When I tell people I import products from overseas and sell them back in the States for a profit, they immediately think one of two things…1. If they’re well-traveled, they think I’m going to places like Mexico and Ecuador and bringing back suitcases full of leather goods, handmade dolls, jewelry, and handicrafts.
Land in the Tulum area on the southern edge of Mexico’s Riviera Maya can be a strong opportunity…as long as it’s the right land. On my recent scouting trip I put boots on the ground at more than a dozen interesting communities (including some planned lot communities). As long-time readers of Real Estate Trend Alert know, Tulum is stunning. It’s home to some of the world’s finest white-powder beaches…backed by palm trees that rustle in the Caribbean breezes.
The crystal-clear emerald surf rolls gently onto the white sandy beach. Combined with the pungent salty air and gentle sea breeze, it’s nearly lulling me to sleep on my towel under one of the empty palapas on the oceanfront. Except for a local dog frolicking along the water, I’m the only one on this stretch of beach, as far as I can see. That’s not because I’m here in “low” season. The town of Progreso, Mexico, is on the Gulf of Mexico, and it hardly matters when you go to the beach. With a yearly average high temperature of 83 F and average low of 73 F, there are no bad beach days in this paradise.
I spend up to two weeks a month scouting out the best real estate opportunities for Pathfinder. It’s part of my job. And I enjoy every minute of it. Because I spend so much time on the road, I’m a huge fan of vacation rentals. I get more space than a hotel room and a lot more privacy. And I get to experience life as a local, buying groceries and eating at cafés and restaurants close by.
Right now, in Mexico, there’s a place where rich celebrities, like Cameron Diaz, Demi Moore, and Orlando Bloom come to hang out…but where you can still buy a condo without the millionaire-price tag.
Around the world, tour operators, hotels, cruise lines, and resorts are fighting for your vacation dollars. They have to pay big bucks to buy ads in magazines and online…and they do so. But some “good press” can be invaluable to their campaign as well. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is a case in point. It’s long been a destination for expat retirees and visitors from Mexico City and around the country.
Daily life on the beach…a breathtaking view of the bay…and live music at sunset…that’s the routine for Tari and Peter Bowman. Little did they know in 1981 when they took a trip to Puerto Vallarta that their lives would be changed forever.
It was my second week traveling alone in Mexico and I was staying in a tiny, vibrant surf town called Sayulita. I’d already spent my day sitting in a beach café writing, watching surfers slice through the water, and listening to waves break on the shore.
The first time I saw this sight, I wondered, “What the heck!” The photo above was taken in San Miguel de Allende—one of my favorite cities in all of Latin America… (Apparently a few other people like it as much as I do—in 2013 it was voted the #1 travel destination by Condé Nast Traveler readers.)
The waves are tall and the surfers are out in force. Across the dark blue cove, a lone white sailboat sways back and forth. The temperature is in the high 70s F and the air smells strongly of salt and sea. For Jennifer and Gary Culp, this is the backdrop to their retirement: salty ocean air, cotton candy-pink sunsets, fish tacos, and friendly, fast-paced Spanish.
A little over two years ago, my husband and I turned that quest to rescue our retirement into a reality and relocated to the Pacific coast of Ecuador. A big part of the process was shedding all the excess stuff we’d accumulated in pursuit of the “American Middle Class” ideal, in favor of the new experiences we’d be free to have once out from under it all. Swapping the hamster wheel for a simpler, less object-oriented way of life turned out to be the trade of a lifetime.
I was accidentally napping (it happens sometimes) in my favorite chair in the den when I was awakened by the loud, unmistakable lowing of a cow. It was the local milkman announcing his arrival with an amplified recording. In just a few minutes, we received our delivery of milk and cheese from his specially equipped motorcycle and cart. Other vendors regularly wind their way through our middle-class Mexican neighborhood selling fruits, vegetables, prepared food, bottled water, and even pots and pans. It is not only charming, it is convenient.
Want to lose five pounds fast? Instead of spending mega-bucks at an exclusive fitness spa, how about moving to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Guanajuato, Mexico? A friend who tends to puts on weight drops five pounds every time she returns to town after a trip to the States.
