Elephant in the Riviera Maya: Part 6

A Series On What It’s Like To Give Birth To A Mexican Elephant

Part 6: The “B” Word and the Never Ending Story

Workers parge ceiling and walls with a smooth cement coating. This is the kitchen without the tree!

If you’re like me, giving large sums of money to people, even for good reasons like buying a house, is an extremely stressful task. Building a home in any country is stressful enough, but building a home in a foreign country is tantamount to insanity!

There are many times I wonder “What was I thinking?” And there are many days I ask that question and expect an answer to come from the universe, but it never does. Why the melancholy? Well, two things occurred this month that sent me into a tailspin. I was hoping the universe was just playing tricks on my mind – either way, I wasn’t in the mood to receive it!

Problema #1 – Where have all the workers gone?

As I explained in Part 5 of this series, I am on a structured payment plan which is based on portions of the house being completed before payments are made (a plan I highly recommend). Payment #3 recently came up and it was a whopper, equaling 30% of the total cost of the house.

As if the stress of this huge payment wasn’t enough to make me want to disappear forever with the turtles into the sea, the fact that I hadn’t seen workers on the lot when I passed by at the end of the day, for several days in a row, was certainly going to. It isn’t uncommon that when the cat’s away (architect, foreman) the mice will play, and so I figured the workers had just taken off work early on those days. At least this is what I’d hoped.

One day I enter my development and notice two large dump trucks at the security gates. Following, I realize they are headed to my lot. As my property comes into view I see a number of vehicles and construction workers busy with tasks, which makes my heart leap with joy. As I get out of my car the sound of construction is deafening. The foreman notices me and motions for all the trucks to shut down and the place goes silent.

Rock and sand form a “road” from the street into my living room allowing a bobcat access to fill foundation walls with dirt before a concrete floor is poured.

With me speaking muy poco español, and the foreman speaking muy poco inglés, he motions for me to follow. We walk up the newly constructed rock and dirt ramp leading from the road into my living room – literally, a road was built up and into my living room! This is how they drive a bobcat to move earth from road level to fill the foundation walls. In the surreal quiet I hear the birds and the ocean, and realize everyone, including the dozen or so construction workers, are all standing silent, staring.

My mind suddenly grasps the realization that I am standing in my living room for the first time since signing the contract more than two years ago, and more importantly that my house has not been abandoned – my massive third installment payment has actually paid for every supply, worker, and piece of machinery I see laid out in front of me. A flood of emotions, mainly relief, causes me to tear up.

The foreman comes closer and says in broken English, “It’s okay, Miss.” Aside from appreciating being called “Miss” for the first time in perhaps 30 years, I appreciate his kindness and understanding. I thank the foreman and as I turn to leave I realize all the workers are standing still, not making eye contact, being exceedingly respectful towards this middle-aged blubbering foreigner who seems to be crying for no apparent reason that they can discern (I’m pretty sure they thought I was nuts). Once in my car I hear all the machinery fire up. An overwhelming relief comes over me: everything is going to be okay! 

I realize the fear of emptying my Canadian bank account and giving it to my architect/developer, and the fear of him taking off with all my money and abandoning the site and my build, was simple that – a fear, not reality! It is a sobering moment indeed – the kind of moment that makes me want to indulge in a dozen tropical drinks made with my favorite coconut rum. (A recipe follows at the end of this article – you can thank me later.)

I bring this experience up because the fact is there are few laws to protect the buyer in Mexico, and there is little legal recourse to deal with any impropriety. A friend asked me if developers carry a “bond” or type of insurance in case they go bankrupt. In Mexico, some do, many do not. The point is whether the insurance company will make good on a claim and pay out if a developer goes belly up. This is something to consider and question your developer about before you sign the papers.

Some of you might wonder why I feared project abandonment in the first place? It stemmed from this build nearing the 27-month mark, and from hearing and reading horror stories of foreigners buying property, attempting to build their dream home, and having their developers run off with their money leaving nothing but a concrete shell for a house. Go into any development and you will see abandoned homes left mid-construction, now standing as proof of someone else’s nightmare.

In my case the lack of workers on site for a few days was easily explainable: concrete had been poured requiring a stoppage of work for it to cure. It was that simple. For this problem, the universe was playing tricks on my mind; for the next problem, greed was entirely at fault.

Now that the foundation is filled with dirt, workers can fit walls and ceilings with electrical.

Problema #2 – La Mordida or the “B-Word”

I have been likening this build to the likelihood of a baby elephant being born in the Riviera Maya (probably zilch), so I will now present an analogy to explain what happened to halt construction in its tracks – yet again, and it wasn’t Covid this time!

Imagine if you will, lying on a table in the hospital delivery room, legs in stirrups, nurses and doctor at the ready to catch your baby elephant as she is about to be delivered. You have paid a portion of the hospital bill in advance to ensure the best care, and now you just need the big event to take place. You are neck deep in it, so to speak, the baby is crowning and you literally can’t get up off that table and walk out of the hospital no matter how desperately you want to.

Just as the doctor says, “One more push. Come on, you can do it! One more push and this nightmare will be all over!”, a hospital administrator waltzes into the room while you lie in the most vulnerable position imaginable, for all to see. He says, “Wait! You owe us more money!” You are told this, right during a huge contraction. Nonetheless, everyone must vacate the room, and until you pay a new fee – that has just been created – no one will be granted access to the delivery room and the birth cannot continue.

