Looking for the perfect house for you and your family is never easy, and even harder when that house is in a foreign country. The process can be confusing and stressful or it can be an enjoyable and educational experience. It depends both on your ability to plan and on the quality of advice and information that you gather along the way.
One of the reasons so many people are moving to Merida is that Merida provides so many lifestyle choices. You can live on the Yucatan Gulf Coast in a beach house, in the historic centro in a restored colonial made of stone, in a mid-century “retro” home in the suburbs or in a modern home in one of the many new residential areas in north Merida. You can live in a golf club community or a modern housing development, or even in a Mayan village in the countryside. You can choose a condominium, an apartment or a single-family home.
Most of the expatriates who have moved to Merida so far have chosen to live in the centro historico of the city. They are attracted to the authenticity of the building materials, the historic and graceful architecture and the potential for developing something abandoned or forgotten into something beautiful. Colonial homes in the centro can still be purchased for under $100,000 USD and renovated into glorious homes that combine old and new. Original materials and techniques are still available for reasonable prices here in Merida, so buildings can have stone walls finished by hand in natural-colored stucco or polished cement, colorful floor and kitchen tiles, and hand-carved stone elements without breaking the bank. Most renovations are still done entirely by hand with very little use of machinery, a process that appeals to many norteamericanos who are escaping the consumerism and manufactured life of the 21st Century.
Before deciding which areas and which home is right for you, it is important to go through a mental checklist. There are so many choices here and without a rational approach, it is easy to get confused.
Here is our suggestion for a rudimentary checklist when looking to buy a home in Merida:
1. Think about the environment where you´d like to live. Location is everything in real estate. Do you want to be near modern grocery stores or local mercados? What do you want to be able to do within walking distance of your home? Is it important to have neighbors that speak your language? Or do you want to immerse yourself in local culture? Do you need to be able to park on the street? Or do you want to live where you don’t need a car? Even the perfect home can be a mistake if it is in an undesirable location, so choose your location wisely.
2. Once you have chosen the general area, do some research about home prices in that area by looking at the many real estate websites for Merida and the Yucatan. Drive around the neighborhood where you want to live and see if there are homes for sale trato directo (for sale by owner). Call and find out those prices too, and see the houses if you can. The more you know about the general price structure in your neighborhood, the better you will be able to spot a deal or negotiate for a good price. If you’re lucky, you won’t be in a hurry and you can gather this information over a period of time, gaining perspective that will be valuable later on.
3. Write down the basic requirements that you need in a house: How many bedrooms? How many bathrooms? Single-story or two stories? Do you require a swimming pool? A large yard? Having a short list of specifications that are important to you will help you to focus and save time in your search. This list will also be helpful for your realtor in planning the houses that you will visit.
4. Another important point is to determine how much house you can afford. Most homes in this part of the world are bought for cash; mortgages are not common and are difficult and time-consuming to obtain, even for those with great credit ratings. Mortgages that are available from Mexican financial institutions come with extremely high interest rates (20 percent and above) and are generally out of the question for Americans and Canadians.
5. If you are going to renovate your home, be sure to have a fairly specific idea of how much you can spend and keep it in mind when you are looking at fixer-uppers. Your real estate agent will usually tell you that renovations are inexpensive… and they can be. But they can also run into more money than you planned, so if you find a house you want, it would be wise to check with an architect or contractor to get their opinion on renovation costs. Yucatan Expatriate Services can put you in touch with a professional who can assess the changes that you want to make and give you a rough estimate based on the local costs of materials and labor.
6. Choose a realtor and stick with him or her. A good realtor is the one who will look after your interests and is not only focused on making the sale. In Merida, even though there is not yet an MLS system, any realtor can show almost any house. We recommend you check references and then choose a realtor that you enjoy spending time with and whose opinions you trust. It is tempting to work with multiple agents, but in the end it is confusing and wastes somebody’s time. Yucatan Expatriate Services can guide you in your house hunting endeavors, but we are not realtors and we do not work with any specific realtor. We also do not ask for or accept finder’s fees for real estate sales. As independent consultants, we can help you find a realtor who will fit your needs and will be familiar with available homes that are within your budget.
5. Do your best to be organized in your search. Take photos of the houses when you are visiting them, and take notes after each one. When you are looking at a lot of houses, it is easy to get confused and to forget important things. Make a list of questions that you want to know about each house. Be sure to ask about maintenance and utility costs and write down the answers, as these costs are important in the whole picture of home ownership.
6. Understand how things work here. Under Mexican law, a foreigner may not purchase outright any land that is within 30 kilometers of a border or a shoreline. That law applies to most of Merida and the Yucatan Gulf Coast. There are some colonial cities in the center of the state of Yucatan that are not governed under that rule. Educate yourself about the proper way to buy land, which is in a bank trust called a fideicomiso. Be sure to include the costs of the fideicomiso (one time costs and recurring costs) when you are figuring your housing budget.
7. Work with professionals. There are many professional real estate agents, lawyers, insurance agents and others here in the Yucatan who can help you make a home purchase in a way that avoids problems in the future. Check references and work with someone you trust. If you don’t speak Spanish, work with someone who speaks English or bring along a translator to interpret for you. By law, fideicomiso documents in Mexico must be written in Spanish but MUST be translated into English for an English-speaking buyer. Many other processes and documents are not protected by that particular law, but you can still ensure that you understand what is going on by hiring the right people. Mexico is governed by rules and laws and if you work with the right people, those laws will protect and help you in your endeavors.
With the right preparation and guidance, buying a home in the Yucatan can be an enjoyable and fruitful experience. Yucatan Expatriate Services provides professional assistance and can guide you through this process with all our knowledge, understanding and connections, based on years of living in the Yucatan as well as our experience and education as accountants, lawyers and business owners. We can simplify the process of finding and buying a home here in the Yucatan, helping you avoid costly mistakes and helping you to maximize your real estate investment in Mexico.