Work Abroad but earn in USD

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Wow, Lots of Moral Relativists Here

After seeing all the comments on my real estate posts, I have to admit that I'm a little shocked. It seems that living here in Argentina for awhile has turned all of you into moral relativists.

Selected Comments

New expats tend to spend a lot of time comparing things from home with the new experiences they are having in the host country, that is natural. Be be weary of judging everthing as better, worse right, wrong. You state the US RE paradigm is "right", I would agree that for us it is a lot more explicit and clear how business is done, is it "right", maybe not, its just culturally coming from a different place than Argentina. Is Argentina's wrong? maybe not, just confusing and ambigious and random, difficult for us to navigate but familiar to Argentines.

I hope you dont feel ganged up on, but I have to agree with the other posters...This is what they call cultural shock and changing expections or at least trying to understand how and why things work differently will make your transition more positive. Although everyone has issues and moments when it is beyond comprehension (my trial was buying a used car and accounting for taxes paid by someone else years ago)and difficult to not say the Argentine way is "wrong". Its a big deal doing what you are doing and buying a home is a huge financial and emotional investment. Your frustration with the new culture is natural and will ebb with time.

I totally agree that if you look like a gringo, smell like a gringo, and act like like a gringo, you will be charged as a gringo. Fact of life that you cannot avoid without going through some long term "hazing". Enjoy, becuase it's only money, and frankly, the exchange rate is such that it's certainly not alot of money for a guy like you.

My Response

There is such a thing as right and wrong. There is such a thing as better or worse. I'm not talking about "cultural differences" here. A cultural difference is something like the food. I may prefer American food, but I would never say that American food is better than Argentine food. Its just different.

What I'm talking about is a totally different thing. Think about what you are all saying for a minute. Just suppose that we were back in the United States and I had a house for sale, listed at $140,000. In walks a Jewish couple and I tell them the house costs $145,000. After all, they're Jews, they can afford to pay more, right?

Wrong! How is it different for me here? Just think about it for a minute. I think all of you are so used to trying to fit in and trying to avoid becoming that stereotypical whiney expat that always talks about how things are so much better at home that you've lost all common sense. There are certain things that are bad and good, better or worse. We have something called the Fair Housing Act in the United States, which was designed to address the very issue I'm talking about.

Clearly here in Argentina real estate is less regulated and we see the results of that. I gather from your comments that several of you have gone through this process yourselves, so I'm sure you must know what I'm talking about. Like I said earlier, I'm a very patient person and my experiences thus far are not going to deter me. I have no intention of changing my mind and renting, for example. I'm not going to stop talking candidly about my experiences either.

In addition to providing advice and hopefully fostering conversation, this blog is, from time to time, a psychological outlet. So, every once in a while you might see a rant or two as a way for me to release my frustration. Believe me, I'm not spending my whole day stomping around Buenos Aires cursing at real estate agents. I just felt like airing my frustrations in the blog. I really am a pretty easy going person.

That said, as I continue to write about my experiences here, they are of course going to be tainted by my own culture and upbringing. Right now I'm viewing Argentina through the lens of a twenty-something American, so that's my point of reference. Of course, I do have a bias. But I was never one to buy into moral relativism and there are certain things that are right and wrong, good and bad. I do believe there are certain absolutes in life and I can say absolutely that real estate doesn't work as well here than it does in the U.S. I'm not saying the U.S. is the perfect model either, only that real estate there works better than here.

Let's be honest, everyone. Can you really say the real estate system is only different in Argentina when it is near impossible for a middle-class family here to even get a home loan to buy their own place?

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Blogger Carolyn said...

I agree el expatriado! I think that many countries processes could be improved - and this includes the USA. But, when you see first hand something that is unorganized (such as the real estate sales in BsAs) and professionals that don't act very professional, that is something to comment on. Especially on a blog that is trying to be helpful to people who may encounter a similar experience as el expatriado.

We will all improve if we learn the good ideas from some countries and apply them in the other countries. Why would anyone defend something that just doesn't work as well? There are many wonderful things about the Argentine ways and many wonderful things about the ways of the US, but that doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvement. The fact that people are late a few minutes may be cultural, but the fact that people forget that they had an appointment altogether is simply rude - I don't care what country you are from. Bad manners are bad manners. As far as the pricing goes - clearly Argentina has a few things that they should learn from the US process, such as having the basic security of being able to obtain title insurance (which I have heard doesn't exist there!) and the ability to acquire a mortgage (did this ever exist there?). Although, having worked with many realtors in my lifetime here in the US - they are not all models of integrity either. But clearly, our process is more reliable.

