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We consider buying a house in Mexicali

We enjoy driving around Mexicali, and we saw a very nice house for sale. It had bright “hacienda” colors, very tastefully done.

Rear garden with guest house

A pretty rear garden with a guest house

The house had a huge sign, naming the real estate company and its contact information.  I was very excited. This was in a quiet neighborhood.  The street had a couple of small mansion-like homes, and some shacks, next to them. This is very common in Mexico—modest shacks and small mansions sitting next to each other. For us, this is a good thing, as it brings all types of people together.

“Jim pull over here. I want to take a look inside this house. See, there is no front gate; we can walk in and ask!”

“Maryann, if there’s no one, we’re leaving,” said Jim.

“The house looks big,” said Matthew, leaning up against the window of our truck.

“Let’s go in,” I said.

We entered through the front door, which was to the left side of the house. Thru’ the window, we could see a guard sitting inside. He came out. ‘Jim spoke to him in Spanish, gave him 50 pesos, and we were allowed to walk around the house.

“Lookee, there’s no garage door, looks like it was ripped off and taken away,” said Matthew, pointing to the top of the entrance roof.

“That’s interesting,” I answered.

“Inside now…” said Jim in a hushed tone.

We entered into the living room; the dining room was to the left of the house, and behind it was the kitchen. The kitchen was just an empty space. All the appliances had been ripped out.

The bedrooms were at the back of the house, two small bedrooms were lined up behind each other, to the right, just behind the small living room.  There were two bathrooms, with showers.  We noticed that the sinks were removed as well as all the kitchen appliances.

“Hmmmm… I guessed there was no time for them there folks to remove the toilets,” said a stern-faced Jim.

“Jim, look, this is where the washer and dryer is, inside this house, now I am excited,” I said, with a big grin.

“Now that’s an unusual feature eh, for Mexico,” answered Jim, walking into the tiny area. Most houses have the washers outside, not inside the house.

On a closer look, Jim noticed that the entire electrical panel had been torn out. “Guess someone wanted the metal,” he said.

We moved on and saw another room, which was meant to be the office. This was all on the left side of the house.

We saw a patio, with a beautiful green garden, and a small guesthouse right at the back. The three surrounding walls looked in good condition as well.

It is unusual to find a garden placed at the back of the house, instead of being in the front! I think it is pointless, especially in Mexico, to have your garden in front.

We checked out the small guest house at the end of the garden, and Matthew got very excited. As we entered, we saw a nice size space for a bedroom set and a big walk-in closet space.

“I could live here. Fix it all up, I think this will work!” said Matthew.

The main house itself was about 900 square feet, and the guest house was 350 square feet—Jim’s estimates. Jim took photos of this house, and we quickly left.

When we arrived home, Jim telephoned the real estate agent immediately. We met him at the house the next day.

When we arrived, there was no guard to be found!

The agent discovered that there were five women with three children living in the house.  He was surprised, himself.  He told them to leave but the oldest of the women stood with her arm against the door, and began arguing with him. Didn’t want to let us in.

Finally after about ten minutes of squabbling, the people left the house, and all of them squatted by the entrance with frowns on their faces, waiting for us to leave.

Jim asked the agent the usual questions, none of which the agent could answer. He had his walkie-talkie, and the only answer he was able to get from his office was that there was 360 square meters of land.

The agent did nothing to show us the house, but, instead, stood by the space where the garage door used to be and lit a cigarette, waiting for our tour to end. The agent had no idea of the square footage of anything, but knew that the price of the home was US$70,000. In today’s depressed market, we thought the price was outrageous!

When we go back into our truck, Jim said, “I think the owners were foreclosed on, and some bank owns this house. An owner would have his house all locked up. Those folks in there are probably the missing guard’s kin folk. Maybe squatters—and Mexico has some pretty strong squatters rights, I heard.”

”Maybe the owners were murdered!” exclaimed Matthew, with his eyes wide-open.

“Maybe. Don’t pay, and heads do roll,” said Jim, calmly.

“We are lucky to have a nice landlord, and a beautiful home. This has been an experience,” I replied, sadly.

”I was so excited about us buying it Jim,” I sighed.

“I know. Well, now you have got it out of your system, Maryann. Who really knows what the real story is about the house?” said Jim.

“Coffee at Sinapsis anyone?” said Matthew, happily.

“Yeah, let’s go!” answer Jim, stepping on the accelerator.

We learnt a great deal about foreigners interested in buying houses in Mexico.

Squatters have rights in Mexico.  It took these people less than two days to move into this empty house. We would have to get the help of a lawyer, and it might take years to pry them out.  We even heard of one lady whose pigs squatted on this fellow’s lawn. He had a deuce of a time getting rid of them, as even pigs seem to have squatters’ rights.

We would have to fix up the house, but, in our opinion, there are many strange people who are waiting to move in. Strange people walk the sidewalks of every street looking for things to remove during garbage day.

