Top 10 Tips For Buying Real Estate at Lake Chapala

by Judy King 16. April 2010 07:21

Top 10 Tips for Buyers at Lake Chapala

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Even newcomers who have bought many homes in other parts of the world eventually realize that purchasing real estate in Mexico is a whole new ballgame.

Almost all local real estate deals here are for cash payment, with the full amount paid by wire transfer on the day of closing. There are precious few opportunities for financing of any kind for retirees buying existing homes, especially in this inland of Mexico where we purchase the home and the land is is built upon.

Dealing in a cash market puts a new spin on the whole process.

Here are ten points for you to consider before you buy a Lakeside home.

1. Don't rush. Spend enough time at Lake Chapala (six months or more) to know the neighborhoods and developments, learn how much monthly fees are in different areas and other pertinent facts. Come and rent while you get to know the area and really decide which area is right for you.

2. Get the inventory before you make an offer. Purchasing customs, rules and traditions are different here than they are north of the border. The light fixtures, telephone line, gas storage tank, and water heater may not be included in the sales price.

3. Do your homework. Learn how real estate sales are done here. Don't be taken in by folks who say, "That's the way we do it in Mexico."

4. Trust your instincts. If you get "feelings" in the pit of your stomach, listen to them. Take a break from looking at houses, come back with a fresh head and lots of common sense. Don't be afraid to look "silly" to your agent, it is your money and your life; if it doesn’t feel right, walk away.

5. Ask questions. Don't make assumptions (even “obvious” ones) and don't be afraid to ask lots and lots of questions. Keep a list of questions for your agent as they come up. A good agent will welcome your questions and wants to calm your concerns.

6. Know and understand all the problems. Agents and owners are not bound by disclosure laws. They are not required to reveal anything they know about the house or the neighborhood. You need to find out all you can about the problems in a property, development or neighborhood. Insist on an inspection by an independent inspector. Don't have a potential contractor do the inspection. If he thinks he has a big job coming he has a vested interest in you purchasing this property.

7. Check it out yourself. Go back without your agent to talk to the people living in the neighborhood or development. Ask neighbors who have lived there a while about noise, water problems, sewer problems, and fault lines. What have they heard about the house you like? Would they buy on this street again? Check out the developer's earlier projects. Were all homes sold quickly? What are the problems? What wasn’t finished? How much did the monthly fees go up when the developer signed off?

8. Watch out for drama and promises. In this now much slower market some agents and brokers are anxious to make a sale. The house you love will probably not sell tonight or anytime soon. AND it probably will not double in value in the next few months or even years. Be extra cautious of any agent who uses these tactics to get your signature on the dotted line. Remember that old saying, "If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is."

9. Location, Location, Location. Nearly every buyer here says they are buying the last house of their lives. (I did too, three times, and I’m not living in any of them!) Many other buyers also resell their new homes in a few years. Some want to build, some buy bigger or smaller houses, some leave the area, and some rent. In this market, it can take months or years to sell your home, especially if you spent too much for it.  Always buy a house with resale in mind; be sure to have adequate parking, minimal stairs, a good location and widely desirable floor plan and amenities and the possibility of at least partial handicap access.

10. Don't leave your brains at the border. If a property doesn't have a clear deed or adequate water supply at the time of your offer, don't buy it. All homes here are sold “As Is” with no recourse. Do not continue with a purchase with any questionable conditions or problems. When you purchase a property without a deed or water, you own a property with little value and a lot of worry, stress, and continuing legal and logistical problems. That’s NOT what you want or need at this time of your life, especially in another language and country.

Remember that when you pay cash for a house at closing, you aren't building equity or creating a tax advantage. You are taking a big chunk from your retirement portfolio and you are probably making the largest cash purchase of your lifetime. Take your time. Rent first until you know the lay of the land here at Lake Chapala.

You’ll find more information about purchasing real estate and about renting here at Lakeside in the archived issues of the Mexico Insights online magazine Living at Lake Chapala and at the weekly Living at Lake Chapala seminars held every Thursday at 10 a.m. in the bar of La Nueva Posada in Ajijic.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Where Are the Mexican Maps?

by Judy King 7. April 2010 19:41

  Many folks find it easier to get to know an area once they've grounded themselves with a map. Maps of Mexico aren’t easy to find; you’ll never find maps of most small to medium towns (the Lake Chapala area is an exception, thanks to Canadian cartographer, geographer and long-time Lakeside resident Tony Burton.)

Tony Burton’s maps of the north shore of Lake Chapala are available in a number of areas at Lakeside, including many real estate offices, and in local book stores and book outlets, such as La Nueva Posada. 

Guadalajara-cathedralDon’t miss his comprehensive new book written with Lakeside Geographer Rick Rhoda, Geo-Mexico: The Geography and Dynamics of Modern Mexico. (We’ll have more details about this wonderful source in a blog, soon!)

Finding the center of town

So, what do you do when you want to head for the center of town to find an ATM, cab, restaurant or other services? Look for the church spires! The large, old churches in most towns and cities are either in sight of the community's main plaza. Until recently (the past 80 or 100 years or so) other buildings were not allowed to be taller than the steeples of the town’s main church (the parroquia or parish church).

Online and Interactive Maps

That’s great information if you are here, but what if you want to get to know the streets in the Lakeside's villages while you are still dreaming of visiting Mexico?

