House Hunters International in Ecuador: Answers to the Questions

(Blogger’s Note: The House Hunters International episode featuring our home buying experience in Ecuador will air this Thursday night at 9:30 Central on HGTV.)


Setting up living quarters in another country isn’t something you do every day. Dana and I always dreamed about it, but until about 18 months ago never knew if things would come together in such a way that we could actually pull it off. So because written communication is what I do, and is actually the way I process things mentally, we decided from Day 1 to take the unique experience and chronicle much of it on my blog so family and friends could take part, too.

The whole ordeal has made for some interesting conversation, and we get lots of questions almost every day about all sorts of things. People want to know what it was like to do what we did, and what it was like to be on the show.

house hunters international in ecuador

Our “realtor,” Joel Lewis, getting wired for sound in one of the three homes we toured on the show. The mother and daughter in the left background are from Australia, and are the actual residents of this home.

These are some of the questions we’re often asked, and the answers we give:

Q: Is House Hunters International real? I’ve read it’s fake.

A: The short answer is this: It’s television. HHI is a reality show, and in my opinion, an entertaining and educational one. The television medium has lots of restrictions. It’s not easy to convey a couple’s home buying experience on another continent in 22 minutes. So for the sake of television, concessions are made. No one in their right mind flies into a new country, looks at three houses in a day and decides to buy one at the end of the day. Our actual experience in deciding to build a home in Ecuador was a 10-day process, and I would never recommend anyone move as fast as we did because that’s very fast. Still, the producers worked very hard to replicate our experience as best they could, and I think the show will be an accurate reflection of what it’s like to buy a home in Puerto Cayo. It glosses over a lot of the hard stuff, and our experience in building a home and acclimating to a new culture posed some real challenges, but that’s not what the show’s about. Is House Hunters International real? It’s more real than most of the television you probably watch.

Q: What did you enjoy most about being on the show?

A: Dana and I became fans of HHI during a formative time in our marriage. In 2009, the economy and a few bad decisions forced the closure of my publishing business and a career that I loved. For the first time in my life, I was uninspired, very uncertain about the future and pretty depressed. There were many nights when we’d watch the show, and for 30 minutes I’d be rescued from that depression. HHI actually inspired me to dream again, and ultimately took our life, and our marriage, in a direction I never imagined. The day we learned we’d been chosen for the show, it felt like a victory over something that had been a very hard fight. So being on the show was very much a celebration of that victory.

One of my best Ecuadorian friends named Duver, was a huge help to me when he helped get our yard in shape just before the HHI crew arrived.

One of my best Ecuadorian friends named Duver, was a huge help to me when he helped get our yard in shape just before the HHI crew arrived.

Q: Have you seen the show yet?

A: No. We will see if for the first time when it airs.

Q: What is life like in Ecuador?

A: That’s a lot like asking what life is like in the United States. It depends on where you live. The coastal region where we built our home is not a tourist or expat destination as you might imagine. Ecuador is a wonderfully diverse country and life can be radically different depending on your locale. The Ecuadorian coast is actually very rural, and has a relatively poor economy. Locals make their living fishing, farming or making crafts. The infrastructure (roads, utilities and other basic services) is in its infancy. We’ve driven lots of gravel roads, and became accustomed to very sporadic electric service. I think many times people believed we were sipping pina coladas by a pool every day, and nothing could be further from the truth. Latin America is not for everyone.

Q: So why would you want a home thousands of miles away in a place like that?

A: Many reasons. First of all, because it is the education of a lifetime. Learning to live a new way, and making friends in a different culture is riskiest, and most educational thing I’ve ever done. Dana and I are never more alive than when we are pushing our comfort zones in Ecuador. Secondly, it gives me an entirely different perspective on my writing, and our lives in general. And finally, even though the economy is still very much emerging and developing, we are going to see unbelievable opportunity on the Ecuadorian coast over the next 15 years. I want to see that, and be part of it.

Q: What do you do when you’re there?

A: Mostly, I write a lot and take a lot of photos. Travel and major changes of environment really inspire my writing. But when we’re there, the culture forces us to slow down a lot, and that’s another reason we enjoy it. We spend a lot of time visiting with local friends, sharing new experiences and we learn something new almost every day.

Q: How did you find a realtor?

A: We didn’t. There are some people who call themselves realtors in Ecuador, but most have no formal training or licensing credentials, and a good number of them are fairly corrupt. Not all, just most. Dana and I conducted our search on our own which made the learning curve even higher.

One thing we learned in South America, was not to freak out over creatures like this monster I found on our front porch. Those clampers could take a finger off.

One thing we learned in South America, was not to freak out over creatures like this monster I found on our front porch. Those clampers could take a finger off.

Q: Is it safe in Ecuador?

A: In the US, I think we unfortunately stereotype Latin America to be unsafe. I’ve never been fearful in Ecuador, but I also always use a lot of common sense, and am very respectful of the culture. Any international traveler I’ve ever visited with said the media almost always paints a darker picture than that which really exists, and that’s true all over the world. Ecuador is quite safe.

Q: Biggest challenges?

A: (1) Driving in the big cities is madness. Crazy madness. If you don’t have nerves of steel, avoid it. (2) Always remembering that even though I’m a property owner there, I’m still a guest. This very much requires us to forget everything we think we know about right and wrong, take one day at a time, lose our judgmental nature, and laugh a lot. (3) Knowing that when someone in Ecuador says that something conforms to US standards, it will never be true. Only two or three people in Ecuador even know what US standards (especially in construction) mean. That’s partly joke, mostly truth.

Q: Biggest perk?

