House Hunting in … Mexico

This five-bedroom, four-and-a-half bath villa sits on a verdant strip of land inside the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a protected area in the municipality of Tulum, on the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Elevated on pillars atop a sand dune, the beachfront home overlooks the Caribbean Sea on one side and a large lagoon and mangrove forest on the other.

The 1.5-acre property is about three miles from the entrance of Sian Ka’an, along an unpaved road marked by a Mayan arch. There are no power lines in the 1.3 million-acre reserve; instead, the house is powered by solar and wind, and has a backup generator, said Sara Plaga, a luxury property specialist with Riviera Maya Sotheby’s International Realty, which has the listing. All homes there must be built from natural materials, and there are restrictions on what residents and visitors may bring in to the area, including certain pets.

Built in 2005, the 3,282-square-foot, cement house was inspired by Mayan architecture, with a traditional palapa roof with two peaks rising above the tree line. Palapa roofs, made from dried palm leaves, are effective for keeping interiors cool, and this one was built with wind vents to make it storm resistant, Ms. Plaga said.

“Every year, you have these amazing guys with the knowledge of how to build these roofs come and maintain it, so there’s no water leakage and there’s no sun passing through,” she said.

The home’s main entrance, on the lagoon side, faces a 21-foot lap pool flanked by wood decking. Two carved-teak doors open into the circular main living area, where the elaborate wood frame for the cone-shaped palapa roof is visible. The opposite side of the room, facing the white-sand Caribbean beach, is mostly open, save for some mosquito netting. A large, U-shaped seating area of polished cement is built into the center of the room.

CreditRiviera Maya Sotheby’s International Realty

To the right of the living area are a dining room with shuttered windows and a small kitchen with a breakfast bar and a commercial-grade stove.

An outdoor terrace leads to a bedroom that originally served as the master suite, with a king-size bed and a bath. The current owners created a new master suite in a space beneath the house, from which you can walk outside “and have your feet in the sand,” Ms. Plaga said.

A terrace off the dining area leads to two more bedrooms with a shared bath, and a ladder from the central living area climbs to a fifth bedroom in the attic, with a king-size bed and a bath.

The central living area does not have air-conditioning, but all of the bedrooms do, Ms. Plaga said.

Additional rooms under the house serve as staff quarters and storage areas. Furnished, shaded terraces surround the house at varying levels, and a wood staircase leads down to the beach.

Sian Ka’an, the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean, is a Unesco World Heritage Site, with tropical forests, a rich array of wildlife and birds, and a barrier reef popular with snorkelers. The Tulum beachfront, which is lined with boutique hotels, beach clubs, spas and restaurants, is about a 15-minute drive to the north. Downtown Tulum, for groceries and other necessities, is at least a half-hour, depending on traffic along the frequently clogged beach road, Ms. Plaga said. Cancun International Airport is about two hours away.

Located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the Riviera Maya coastline (also home to destination cities Cancun and Playa del Carmen), the town of Tulum has undergone explosive development during the past decade, literally building on its reputation as a trendy mecca for eco-minded travelers. Home prices have risen along with demand.


CreditRiviera Maya Sotheby’s International Realty

According to Mexico’s Federal Mortgage Society, prices in Quintana Roo were up almost 12 percent during the second quarter of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018. Prices in Mexico as a whole were up about 9 percent during that period.

Two or three years ago, Americans looking for homes in Tulum could find a small two-bedroom apartment for under $150,000, said Rob Kinnon, an owner-broker of Buy Playa, a real estate agency based in Playa del Carmen. “Now,” he said, “it’s much closer to $200,000 as the starting point.”

Tulum’s highest-priced properties are in Sian Ka’an, which has very few houses, and only about 20 of the size of this listing, Ms. Plaga said. Prices typically range between $2 million and $5 million, she said.

Most new developments are in downtown Tulum, as there is no residential development on the beachfront. Between the town and the beach, a master-planned community known as Aldea Zamá is being built to cover some 1,500 acres. New units offered on the Top Mexico Real Estate website are priced from $170,000 for a one-bedroom up to $680,000 for a penthouse. “This is reasonably close to the ocean, with a bicycle path in front of the development so you can go right down to the beach,” Ms. Plaga said.

The influx of money and newcomers has been accompanied by rising violence in Tulum and other parts of Quintana Roo. The 774 intentional homicides in the state in 2018 were more than double the total in 2017, in what was the country’s deadliest year on record, according to a report from Mexico’s Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection.

A U.S. State Department travel advisory for Quintana Roo urges visitors to “exercise increased caution” because “criminal organization assassinations and turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens.”

Most foreign buyers in Tulum are from Canada and the U.S., Mr. Kinnon said, noting that the town’s “hippy chic” vibe has made it particularly popular with New Yorkers, who can catch a 6 a.m. flight to Cancun and be on the beach in Tulum by 2 p.m.


CreditRiviera Maya Sotheby’s International Realty

“The bulk of my buyers are looking for vacation rentals,” he said. “They want to cover their expenses by renting it out, and then have a place to come to whenever they want for free.”

Ivan Castillo, a real estate attorney and general manager of Secure Title Riviera Maya, said 80 percent of his foreign clients are from Canada and the U.S., with the rest coming from Italy, Spain and Australia.

Foreign buyers either buy through a Mexican bank trust or a Mexican corporation, though the trust is more convenient and less expensive, Mr. Castillo said. Because the trust agreement can identify a substitute beneficiary in the event of the buyer’s death, it also has the potential to save a lot of money in probate costs, he said.

Mr. Castillo advises buyers to hire a real estate lawyer to look into a property’s ownership history before signing any purchase agreements. A notary public, appointed by the government, formalizes the transaction.

Mortgages are not available to foreigners. “Foreign buyers usually acquire financing in their own countries, and there are some who are using their IRA accounts to purchase,” Mr. Castillo said.

Most deals are done in U.S. dollars, but can of course be done in pesos as well, Ms. Plaga said.


CreditRiviera Maya Sotheby’s International Realty

Spanish; Mexican peso (1 peso = $0.05)

Closing costs total around 4 to 6 percent of the purchase price, though the percentage is usually lower on properties above $2 million because some fees are fixed, Mr. Castillo said. Transaction costs include fees for the notary, registry, title company and setting up the trust, as well as the transfer tax, which is 2 percent in Tulum, he said.

Annual property taxes on this house are about $1,000, Ms. Plaga said.

Sara Plaga, Riviera Maya Sotheby’s International Realty, 011-52 (984) 803-3026

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Published at Wed, 28 Aug 2019 13:31:20 +0000