While The Captured Tourist Woman (TCTW) and I continue to seek prices from contractors for our time and materials project, I have been pondering the history of the wider process of start to finish of what one day will be our Refugio de Olas Altas.
Purchasing a home in Mexico is not always a straightforward process, and if the property is in the restricted zone a foreign buyer can never get an actual title in the same way as it’s thought of in the first world.
The restricted zone is 100 kilometers from any border and 50 kilometers from any coastline. Foreign buyers within the zone must purchase through a trust instrument known as a fideicomiso. The bank holds the deed while granting most of the benefits of property ownership to the foreign buyer.
Having a bank hold title may seem a bit unconventional for those who live north of the border, but the process of generating the bank trust often turns out to be the least complex of the many and complicated machinations required to own property in a Mexican beach town.
My decade of experience as a contractor here had allowed me to see first-hand some of the horror stories about the purchase of Mexican real estate; they would rival those written by Stephen King. So, after living in Mexico a number of years, our present venture into Mexican real estate was cautious and very calculated.
TCTW and I had toyed over the years with the idea of purchasing a home here in Mazatlán. But our rent was quite reasonable, we had a great home in an excellent location with both city and ocean views, and off-street parking for both vehicles.
Good sense told us to leave things as they were. Plus, we had an excellent onshore breeze where we were, which helped to keep us cool in the warmer months.
Then one day a couple of years ago, when returning from a bike ride, I noticed a very new BMW with Jalisco plates parked close to our house. Arriving home, I went upstairs and looked across the large vacant parcel of land between us and the ocean.
There I saw two nicely dressed, 30-something men, pacing and gesturing, mostly towards the water, both with rolled up plans under their arms. I pointed this out to TCTW who responded with the kind of thunderous exclamation which sometimes gets attention in the local bars: “Oh, bugger!” She is an Australian so she often talks this way.
It wasn’t only that the (obviously planned) new construction would likely block a portion of our ocean view. It was also the thought of the dust clouds that would be carried into our drafty Mexican house by the excellent onshore breeze.
After contemplating for mere seconds the disaster that was about to befall us, I said “I think there might be a place for sale on the other hill, in an iconic position overlooking the bay of centro histórico, easy walking distance to all that’s fun in a cool Mexican city, and of course the view would be spectacular. “I’ll go check it out.”
My words piqued the interest of TCTW. To cut to the chase, I looked a few times, we made an offer and the game was on. Well, the word “game” implies some element of amusement or at least enjoyment.
Perhaps a better indication of our overall state of mind would be a constant sense of apprehension scratching at the recesses of the mind. The thought that the whole thing could go south at any moment, from some trivial, unknown, unexpected cultural or legal snafu was unsettling at best.
Instead of just choosing a notario, we researched and found a notario who also received one of his law degrees from Columbia University in New York. From time to time he litigated when things went wrong with sales or purchases, so he seemed to have built up a good knowledge of traps that could be avoided.
Since TCTW was a practicing attorney in her previous life and still thirsts for legal knowledge about anything she touches, she was confident he had a solid understanding of notarial practice, and both the law as well as all the vagaries of buying real estate in Mexico. He also turned out to be a negotiator extraordinaire.
Our first meeting with the sellers established the price of the property in pesos and the ensuing four meetings, which took place over the next month, hammered out the details — lots of details. Sitting across from us at the conference table during these meetings were four members of the family — three men and a woman, sellers of the property.
They happened to be one attorney, one accountant, one notario, and a real estate agent. So, along with TCTW and our notario/attorney, I was at a table that represented probably close to 25 years of relevant higher education, not to mention the levels of varying expertise.
I didn’t actually feel daunted, but I thought it best to simply smile and nod at the appropriate times while saying nothing, while of course ensuring TCTW and the others knew she had my support on all her points of view.
We knew early on that the original owner’s estate had not been probated since his death more than five years before. We learned during negotiations that his wife had also died and her estate had never been probated either.
In wealthy Mexican families this is fairly standard so we weren’t put off, but we did know it would probably take a number of years for the court proceedings to complete before the usual Mexican sale hijinks could even begin. Of course we had heard many horror stories about dead owners with dead relatives and probates that involved squabbling relatives, situations which took years to resolve if ever; this was not encouraging information.
But by now, we were committed, we weren’t going to walk away from a great house in such a fantastic location. At the heart of the deal, which was finally and amicably hammered out, was a binding agreement in which no cash was expended by us, and which allowed us occupancy of the property after six months if the deal was at that time not yet able to progress because of the probate proceedings.
It was during this six-month period we learned of a third probate which was also required to be completed prior to the sale. Needless to say, at the end of the six months we were in the house and getting interesting tidbits from time to time from the lawyer on the particular steps attained and obstacles overcome, along the way to the granting of the probates.
While we came closer to real ownership over 22 months, sizeable concrete pieces of the house were engaged, increasingly, in a losing battle with gravity. Our dread of the deal falling apart for any number of reasons was only exceeded by our dread of being maimed or killed by falling plaster and concrete.
In accordance with our concerns within a day of moving in, we closely scrutinized the severe cracks infecting the second-floor balcony, and we christened it The Balcony of Slow Death. The cantilevered shade structure above that balcony was named The Concrete Awning of Instant Death.
The first instance of a near-death experience from The Concrete Awning of Instant Death happened while I was heating up my barbecue in the only place it could be on the second floor, in a corner of The Balcony of Slow Death.
When I stepped back into the house to acquire another adult beverage, I heard a thunderous crash and felt a small shock wave ripple through the floor as 60 or 70 kilograms of concrete had detached itself from the shade structure and landed directly next to the barbecue at the spot where I stand while tending the barbecue! After several therapeutic shots of tequila, I ordered a pizza.
After waiting for almost two years, and constantly watching increasing numbers of pieces fall, the deal was finally consummated on January 18 this year, and we gave a collective sigh of relief. Soon the substantial building work could be begun. Of course we decided to celebrate with a night on the town.
In pursuit of that goal, we stepped out our door, and closed it firmly, not a slam mind you, but a firm close. This dislodged about 20 kilos of concrete from the eve of the parapet directly above us. Luckily we were chatting and moving slowly so we hadn’t gone far. Consequently the deadly missile which landed at our feet missed us by mere inches. Undaunted by the latest attempt by our house to kill us, we had an evening on the town with great food and a decent bottle of dago red.
And we’ve made a pact, that until the renovations are all done, that upon any occasion the house attempts to kill either one or both of us, we will celebrate, in similar fashion, foiling the grim reaper once again.
The writer describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.