Real Estate in Cuba: Buying and Selling Without Realtors or the MLS

by 11 Dec 2012

Try to imagine a real estate market without real estate brokerages or an MLS. It would be like the Wild West all over again with no restrictions, no law, and no way to determine what your real estate is really worth. Welcome to the real estate market in Cuba.

I was reading an article in the November issue of National Geographic when I stumbled upon a photo of how real estate is bought and sold in Cuba. The photo showed a group of people gathered around a tree with signs pinned to it, some of them holding their own signs. The caption read, “For the first time in decades, Cubans are able to buy and sell real estate. The make-shift real estate signage has converted the park into a bazaar of free market real estate.”

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

The government essentially legalized the real estate marketplace in Cuba last November, and since then, there has been a frenzy of activity among buyers and sellers. Cubans are restricted to selling real estate only to citizens that live in Cuba, or to permanent residents of the island. But without any real estate brokerages or a MLS, it has been difficult to create a level playing field. There are real estate agents on every corner, but none of them has a legal presence or license. And without a way to value property in Cuba, buyers and sellers have no idea what the value of the real estate is.

In the U.S., the real estate market is a complex and sophisticated web of infinite information, and is also highly regulated. For those that work in the real estate industry in the U.S., it is difficult to imagine life without an MLS or licensed agents. In Cuba, the freedom to buy and sell property is so new to the Country and its citizens, that there are essentially no rules.

Without an organized listing service and licensed brokerages to regulate the real estate market, Cubans have invented their own methods for buying and selling real estate. Some people will stand for hours in the local park or on a street corner holding a hand-written real estate sign. Others will simply nail a rudimentary real estate sign to a tree or a signpost in the City, or hire young children to pass out hand-written flyers.

Take a moment to imagine a life in real estate without fancy signage, licensed agents, or a formal marketplace to buy and sell. This is the reality of real estate in Cuba today.


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