I am really enjoying learning about another culture and country via this blog- and the ups and downs of everyday life as an expatriate. Keep on writing el expatriado!

P.S. When you get really frustrated - have a glass (or bottle!) of Norton Malbec for me. I really miss such a great wine for so little money! Salud!

6/05/2005 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger familiaoconnell said...

I am in danger of making an enemy out of El Expatriado (which would unfortunate because I like his blog very much) but I cant leave it alone:

I am not sure how your real estate dealings took a moral turn...I believe one poster did mention a gringo may pay more and I am afraid this person is right some of the time. However, I was never defending or being rightous about RE here.

My point has been that you need to resist the urge to judge the relative systems, not deny or ignore the moral or ethical foundation that you operate off of. The reality is prices are flexible, people have a different concept of time, presentation and sales are more about personal relationships and relative to your last comment, home financing is hardly ever used and only now is financing widely available for autos..this is a different business culture and as you know now a different real estate world.

I agree with abroad is all about having new experiences that you can contrast with old ones. But you arent just an observer here analysing the relative merits of the US and Argentine RE worlds. You are trying to complete a transaction in the middle of the muddle and I think you have a few friends that are trying to help you out.

6/05/2005 09:56:00 PM  
Blogger ABA said...

Just as Ex Patriado mentioned, there is a system of right and a system of wrong. NO matter where I have traveled in teh world I have come across that. Argentina is great but the way they do business here is criminal. There is a reason they are ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

My advice is to keep seeing more and trying to be patient. You'll see something you like and after that you can start the dance of trying to buy it. That part can be more frustrating than actually finding it believe it or not.

6/06/2005 12:43:00 AM  
Blogger said...

Hi , here are some of my responses to your responses. Keep up the diligent work because someone has to help negotiate the fights..good luck:

You wrote:
There is such a thing as right and wrong. There is such a thing as better or worse.
My response:
That is so true but not the issue at hand, it's the history and how it may or may not change for a while. One thing is for certain in Argentina; things usually change.

You wrote:
What I'm talking about is a totally different thing. Think about what you are all saying for a minute. Just suppose that we were back in the United States and I had a house for sale, listed at $140,000. In walks a Jewish couple and I tell them the house costs $145,000. After all, they're Jews, they can afford to pay more, right?
My response:
Sadly, this is a typical kind of financial behavior by many sellers throughout the world, certainly exists at times in the US where there may not be an agent involved in the sell,

Carolyn wrote:
…having the basic security of being able to obtain title insurance (which I have heard doesn't exist there!) and the ability to acquire a mortgage (did this ever exist there?).
My response:
Title insurance and mortgages are available for/in Argentina - just at a higher cost currently. So one conclusion could be: instead of you get what you pay for, you don't get what you don't pay for. One of the solid things that holds the RE industry together in Argentina, as Michael Koh of ApartmentsBa has pointed out, is the fact that every single transaction must go through a local lawyer (escribano)., and make sure a good one is used for a clean deal no matter how much you over or under paid. wrote:
Argentina is great but the way they do business here is criminal.
My response is:
It’s not true that “they” do business in a “criminal way”.
It is true that there is more of a concentration of unethical business folks in BA than average – perhaps partly due to the ½ the country lives in BA, and maybe 55% to maybe 70% or more of the real brain power of the country resides in BA.
Add that to many business and regular local people being ripped off to the max over the years, not to mention the downright broad daylight in-your-face shakedown of 2001.
There is no way all the business folk there perform unethically – I have met and dealt with many ethical and unethical business people for years in Argentina, and also dealt with scum from the East Coast to the West coast of the US, and other countries also. There are some very, very fine people in Argentina. Surely the RE industry in the state that it is, floats some riff raff in your face every week..maybe more than other industries? By the way your logic on Recoleta steadiness is dead on in my opinion.

6/06/2005 02:25:00 AM  
Blogger ABA said...


The term "criminal" is more an expression of speech we use in the USA. Seriously though, I love Argentina but this is one of the most difficult places in the world to do business. Any honest, knowledgeable Porteno will admit the same thing.

Below I'm cutting and pasting something I posted on another website.