What do you do?

I don’t know how you would react in this situation, but feeling like I am in the middle of giving birth to this house, I had a meltdown. Thank goodness my architect/developer kept his caca together (a Spanish term I recently learned, but whose English translation means the same, and is a translation I will not write here), and arranged a meeting with the administrators of my development. 

It seems there are new rules for construction. In order for workers and my developer to be granted access to the lot, my architect (not me) was told I need to pay an exorbitant amount of money as a “financial guarantee of damages”. I put “guarantee” in quotes because my development administrators are saying this is akin to a damage deposit; but, my architect and I are pretty sure I will never see this money again, damage or no damage! And since construction progress is being held hostage unless money is paid, that by definition is extortion.

A smooth concrete layer hides the cinder block.

It seems a previous, well-known developer (whom I will not name here) of two large condo complexes damaged the road and sidewalk while building. Whatever difficulties my resort development encountered while trying to collect said damages doesn’t involve me, yet I am now experiencing the repercussions.

How so? My development has decided to write the “new rules for construction” to include a “guarantee of damages” in the amount of $20,000 USD for condo developers and $10,000 USD ($13,000 Canadian) for homeowners as a way to “guarantee” payment for repair of damages caused by future builders. Typically in the United States or Canada, if damage is caused by the developer, he is held responsible, not the homeowner.  But this is Mexico and distrust abounds. In Mexico, the homeowner is held responsible for everything the developer does on your property, and that includes anyone your developer hires to work on your property. You read that correctly – YOU are held responsible NOT your developer! My advice to you is this: insist it be written into your contract that any damage caused by your developer will be repaired and paid for by the developer.  Make them liable, not you!

Further to this, the development assumes any damages caused would not be fixed. What they fail to realize is that these damages would be located right outside my home. I would be driving and walking over the damage every day – not fun! If I choose to sell the home or rent it, I think it would scare off potential buyers/renters and lower the value of my home – not good! I see this situation as a no-brainer. Of course I would want damages repaired! I realize administrations don’t think this way, but I’m sure you, my dear reader, can see my point.

The outside of the house receives a smooth coat of concrete as well.

Why not just pay the “guarantee of damages” and be done with it? The concerns are as follows:

  1. Lack of Notice.  Workers were denied access to the site with neither I, nor my architect, receiving notice. The matter could have been resolved days, weeks, or months earlier if there had been communication, but no, there was none. That would be too easy. Instead the game is so much more fun being played this way (insert serious sarcasm)!
  2. No Guarantee.  The administration has no way of guaranteeing my “guarantee of damages” will be returned even if it is in writing.If they fail to return my money, I would have to hire a lawyer and take them to court to force a refund.  Taking on a huge development in the court system – that would scare anyone off, no matter the country – get my point? I have been told by lawyers that to take anything to court in Mexico would require close to a decade to resolve and cost me tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. The development knows it is easier for me to just pay the initial $10,000 USD demanded. Personally, I believe money for a damage deposit should go into a trust where it is held until construction is over, then divided accordingly.
  3. Unfair Timing.   The “new rules for construction” were written into policy one year after approval for my build with the resort development. The fee should apply to anyone approved to build after the new rules were created, not before.
  4. Disproportionate Amount.   A condo building spans the length of 4-8 lots, is valued in the tens of millions of dollars, and they are being told to pay $20,000 USD for the “guarantee”. With a single lot valued at a few less zeros, I am being asked to fork out a disproportionate chunk of change (50%). I don’t even know how $10,000 USD worth of damage can occur on a stretch of road/sidewalk spanning 20 meters when the amount of machinery in my build compared to a huge condo building is drastically different.

Where does this leave me? The meeting took place with two administrators of my development, the architect, his lawyer, and myself. Our arguments were presented and the matter is now being taken up the chain of command to superiors to make the final decision. Meanwhile my construction is allowed to continue until that decision is rendered. 

Have you figured out what the “B Word” is in the title yet? I’m sure you have. In English we use descriptive words like incentive, inducement, payoff, or kickback. No one in Mexico will say the “B-word” out loud. In español it is called el soborno or la mordida.

To Conclude This Month’s Never-Ending Drama

In Part 4 of the “Elephant In The Riviera Maya” series, I said this about my baby elephant: “At this point it just doesn’t matter what has happened in the past … no one can stop her now!” And I truly believed it – now I am not so sure.

It seems pretty much anything can happen here in Mexico, and I’m learning nothing is guaranteed. Just when you think things should go smoothly from here on in – my nightmare is over, all I have to do is give one more giant, monumental push and my baby will be delivered into this new world – it seems I still need to be wary until the moment the keys are in my hand. Until every last construction worker, architect, surveyor, SEMARNAT official, city official, municipal official, state official, lawyer, and administrator is in the rear-view mirror and far off in the sunset.

Even then, I think I still might be leery.

Written by Brenda Calnan and Edited by Lucy James

Recipe for Coconut Rum Tropical Sunset Cocktail

Coconut Rum (as much as your heart desires)

Equal portions of mango juice and pineapple juice to almost fill your favorite glass. *Orange juice and cranberry juice can be substituted

Splash of 7Up or Sprite

Drizzle of Grenadine

Gentle stir the coconut rum, juices, and 7Up/Sprite. Pour a drizzle of grenadine down the centre of the glass so it rests on the bottom creating a “sunset” effect. Do not stir. Add ice. Enjoy. De nada.


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