These days interactive maps are just the ticket – Even Tony Burton has climbed onto that new technology and done it with the excellence with which he does everything. Click Here to find maps of Lake Chapala’s north shore villages, some of Tony’s finest work. You can even zoom in and take a closer look, find the streets you might walk from your B&B to the Plaza, and other fun excursions.

Maps of the Lake, the County, the State and the Country

getmapIf old fashioned maps are more your style, I just found a really great site, chock full of 2,000 pages of maps, some interactive, most in detailed still form. Click Here for detailed maps of every state and every major Mexican city.

When you browse down the page, select the map of Jalisco – and then click on the section that includes Lake Chapala – that’s easy to find, look for the large blue oval on the map. There, you’ll be able to view the locations of Lakeside's towns and villages, the relationship of Lake Chapala to Guadalajara, and more.

With these maps you can trace the free highways and the cuotas (toll roads) back to the border, down to the beach at Manzanillo or Puerto Vallarta or pretend you are taking a trip east to Patzcuaro in Michoacán, San Miguel de Allende in the state of Leon or travel on to Mexico City.

You'll get a good understanding of how to get to the airport and to the city of Guadalajara, where San Juan Cosalá is compared to Ajijic and Jocotepec, the distance around the lake and the location of the islands in Lake Chapala. If you’ve read about the currently very popular restaurant in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos (just over the mountain on the way to Guadalajara or perhaps you’ve heard that houses are cheap in Agua Escondido. You'll find those communities, too.

clip_image004Road Maps of Mexico
You won't find a road map in Pemex gas stations anywhere in the country, and unless you are in a border city, the only map of Mexico you'll find in the United States will be the back page of your U.S. Atlas, and trust me when I tell you that doesn't have anywhere near enough information for Mexican driving trips.

That’s one of the reasons we offer to email a set of directions from Laredo, Texas, to Lake Chapala to readers who email my online magazine, Mexico Insights Living at Lake Chapala at info@mexico-insights.com and request them. Please tell us you saw the information here!

Mexico Insights Moving to Mexico Tip:

Buying a road map for your drive to Mexico is the most important thing to do while you are in the area. The second most important thing is to attend our weekly Mexico Insights Newcomers Seminar – but more about that tomorrow.

A Guia Roji road map is the one to have. Be sure to buy one when your fly down to check out Lakeside before your first drive from the border. You’ll find these maps in several Lakeside locations including: SuperLake (the grocery store) on the highway in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Libros and Revistas, a local book, newspaper and magazine store near the parking lot entrance of Plaza Bugambilias in Ajijic.

See you tomorrow with more information about our weekly seminars!


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Moving your Stuff to Lake Chapala

by Judy King 29. January 2010 22:24

 april house-diana 045 Folks moving to Lake Chapala worry more about how much of the "stuff" to bring to Mexico as they do the decision to move here and leave their friends and family behind.

If It Fits in the Car

If you plan to just bring what will fit in your car, you can obtain a visitor's document (the FM-T) at the Mexican border crossing and then get your long-term immigration visa (FM-3) during the 180 days you are allowed to remain in the country on that temporary document.

Mexican law allows each person to import (duty free) your clothes, used personal items and $50 US in new merchandise when you drive into the country.

Each person may also bring a number of duty free items including:

  • 1 camera
  • 1 computer—laptop or desk top
  • Books and magazines
  • Medicines for personal use
  • 20 packs of cigarettes, 25 cigars or 200 grams of tobacco
  • 3 liters of wine, beer or liquor
  • 1 pair binoculars
  • 1TV, under 12 inches
  • 1 portable radio/recorder
  • 1 DVD player
  • 20 CDs, DVDs or cassette tapes
  • 1 musical instrument
  • Camping gear and tent and one set of fishing gear
  • 5 toys
  • 1 pair of skis
  • 1 pair of tennis racquets
  • 1 surfboard or sailboard

If You Bring That Mattress, You'll Need a Moving Company

april house-diana 043 If you decide to bring even one item that doesn’t fit in the car, you'll need a moving company. You’ll also need to obtain an FM-3 (long-term immigration status) and a Menaje de Casa (the permit that allows you to bring your goods into Mexico duty free). Both of these documents can be obtained at the Mexican Consulate's office nearest your home.

Watch the timing—you have to be in the country with your FM-3 within 180 days of the issue date. You only have 90 days after issue of the Menaje de Case to get the load into the country.

Those famous north of the border moving companies are great if you are going from one state to another or need crates of your stuff taken to the seacoasts and the ship that’ll take your stuff to Europe.

I'm convinced you need a moving specialist to handle those pesky details when it comes to driving a load of your stuff across the Mexican border. We consistently hear great reports about Strom-White Moving. Doug and Teresa White give every shipment a lot of extra attention.

Read the Rules and Regulations, and Questions and Answers sections at the Strom-White Moving website. You'll find a wealth of other information at the site.

Whether you fly into the Guadalajara airport with a toothbrush and a change of underwear, drive a car full of your treasures across the border or fill a 48-foot trailer with your furniture, be sure you know and obey the rules…it’s the best way to go.

More Mexico Insights Moving Tips:

For detailed information about moving your stuff and all facets of moving to Mexico, attend a Mexico Insights Newcomers Seminar.

If we don’t answer three questions you didn’t know to ask, we’ll refund your fee in full!

Seminars are held at 10 a.m. every Thursday at La Nueva Posada in Ajijic.  The fee, $25 US for singles and $40 US per couple, includes a comprehensive handout book and refreshments

For more information email us:  info@mexico-insights.com


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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