San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: Why Now is the Time to Buy Property There

Arguably Mexico’s best-known Spanish-town, San Miguel has been a top haven for decades. Its cobbled streets are lined with gaily-painted houses, their rooftop gardens bright with bougainvillea.  The mornings are cool and crisp, giving way to hot, sunny afternoons. The whole town is really a feast for the senses that attracts artists, writers, and musicians from around the world.

Yet for all its authentic Mexican charm—and there’s plenty of that—you can get by in English if you want, thanks to 50 years of expat presence.

And today, you can buy real estate here at bargain prices, down as much as 55% from highs in 2007/2008.

But you’d better move fast.  On a recent visit to this most sophisticated of pueblos, I found that—here, at least—the  recession induced real estate slump is over. San Miguel is back, baby, and with a vengeance.

In the euphoric early 2000s, prices in San Miguel rose dizzyingly. Real estate firms saw prices nearly double up to 2007. Then, with the recession, the market dried up. Buyers just didn’t have the liquidity.

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But in the last year—and especially in the last six to eight months—the trend has been reversing. Buyers from Canada, Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere are back and properties are selling at all price points. There is plenty of selection in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. But even properties in the $800,000 to million-dollar-plus range are moving.

Centro is where 70% of expat buyers choose to be—within easy walking distance of all the action. Properties here have generally held their value slightly better than those in outlying neighborhoods. Yet Centro doesn’t have to be expensive. Listed right now, for instance, is a fully-furnished, one-bedroom/one-bath apartment, with nearly 1,000 square feet of space, for just $189,000. A slightly larger fixer-upper, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, is sale for $130,000.

Want a house rather than a condo?

You’ll find two- to three-bedroom homes— in Centro, though maybe a few minutes farther from El Jardin (ground zero for San Miguel’s action)—starting in the mid-$200,000s. One example: a two-story home that sold recently in Centro for $285,000. For that price the buyers got over 2,600 square feet of construction, with three bedrooms, 3.5 baths, garden spaces, and a rooftop terrace.

For $245,000, you can get a beautiful 1,100-square-foot home with two bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a laundry room, patio, and a tree-filled garden area. It’s on a quiet lane, yet steps from San Miguel’s bustle.

But it’s not just Centro that’s selling. Plenty of properties are also available in neighborhoods like San Antonio and Guadalupe. Though you’ll find properties here at all price points, there is a nice cluster of them around the $250,000 mark.

Though outside Centro, these areas are actually quite close—a sign of how small and cozy San Miguel can be. San Antonio, for instance, is only a five-minute cab ride to Centro—and you can walk it in as little as 15 minutes (I’ve done it myself).

If you’re game for that walk, these neighborhoods can offer comfortable living. In exchange for being a bit farther out, you get quiet, tree-lined residential areas with local stores and eateries (not fancy but good value). And you can get great bang for your real estate buck.

As an example, a two-story house in San Antonio, only about a 10-minute walk from Centro, is an offer for $199,000. With Mexican touches like colorful tile-work, this house has 2,367 square feet of living space, with two big bedrooms, 2.5 baths, an ample upstairs, terrace, garden space out front, a patio out back—and a garage. If you have a bigger budget and want a show-place, you don’t have to pay $1 million plus…one is for sale in San Antonio for $635,000. With almost 4,800 feet of living  space, it has three  bedrooms,  3.5 baths, either brick boveda or wood—beamed ceilings in most  rooms,  and a beautiful terrace  area with  city views.

And you can still find fixer-uppers or basic properties in these neighborhoods starting in the low $100,000s. There’s one for sale for $120,000 in Guadalupe right now. A two-story, 1,614-square-foot commercial/residential space, it has two bedrooms and a bath, plus a half—bath in the commercial space (which could be rented out separately).

Regardless of where you live in San Miguel, part of what you’re buying is the quality of life. If you want a gourmet meal for a special occasion and a $100-plus bottle of wine to go with it, you can find it in San Miguel. Decorating your colonial house? The quality of handmade arts and crafts here is astounding—and the prices are generally reasonable for the quality you get. (I bought many of the handmade items and antiques for my house in Guanajuato, 90 minutes away, in San Miguel.)

The city itself is looking good these days, with a beautification program in Centro and new fountains and landscaping on the outskirts. And a new private K-12 school offering an international baccalaureate degree joins several other bilingual schools in town—a big plus for younger expats with children.

All these factors help make San Miguel one of the easiest places around to transition to Mexican life.

Testing the Waters in San Miguel

San Miguel is a great tourist destination. But if you’re considering it as a full or part-time living option, you should really stay for a while and live like a local to get a feel for the place. Fortunately, thanks to tourism—and to the many expats who live here part time—there are plenty of short-term vacation rentals available by week or month. Sites like VRBO.com and Homeaway.com have numerous listings for San Miguel, with a wide range of prices. Longer-term, furnished rentals are also available; check with real estate agents in town and local publications.

To give you a quick taste of what’s on offer, what about these…For short term, a two-bedroom/two-bath penthouse apartment right in Centro that sleeps four to six people. A rooftop, WiFi and maid service all come in the deal. Price: $750 a week or $1,750 for a month.

For long-term, a two-story house in San Antonio rents for just $1,500 a month. It has two bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a rooftop terrace, and it comes with a maid service, WiFi, and cable TV.

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