Puerto Vallarta (often referred to as Vallarta or just PV) is known for its friendly atmosphere, so it’s not surprising that it attracts a lot of tourists. Many of the expats you’ll meet here started out as tourists. The ones I spoke to told me they came here on vacation but realized pretty soon that they didn’t want to leave. As soon as they went home, they changed their lives to move here. You can’t get a better stamp of approval than that.
It is another beautiful morning in San Miguel de Allende. My husband is always the first one up, and turns the fountain on in the courtyard so I can hear the trickling water fall into the pond below it and smell the coffee brewing.
If you’re thinking of buying property overseas, right now the stars have aligned to bring you an unbeatable opportunity on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast.
This stunning stretch of coast is on the up thanks to the convergence of major trends along these stunning white sands. North Americans are back buying in numbers thanks to a strong stock market and recovering real estate values back home.
Mexico is set to become a developed country. Right now, this “investors’ darling” is entering the end game of decades of change, which will culminate in a fast-paced “convergence” with its powerhouse neighbor to the north. The idea of convergence is a simple one. Over time, forces will reduce great disparities.
The smell of fresh tamales mingled with whiffs of sweet atole and my stomach grumbled. Throngs of people of all ages were crammed into the dark plaza with lighted brujas (lamps) as the only source of light. Someone came onto the stage: a roadie setting up a mike. An excited murmur moved the crowd.
Thirty million Tripadvisor readers voted Tulum #2 in their top 10 Beach and Sun Destinations worldwide in 2010. When you see the beaches, it’s easy to see why … silky white sand, dotted with palm trees, and washed by bright-aquamarine Caribbean waves. Offshore, the coral reef beckons, with a rainbow of exotic fish.
Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula is a place set off from the rest of the country, as peninsulas often are. That helped it keep its distinct Maya culture… and a culinary culture that is now making waves. As cooks and food enthusiasts seek out the origins of various ethnic cuisines, they are looking to Yucatán for answers.
On a typical day in Tulúm, Mexico, I get up before the sun and come out onto the beach to watch it rise. Then I come back in, check my emails, and have some breakfast. After that I go for a run, have some more breakfast, and go back out to watch the water. Some days I go into town and get a bite to eat. Other times I drive up to Playa del Carmen, which is 45 minutes away, for provisions. Most of the time, I just hang out here at home.
In Tulum, Mexico, you’ll find some of the world’s finest white powder beaches… They’re backed by palm trees that rustle in the Caribbean breezes… It’s a special place to spend time. You can kayak on a white-bottomed lagoon…or stroll along picture-perfect beaches to your yoga class before breakfast. You can visit ancient Maya ruins or swim in a cenote.
It’s largely thanks to these folks that Guatemala has such a rich and unique culture. And it’s this culture that entices many of the expats who have made their homes here. “I love how different it is, and I want it to stay that way, too,” says Jean Johnson who lives in the colonial city of Antigua. “It’s like traveling into some epic or bygone landscape,” says Portland-native John Kin, of traveling around the highlands.
We discovered our colonial highland home by accident. We were on a year’s sabbatical, exploring the popular expat haven of San Miguel de Allende, when a couple we knew invited us to join them on a day trip to the nearby town of Guanajuato. We climbed the steps from the underground parking lot to a view of lively plazas, colonial-style buildings in bright orange and turquoise, and plentiful pedestrian areas. After an hour’s stroll, we knew this was where we wanted to base ourselves in Mexico. After that first visit in 1999, we kept returning.
If you’re in the process of planning your move abroad, I’m betting you’ve spent a fair amount of time daydreaming about your future experiences, too. But despite the advantages and excitement that a move abroad brings there was one stumbling block that nearly prevented us from taking the leap: fear of commitment. And we’re not the only ones who have faced this. From talking to other expats it would seem that many people experience a mental block when it comes to making a final decision on where to settle.
Why stare at cold gray skies and dirty snow when you could enjoy warm sea breezes? That was the question I asked myself back in 2008. So I decided to search for an ocean view. I conjured up a vision of an international community in a town with an Old World feel, a tropical setting with hills, trees, and water. I was sure I could find a place to rent somewhere south of the border.
