The Expat a Year Later… Buying a House
A lot has happened since I wrote the last two ex-pat trip reports. It’s a year later now and I’ve made the jump and bought a house in PV.
Some of the trip reports that I had filed in this last year were lost when the VallartaScene board where I was publishing these reports was hacked in the spring, and so many things have changed for me, mentally and physically, that playing catch-up is almost an impossible task.
I had rented an apartment for a year to see how I would adapt to life in Mexico and to see if this was the place I really wanted to be. It is.
I’ve flown back and forth from San Francisco to PV at least once a month during this last year because I still had to work up in California. I felt a lot like some of the kids I’ve met here who cross the Northern border for a few months to a year to make enough money to get by down here for an equal amount of time. I admire their persistence and ingenuity and bravery for heading off to a foreign country to earn extra money for their families.
I get lonely when I’m down here alone, away from my family for even a couple of weeks, so I can imagine how they must feel being away in a strange land for months.
A little background: I’m 60 years old. I’ve rarely had a ‘normal’ job, mostly being self-employed as a treasure hunter, smuggler, graphic artist or ethnobotanist for at least 40 of those 60 years.
I probably won’t get US Social Security because I’ve never really been in the system. I’ve lived most of my years in the US but did not really participate in it. In some ways, this makes it easier to move to a different culture: If you don’t feel like you’re part of your birth culture, it’s a lot easier to fit into others, or at least to know how to navigate them.
I like Mexico. The people here are a lot like the people I was raised with in San Jose, California. I lived in the East Side of San Jose, which was back then the Mexican ghetto of the area. All of my neighbors and school friends were Mexican. I never learned how to speak Spanish, tho, because all of my friends from back then didn’t want to speak their parent’s language. They were ashamed of their culture. God, I see so many parallels between them then and me now.
It’s been about 3 years since I knew I was leaving the US. I became so totally disillusioned and disappointed in the Iraq war and with the corruption of the US government and the cowardly behavior of the citizens who went along with every insane proclamation of their President, that I couldn’t stand being called an “American” any longer. I know this is an extreme reaction and not all that common, and everyone has their own reasons for emigrating, and this is one of mine. Emigration is not a simple matter if it’s voluntary. I have many reasons for leaving. I have many reasons for arriving.
I also like the weather, the food, the land and sea and the people. There’s a spirit here that resonates with mine. Part of this is because I have always been on the outskirts of the law and part of it is because I share a lot of the same basic values and world-view. The major value I don’t share with a large number of people here is religion, but I do share some of the spirituality behind that religion. On a shallow level, I love the churches with the candles, sculptures and stained glass windows. On a political level, the only religious leaders I’ve ever seen that had any balls (or guts) were certain Catholic priests and nuns who stood up to the injustices they saw. Many gave their lives. Most preachers of other religions just promote the status quo.
So, that was the background.
For a year (off and on) I lived in a rented apartment on Aquiles Serdan in Old Town Vallarta. Friends came down from the States to visit. I made friends here. I began thinking of selling my house up in California and my business and setting up a permanent home here. With each trip it became harder and harder to get on that plane heading back to the States. I was getting very depressed when I was there. It was obvious to my family and friends that my life was over up north. All I thought about was what I was doing down here.
So I started looking for a place to buy.
Everything is for sale here in PV so finding places wasn’t hard. Finding a place that I could afford and liked was.
Lots of people are buying places, fixing them up, and selling them to gringos for grossly exaggerated prices. Any place that has stucco on the whole of the outside of the building and a cutesy “Casa —“ plague on the doorway probably fits into this category. Gringos like smooth stucco, one contractor told me, “It fits their fantasy of what Mexico should look like.”
The only requirements I had for a house was that it either be near the beach or the river. And I wanted a multiple story house because I had fallen in love with the roof-top terrace on the place I had rented. The multiple story requirement is easy in Mexico because most city houses are built that way or at least have rebar columns sticking up above the roof in anticipation of skyward movement.
The requirement of being near water is more difficult (expensive). The place I chose was on the River Cuale, but upstream in Colonia Buenos Aires. I had been told to avoid that area because of the crack heads, etc, but I usually take those types of warnings with a grain of salt. I’ve been called derogatory terms like that many times, myself, and I know what it means: People who are not friendly to or similar to the ‘normal’ people of the area. As it turned out, I haven’t seen any more dopers here than in other parts of town. Somebody must have been hallucinating.
I bought a fixer-upper for $50k (US) from a guy who was getting divorced and kept putting the house on and off the market. There seems to be a tendency here in PV for the owners of houses to not be sure that what they are offered is enough. They’ve been ripped off by gringos and landlords for too long to trust any offer and they are afraid of being ripped off again.
Finally Sergio signed the papers. I don’t know if I ripped him off or not. I just didn’t have more to spend and his was the only house in my price range with enough of the features that I wanted.
The things wrong with the house are that it’s on a main street (traffic sounds) and it had a leaking roof and a second story that wasn’t completed. Sergio was in the midst of remodeling the house so there were a lot of unfinished “concepts” but I had my own concepts that would overshadow his.
The bottom floor is livable, but I wanted height. I had to buy furniture and appliances and spent a couple of weeks running around comparing prices and finally settled on the place that seems to advertise the most, Mueblas Blanquita (a note from the future: this store does not honor guarantees without a great deal of force being applied), on the street behind Leys Grocery Store. They have a good selection of appliances and their cash price is lower than even WalMart, plus they deliver immediately for free.
Did I forget to mention that I don’t speak Spanish? This is a handicap, for sure. I’m learning, but things are difficult at this stage.
I decided to start immediately on adding a third floor to the house and I hired Guy the Orchid Guy to be my contractor and translator. So far, it’s working out great. He’s gotten the architect to draw up plans and we’re supposed to pick the building permit up on Monday. We were supposed to pick it up last Friday, but that didn’t work out… Hope Monday works.
The architect that Guy hired also happens to work in the building permit office, so that was a plus. The architect charged 4000 pesos for the plans and the permit, itself, was 500 pesos. I’m putting prices in here just to show approximate costs. This project isn’t finished yet, so maybe if things work out well, people may be able to get some help from it and if they don’t work out well, maybe they’ll get even more help.
The cost that I hadn’t expected in buying a house was almost $7000 (US) for the notary and bank charges. This still seems excessive to me and if I buy something else here, I’d look for a different notary and bank. I still don’t have the paperwork from the bank for the place, but most people say that this just takes time. Seems like a long time, tho. It’s been 4 months since I paid for the place. Maybe this is where I get screwed. Or maybe it’s just where I slip into gringo impatience.
Guy has also arranged for the workers for the construction and they’ll start as soon as the permit is in our hands. He also priced materials and will arrange for delivery as needed. I feel a tad like a babe in the woods here, but with my alien inclinations, I have no choice but to trust someone local. Guy has also helped in getting the phone installed and in getting the electricity and water changed over to my name. There were technicalities like the wrong address on the electric company’s bill that had to be fixed. Patience has worked well with problems so far.
I hope I’m not jumping the gun here.
I intend to continue these reports on a regular basis as things progress.