If we wanted to buy this house, we would have to pay for a lawyer to do the entire transaction of the sale for us. We would have to set up a Bank Trust, to own property in Mexico. Even with all of the paperwork done, it might not prevent someone from popping up later to claim that it’s his house-we’ve heard of that happening.

We realized that buying a home in Mexico is like playing Russian roulette!  If you have purchased a home in Mexico and have encountered no problems, then you are very lucky.

For now, we are happy to rent.

Yahoo Group, Life in Mexico

There is an excellent Yahoo Group, Life in Mexico.  We consulted the group on what they think about buying a house in Mexico. Below are some excellent answers to our question. (We did a bit of editing to bring out the key points.) And thanks to the Yahoo Group, Life in Mexico!

…In the US, we expect a fiduciary relationship between Client and Agent.  You must be absolutely clear whether you are a Client or a Customer!!! This Symantec distinction is not always clear in Spanish.  Cliente = Client and/or Customer.  As a broker in Mexico, I recommend that you assume that each party is working for their own best interest.  Do NOT take any shortcuts and assume nothing without having made your own investigation of the facts.

All agents and brokers are NOT equal. The REALTOR designation in Mexico has little semblance to what it stands for in the US.  The strict licensing and practice laws for real estate practitioners in the US simply do not exist in Mexico.  YOU must take full responsibility for YOUR Consumer Protection. Interview and decide on a Mexican Notary (similar to an Escrow Company in the US).  Ask for a referral to a good Real Estate Attorney and the most knowledgeable brokers in the market.  Relationships and who you know is far more important in Mexico than professional designations and titles….

…A previous post recommended that you get to know the neighborhood.  If you do not speak Spanish, get a friend and go visit the neighbors.  Once you break the ice, they will tell you way more than you may want to know about the property.  Rent before you buy can be a very viable option.  Remember, the real estate marketing systems, a powerful Multiple Listing Service (MLS), etc., are very lacking in most Mexican markets.  And, reselling the property may take months or even years.  I speak from experience…

…The office where you may find the real owner name is “registro publico de la propiedad.” But I agree that going with a notario that knows what problems have the properties of this area. Many times the house is registered with -example-,”Javier Gonzalez,” and in fact the broker shows all documents with that name, even so it results that Javier Gonzalez is only one of five sons of the father named too “Javier Gonzalez,” and that can result in a legal labyrinth…

…Other cases are homes invaded by squatters who get an “amparo” meaning a legal protection for an individual against acts of authorities. In this case it could take from few months to years to get the eviction order. Maybe you could hire a lawyer or demand the owner (whoever that may be) that he signs a “fianza de cumplimiento.” In which case if you cannot occupy the house, then you get your money back and compensation. Naturally, the owner must agree to deliver the keys and the empty property, but do not trust him if he refuses to sign the “fianza de cumplimiento.” Also the underwriting firm must check all documentation, conditions, pending mortgages, before accepting the deal…

…In Mexico, even houses that cost over one million pesos (currently about $80 thousand) are sold directly owner to seller without realtors brokers, or notarios! Many consider the money wasted that is spent on a commission, or that a professional asks for the service of checking the legality of the transaction, revising the status at public registry of properties, etc ,etc. I know of somebody who was very happy looking a little house for as a gift for his daughter–he  avoided all announcements in the local newspapers and by the realtors. Instead he preferred the very common ads that read “trato directo con el propietario” ( deal directly with owner). Of course, I think that profesionalization of brokerage services is needed in a modern economy, but I do coincide that a house sold owner to owner is cheaper–with some risks involved, of course too…

…I want to clarify too that people from all over the world can be the nasty renter that leaves without paying.  But I have been told my Mexican lawyers and others to never rent to a Mexican as they know their legal rights here as renters and will often unfortunately use their rights.  But with a very good contract it is difficult for them to take over a home and the landlord can get them out at lease.  Both my non-paid me ex-renters have their children in private schools but claim to have no money.  If you don’t know what private schools cost here it’s about 3 to 7 thousand pesos per month with inscription fees, books and materials being extra and almost every day they need things at the papeleria…  SO tell me when a couple has 2 children in a private school that equals or is more than the rent I charge.  Ummmm well I think if after paying rent one can afford to have their kids in private schools QUE BIEN!!!…