We’ve been living overseas since 2001. We’ve lived in seven communities in four countries (and purchased property in a fifth). We’ve bought, renovated and sold two homes in Mexico and bought and renovated a condo in Ecuador, where we now live. We’ve tried out beach life, mountain life, and both big-city and small-town living. So we know something about the expat life…
As this idea of living better for less overseas tiptoes into the mainstream, newspapers and magazines mention places like San Miguel de Allende in Mexico or the Central valley in Costa Rica. These communities have long attracted foreign retirees. They’re the “old guard” in expat havens. You can slide into them easily, what with active expat groups, supermarkets, and plenty of homes to rent. They’re convenient, proven, attractive.
We discovered our Colonial Highland home by accident. We were on a year’s sabbatical, exploring the popular expat haven of San Miguel de Allende, when a couple we knew invited us to join them on a day trip to the nearby town of Guanajuato. We climbed the steps from the underground parking lot to a view of lively plazas, colonial-style buildings in bright orange and turquoise, and plentiful pedestrian areas.
Gary Thompson first fell for Mexico at the age of 12, thanks to a classmate’s slideshow of a family trip south of the border. “I was overwhelmed by the beauty and diversity, and that sensation stayed with me,” he says. “Even today, I never get tired of the green mountains and ocean views around me.”
It wasn’t one thing that attracted expats Veronique Marconnet and Julie Foley to Guanajuato. It was a whole bunch of them: superb colonial architecture, vibrant cafés, live music, art…and opportunities to make a living doing something they enjoy. “Guanajuato offers possibilities,” says Veronique. “And you can have a good quality of life at a relatively low cost, too.” Monthly expenses including rent average $1,500.
Six months from now, you could be living in paradise… for much less than it costs you to stay home. In the best destinations overseas, your dollar just goes further…first-class health care is affordable…you can keep a housekeeper or gardener…and live better than you can back home for a fraction of what you pay now…
I visited San Miguel de Allende recently while working on a video project, and I had a chance to catch up with an old friend from when my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I lived there back in 2007 and 2008. It pleased me to find him doing well and to hear that his two children were growing into handsome, intelligent young adults. Part of the reason for that, he told me, were the chances they’d had to travel.
The Tulum area, at the southern edge of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, has the finest, white-sand beaches on my beat. Turquoise waters lap on soft sand while breezes rustle through palm trees. This is a great place to spend time—a place I like to vacation. It’s jet-set chic here.
The best beaches in Mexico are just 70 minutes down the coast from Cancun. Some are still deserted, dotted only with coconut palm trees and curious iguanas. Seabirds duck and dive overhead. It’s a place of utter beauty and tranquility—azure blue water and total silence except for the roar of the surf. But it’s not just about white-sand beaches here.
Close on a decade ago I first stood on the white sands at Tulum, Mexico. Playa del Carmen was my base for this trip, and I saw first-hand what was happening. Playa was taking off—as were its real estate values. Ninety minutes down the coast (before the road improvements) Tulum was a secluded piece of paradise. It was an empty beach—there wasn’t a single soul. I drove down a potholed, rutted, sand road with a friend.
In Mexico, Ecuador and Costa Rica properties with stunning views can be bought for as little as $119,000, according to a new report by InternationalLiving.com. “A great view usually translates into a premium price tag. But if a buyer knows the right places to look, he can find properties with world-class vistas for much, much less than you’d expect,” reports InternationalLiving.com’s property correspondent, Margaret Summerfield.
We sold the house and had to decide what to do with all that stuff. So we took inventory—stuff we wanted to keep on one side of the ledger, stuff for the garage sale on the other. The idea was to get rid of all the things we didn’t need and keep all the things that we thought gave our life meaning and stability…the stuff we absolutely couldn’t live without.
Vacation rentals are a great way for an investor to create an income overseas but, unless they’re living next door, anyone who owns a vacation rental needs someone to manage it for them. Property management is a business you can start with absolutely no investment. You are simply trading your time and effort.
Figuring out how to make some extra money doing something you love is a wonderful thing. And many of my fellow expats are doing exactly that. If you’re looking for inspiration, I’d like to share some of those stories with you. In fact, we know of so many such stories that my husband Dan and I devoted an entire chapter of a new book we’ve written to this exact topic. (More about that in a moment.)