat homeowners, and the number is rising rapidly.

This brings me back to the prisons. When the government announced it was closing the prisons it had little impact. Property markets are notoriously skeptical about future infrastructure projects.

Then in 2009, there was a groundbreaking ceremony as construction began on the new facility. People began to take it seriously. I bought and sold a home here in 2009.

In 2010, the new prison project was internationally recognized for its innovative design as it neared completion. Today, inmates are scheduled to move off Itamaracá during the first half of 2011.

Now everyone’s a believer. Inquiries to local realtors have jumped, and buyers are visiting in larger numbers. A few sellers have even pulled their properties off the market, preferring to wait for the inevitable rise in prices.

After a 20-year hiatus, interest among Brazilian buyers is once again on the rise. To be sure, the attention of Europeans and North Americans over the past few years has caused a jump in prices. But this effect will be small compared to the impact of re-kindled interest among Brazilians.

Right now, houses start at about $59,000 for a home a block in from the beach.
Most beachfront homes—right on the sand—will run between $117,000 and $235,000. For a fixer-upper on the beach (with a pool), the lowest I saw was $106,000.

One house has an ocean view, just a half block from the beach, with three bedrooms, two baths and over 1,600 square feet. The asking price is $68,000, and the owner will take $60,000…just under $38 per square foot.

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