Pirates of the Pacific: Lola Young
This is part of the continuing series of Ecuador expat interviews, under the banner of “Pirates of the Pacific”. Each will feature a new story of a long journey to reach the shores of Ecuador. We want to always inform and occasionally entertain, with an emphasis on no holds barred candor. We want real people, with real stories – the good, the bad, the ugly. We want to get to know them personally and experience Ecuador through the eyes of our fellow Pirates.
The raw nature of these interviews forced a difficult decision upon me. The series would read better and be more journalistically entertaining, written in narrative format. However, the raw energy and candor could be lost in translation. I have instead chosen the more cumbersome, but infinitely more real, Q&A approach to the Pirate’s tale. Walking the plank, today, is Ms. Lola Young.
HGQ: Good morning, Lola. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to interview with me.
LY: Well, good morning, Hector. My pleasure. Glad to do it.
HGQ: Well, let’s jump right into things. Tell me a little bit about how you first heard about Ecuador and what motivated you to relocate to this wonderful country?
LY: I enjoy adventure and exploring different countries. I was with a friend who mentioned having visited Ecuador and that they now enjoyed quite a bit of time there. So, I decided to visit and explore for myself. I arrived in Ecuador and totally fell in love with the place. Ended up visiting Ecuador for several years, before I ever decided to buy anything and stay more permanently.
HGQ: Wow! So, actually, you had been visiting Ecuador for quite some time, before committing to relocate here and making an actual home purchase. So, when you initially toured Ecuador, what areas most appealed to you?
LY: Well, I must say I liked it all. I remember on the coast, Salinas and Puerto Cayo both caught my eye, for very different reasons. I also favored Ibarra and Otavalo in the Sierra region. However, when I arrived in Cotacachi, I just fell in love. I knew that is where I would live at first sight. Ultimately, it is where I bought my first property.
HGQ: Let’s talk about that a bit more in detail. Just let me cover one other thing, first. Tell our readership a little bit about your background? Where are you from, originally? What did you previously do there? How did any of your previous life experience, prepare you for being an expat in Ecuador?
LY: Ok, well, I am originally from Oklahoma, although I now live in Texas. I was first in the healthcare industry back in the United States. We have one of the largest hospice and home healthcare companies, with a base in Oklahoma and Texas. Some of the profits from that enterprise eventually funded my involvement in the real estate investment field. In fact, I have been investing in real estate for likely 40 years or so. First it was just investing in the USA real estate market, but soon I found better opportunities overseas, with my very first foreign purchase actually being in the Dominican Republic. From there, other foreign real estate investments ensued, but really, nothing like Ecuador. This is not just an investment locale for me, although it is that, as well. But Ecuador is where my heart has landed.
HGQ: Well, that is fascinating. You had quite a bit of real estate investment experience before buying here in Ecuador and even some significant international real estate investment experience. Very well balanced background. That certainly prepared you somewhat for your subsequent real estate acquisitions in Ecuador. Going back to your healthcare background, what is your company’s name in the United States?
LY: Well, there are several. Mays Homecare is probably the central company, but we also have HomeCall and Mays Hospice. I actually have 35 offices scattered throughout Oklahoma and Texas. Usually, I end up owning the underlying real estate where the offices are located, which the company then leases back from me. So, in some ways, there is almost no separation between my healthcare business and my real estate operations. other than the obvious separate legal entities.
HGQ: Well, Lola, that is all very interesting. From comments I receive via private email, I know many of our readers are fascinated with the personal life stories of fellow EscapeArtist members. How did you originally become involved in healthcare?
LY: Well, I started by becoming a nurse, way back in the 1970s. Usual path of working in hospitals and physician offices, but I pretty quickly found my way to the home care side of the nursing profession. I loved it. You had more autonomy. A more personal relationship with the patients. The ability to make a difference and actually make decisions that directly impacted, in a positive way, the health of your patients. So, again, I fell in love with home healthcare. Really thought that was the way to go, for me. So, I ultimately decided to both control my own fate and also be personally responsible for bringing this quality medical care to more patients. I opened my own company to provide the much needed home care services. So, that is kind of how I got started.
HGQ: That sure sounds like a personally rewarding career. A very noble endeavor, as well. So, I think Ecuador will be quite lucky to have you as a member of the local community. Certainly the residents of Cotacachi will benefit from your experience and kindness. So, speaking of Cotacachi, what first captured your attention and captivated your interest, when you first arrived? You did say you instantly fell in love with the place.
LY: Yes, I did. I think the first bit of awe was when I looked at the lay of the land. It appeared almost as a patchwork quilt tapestry. I mean the different shades of green, against the contrasting hues of the mountains, it was all just breathtaking. You know, I visited the area for 2-3 years thereafter. Met so many people, made so many good friends. The natural beauty first captured my attention, but the friendships cemented my interest. It was then I decided to buy my first property there. Looked around for the right condo, but nothing felt recognizable and comfortable to me. More than just a cultural thing, because those differences you witness and expect. But nothing felt like “home”. Ended up talking to enough people that felt the same way I did. So, much like with the home healthcare business, I decided to go my own way and build my own condo. Not just for me, but to fit the desires of many of the same people I had talked to, which had expressed some of the same frustrations. Ended up buying more than 40 beautiful acres for what was now “my project”.
