Bodie Kellogg Opinion
Mexican real estate: minefield of unregulated commerce. Mexican real estate: minefield of unregulated commerce.

The adventures of a gringo home inspector

A common device is a showerhead better called a 'hydraulically actuated rain of death'

When I relocated my life to Mexico with only the shell fragments of my modest nest egg I knew I would eventually need to generate a few extra pesos to sustain my high-quality lifestyle, even though I had retired.

Plus, swilling cerveza and feasting on shrimp would only hold my interest for several months or so.

After a year of acclimation, during which I watched buyers from the States and Canada gobble up real estate at a level which seemed insatiable, I spotted a niche. After speaking with a number of realtors, I found that no one was offering a comprehensive home inspection report.

Of course, there were a few Mexican architects or engineers who would walk through a house and assure the nervous buyers that the structure would not spontaneously combust or collapse, but there was nothing available which was in depth, and certainly not in writing.

To most North American buyers, Mexican real estate is a minefield of unregulated commerce with the potential to part you from your money quicker than a crooked casino. And a part of that minefield is the total lack of any meaningful disclosure as to the actual condition of the property or any issues arising from it.

Since there are no building codes, no inspectors, no properly licensed contractors or subcontractors, any structure built in Mexico can be plagued with numerous maladies, or not — but how do you know?

With four decades in the construction industry I knew I could provide a valuable service for gringos buying in Mexico. The major problem I faced was that the real estate salespeople did not want a home inspector to kill their potential sales.

Since home inspections are not required by law who wants to open that can of worms? The key to getting this enterprise up and running was to convince the salespeople that I was not the enemy and that I could provide positive feedback to the seller.

Of course, north of the border there are laws that govern the actions of home inspectors, which only allow them to provide a detailed list of discrepancies, and never, under any circumstances, divulge information or advice on correcting the problem.

Since Mexico has no pesky regulations restricting the actions of anyone, well hardly anyone, especially home inspectors, I could provide the buyers with solutions to problems outlined in the report. What a bonus!

For example, if I found a problem in an electrical service I could give the buyer detailed instructions on the correction. That way they would not have to trust an electrician who may or may not know what he is doing. In addition, at the end of my written reports, I carefully explained, in detail, how property in Mexico is mostly sold as is, with no guarantees.

This proclamation from an independent source helped to strengthen the relationship between the salespeople and prospective buyers. Therefore, with my strategies intact and the tools of my new trade collected and tested, I was ready to play my part in the Great Mexican Real Estate Boom of the Early 21st Century.

In the inaugural months of my new operation I was continually dazed, often actually stupefied, by what I was finding in both new construction, as well as the 150-year-old relics.

While having a few beers with the boys I raised the theory that a gringo building inspector should never retire to Mexico because the looming specter that some type of code violation would always be staring him in the face, no matter where he went, would be too disconcerting to contemplate.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of excessive government regulation, but a few rules in support of basic health and safety can be beneficial to all.

A favorite device that kept popping up was a high-voltage, electrical water heating showerhead, which I referred to in my written report as the “hydraulically actuated rain of death.” I came across the 120-volt model quite often, and the much older 240-volt models were sometimes found in the older homes.

The difference between the two is that the 120-volt model could knock you on your ass, but if the 240-volt model malfunctioned it would cook you like a Christmas turkey. The most common problem with these lethal devices is the lack of a properly bonded ground connection.

I did an inspection on a place in town that had been continuously occupied for the last 157 years and the owner claimed everything worked just fine. In the course of the inspection I noted the entire upstairs was ancient knob-and-tube wiring with lever style disconnects, each with a glass fuse, which were being used as light switches.

When I got to the upstairs bathroom I noted the high-voltage showerhead was accompanied by its own lever style disconnect switch conveniently located next to the shower control valve. Having 240 volts in a rusty steel box, within easy reach while under the shower, conjured visions of Larry, Moe and Curly in a smoldering heap.

To top it all off, as I opened the disconnect box I felt a slight tingle of voltage. Each time I touched it, in fact. I checked it with the electrical meter and found it to be hemorrhaging 17 volts between the rusty box and any handy ground, including myself.

Just when I thought it could not get any worse I noticed the two fuse sockets were devoid of fuses, and instead held Mexican coins that dated to the 50s. Moreover, the vile contraption had no ground whatsoever.

When questioned about the coins, the older woman who was selling the house told me her father put them in many years ago because the fuses kept blowing, and they were expensive back then. She went on to explain that no one had used that shower in a long time because the shower downstairs had much more water pressure.

Whenever I think back on this incident, I have to wonder if a life was saved because of a gravity flow water system.

This, then, is the first installment of the series “The Joy of Construction in Mexico,” which will chronicle my journey from home inspector to reluctant contractor and the various quagmires traversed in the process.

Bodie Kellogg 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. If you wish to give him cold beer, large sacks of money or a piece of your mind, he can be reached at buscardero@yahoo.com.

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