…My dad bought “terreno”, with only two rooms and a little bathroom, from a guy named Manuel.  But since Manuel didn’t have “escrituras” (certificates of ownership), my dad could buy it cheap.  Manuel, the seller, had not started the process of certification with a notario, because this was part of a big piece of land and never was regularized, and didn’t have the official number required by notarios.  Maybe some of newcomers noticed that many streets in México are not numbered in a conventional way, like “Calle Margarita Numero 25,” but something vague like “Manzana 22, lote 15, interior 4.” Manzana is the equivalent of a block.  In the beginning of a settlement this is the easiest way to identify a group of new neighbors.  Lote is the first divided piece of land that could remain as a single big family or is big enough to be subdivided.  So then, there is not an official number yet, which is one of the first requirements for the notario.  If you add the cost of the notario could amount to 15 % of the property and you know that we, Mexicans-even the upper middle classes-use to be “al dia”,..” a la ultima pregunta”,..” a ver que dios dice”, the moment this is a lot of money!  Further problems arise if the father dies without a will–then a son believes that he is entitled to get the house,”because I have more kids than Lupe or Maria or Margarita-and I’m a man!” Even the stepson, who lent money to build the place, and the new girlfriend of the dead man all feel entitled to ownership and then proper regularization of papers is more difficult!
This is precisely one of the reasons that both seller and buyer sometimes prefer “trato directo entre particulares.” Still, I do recognize the importance of a good broker that sells a property without debts, mortgages, free of angry heirs, and empty of renters, squatters, brothers-in-law, etc.  So, the first question should be when calling the seller about his house is “May I visit the house right now; is it empty; or still with persons living there?” ( or was it seized by a narco?)…

…And I might add, unless you are an expert in Mexican property law, never, never, never buy property from an Ejido…

…There is a couple who bought some beautiful property here in San Carlos, that was twelve years ago and they still do not have it.  BEWARE of Ejido (an agricultural commune) property!…

…The police do not have the legal right to get squatters out.  A Judge would have to place an order.
A friend of mine here in San Miguel had an experience with an American woman not wanting to leave her home after having lived in it for a long time.  This women threatened my friend with knowing the Mexican law and was not going to leave. So my friend bribed her by buying her some things and lost I think 2 months of rent. So yes of course if it’s the house you want to buy or rent and it has squatters in it you can try to bribe them yourself…

…I bought a home in a Rancho that used to be Ejido land but now titles are available. Not all of my camposino neighbors have bothered to do that.  The woman I bought my house from had titles but there was an issue with a small piece of the property that is to be used for driving or walking on to enter and can not be built on. It’s shared with a neighbor. Well that took 2 1/2 years to resolve and then I finally had my title…

…The point of all of this is that, of all the legal enterprises foreigners can undertake in México, residential real estate renting is one of the, if not the, most problematic and risky. The law is not in their favor and the culture is a large negative factor as well. Few would condemn a local who “put one over” on an “extranjero.” Is that right or always the case? No, but more often than not. Another thing that is not often mentioned, if the landlord “forgot” to register as a business and pay the taxes on the rental income, he/she is wide-open to anyone who wants to notify Hacienda.  Now they have a real problem. If the landlord isn’t giving facturas (receipts) when he/she collects the rent, there is a good possibility he also “forgot” to register and pay the taxes due on the rental income. That is a violation of Mexican law and a possible deportation offense. This is especially true in areas like Chapala and San Miguel de Allende. Of course, it applies anywhere where there are foreign landlords who may not speak the language nor have a complete grasp of the laws that pertain to their new venture or choose to ignore them…

7 comments to We consider buying a house in Mexicali

  • Pancho V

    The best way to get the squatters out is to pay them. Sale of homes in Mexico are usually done without agents, only between owner and buyer.
    It’s all based on goodwill and trust, and sometimes, this may backfire for the buyer.

  • Rebecca:
    You might look at
    God Bless,

  • Rebecca Salgado

    MaryAnn – since you know so much about Mexicali, do you happen to know of a small house for our 71 year old mother and 35 year old sister in Mexicali? We can afford 1800-2000 per month. We need to care for her more and so Mexicali is the answer. But I need a house ASAP so that I can book her a ticket on the plane with some advance notice. I could rent the place NOW and fly her in around one month from now. Fix it up for their arrival.

    Could you help?

  • Rebecca Salgado

    Hi MaryAnn – I have been following your blogs. Lots of interesting stuff to read.

    MaryAnn, I absolutely NEED a small casita to rent for our mom (71) and sister (35). We need to move her closer to us. We live in Southern California about 2.5 hours from Mexicali. She is getting older now and we have to see her much more often and could not afford it unless she was closer to us. Anyway, do you know of anything decent that a 71 year old lovely lady would like to live long term at? We can afford 1800-2000 pesos per mo. It can be long term lease, rent to own, or rent month to month. Preferably rent to own or long term lease. You just seem to know everything about living in north Mexicali and so forth so I though I would ask.

    Thanks much,’

    Rebecca and Santiago

  • Dan

    It is a darn shame they way the system is set up in Mexico, as foreigners-like me- would like to invest. The last time, they had a billboard of “Donald Trump” pushing condos in Rosarito.
    Man people got burnt, thinking he was building the condos!
    They don’t want foreigners to invest!
    How dumb.
    Denver, CO

  • LJ

    Thnks Maryann! I luv yr post with all the info! I never miss yr new stories, always puts a smile on my face~!-lj

  • Janet A

    This is the best information i have ever encountered!
    My husband and I were considering buying a place in Mazatlan, we were unsure, you know, not comfortable about it- I loved the property that we were looking at. Everyone says ‘buy it!”…
    Like you and your family, we will rent here as well.
    Janet A

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