Cuban blogger Yusnaby recently raised the interesting question (and provided the only possible answer) of why the real estate market in Cuba seems to be seeing a bit of a boomlet. Until very recently, Cubans were not allowed to buy and sell houses. Raul changed that in 2011. The problem is that only Cuban citizens resident in Cuba are allowed to buy and sell real estate, and the transactions have to be in cash (there is no financing available). Hard currency like dollars or euros, not Cuban pesos. Though, according to a Brookings Institution report on the Cuban real estate market, a legal mechanism allowing foreigners to buy condos in foreign-funded resort developments has been introduced.
Houses are selling despite the obstacles. Sometimes in the US$60,000 range, and even more. But if the average salary in Cuba is a paltry $18 a month, Yusnaby did the math and figured that it would take that worker approximately 3,333 years to save enough cash to buy that $60,000 house. So who is buying? One could suggest that those half a million cuentapropistas who are driving cabs, busking in Old Havana dressed in period costume, or running restaurants in their living rooms might be able to scrimp and save enough to buy a $60,000 house, but it would likely take much longer than the few years those self-employed individuals have been legally allowed to work.
The only possible explanation, Yusnaby suggests, is that Cuban exiles (who are not legally allowed to buy houses) are funneling money to friends and family on the island to buy them. It’s a delicious irony — the “traidores” (“traitors”) of the Revolution are now the “trae-dolares” (“dollar-bringers”) propping up the regime’s real estate market.
And a hell of a market it is. Yusnaby scrolled through the real estate listings on the Revolico.com website (Cuba’s version of Craigslist) and found what he says are the five most expensive offerings currently on the market — for anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million. (There are actually quite a few offerings in the $100,000 and up range, but most of the listings are in the low five figures.)
At the low end of the top of the market is the Casa Kohly in the Playa neighborhood of Havana, built in 1938 and sporting six bedrooms, five bathrooms and 24 hours a day of unrestricted water. The seller boasts of it’s “capitalist construction,” which leads one to ask just what exactly is “socialist construction.” (The listing seems to have disappeared since Yusnaby first mentioned it. Maybe the capitalist brag didn’t go over so well.)
The most expensive house he could find was a 750-square-meter oceanfront jewel in Miramar in Havana, with an asking price of a cool million-five. The 1955 home has a pool, a gym, is fully air-conditioned and boasts of parking for six vehicles. Oh, and six bedrooms and nine bathrooms. For another half a million, the ad says, the owners will sell it fully furnished.