A Series On What It’s Like To Give Birth To A Mexican Elephant
PART 10: Bringing Baby Home!
Scheduled to move into my new home mid-December, I was ready to start my new life, but the house was not ready for me. What is another few weeks after waiting 30 months?
The chances of this baby elephant being born were slim. Threats to its completion had come in many forms: a false land survey, demands at the municipal and federal levels, numerous soil and land studies, financial inducements, architectural designs rejected for benign reasons, a false construction license, construction workers denied access, construction being shut down, a demand for a monetary “deposit”, five lawyers who came and went, loss of ownership of 50% of the property, one severe tropical storm, two hurricanes, a global pandemic, and my husband’s death. The universe dealt out these blows one by one over the course of 30 months.
This is final article on the build of my home and I will focus on lessons learned.
TAXES AND MORE TAXES
When married couples buy property in Mexico, 50% of the property is automatically put into both names. If one spouse passes away, and only if you have named the surviving spouse as the first beneficiary, will the deceased spouse’s portion be moved into the surviving spouse’s name. It doesn’t matter what your foreign will says, the Mexican deed takes precedence.
In addition to the bank fees are taxes on your spouse’s 50% of the land. “But wait, didn’t my spouse and I already pay taxes on that land when we purchased it?” Yes you did, but you’re going to pay again — about 5% of the purchase price. Ouch! Although you can wait to pay until you sell, it is better to pay early before the rules, laws, and government change, causing you to pay more in the long run.
THE DEED AND HAVING A MEXICAN WILL
A shocking clerical error by my real estate lawyer on the property’s deed, placed friends in Canada, intended to be our second beneficiaries, as the first beneficiaries. Six month’s after my husband’s death, I was notified half of my property had been moved into their names, unbeknownst to them.
Fortunately, the lawyer admitted to the mistake, but only after I provided her with an email that I’d saved from three years before which clearly outlined our intentions — my husband and I were to be each other’s first beneficiaries. If I hadn’t saved that email it’s doubtful my lawyer would have owned up to the mistake, and I would have been forced to hire another lawyer to unravel the web and fix the conundrum of no longer owning all of my property, despite my Canadian will declaring me the sole heir.
I was advised by a lawyer that a Mexican judge will likely disregard a foreign will, resulting in a long and costly legal procedure to determine what happens to the property, the result of which could be anyone’s guess. Because my lawyer contacted the fiduciary bank explaining her mistake, they agreed to make the change of names without having to go to a judge to determine rightful ownership. This saved me a bundle of time, money, and hassle.
Lesson 1: Get a Mexican will. ¡Just do it!
Lesson 2: Have your deed transcribed into English then read every word for correctness.
Lesson 3: Save every email, text message, and document. Voice record all meetings with everyone involved from the purchase of your land to the planning and execution of the build of your home. Save this information on two electronic devices (in case one fails), and print out a hard copy.
Lesson 4: I highly recommend to anyone buying land or building in Mexico to do everything in doubles.
Some of this might sound ridiculous, but trust me, if I’d had this advice, it would have saved me a great deal of grief.
First, “Double-Down” on the survey company to complete all land studies. Do not trust just one company or the development you are buying in to provide you with an accurate land survey. This is going to cost in the thousands of dollars, but it may save you from a flawed survey (deliberate or not), or one not completed at all. I have no idea which occurred in my situation, but one did, and the answers are not forthcoming from anyone (i.e.: no one’s talking). Left to my own conclusion, I will have to accept that I will never know.
Second, “Double-Down” on the realtor. What the first realtor won’t tell you about the property, the second one might. Realtors are in competition, so with added opinions in the mix, you might be in a better position to make a more informed decision.
Third, and this is an expensive one, “Double-Down” on the lawyer. The first lawyer may give you self-serving advice. Lawyers in Mexico are not like lawyers in Canada or the U.S., as here the notario público (notary) has all the power. A Mexican lawyer is one step down from a notary, and can be expensive — one lawyer wanted double what a Canadian lawyer charges to do a basic will. Shop around!
What it comes down to is this — the onus is on you to prove everything — not on the company or person that provided the service.
Again: keep every email and text message, record every meeting and phone conversation (with permission), get everything in writing, back up your WhatsApp conversations, and do not leave after paying for a service without receiving a hard copy or electronic receipt. Only accept an emailed receipt if it is emailed immediately and you confirm receipt before leaving. It may come back on you to prove what was paid for, what was promised, and what was said.
Fourth, “Double-Down” on your savings. Double what you think you’ll need. Plan on renting for 1 – 2 years before getting into your house. The norm in Mexico is for the developer to pay a monetary penalty for every month he or she is late on delivery. I know of four couples who have experienced delays of years, not months. They have either been provided with free accommodation, or paid cash for the cost by their developer. Negotiate what this amount will be.
Fifth, “Double-Down” on your architect and developer. Consider many designs, visit and interview multiple developers. Check everyone’s credentials, go see something they have built, and speak to previous clients in person without the architect and/or developer present — that way you’ll hear the truth!
Lastly, assume nothing! Here are some examples of things that are standard in Canada, but are not standard in Mexico.
Be sure to check:
- the laundry room has proper electrical wiring and venting
- your appliances arrive with plugs attached
- your appliances are ordered by the developer and arranged in time for move-in
- your developer has accurately built the space for your appliances to the correct dimensions
- electrical outlets and light switches are placed in logical places, at convenient heights — and check that they actually work
- faucets and sink are logically located, not rusted or leaking, and functioning normally
- showers have doors and glass included
- doors and windows have locks — and make sure they work
- doors and windows open and close properly
- distances between electrical outlets, cupboards, appliances, ceiling lights, etc. are logical
- measurements are according to the architectural plans
- kitchen cupboards are hung at standard heights above counters
- kitchen islands are the same height as your other counters unless specified differently
- screens on windows are included
- depth of closets will accommodate hangers so doors close
- doors are situated far enough away from windows to allow shades and curtains to be installed
- electrical access panels are located in an accessible place
- exterior doors are sealed to keep out rain and critters (buy door sweeps and weather-stripping and install yourself)
- exterior doors have hinges on the inside of the house, not the outside (which would make a break-in easy)
- exterior doors have deadbolts
- the roof is sealed properly
- water access for gardens and other exterior uses
- hallways and stairs are wide enough to move furniture
- stairs have railings for safety
- floor tiles have grouting
- you get a choice in color for paint (or chukum), cupboards, countertops, flooring, fixtures, etc.
- pool equipment is accessible and under cover
- parking spaces are large enough to fit a truck or large car
- terraces and decks have stairs for access
- there is proper drainage
In my home, most of these items were delivered eventually or rectified, but not all. Expect to correct many items after you move in, and at your own expense.
The fact remains, building a home in Mexico is less expensive than Canada or the U.S., but you get what you pay for. As a good friend said, “It is what it is. This is Mexico!”.
BRINGING BABY HOME
As I write this, I am scheduled to move December 30, 2020, with final delivery and possession taking place sometime in January (actually possession dates are a rarity here) for a total of 2 years, 6 months, and 23 days’ from gestation to bringing baby home.
She is in a glorious state! Not only bright and shiny like any new home should be, but completely in touch with her natural surroundings despite her modern flair. She is everything I envisioned a tropical home to be, and incredibly, even more beautiful than I imagined. But then again, doesn’t everyone say that about their newborn?
At last, the elephant in the Riviera Maya that was never to be has a name — welcome home to Casa Harmony.
Written by Brenda Calnan and edited by Lucy James