I'm NOT saying that ALL locals are unethical or dishonest. I WILL say that I come from a Fortune 500 background and have conducted business with some of the best companies in the world. I will repeat that the way the majority of businesses operate here is very shady. These companies would go backrupt in the USA or UK or most civilized countries.


I am an American and I moved to Argentina last year. I came down over the course of 3 years 15+ times before I moved here permanently. I find the Porteños very educated and friendly. However, it is a totally different world being in a city like Buenos Aires as a tourist and another living here and operating as a business.

Before moving down to Argentina, I read that Transparency International, which is a well respected organization listed Argentina as one of the most corrupt countries in the world to do business in. I thought to myself there had to be a mistake. Why would they write this about a country I loved so much. How could Argentina be grouped with countries like Libya, Ethiopia, Kenya, Angola and the Congo??

Let me tell you something. After living down here and doing business with these locals I can tell you that I'm surprised Argentina isn't ranked further down the list. It is sad to say but the way many businesses here do business is almost criminal. The truly shocking thing is most businesses have done business like this for so long --this is all normal to them. They don't know another way to do business. The Porteños always try to compare themselves to their European descendents but from a business perspective they have more in common with African nations like the Congo, Angola and Ethiopia.

There is no sense of ethics or loyalty for the most part. There are exceptions to the rule but many locals try to extract as much as they can out of the first/only transaction. They try to make as much as they can in the beginning and they don't worry about a longer term mutually beneficial relationship in the future down the road. This is perhaps the biggest challenge I have doing business here.

The reality is that the vast majority of companies here in Argentina would be bankrupt or go out of business in as little as 2-3 months in the USA or the UK. In the United States companies that operate like this quickly go under and are replaced by companies that are organized, ethical and offer good customer service and strong relationships with clients that last for years. That is very rare here. Many companies here think they are doing you a favor by spending money with them or giving them your business. They are so short sighted here. It's truly unbelievable.

Many savoy and intelligent businessmen and women have emigrated to the United States and Europe because they could not do business in their own country. Not only do they not trust the government but they don't trust one another. Family fortunes have been made but then lost due to rapidly changing laws, market conditions or outright theft. It is scary to think about but it is not like the United States. There are not stories after stories of how people made fortunes. There are far more tales of how people lost their shirts. One successful Porteño, named Roberto, who owns and administers emigrated to the US emailed me the following, "Argentina, for the most part, is the closest thing to the wild west anywhere, aside from some African countries. And chances are it will forever remain like
this, in between short periods of calmness." I couldn't agree with his statement more.

Many locals are blind to this type of behavior and they believe this is how business is done all over the world. The Porteños that have studied or worked abroad in the USA, UK, Asia or other parts of the world recognize this defect of their own country. My doctors, attorneys, accountants and friends all studied or worked abroad so they understand how difficult it is in their country. Many meetings I go to on a daily basis the locals apologize ahead of time for the system here in Argentina.

However, this kind of behavior is exactly what has caused my company to grow so quickly. Americans and Europeans don't like doing business in this fashion. Individuals and investors that are flocking to Argentina do not trust the locals (for good reason) so they have hired me and my company as a consultant to assist them. It takes more than a good idea to evolve and create a viable business here in Argentina. It takes capital but it takes a good knowledge of the kind of business environment that is in place here. Many foreigners pack up and go home very quickly because they are not accustomed to working like this. They were not educated on how slow the system is here and how much red tape there is. They have never before operated in an environment where there is no loyalty, ethics or professionalism.

Those with a solid business background that have operated in the USA/UK/Europe/Asia, that have a good education and understand business and long term relationships, and are well funded are going to become dominent leaders in their respective fields here in Argentina. The key is having a realistic expection before you come of what the business environment is like. There are many opportunities in Argentina for a foreigner with a good head on their shoulders and a good business plan. There is no hope of coming to Argentina and getting ahead by being an employee. You MUST start your own business here to thrive.

While I am fully aware that it is impossible to change the system on a massive scale, my goal is to create businesses and help others create businesses that will fundamentally help change the business community in Argentina. Since the dawn of time -- no matter how much corruption there was in a society, companies with a solid business model that operated efficiently and properly and were well funded, not only excelled but they caused other companies to rise to the occassion.

6/06/2005 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger ABA said...

Oh last thing. People always make excuses here in Argentina for why people act the way they do. For me, I think like El Expatriado. There is right and there is wrong.