HGQ: Lola, it is safe to say we can all acknowledge that you are “fully invested” in your new Ecuador lifestyle. I am really happy to hear about that. So, you went to Cotacachi, found a beautiful place, a gorgeous real estate market, but not quite what you specifically desired and thought ideally suited for you, so you decided to build it and knew they would come. So, with that in mind, can you tell me a little bit about the project you are creating?
LY: The project is called Jahua Pache, which translates to “Heaven” in the local, native dialect, located just a mile outside of Cotacachi proper. It is poised to beautifully overlook the city of Cotacachi. One of the most beautiful breath taking views you will ever see at night is looking down at those lights of Cotacachi, against the scenic natural backdrop. So, I looked at this huge expanse of land and decided I had to make this into a manageable project. We began with 24 condo units, as the initial Phase 1 of the project. That original Phase was completed about 1 year ago or so. The project is full utilities, gated security, a huge community center capable of hosting 200 people, a gym and all sorts of additional amenities. For example, with relaxation fully in mind, we have a massage room and a steam room to be enjoyed. We built it as a real community. A place where people can relax, enjoy…just have fun, again, in life.
HGQ: Sounds fascinating and certainly very much a “home” feeling to the project. How are the condos, themselves laid out?
LY: We structured them as quadplexes, so that each place would feel like personal space, never the feeling of being crowded, like in some of the massive high-rise buildings. I own one of those in Salinas. I love it, but it is a very different feel, from the more personal touch found at our project in Cotacachi. Each unit is about 2,000 square feet, with a very spacious and open floor plan, which enhances that expansive feel.
HGQ: Twenty-four built condos already. Certainly, an accomplishment you must be proud of showcasing. What you describe is certainly something that is likely selling rather well, is that correct?
LY: So much so that we are already planning to build the next 24 units for the project.
HGQ: Congratulations. Sounds fantastic. Now, your buyers, are they mostly from the United States, from Ecuador…elsewhere?
LY: We have a mix. We have one buyer who is from Ecuador. We’ve had a few buyers from Germany. A Canadian buyer. A British buyer. But, yes, the balance…the majority…are from the United States.
HGQ: So, we can safely say, mostly from the United States, but with a reasonably strong minority representing several other global nations and Ecuador. Nice bit of an international flair, with the different cultures all mixing together. More of that tapestry vision, which you immediately noticed when observing the Cotacachi landscape, upon your first visit. A bit of a consistent theme. Sounds beautiful. So, drawing from your own experiences, what is a day in the life of a buyer in your condo complex going to look like, when they settle in Cotacachi?
LY: There is quite a bit to enjoy in Cotacachi. There are restaurants serving some great cuisine. I happen to enjoy spending time at a special coffee house, where I meet on an almost daily basis, with the many friends I have met here in Ecuador. Certainly, the scenic beauty of the setting creates many field trip opportunities to explore the surrounding country around Cotacachi. Volcano tours are very popular, as they should be. Another breath taking experience. If you are into hiking, there are exciting hiking trails you can follow nearby. Certainly shopping is an option, particularly if you enjoy leather goods. Cotacachi and the surrounding area is renown for their leather crafts. Handbags, boots, coats, briefcases…anything you can imagine made out of lea the can be found here. I must add, as a connoisseur of leather products the world over, prices are very, very reasonable in the Cotacachi area. Just be ready to haggle a bit with the local merchants.
HGQ: It definitely sounds like someone living in Cotacachi will not lack for things to do. Certainly, making new friends seems an easy endeavor. Do you, likewise, find the local Ecuadorean population to be welcoming and embracing of the expat community?
LY: My experience has been that they are extremely welcoming. Very sweet people. For me, some of my best friendships here are with Ecuadoreans. You won’t find much nicer people anywhere in the world, as the Ecuadorean people. Take that from someone that has traveled quite a bit.
HGQ: Lola, sounds like you really have found a little slice of Paradise for yourself and, apparently, for the other buyers in your condominium community. Tell me, when you think back to your lifestyle in the USA and you contrast that with your new lifestyle here, in Cotacachi, Ecuador, how would you say the two differ?
LY: I think, basically, the lifestyle in Ecuador is more peaceful and relaxing. One of the things I first noticed about Ecuador was the serenity of the place. It kept drawing me back here. It’s a world where your troubles seem to melt away. The other issue that stands out is how much cheaper most things are in Ecuador. I would say things are at least one-third, if not one-fourth the price as back in the United States. For retirees on a budget, this is a significant point, which really matters. For example, I know the medical field. Healthcare in Ecuador is top of the line, for a fraction of costs in the USA. As a real world example. Had to take my son to the emergency room here in Ecuador. A long stay, heavy IV fluids. Four different types of medication. My total cost was under $100 dollars, without insurance. I mean, I walk into a hospital and the cost is already over $100 back in the United States. Even with good insurance, my out of pocket cost in the USA would be about $2,000 for similar treatment. It is just amazing. Ecuador offers a simpler, more relaxing, more affordable lifestyle, for what in my opinion is even better true quality.
