Credit in Latin America is notoriously hard to access. Just a few years ago, credit card rates in Brazil hit 450%, which has gone down to a still astounding 250% per year. In Chile, I’ve seen credit cards that charge 60-100% yearly interest. And that’s if you can even get a card in the first place. Yet people still use these predatory systems. Why? There are rarely any other options.
In the US, access to loans depends mainly on a single number: your FICO score. Your credit score is an aggregate of your spending and borrowing history, so it gives lenders a way to find out if you are a trustworthy customer. In general, the higher your score, the bigger (or more lenient) your line of credit. You can boost your score by managing credit wisely for long periods, such as always paying off a credit card on time, or lower your score by taking on more credit, not paying it off on time or carrying a high balance. While many people criticize the FICO score model, it is a relatively simple way for lenders to verify the creditworthiness of potential customers.
Consumers in the US have access to deep pools of capital at their fingertips. Home loans, credit cards, consumer credit and other forms of debt are readily available. Perhaps they are even too available, as we saw in the 2008 financial crisis or as we might be seeing now with bubbles in student loan debt.
Even in the United States, the process of finding and buying property, as well as securing a mortgage, is not an easy one. In Latin America, where real estate agents are often not officially licensed, countries use notaries instead of escrows, and mortgage rates can be staggeringly high, buying a property in Latin America can be much more difficult. Most Latin American countries lack an MLS (multiple listing service) so there is no central place to search for properties, no exclusivity for brokers, and prices for the same property can differ from broker to broker. It can be hard to know whether you are getting a straight deal when the process for researching properties and brokers is anything but transparent.
Even in countries such as Chile, which is one of the more developed real estate markets in the region, renting an apartment as a foreigner can be daunting. Local landlords usually require significant paperwork before signing a lease, including a cosigner, local employment documents, proof of local taxes, and other documents most foreigners do not have. Landlords may also require your monthly income to be triple or quadruple the monthly rent, meaning that renting many properties is out of reach even for well-paid locals.
In 2013, Vijay Kailas, a fellow Start-Up Chile entrepreneur and I started Andes Property to help foreigners buy, rent or invest in properties in Latin America to help provide more clarity into this market. In 2014, my fund, Magma Partners, made Adrian Fisher’s PropiedadFacil our first investment. Adrian has been involved in the real estate tech sector since 2012 in Argentina, Chile and now the US with PropertySimple, so we had significant experience in the real estate tech sector.
Because of a lack of information, low levels of competition in the Latin American real estate market and corruption in certain markets, potential property owners can take on risks when buying a property that they wouldn’t otherwise take on in the US, where we take many of our existing systems and platforms for granted.