Buying a home in Mexico:
Are there any deals left?

For some Americans and Canadians, Mexico has been home sweet home for more than 20 years. These are the lucky few who got “in” before Mexico became mainstream. For all the others, myself included, we are only now looking at our neighbor south of the border, wondering if we could do it too. Last January, having read the New York Times article on Merida, I gathered some friends to discuss a purchase in the Yucatan. We considered buying a colonial home, renovating it, and flipping it.

Our little group was cautious and set a limit on how much could be spent. I went to Merida and looked around for a whole week, meeting with countless realtors, writing down phone numbers off “Se Vende” signs, and getting a feel for the place. In the end, I did find a home I liked, but it was at the 11th hour, and our attempts at buying it once back in the states were unsuccessful. It is hard to do business in Mexico, and probably in any other country for that matter, from thousands of miles away. What did we learn from this experience? Well, that we have several options if we want to buy in Mexico:

  1. find a reliable, trustworthy realtor
  2. take a chance on a home we haven't seen except on the Internet
  3. spend more time there until we make it happen.
Option #3 is not realistic as we all have day jobs in the US we can't quit to go live the life in Mexico, #2 & #3 are somewhat more feasible but even with a reliable, trustworthy realtor, and unless we travel there again, we will end up with #2, taking a chance on a home we haven't really seen. Keep in mind realtors will show you what they want, usually pictures of what looks good or promising in a house. If the home is next to a tire shop or some other non-residential thing, you will not see it in the picture. Same goes for homes located on bus routes, where most “bargains” are to be found.

So you get what you pay for is the #1 truth, especially in cities where there is little zoning, like Merida. A home on a quiet, pretty street, should and probably will cost more than one, even bigger, grander, on a street where diesel buses have long replaced horse-drawn carriages!

When I went to Merida, it took me weeks of research at home, followed by phone calls to make appointments, and one week in the field, to have some idea of what I was potentially getting into. I am no slacker when I am motivated and I must have put on hundreds of miles on the soles of my shoes during that time, looking at homes for sale in various cities, villages and neighborhoods. Five years ago, I might have found my dream home in a day. Today, I know it will take me longer and I will pay more. Other “gringos” have moved in and snatched the good deals. Does it mean nothing worthwhile can be had anymore? No, certainly not, but it will take longer and you may have to be happy with less than what you had in mind. Or you may have to look outside of the centro historico in Merida or the immediate beach area in Puerto Morelos or Playa del Carmen. That is if you are looking at saving money. Otherwise, there are lots of developers who will gladly sell you half-million dollar condos with ocean views.

Mexico is a big country and you should not limit yourselves to the obvious areas where most expatriates end up. Merida for example, has charming newer neighborhoods, where the Mexican gentry lives. These homes are sometimes cheaper than in the historic neighborhoods. A good realtor interested in a sale, should show you around until you find what you are looking for. But do spend some time alone, leave the car somewhere you like and walk around, get a feel for the neighborhood before you buy. See what the place is like at different times of day, rush-hour included. Is there a village life, do you see kids out in the streets after school, are the neighbors friendly, is it quiet? These are all questions you need to answer before making an offer on a home or lot.

Mexico, for the most part, does not have an MLS (Multiple Listing Service) but a good realtor will check his competitors listings to find what you are looking for. Spend time with different realtors to find out what they are like. After all, you are going go trust someone with a large sum of your money and you should know that person more than by talking on the phone and taking a tour of a few properties. Be demanding, albeit reasonable. Then educate yourself about the purchase process. Find out what a fideicomiso is, and why you need a notario, title insurance, and possibly a 3rd party escrow company.

First of all, do not despair or by the same token, dream of never-ending deals. There are deals left, especially considering what the same house would cost you in the US or Canada, but you must look for them. Once you do, you will get to live or own property in a beautiful, friendly country among people who bring smiles to most who meet them. Mexico has a lot to offer: modern health care, affordable living, great architecture, cultural activities, a relaxed lifestyle and lots of new people to meet. So learn a little Spanish, book your flight, and find a realtor to start with, and you could be on your way to your next great adventure in life!

Hervé Goujon is the owner of MiCasaInMexico, an independent educational tour company offering lifestyle and real estate tours to Merida, Playa del Carmen and the central Colonial cities of San Miguel, Queretaro and Guanajuato. He can be reached in the US at 877-283-4736. Please, let them know you read this article on Sac-Be and you'll receive a discount.

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