HGQ: Can’t argue with you there, Lola. Value is one of the main reasons I originally moved here. There is also certainly nothing wrong with a place that just melts away your stress. Your beautiful condos, I am sure, play a key role in that serenity equation. Just to clarify, as a medical professional, would you say you were very satisfied with the medical care your son received? Truly, medical care is a critical issue for many relocating here, to Ecuador.
LY: I would say I was extremely pleased with the quality of care he received. Not the first positive experience, either, with the healthcare field in Ecuador. Two years ago I got a bad virus, while in Ecuador. Was really ill at about 1:00 AM at night. At that time of night, I made a call to a local physicians cell phone number. He came out to my house, gave me a shot of antibiotics, prescribed some medication for ancillary conditions and within an hour I was already feeling better. He even had to make a trip back to his house and returned to my home, offering some additional oral medication. The entire cost was $20, for that level of service. I want to add that my experience with the dentistry profession has been just as good.
HGQ: So, with all this talk about great value, quality services and the serenity of Cotacachi, Ecuador, it is almost easy to forget our commitment to present a “real world” experience to our readers. So, in that spirit, is there anything you would caution someone about, who is considering relocating to Ecuador?
LY: If someone is considering getting their permanent residency, they need to hire a good attorney. The process can sometimes take longer than advertised, especially given some of the exaggerated short periods of time I’ve heard some quote. It is a legal process and to ensure it is done correctly, requires legal assistance. If you are not seeking permanent residency, then you have to be very careful that you follow the rules and guidelines for the “in country” period you are allowed to stay in Ecuador, over any one period. A failure to oblige with the law and you could find yourself sanctioned from entering the country for a period of time. Again, in the latter instance, I would still advise a good attorney. Lastly, if you are opening a business in Ecuador, like I did, make sure to hire a quality accountant. The wrong accountant could wind up costing you a lot more money than you are saving, with a less expensive accountant. In fact, personally, the latter has been my most difficult learning experience, as I opted for a convenient accountant and not necessarily one of the best. That decision cost me.
HGQ: Lola, does that mean you were not satisfied with the level of accounting services you received? What would you advise someone looking to start a business here, in Ecuador?
LY: No, I was not satisfied with first accounting firm, but have been ecstatically happy with my second. It is not a condemnation on the profession here, but rather a caution to select carefully. My advice? Get a great accounting firm, before you do any business. Pay too much, it will save you a bundle in the long run.
HGQ: Well, that sounds like good advice, Lola. I concur that the right professional assistance is an essential element to any business transaction in Ecuador. I want to say this has been a fabulous interview and that I really appreciate your time. Any closing thoughts or comments to share with the readers?
LY: Well, just I really enjoy life in Cotacachi. Come explore Ecuador. If you decide Cotacachi is right for you, I have a few condos left to sell, if someone is interested. We can still customize some features if desired, although we are long passed the “major alterations” stage. With the advent of Phase 2, which we project breaking ground in 2014, we can still take full custom orders for the condos.
HGQ: Curious. How did you end up with a few units left to sell in Phase 1?
LY: A small number of condos fell out and failed to close, because of economic hardships in the USA. We refunded their money, which was good for them, but not so much for our company. Still, it felt like the right thing to do, given the unpredictability and harsh nature of the current U.S. economy.
HGQ: Well, Lola, bad news on the fall out units, but it offers an opportunity to a few individuals who would have missed out on Phase 1, to actually get into the project, without having to wait for Phase 2. What is the entry level for pricing of the few remaining condos?
LY: I think our least expensive remaining unit, is a garden unit going for $135,000. However, of the few remaining units, the most expensive is only $159,900. So, as you can see, not many units left, but good value across the board.
HGQ: Well, given these are new condos, pushing 2,000 sf and you have the beautiful common areas, as well as the exceptional location, the prices seem very reasonable. That’s a whole lot of room in which to entertain.
LY: Actually, since I got to Ecuador, I have made more friends here than I did in a lifetime back in the USA. So, I understand the need for more room to entertain.
HGQ: Well, Lola, exceptional value, indeed.
LY: Well, let me make it a slightly better value for your kindness. Exclusive to the readership of EscapeArtist, I would offer a discount to registered EscapeArtist readers, who express an interest in the project by contacting you. I will share the discount with you privately and you can pass it along to the readership who inquires. I love EscapeArtist and would like to reward my fellow EA readers.
HGQ: Lola, that is certainly a kind gesture. I will await your discount via email. I will pass it along to any interested EscapeArtist reader who registers with us and I will pass along their name to you, so you know who qualifies for the special discount. It has been a pleasure conversing with you. I wish you nothing but the best and much happiness with your new found life in Cotacachi,
LY: Hector, I wish the same to you. It has been a pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my passions for Ecuador with you.