Monday, January 9, 2012

How To Buy a House in Merida

There is no question about it, a Merida house hunt is a heady experience.  Some approach it methodically, renting for six months to a year (or even longer) in an attempt to be sure that they have the right city and the right neighborhood.  Others come for the first time on vacation and leave with a purchase contract.  We fell somewhere in the middle, deciding to buy on our first trip but looking at multiple properties over the course of nearly a full year before we settled on ours.  There is no right or wrong just have to do what feels comfortable for you personally.

Others have posted good advice that was helpful to us, and so we thought that we would add a few of our own lessons to hopefully pay it forward and assist people who are starting their search now. 

Your long term plans may influence where you buy. 
Merida has multiple options among its barrios, and the one that you select can make a difference in ways that you might not have considered. Are you planning to stay for a few years or for decades?   Anyone who regularly peruses the listings will recognize that a well-priced property in Santa Anna's Gringo Gulch is easier to resell than a fixer-upper in San Cristobal, but if you are planning to stay a while then there are some truly spectacular properties south and east of the Plaza Grande in neighborhoods that are only just catching on with expats.  For the time being, the resale market in Centro is really primarily an expat market, so it is worth knowing where expats are more willing to buy.  If you are planning to stay on long-term, though, this is less important. 

Be realistic about how you will live in Merida.

A friend in Merida told us recently, "I had this picture that I wanted to walk to the main market every morning to buy fresh fruit for my breakfast and make a real change in my life, but the reality was that I just kept ending up in Costco so the house near the market turned out to not be the right one for me."  I suspect that his experience was not an unusual one, since most of us probably have our own romantic notions about how we will eat healthier, walk more, and generally be all-around better people when we live in Merida.

But it is unlikely that you will become a whole different person, so be realistic about what is important to you.  Some people would never be comfortable as the only expat on their block, and some will not be comfortable with anything less.  Are you best suited to the middle of Centro (the primary tourist district), the edges (which are more local), or the northern suburbs like Garcia Ginares or Colonia Mexico (closer to shopping, Starbucks, and some great new restaurants)?

Noise happens.

There is no question that life in Centro can be noisy, with frequent celebrations, fireworks, and lots and lots of buses.  There is a reason why realtors note that a property is "on a non-bus street." It is worth visiting a target property at different times and on different days to see just how busy your potential new block might be.  We didn't realize until a third visit that a property that we really liked only seemed quiet because our first two visits were on the weekend. 

Take lots of pictures, notes, and measurements.

They say that when you pack for vacation, you should pack what you think you need and then remove half of it.  The corollary for a Merida house hunt is that you should take all of the pictures that you think you need, and then take at least that many more.  Really.  Digital photos are cheap, and when you are sitting in your living room north of the border trying to remember what the tiles looked like in the front room, or whether there were wooden or metal vigas, or what the neighbors' houses looked like, you will only regret not taking extra shots.  If there are two of you looking, each of you should have a camera.  Likewise, even if you don't draw well, take a second to draw a rough plan of the room arrangement at the house that you see along with the location and the price(s) of the property, and if you think you are even marginally interested, take a few measurements of the primary spaces and jot them down too. 

They are not about to run out of houses in Centro.

Finally, be assured that they are not about to run out of houses for sale in Centro.  There was actually a point at which one of us (I won't say who) exclaimed, "but if we don't buy now, there might not be any houses left!"  Now, after several more trips where each day starts with a long walk through a new neighborhood, I realize how silly that concern was.  There is an enormous supply of properties in Centro, renovated and unrenovated, large and small, opulent and modest, colonial and modern.  They might not all be for sale now, but Centro is a long way from being stripped of its great opportunities.  There is no reason to rush or to push a square peg into a round hole.  The right house is there for is just a matter of finding it.

Our own hunt was full of ups and downs, excitement and disappointment.  But truth be told, I already miss the experience a little bit.  So take your time until you find just the right place (and the right price) that works for you.


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