Maybe. The renovation is on schedule. Work on the kitchen plumbing and electrical is done, as is the wall repair and painting. The appliances have been delivered and the carpenter is taking last-minute measurements for the cabinetry. So the kitchen, at least, may be finished on time.
We’ve been picking out tiles and fixtures for the new bathroom, and the old bathroom is almost ready for the washer and dryer. I’m providing as many photos as possible at the end of this post.
In other news, Leslie and I always believed there was a bit of “magic” in our charming little village of Ajijic. Now the federal government agrees. Ajijic was just named a “Pueblo Mágico,” or Magical Village. It’s one of 11 new Pueblos Mágicos throughout Mexico. There are now nine in the state of Jalisco.
This program promotes tourism, especially among Mexicans. So there is some concern about how the village is going to handle lots of new turistas. Parking is quite limited in the village and there are not a lot of hotel rooms available. The upside is that local officials expect a number of improvements — most notably an enormous project to move all utility wires underground. That will likely take years to complete. We’ll see.
Leslie and I have been to several Pueblos Mágicos in the time we’ve lived here. We think this designation will be great for the Lakeside area.
Finally, the pandemic continues. We’ve heard news reports that Mexico has a plan for distributing the Pfizer vaccine early in 2021. We are in the third priority group, right behind health care professionals and people over 80. No discrimination — natives and gringos will all be treated the same. Maybe this is the beginning of the end.
Today (Nov. 17) marks four weeks of construction and the new master bathroom is taking shape in our Mexican casa. It may not be quite as large as we expected but it will have two sinks with lighted mirrors, a walk-in shower with a rain-style shower head, and a vanity area for Leslie, with a nice boveda ceiling.
The crew is putting in the plumbing and electrical, which means the floor is still dirt. They’re starting on the new laundry room and the new kitchen, too. We think everything is on schedule.
We’re selecting tile, faucets, fixtures and kitchen appliances now. So many choices!
One huge change has already happened. The new master bathroom and kitchen renovation was Phase One. Changes to the front wall and entry into the courtyard was to be part of Phase Two. But our architect, Juan Allera, proposed doing all the work to the front entrance now because it made sense. I asked how much that would add to the total project. The figure was fairly low because it’s mostly labor, so we gave the green light. Most of the front wall is gone now!
We still hope to be back in our house by Christmas, but some of the appliances are going to take a few weeks to deliver. Fingers crossed!
There are some really cool aspects to traditional Yucatecan houses, and Leslie was quite taken with them. So I asked her if I could post this piece she wrote about pasta tiles and other neat stuff. Here’s Leslie’s contribution:
Although we could not remain in the first home we rented in Mérida, it had some architectural features typical of houses in this part of Mexico. This capital city of the Yucatan was established in the mid-1500s by the Spanish on a site already inhabited by the Maya. The home we rented was a simple house, built about 100 years ago during the henequen (sisal) or “green gold” boom.
It’s built, as most Mérida homes are, of “mamposteria,” a combination of cement block or stone and stucco. For color, the walls are painted with a lime-based paint known as “cal.” The ceilings are often very high – as much as 25 feet.
In the entry room of Casa Walker the ceiling was about 18 feet high. A combination of wood and iron or steel beams supports the ceiling. The look is striking, I think.
I was fascinated when I read about the “pasta tiles” in Mérida, and delighted to find them in this house. Pasta tiles are made of concrete, stamped and hand-painted. They’re used in homes throughout the Yucatan. The first pasta tiles were brought from Italy. Later, an industrious local imported the equipment to make and sell them to builders. That original business still exists in Mérida, and you can order tiles today – choose from their stock or design your own. They’re easy to keep clean. If you’re lucky enough to find a home that has been cared for since it was built, then you’ll find the tiles in good shape. We weren’t quite so lucky, but I thought they were beautiful. They were on all the floors and the walls of one bathroom.
As you can see (above), some are geometrical and some are quite fanciful. The gray one looks like feathers to me, and the red and green ones look like marble. The green tiles next to the brown and yellow ones remind me of ginko leaves.
No home in Mérida (at least those occupied by gringos) is complete without a pool to keep you cool. The pool at Casa Walker had yet another distinctive feature — a “chinked stone wall.”
The stones are hand-shaped and randomly placed. There is a funnel to recirculate, filter and deliver water into the pool. At its deepest it was about three feet. Fortunately, the water remains cool during the heat of the day and is quite refreshing.
Finally, Mérida homes are almost always connected, side-to-side. There’s no yard between you and your neighbor, just a shared wall — like in a condo building. So the house we lived in had no side windows, making it sort of “shotgun” style with a front door and a back door, along with some front and rear windows. Sometimes there were nice breezes, most of the time there were not. Fortunately, we had air conditioners in the kitchen and bedroom. Many Mexican families can’t afford air conditioning, so they sometimes leave their front doors open when they are at home.
