The Rich are Fleeing Cuba Too

Wealthy Cubans are selling their houses at bargain basement prices. The Island’s real estate market is saturated due to the massive exodus that’s bleeding Cuba of inhabitants.

By Natalia Lopez and Juan Diego Rodriguez (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – Juan Carlos, 52, divides his attention between Milan and Havana. His children, his wife and his parents all reside in Italy, but for two years he’s been back and forth to the Cuban capital, trying to sell a large house in the El Vedado district. The house, he says, has given him “more headaches than my allergies.” Located close to Linea Street, the house is part of a life project that “grew and eventually failed.”

At the end of the nineties, Juan Carlos won a scholarship to an Italian university as an artist. When he departed from the “Jose Marti” International Airport, he knew “there was no going back,” and that he needed to forge a life outside the island. “I’d always lived with my parents and my sisters in a small apartment, so from the time I was very young my dream was to have my own large and luminous house, with an area marked off for my studio.”

As time passed, Juan Carlos married an Italian, and in 2014, he decided to begin the process of repatriating to Cuba, where he’d lost his residency for spending years away without visiting. “There was a lot of excitement, and several of my friends – some of them artists and others designers – added to this wave of people wanting to have a Cuban identity card again.”

One of the advantages of having residency on the Island was the possibility of buying a house. “By that time, my wife and I were making good money, and her father had died, leaving a significant inheritance. I decided to buy the house in El Vedado. It was my lifelong dream, and I could finally fulfill it.”

That large house with a garden in front, two floors, a large patio with fruit trees, five bedrooms, three baths, a rooftop terrace free of neighbors, and a wide porch where you could sit and enjoy the sea breezes that reach there, cost him just a little over US $100,000. “I remember I signed the contract to buy the house the same week that Barack Obama visited Havana. What could go wrong, if everything seemed it was going to get better?”

Repairing that house, he says, cost him “nearly the same amount as purchasing it.” As the work progressed, more problems were uncovered: “rusted beams, damp walls, problems with the foundations.” They even had to rebuild part of the adornments atop the columns, “because when we began to paint them, they crumbled.”

The process was long and costly. “I had to go back to Cuba up to five times a year, adding the price of airline tickets to the construction expenses. That house seemed to eat money – every month, thousands of dollars would go into restoring it and taking care of it, because I had to pay two watchmen so no one would steal the [construction] materials.”

The work finally ended in April 2022, six years after Juan Carlos bought the house.

Apartments in Havana’s legendary “Focsa” building, one of the area’s most fashionable locations when it opened in 1956, are also up for sale. Photo: 14ymedio

The house was now “a dream come true,” Juan Carlos said. However, by that time, he no longer wanted to own property in Cuba. “I had spent long periods of time in Havana, and everything was deteriorating so much. I thought about how to get some money back from it, by renting it to some diplomat or an entrepreneur who wanted to open a restaurant, but I discovered that I’d have to be supervising the place all the time, like that old saying goes: the owner’s eye fattens the horse.”

In May of that same year, he decided to put the newly furnished and redecorated house up for sale. The problem now, is that no one will buy it. “I’ve offered it through several real estate companies, and I’ve also lowered the price several times. I’m now asking US $150,000 for the house and everything in it, but two years have passed and nothing.” The market for buying and selling houses on the island is saturated due to the massive exodus that’s bleeding the country.

It’s enough just glancing at the online real estate postings for the Island. A colonial house set up as a “[business] locale” in Vibora Park and offered as a “golden opportunity” is selling for US $60,000 dollars with “80% of everything inside (“from the wines to the coffeepots,” the broker details). A 120 square foot apartment in El Vedado with ocean views is offered for US $80,000. A “leisure farm” with a four-bedroom house and an expanse of 1,734.2 square yards can be purchased for US $50,000.

Other ads make clear the process of dickering. A penthouse in El Vedado, refinished in marble with the ocean in the background, whose photos include its elderly owner, went from an advertised price of US $270,000 to a current price of $190,000.

No price is listed for many of the properties advertised, but they do post images that give an idea of their luxury. The majority of them have clearly undergone costly repairs. There’s a residence in Nuevo Vedado, with architecture from the fifties, seven bedrooms, four baths, a patio, terrace and a jacuzzi. Or one of the large apartments in the “Hermanas Giralt” building, erected in 1958 with all the modern conveniences of the era, but today falling to pieces outside, as it’s been doing for years.

