Home again!

Leslie and I are finally back in our home here in beautiful Ajijic, Mexico. We moved back in at the end of January and have been working on getting things in order. Our architects, Juan Allera and his daughter Cristina, did a great job. This renovation took longer than expected and cost more than expected. What did you expect?

This project grew from the original idea of moving the laundry back to the master bedroom closet area and updating the kitchen. We ended up adding a new bathroom on the front of the house and creating a full laundry room with lots of storage in the master suite — where most of the laundry is generated! We gutted the kitchen and put in new appliances and custom cabinetry.

This video gives you a basic one-minute tour of the bright new kitchen. There’s narration, so please turn up the sound:

This second video shows you some of the neat features Juan and Cristina built into the kitchen at Leslie’s request. Again, there’s an explanation:

We’re still getting the laundry area organized, so look for more videos soon!

Pandemic woes continue here. The governor of Jalisco clamped down recently, requiring those over 60 to stay home. We heard they were actually checking IDs at Wal-Mart to keep seniors out. Fortunately, we rarely go to Wal-Mart and the restriction does not apply to the smaller mercados where we shop. Masks are required everywhere. We’re both signed up for vaccination appointments but have not yet received a firm date and time. Can’t wait to have an open house and show off our renovation!

Hasta luego!

New Year, new digs

New kitchen cabinetry is in, painting is in process with white above and blue below. That space in the middle is where the new stove will be, with pull-out spice racks on either side! There’s also a dedicated space for trash, directly under the right side of the window.

Happy New Year to everyone!

Our renovation is almost done and, of course, it’s later than expected and a little over budget. What a shock! We have our rental until Jan. 15 and we hope to move back into our home by then. We’ve got lots of cleaning to do!

The next important thing is to get everybody COVID-vaccinated so you can come visit!

Accent tiles have been installed in the shower. Floor tile comes next.
Countertops and sinks go here, with a vanity for Leslie on the right side.

The washer and dryer will go in the spaces on the left. On the right will be a sink our housekeeper can use, as well as storage space.

Feliz Navidad!

Leslie and I will still be in our rental for Christmas. The upgraded kitchen and bathroom projects will apparently go into early January. Hopefully done by Jan. 15. So here are a few more photos of the renovation, along with a Merry Christmas to all!

The kitchen cabinets are in. A deep, single sink goes right under the window, with the new dishwasher in the space just to the left. The stove goes in the slot to the right. And the new window is a solid pane of glass, which offers amazing views of the lake, with a transom that opens to get cool breezes. This is going to be a light, bright kitchen!
Tile is going up in the new shower but they still need to add the decorative tile just above where the tile ends here, and finish the cubbyhole for shampoos and things.
Part of the new closet, with deep drawers and hanging space. There’s a similar space on the other side of the door into the bathroom. Lots of storage space above for suitcases and other things.

Home by Christmas?

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.

The new addition is finished, from the outside at least, and the new facade is looking great. Envision, if you will, lots of plants growing on top of that half wall and a new gate with less steel and more style. We still have a lot to do on the front courtyard, but that comes later.

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.

Hasta luego!

Lots more counter space and storage space in the new kitchen. The stove will go in the slot you can see in the lower left corner. The fridge will go straight ahead, where the laundry used to be. That frees up lots of room to the right of the new stove.
The new laundry area. Washer and dryer will go on the wall to the left, and there will be a sink to the right that our maid can use when mopping the floors.
Our new shower. The hole in the wall to the left will be a nice space for shampoo and other products. Two sinks will be just to the right of the partial wall.
New appliances waiting to be installed.

Walls and ceiling done; no floor yet!

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 two orange plastic tubes are for electrical wiring. You can see where the two sinks will be on the north wall, with the shower on the left.

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.

This is where the shower used to be. Once they level the floor, the washer and dryer will sit side-by-side in this space. There will be a floor sink to the right for our maid to use when mopping the tile floors. This will be where the toilet was.

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!

Workers start taking down the front wall of the courtyard.

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!

More to come as work progresses. Hasta luego!