No one needs to make an excuse. It doesn't matter if you have been cheated in the past. How can you complain on one hand about being cheated yet do the same thing to someone else. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Unfortunately, many people here have been cheated and lied to and are cheating and lying so long that this is all normal for them.

There IS title insurance and there ARE mortgages here but they are just pricey. Honestly, if you have a great attorney you don't need title insurance. One thing that is surprisingly very stable is the title system here in Argentina. If you have a great lawyer than you will be fine.

As I mentioned before... it's not as easy a process as people would think buying property. There are many, many, many ways to get cheated. I'm starting to get locals paying my normal consulting fees to help them buy in their own city!! Imagine, a Porteno paying an American to help them properly buy residential property in a city they lived in all their life. This should tell you everything you need to know.

Good luck all. Keep the faith.

6/06/2005 10:39:00 PM  
Blogger said...

Sorry if I implied that you were not using a common expression in the US, many Argentine readers of this blog may not have truly understood this.

I am not disputing that there are corruption problems in Argentina. The Transparency International report clearly reminds us all that this is a widespread problem throughout the world. Argentines have been through an extremely tough time over the last 30 years and are severely jaded. Responses from Argentines on formal surveys or informal conversation are full of obvious reference to the "criminals" that have taken their money. If one looks at the Transparency report closer, there are many factors that are taken into to account. I'm surprised the USA is not down farther down on the list with all the rampant issues it has. But, it's the survey responses so I don't put a lot of stock in it. You have done an excellent job of identifying some core problems with the RE industry in BA. It is clearly one of the more corrupt sectors of the economy. On one hand I don't blame you for expressing what you have said. Remember, you first impression of the country was after one of the most demoralizing experiences a country can ever have (2001). People like Roberto of, and most locals are severely jaded, and one can't blame them, although I believe their remarks are a bit exaggerated. I have also heard many locals bash themselves and their government for years, and for good reason. On the other hand over the last 23 years I have met and dealt with very hard working, good ethical businessmen and businesswomen in Argentina. I am of the strong belief that Argentina will be one of the best places to live in the world in the future. It will take continued hard work , adjustments, and persistence by it’s inhabitants, and proper "adjustments" by people like you, the guy that runs this blog, and other people, including me, who always try to do things the proper way. I constantly remind myself that there are political and social consequences of trying to make such quick and radical changes, so I try my best to tread lightly but act firmly.

Regarding Title Insurance, yes it is available for Argentina and it is my opinion to get it whenever one can, no matter what country it is, to cover ALL the risks, especially in the counties (where available) on the bottom half of that Transparency list.

The best mortgages deals are currently run 20 years at aprox 9%, so not cheap compared to the current USA situation..

Keep up the excellent work and good luck.

6/07/2005 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger ABA said...


You make a lot of great comments. My days/nights are extremely busy but email me sometime and we can have a coffee or "break bread" and talk about Argentina.

EVERY country has problems. I'm not disputing that. The USA has a ton of problems that would take a long time to go into. Still, the business community is stable there.

There ARE good businessmen and women here. Granted, they are tough to find sometimes but they do exist here.

I agree with you that Argentina has so much potential. Remember that traveled all around the world and I chose to live in Argentina... not Paris, London, Italy, Brazil, Prague, or Switzerland. There was a reason for that. I firmly believe that Argentina has one of the highest qualities of life than anywhere in the world I have been. The people are wonderful here with big hearts, the food is excellent and the women are some of the most beautiful out of any place in the world I have been (and I have been to alot -- 47 international trips in 3 years).

My heart is in Argentina and I see myself living here the rest of my life. I'll have residency status later this month and am a temporary resident for now.

My point wasn't to bash Argentina. It was simply to inform others on the conditions here for doing business.

God bless Argentina.

6/07/2005 08:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the most beutiful woman I know is right here in Nevada''and wouldnt youknow she is a babe from Porteno'ville!!!jajaja

6/17/2005 02:37:00 AM  
Blogger horace2005 said...

Corruption is the way of life here. There are few exceptions. To protect yourself, assume that everyone is out to cheat you. It's very often the case. Argentines like to say that there is corruption everywhere in the world (a way of trying to rationalize the mess they have created). There are some nice things here but on the whole this is a self-centered and immature society. The sooner you catch onto this, the better. Understanding and accepting this basic reality will make life easier.

7/03/2005 11:09:00 PM  

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