A: Gas prices regulated by the government at $1.48 per gallon. No contest.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

A: I think anyone who builds a home from the ground up knows what it is to have hindsight. We definitely made some mistakes. But do I regret even the most difficult experiences we had? No way. And I’m eager to see what future adventures are in store.

Q: What advice to you have for other people who are even remotely considering doing what you did?

A: (1) Do a lot of research, but understand that no amount of research can substitute an exploratory trip to wherever you may be considering. (2) It’s very easy to get into a mindset that you could never do something like this. Lose that mindset. Barriers are easier to overcome than you think. (3) If you are close to buying a new house in a foreign country, never, never, never close the deal until you personally witness how the property reacts to a heavy rain. Oh, the humanity.


14 thoughts on “House Hunters International in Ecuador: Answers to the Questions

  1. Reblogged this on MyWindow2theWorld and commented:
    in 2 more days, my husband and I will get to see our episode of House Hunters International filmed aobut 6 months ago….good news is, you can see it too!! airs on HGTV Thursday, Oct. 3 at 9:30 p.m. Central! Watch it and let us know what you think of Ecuador!!!

  2. Just watched the episode. I”m addicted to the show. Thank you for the Q&A. I like how you put things in to perspective. I”m making a big move to England (Not using HHI though) and it’s scary to go without a job lined up.

    Good luck to you in your adventure and I can’t wait to read more posts.

    • Hi Kristi. Thanks for your comments, and good luck on your move to England. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Anyone who has the courage to do what you are about to do will make it anywhere. I’ll share this quote with you. It’s one to which you’ll probably relate.

      “And those who were seen dancing, were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

      Remember that.

  3. I am getting ready to post our experiences with House Hunters International, and I came across your blog. Our episode airs on Nov. 7th. Your explanation of your experience was exactly what I want to post, too. It was a highlight of our lives on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. The crew was fantastic. I have always been a fan of HHI, but I was a little concerned when they contacted me, because we live in the campo fully immersed in a tiny all-Spanish speaking community. But, they focused on cultural immersion and included many of our local friends and neighbors in the shoot. I wish I could watch your episode…and ours. But, we don’t get HHI on our SKY satellite. Best wishes on your debut. I’ll have to try to find it online.

    • Thank you. Our show aired a week ago, and we were pleased. Our show included a manufactured conflict between Dana and I with her desire to be on the beach, and my focus on budget and a desire to be in town. We actually had no conflict at all, but alas that’s television. Plus, they really played up our Southern accents which I fully expected. I’m in the US now, and will be back in Ecuador when your show airs, but I’ll make sure we DVR it so I can watch. Hopefully, we’ll have a copy of ours up on YouTube soon. Thanks for dropping by. I’m also pretty sure I’ve come across your blog before. Vaya con Dios for now.

  4. Hello–I am curious…how does HHI choose people to be on the show? I have always wondered that..also, would you mind telling me in detail how to start a blog? I noticed on your episode you had a web page up of different bloggers in various countries–what site was that? Sorry for all the questions 🙂 Thanks for reading and good luck!

    • HHI selects people in different ways. They oftentimes scan the blogosphere for sites like ours, but that’s not how we were chosen. We were referred by a couple of friends who had previously been on the show. Asking someone how to start a blog in detail is a pretty big question. I use the WordPress platform which is probably the world’s largest, and is very user friendly. It’s what I’d suggest for any beginner.

  5. Steve. My partner and I are wanting to move to Puerto Cayo, and are considering opening a B&B, How do I find a realtor to contact to make an appointment on our exploratory trip? We are planning on coming in March 2014. Any help will be greatly appreciated. Is Joel a real realtor or an actor for the show? If he is a realtor, then we would like to use him. Thank you. Ron

    • Joel is not a realtor, he’s just an average guy who played the role of realtor. There are no “realtors” in Ecuador, at least as we might know them in the United States. I’d be very careful about anyone I enlisted to help me find property. I did all my searching and exploring myself. You say you are wanting to move to Puerto Cayo and open a B&B. Have you ever been there, or even to Latin America? If not, please understand that this part of the world is NOT for everyone. Personally, I think generating a stable income from a B&B in PC would be quite difficult. I’d highly recommend a minimum 3-week exploratory trip with no expectations so you can at least get some sense of the culture. I know many North Americans who pick up and move to Ecuador blind, or without proper research (because they are very mislead by the mainstream travel media) and find themselves very disappointed with what they find. Television can make places look MUCH more glamorous than they really are. On the other hand, Ecuador can be a very interesting life adventure for folks who have a certain personality type. You first need to explore, with zero expectations.

  6. I just saw your episode on HHI. I have spent time traveling in Mexico and Costa Rica. I relate to your warnings about moving to a place like that blind and buying a house in a rush. It is better to explore and learn. Rent before buying if you move to another country. Ask questions when you meet other Americans there. I have a friend who spends part of his time on a ranch in Ecuador. He can only stay there for 3 months at a time because of his visitor status.

    Steve, you bought a house on the HHI episode but in your comments on this site you keep talking about a new construction. Did you sell the house you bought? Then constructed a new one? I’m kind of confused on that point.

    Do you make living as a writer? Or do you still have business back in the United States?


    • Mike, sorry for my delayed response. Just remember HHI is a reality show. Everyone on the show already owns their home before they even apply to be on. We built our home and it was completed in December 2012. Three months later we applied to the show, and were accepted. Another five months later we were on the air. A great and fun experience. But yes, we built our home, and we still own it. I spend 9 months a year in the US and 3 months abroad. I’ve not earned a “full-time living” as a writer for about 5 years now, but am contemplating re-entering the writing world. Will be trekking the camino de santiago in Spain October-November and hope that re-instills come creative juices. Ciao for now. – sw

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