That’s one of the problems in selling such houses: those who dare set foot in the area they’re located, come out horrified. That’s the case with an apartment on San Lazaro St., advertised as a “luxury penthouse” with ocean views in the heart of the city.” It’s surrounded by the ruined buildings and garbage piles that are present on every corner of Central Havana.

Another peculiarity of the saturated real estate market is that the buildings now up for sale even include the gigantic mansions in Siboney that were confiscated following the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, and then appropriated by the regime’s leaders. And there’s another problem: having been nationalized following the exile of their original owners, they could be subject to a lawsuit sometime in the future.

Rita, a Cuban woman who dedicates herself in a very particular way to the buying and selling of houses, explains the panorama: “That type of property was previously marketed through some agency that maintained discretion, but now the owners are so desperate to sell that they post the announcements directly on their Facebook pages.”

Complicating sales still further, what owners like Juan Carlos want is “to have them send me the money outside of Cuba, because it’s a sizable sum and afterwards I’d have a lot of problems getting the money out [of the country]. But everyone’s in the same situation: they want the hard currency and they want it outside the country.”

His plan is “to wait a few more months, then lower the price again.” Once the house is sold, “I’m not coming back to Cuba anymore. Of course, I’ll lose my residency when I’ve been outside the country for more than 24 months, but that doesn’t interest me anymore.”

“I thought that my children would finish growing up in that house, that Cuba was heading upwards and forwards, but I was mistaken. Between one thing and another, this game has cost us my wife and I more than a quarter of a million dollars.” As far as the house itself goes, he has mixed feelings. “It’s very beautiful – in Milan, a house like that would cost a fortune. But, who wants to live in Cuba right now?”

The mansion, with its interior stained-glass windows, the large marble balustrade on the main staircase, the kitchen plated in imported black marble, its lordly bathtubs, and living room flanked with enormous mirrors, remains on the market in wait of a buyer, like so many other houses that – once upon a time – represented thousands of Cubans’ dreams of living and growing old on the island.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

6 thoughts on “The Rich are Fleeing Cuba Too

  • I am much more concerned about people who can not afford skim milk powder for small children than this person Unless the gov people in control make major changes cuba will become very bad
    We need major changes I hope these foreign property owners can put pressure on both the cuban and the foreign gov to push for huge changes in the economy

  • No sympathy at all for this * wanna be* Cuban big shot, his gold necklaces, rings and oversized gold colored watches got the better of his business sense.
    *….never invest more than you are prepared to lose…*

  • It’s love of money and not money itself that is the root of all evil. I could not buy a large beautiful home here in my free democratic country if my neighbors and extended family , my friends , and fellow citizens were starving, living with no indoor toilets, .. I could not live with myself. Peace and joy that surpass all understanding come from helping fellow men and see joy in giving and lending them a hand up. Americans by the millions do not grasp this, they succumb to drug addictions, disease, love triangles, broken families, even crime PJ Diddy C, Jennifer’s ex. .. like the Turmp’s, like well paid basketball and football stars.. .. You cannot find happiness in a million dollar mansion if it’s in a poorer than poor country.

  • I visited Cuba just after Obama had brought hope to the people, but it was all a ruse, wasn’t it? I returned each year and watched the excitement as the possibilities for a better life were dangling like sparkling stars in front of people’s eyes. I photographed stunning skyrise hotels being erected which only the rich ‘fat cats’ could afford to enjoy. It seemed like the exact same rich/poor situation from the 1950s. The one Castro was so keen to get rid of. I’m so sad for the people now. Struggling to survive in a paradise the rich have abused.

  • More Honesty & Reality from Havana Times. Baraca Obama opened that Door to Cuba & I was told from my Cuban Family to Not invest much $ it will Not last, for the cost of rent, 6 months stay in Cuba I paid for a very good house that had been renovated by the men from a church, the church was making some cash to send their children to the USA, that was 2015 & I was glad to give a home to a Cuban Family & just walk away after 2022. There is No leading that Horse to water, it will be Dead before it will Except a drink from Democracy. Thats what Cuba taught me & why there is No going back.

  • It’s hard to feel real sympathy. If people were just a little less overambitious – chasing the luxury/showoff lifestyle often ends in tears or at least is a costly lesson. Better to aim for comfortable, affordable and good enough.

Comments are closed.