The layout of Casa Walker, though, is a little odd — probably due to the way it was renovated. To get from the living area/kitchen to the bedroom was a challenge. First, there are double glass doors with scrolled metal grates to open and close (yet another typical feature), and the latching mechanism was difficult. Once you get through the door, take a stroll through the patio and past the pool to another glass door with scrolled metal grates, equally difficult to open and close. Oh, and to reach the outdoor shower or the bodega (storage room) that housed the washing machine (no dryer), there is yet another glass door with metal grates to open and close.
You’ll notice I said “outdoor shower.” The master bathroom shower was outdoors — very private behind high walls with lots of plants and vines, but outdoors. There was an elementary school around the corner from us, and while showering we often could hear children playing. It did have a nice rain shower head. I just couldn’t get over imagining Tarzan waiting his turn.
There are some typical Yucatan house features that aren’t so nice. Since Mérida has no city sewer, every house has its own septic system. Unless you spend a gob of money to upgrade the septic system and re-plumb the entire house you know that that means – NO paper in the toilet. It goes into a canister, trash can, or other receptacle close by. So nice.
Despite the inconveniences we were able to make a home there for ourselves. Then, the super-hard bed (like sleeping on a concrete shelf) got the best of me. My back was giving me such pain that I went to see a doctor. She diagnosed a muscle contracture so strong that it had pulled my spine out of alignment. She prescribed a muscle relaxant and told me to find a different bed. After a few days in a hotel, we found the house we’re in now, Casa San Antonio. It’s much nicer, much less quirky, and the pool is neck deep. My back feels better, too.
I’ve already given you an idea about available real estate in San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta, as well as our European stops. Now, even though Leslie and I won’t be relocating to Mérida, I want to give you an idea of what you might find if you were looking to rent or buy here. But first let’s back up a bit and talk about real estate in general.
Buying real estate in Mexico is very different from in the U.S., and not just because all the paperwork is in Spanish. This article from the Yucatan Times explains a lot about those differences. It’s a few years old but still valid. And here’s something from our favorite magazine, International Living. I can’t tell when this was first published, but the information is good. If you want to know more, just Google “buying real estate in Mexico.”
The big question is whether to rent or buy. Most gringos, especially those who live nine months or less in Mexico and the rest somewhere else, prefer to rent rather than buy. Dennis and Sandy, our friends from Puerto Vallarta, are renters. They actually have a five-year lease on a condo with an ocean view in one of the fancy high-rises in Marina Vallarta. It works for them because they go back to Wisconsin to spend the summer with family. Lots of people do that. When the rainy season arrives, they head north. We’ve met a number of people in all three cities, however, who are just beaming because their Mexican permanent residency has been approved. Those are the folks who buy, and they find they can afford a lot more house here in Mexico than they can in, let’s say, Naperville, Ill.
Now let’s get specific about Mérida. One downside to this city is the condition of some houses in the historic area, where lots of gringos live. Leslie and I have walked past facades of some very nice houses, and right next door is a hovel or an empty shell. The upside to that, and in general to living in Mérida, is that you are in a Mexican neighborhood with Mexican people as your neighbors, rather than a bunch of ex-pats. Our friend Frank Krieger says that’s why he bought in Santiago many years ago — the local people are warm, friendly, caring folks. And once you get to know them, they’ll do anything at all for you.
Yet another caveat regarding Mérida is the plumbing, especially in centro. The pipes are too small to handle toilet paper, so you can’t flush paper down the toilet. Instead, you carefully place used TP in the trash. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right.
Two of our new friends from St. Luke’s Anglican Mission, Harrington and Ricci, remodeled a house and put in new plumbing and an updated septic system. Their bathrooms are now up to U.S. standards, but that’s still rare except in the newer parts of town and in new construction.
And if you’re looking for a fixer-upper here in Mérida, you’re in luck. You can score a two-bedroom home in the Santiago neighborhood for less than $50,000 USD, some as low as $35,000 USD. At that price, though, expect to spend at least $100,000 or more to make it livable — to improve the plumbing and put in a pool. But if you do that, you have the house you want in a good location at a bargain price.
Okay, renovation is not your style. Check out this four-bedroom, three-bath home in Santa Ana neighborhood, with pool, for $229,000. Then there’s a more modest two-bedroom, two-bath house, listed as a historic property for only $129,000 — not sure where it is, though. Of course, if you want to pay more, you might be interested in this two-bedroom, three-bath home for $460,000 USD. It’s stunning, and it would probably list for at least twice that price north of the border.
Rentals seem a bit expensive, especially in centro, because rental and property management agencies — such as Remixto, probably the biggest — consider them “vacation rentals,” so they can run over $100 a night USD. The houses on Yucatan Premier’s website, however, are all long-term rentals. Most are in North Mérida, so a car would be essential but at least you’d be close to Costco! This site is interesting because some properties are listed in pesos and some in dollars. Always pay in pesos, if you can. Right now, the property listed for $16,000 pesos a month would actually set you back merely $864 USD a month. And if the peso drops again, it would cost less.
There are a lot of good things about houses in Mérida. Pasta tiles, for example. The next post will tell you what a pasta tile is, and will have lots of great information Leslie has compiled about the unique architectural facets of homes here.