Once the column on the left comes down, the guys will make everything look great. Then we will put planters on top of the half-walls with plants growing up to increase privacy. We removed the gate and plan to replace it. Design to be determined.

Walls are going up!

This is the “before” picture. Lots of changes coming.

The crew has been hard at work since Oct. 20, and the outside walls are almost done for the new master bathroom. The guys should be starting on the plumbing in just a few days. Then the outside work will be finished and they can start converting the bathroom to a laundry room.

Architect Cristina Allera has been working closely with Leslie to make sure we get all the nice touches, like a vanity in the new bathroom where Leslie can sit to do her makeup. Similar to what we had in our Westmont master bath.

Our excellent carpenter, Heriberto, is building the kitchen cabinets in his Guadalajara shop. We’re excited about having more storage space and more counter space.

The foundation of the new bathroom.
The window you see will be right over the two sinks. They’ve got about two more feet of wall to build. Eventually we will change the entire facade to get rid of the bars and the purple. That’s next year, though.

Here in Mexico there are no studs and no drywall. All walls are made of brick with cement/stucco over the brick. Trees are hard to come by here — bricks and concrete are cheap and easy. Plus, there’s no reason for termites to invade your home because there’s very little wood.

In another development, we both got Mexican driver’s licenses last week. Leslie’s Illinois license expired on her birthday (Oct. 16). There’s no chance we would go back to the States right now, so the option was to get a license from the state of Jalisco. So we both got brand new licenses, even though my Illinois license is good for a few more years.

We hired someone to get all the paperwork put together, then they walked us over to the license bureau where we took a 10-question test — all about road signs — in English on a computer. Then we got pictures made and in about 15 minutes we had our new licenses.

While the Lakeside area is still not seeing a lot of new COVID cases, the governor of Jalisco has clamped down because hospitalizations statewide are at a critical point. Leslie and I are still doing everything we can to stay safe — even avoiding friends we think are not being careful enough.

I will leave you with a few shots of the hummingbirds and butterflies that hang out in our yard. Our Canadian next-door neighbors Sharon and Quentin have two hummingbird feeders on their back patio. I’ve seen as many as 15 to 20 hummers over there, and most of them pause in our yard to dine on real flowers. They’re fun to watch.

More renovation updates coming! Hasta luego!

We get lots of hummers visiting our yard.
Unsure about the name of this butterfly, but we see it a lot. It may be a Giant Swallowtail.

Renovation begins!

Leslie and I are finally getting the renovation started on our house — six months later than planned. We hoped to have all the work done in April and May before we moved in. Because of the quarantine, our homeowner’s association did not allow workers into the neighborhood. Later, when that was allowed, we decided it was not a good idea to have people we don’t know coming into our house. We’re taking extra precautions during this pandemic.

Also, as we’ve lived in our new home, our small project grew bigger. The original plan was to get the washer and dryer out of the kitchen to gain more storage and counter space. We planned to get stackable machines and squeeze them into a space in the master bedroom closet, then update the kitchen cabinets with new doors and buy new appliances.

Over the last four-plus months we’ve started thinking bigger, especially after we found a few issues in the master bath. Now we’re adding a new master bathroom onto the front of the house, reworking and improving the closet and other storage, and putting side-by-side laundry units where the bathroom is now. We will also get a new linen closet and utility closet, neither of which exist now. And we’re gutting the 12-year-old kitchen down to the walls. All new cabinetry, all new appliances, more storage and more counter space.

In fact, the kitchen is already gutted and the bathroom will be gone in a few days. Everything was removed carefully by Fernando, who works as a gardener for at least two of our neighbors. Fernando is building a house for his family in Chapala on a shoestring budget, and he can use all the cabinets and appliances from our house.

We feel fortunate to have hired Juan Alera and his daughter Cristina as our architects. Juan has done home building and renovation for years in the Lakeside area. Cristina studied architecture at the university in Guadalajara (where one of her professors was her father) and for a year at a university in France. She speaks English and French in addition to her native Spanish.

Construction begins Oct. 19. Juan says it will take two months, but we’re allowing for three just in case. And since now we have no kitchen and no master bath, and things are about to get very dusty and dirty, we’ve moved out for the rest of this year. Again, we’re very fortunate to have rented a home right here in our neighborhood, just two streets down the hill. It will be easy to go back and get things we need, and to check on construction progress. We hope to be back in our house before Christmas.

