If you knew me, the last thing you would ever think was that I was gullible. I’ve owned a very successful computer consulting and training company for 20 years, worked for a law firm, and come from a family whose philosophy is, ‘Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”
I’m tenacious, do tons of research and have endless questions that I’m not shy about asking. So how did my husband and I get ourselves into trouble when we built a home in Mexico? Simple, we did not make sure that we had the right agent. Fortunately, finding the right agent is not as hard as it was 4 years ago when we moved to Mexico.
Rules of the Road
Rule #1: Find an agent that is a member of a reputable real estate organization. In our area of Rosarito and Ensenada that would be AMPI (for both Rosarito and Ensenada) or APIR (for Rosarito) or APIE (for Ensenada). It’s a small community and everyone knows who to work with. In addition, AMPI is also recognized by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and agents are governed by a Code of Ethics.
If you are already working with an agent, ask them about their membership in one of these organizations. If they tell you they don’t belong because membership doesn’t mean anything, run, run very fast. There is a reason why they are not members of any of the local Associations and you don’t want to be the person who finds out why.
Rule #2: Get references. Start by talking to someone in AMPI, APIR or APIE. Let them know that you have already met and selected a realtor, but want to find out if they are a member in good standing. Ask if there have been complaints against them and how they were resolved. Not all agents will be members of all organizations, so be sure and ask your agent which organization they belong to.
Talk to at least two clients who have worked with the agent – even if they did not buy. Don’t rely strictly on written testimonials. These are easy to get – or fabricate. You want to hear the tone of their voice or whether they hesitate before they respond. Ask the reference what the best part of working with the agent was, and where the agent could have improved. There is always room for improvement so you should expect to hear something, even if it is minor.
Since you are moving to a new country, it is equally as important that the buyer received support after the sale. Was the buyer dropped like a hot potato when the commission check cleared or did the agent help them with their phone and cable hook up, find a doctor, dentist, dry cleaner, and best of all, a great taco stand?
Rule #3: Beware of the bait and switch to get you to buy NOW. As the economy changes, there is more misleading advertising. Ads range from claims that there are fire sales where prices are dropping by hundreds of thousands of dollars to homes having great ocean views when they really have an ocean “peek a view.”
There are good deals out there, but they probably aren’t going to disappear in the next 24 hours. If you really want a property, but have not had time to do all your research, put down a refundable deposit and have it held by a reputable company that you and the seller agree upon. Ask to see the previous listing before the drastic drop in price and find out how long the property was on the market. A change in price of $100,000 after being listed for only 24 hours screams mistake, not deal.
Rule #4: Find out if your agent owns property in Mexico. I’ve never been big on, “Do as I say, not as I do.” If your agent is telling you that owning in Mexico is an excellent investment, you deserve to know how committed they are. Over the last four years there have been numerous agents that have easily come and gone because they were on a month-to-month rental.
If you want to be able to call your agent six months or even two years from now, you have a much greater chance of having your agent in the country because they have made the commitment to invest and live in Mexico. With 80% of buyers finding their property on the Internet, you will even find brokers claiming they have offices in Mexico when they neither operate nor live in Mexico. Ask where their offices are located and then stop by to check out the location.
Rule #5: Make sure your agent has experience with your type of purchase. There is a huge difference between buying a built unit and building your own home. We actually own two properties. Our home in Rosarito was already built and we lived there for the 2.5 years it took to build our home in Ensenada. The purchase in Rosarito was easy, smooth and pretty much stress free.
Stressful cannot begin to express our experience with building our home in Ensenada. Now we know, from personal experience, every mistake you should not make and exactly what you should do to protect yourself. There is a huge difference between learning about building a home and building one. If you want to build a house, find an agent who has actually experienced building.
Today, more and more buyers are looking for property in wine country. Purchasing property with the goal of making wine is totally different than buying a house or condo. There are considerations that you would never begin to think about in the United States or Canada. Be sure to work with an agent who has experience with this type of purchase in Mexico. If they don’t have personal experience, let them know you don’t have a problem working with an associate of theirs that does have the proper experience. If your agent isn’t willing to share some of their commission to make sure you are protected, maybe they are not the right agent for you.
Rule #6: Ask for documentation on listings. So many times the agent will tell you they have a great listing, but can’t provide you with documentation showing proof of title. There is nothing worse than getting your heart set on a property and then after weeks or months of running around in circles, you find out that the seller doesn’t have clear title. Not only are you out a property you fell in love with, but you have lost time and possibly another piece of property that you would have liked equally as well.
However, it is not uncommon for an agent to get a new listing that could fit your needs, but not have had time to properly research the property. That should not be a problem as long as you are aware that there is a possibility you might not be able to make a deal if the research turns up some problem.
Here Comes the Offer
Yes, you can have a good experience purchasing property in Mexico. You want to make sure that you have a knowledgeable, experienced, and ethical agent. When you are ready to make an offer there are a myriad of additional considerations and concerns, but if you have selected the right agent, you will have the right person to guide and protect you.
By Sharon I. Heafey and Victor Loza