At the best of times, buying a house can be a challenging affair but buying in a foreign country can get even more complicated! How is buying a home in Lake Chapala, Mexico, different than in your own country? And what are some of the things you should know before you make that ultimate commitment to sign on the dotted line?
Read on and be sure to use this checklist when buying real estate in Mexico.
Building Codes: First off, realize there are no set building requirements nor trade inspections done by government agencies to ensure compliance to code. Anyone can build a house after obtaining necessary permits from the municipal office. This is one reason why it is important for buyers to have the building inspected by a qualified building inspector before purchasing. The inspector checks the house for structural defects, and if any are found, he might request a second opinion from a structural engineer. He will check the roof for leaks, electrical and plumbing installations, solar (if any), pool and equipment, check for moisture in the walls, appliances, and many other details that most people wouldn't even notice. Then he prepares a 20-30 page report detailing with photos everything that doesn't check out, even mentioning what's in good working order.
Water: Where exactly does the water come from? Is it municipal or locally supplied well water? Which well? Is there an "aljibe" (in-ground holding tank)? How big is it? Where is it located? How often is it filled? When was it last cleaned? Is there a "tinaco" (roof-top holding container which supplies water by gravity during power outages)? Do you really need a tinaco or want to mess with another water container that needs regular cleaning? Water at Lakeside may not arrive so clean to your aljibe or tinaco, and it will definitely be full of minerals ("hard water"). Do you pay for your water? Most residents of individual homes pay for the water at the same time when they pay property taxes. Gated communities that supply their local well water charge for it together with the yearly "colonos" (annual dues). Is the water supply system pressurized? If not, it's wise to add a pressure-leveling "hydroneumatico" (pump/holding tank) that works with an immersed pump to maintain a constant pressure instead of having a big drop in pressure before a regular pump starts again. Is there a purification system and what kind? Most owners install various levels and systems of filtration before they use the water in their homes. Before you spend money on a filtration system, ask neighbors about their experience or send samples to a lab to have your water analyzed for bacteria - before and after it's pumped out of the aljibe. This helps to make informed decisions of the purification level required and whether a UV light is needed. If you prefer to drink the water and use it to clean your fruit and veggies instead of buying the big jugs, a Reverse Osmosis system under the kitchen sink will do the trick.
FYI, we've been brushing our teeth with tap water instead of the Reverse Osmosis and never had any related health issues. The RO water sure is convenient and we enjoy the lack of taste (no minerals).
Septic System or City Sewer: If on septic, when was it built and last pumped out? Where is the access lid located when you need to have it pumped? Talk to neighbors about what happens in the rainy season. Is the sewage level rising and possibly running down the street?
Electrical: Is there enough power supply for your needs? Enough wires from the street into the home, enough breakers in the panel? Is there 110V available or both 110V and 210V (some appliances only run on 210V). Are all the plugs grounded? (this will be checked by the building inspector). Ask the neighbors about the frequency and length of power failures? Try to get a hold of previous bills to check how much is being paid bi-monthly - and whether the account is paid up to date. Find out what rate the household has been paying. The charge is based on usage, with 3 levels of pay. If paying the highest (DAC) it will take 6 months of reduced usage to lower the rate, during which time the bill presents outrageously high amounts.
Roof: Flat or sloped? Tile or waterproofed with "membrane" and "impermeablizante" (special roof sealent guaranteed for 2-5 years depending on the quality of the product used)? When was it last applied? If tiles, the grout in between has to be sealed, also, otherwise the water finds a way through. (Note: the roof will be thoroughly checked by the building inspector by running a hose over the roof for several hours)
Telephone/Internet: Internet connectivity and speeds vary widely at Lakeside. At present, Internet is supplied through the local/home phone line which is therefore needed if you use a cell phone and hardly ever talk on your home phone. Is there a landline with Telmex available? If not, it can take quite some time to have one installed - that is, if new lines are available in your area. Cost of installation is $70-80 USD and approximate length of time to obtain one will be supplied at the Telmex office. If there is a line, is there a modem hooked up? Take a phone set to check for a dial tone, and if there is a modem, hook up your laptop to do a "speedtest". If no modem, pay at the Telmex office for one to be shipped in a few days. If you watch a lot of TV and are interested in the programs offered by the Mexican cable company, Telecable, they can also provide you with an Internet package. Alternatively, you can get cellular phone internet through Telcel, AT&T, Moviestar, or other companies, but this type of service can get expensive very fast. As I write this blog, efforts are being made in the community to raise money for the infrastructure necessary to install fiber optic cables to provide fast Internet service at competitive prices.
Drainage: Are there drain pipes or exit holes from the roof? Is the water draining along the walls of the house or away from the house through properly installed pipes? Is there drainage from interior open patios or exterior patios? Check slope direction with a golf ball or level.
Propane Tank: Location? Size? Age? The inspector will check for leaks and determine its remaining lifespan. Check previous usage bills if possible.
Walls: Check for "salitre" (bubbling of paint and stucco) along the walls, especially close to the ground and the ceiling. Extra care is needed to ensure the "bovedas" (lovely, brick domed ceilings) are properly sealed at the seams . Note: "salitre" is caused by too much calcium in the concrete which draws moisture from the ground and/or because of an inferior foundation that wasn't properly sealed.
Windows: Are there screens on the windows to keep out bugs and mosquitoes? Do they close properly or do you see big, gaping holes?
Security: Does the security on the house meet your standards? Are there bars on the windows and doors? How high are the walls? Is there an electrified fence? If electrified, what back up system is there? How difficult is it overall to get inside the property (thieves look for an easy way)? Is there a camera at the property door so you can see who is ringing? If buying in a gated community, is there 24-hour manned security ? How diligent are the guards about taking license plate numbers and checking visitor's IDs?
Finally, talk to the neighbors about nearby “eventos” (locals that host events/parties) or “tallers” (this could be car shops, welders, wood working shops, etc.). Are there any Restaurants nearby that hold weekly dances or play LOUD music? ALL of these can be NOISY! This is in addition to the unavoidable "cohetes" (loud fire crackers) released continuously on every celebrated holiday, dogs barking and roosters crowing at all hours of night and day. Welcome to Mexico!!
I have tried to cover as many scenarios as possible in this blog but the variety of housing is almost endless. Buying and living at Lakeside is not like buying and living in North America, with cookie cutter housing and overly controlling government municipalities. Do your due diligence! It all starts with teaming up with a qualified and knowledgeable Realtor to help guide you through the process every step of the way and tell you what she/he knows about the communities. Once you found your home, your Realtor will hire a home inspector on your behalf to check the property thoroughly.
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