Here are a couple of “before” videos:

Here’s the kitchen before the demolition. Lots of changes coming!
And here’s the master bath and closet.

Big News!

Sorry it’s been so long since the last post. There hasn’t been much to write about lately and Leslie and I have both been down with head colds. Now we’ve recovered and there is big news to write about.

We have bought a house! It’s going to be a difficult move — the new house is two streets down the hill. Yes, our new home is right here in Riviera Alta, the Ajijic neighborhood we have come to love. It’s a two-bedroom, two-bath house with a great view and a “bonus” room with full bath on the lower level. We’ll probably use it for storage at first, but now we’ll have extra room for multiple visitors.

After looking at several homes for sale, here in Riviera Alta and in other areas, Leslie and I decided this place could be our long-term Mexican home. It’s fully furnished, so we’ll need to decide how to blend our furniture in with what our friends Donna and Jim already have. For example, our dining room furniture, which Leslie had long before she met me, will go to some lucky person. The table in our new digs is a huge round table that was made for the space it’s in. It seats eight. Leslie says the chairs need to be recovered, though, because the fabric is not really our style.

The house needs a small renovation: moving the washer and dryer out of the kitchen and adding more counter and cabinet space in the kitchen, as well as a new stove and a new dishwasher. We hope to get that done before we move in. Donna and Jim are moving out April 13, and our lease runs through the end of May. We should be able to make it work.

Villamartin 5-3
This will be our new home by the end of May! There’s a nice courtyard behind those gates, and we would like the whole front to be more open. That’s a future renovation.

In other news, we’ve managed to survive the depths of winter here in the Lake Chapala area. It lasted nearly three weeks. For a few days, the daytime high struggled to get up to 60° F. Overnight lows were in the upper 40s. I actually wore a sweater a few times when we went out for dinner or to a concert. Our friends in the Chicago area are saying terrible things about us right now — I understand that. Sorry. But climate is one of the big reasons we’re here.

We were delighted with a visit from Leslie’s sister Laura. Leslie and I were both still coughing and sneezing, and our energy levels prevented us from taking Laura everywhere we wanted to. But we hope she’ll be back. We think she was impressed with the array of flowers in this area — especially here in Riviera Alta where the bougainvillea covers retaining walls with a riot of color. She enjoyed walking on the málecon and shopping in the village.

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The bougainvillea in Riviera Alta is like this nearly year-round. This is what we see when we walk out our front door.

We did trick Laura just a bit, though. We all had dinner at one of our favorite local spots, Teocintle Maizthe top-rated restaurant in Ajijic according to Trip Advisor. Laura thought she would pay for dinner, to thank us for hosting her in our home. But many Lakeside restaurants are cash-only. And they don’t take dollars, either. So I whipped out the pesos and paid the bill. Even better, I told her what the bill was in U.S. dollars — a little over $50 for three people, including wine. Another reason we live here.

That’s all for now. Watch this space, though, for details on the big move!

Hasta luego!

We’ll have this view of Lake Chapala after we move:

Rent or buy? The big question for ex-pats

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.

IMG_1646
See the houses down the block? Nice-looking, well-kept homes suitable for ex-pats, but on the same block with this place. And there are many houses that look a lot worse. This place could be vacant, or there could be a Mexican family living here. Many locals simply don’t have the resources to upgrade, or even paint, their homes. 

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.

A few photos to leave you with:

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I mentioned the Santiago mercado in the last post but had no good photos. It was a little after 10 a.m. on a Saturday here, so the mercado is not very busy. Most people shop early. The lady on the left is my favorite vendor. She writes down the prices and adds them up for the gringo. That keeps me from sheepishly handing her a $500 peso bill to pay for lettuce and tomatoes that actually cost $30 pesos or less.

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Doesn’t this look great? Those are Mexican squashes, and they’re very good. Leslie says they are like a cross between and winter and summer squash. The locals use them as a side dish and to make soups. I think they taste a bit like zucchini.