I know, I know, be patient. Well, with this time on my hands, maybe it’s time to reflect.
Sometime in 2009: Paul and I see the “House Hunters International” where a single mom, an artist named Malaya, with her daughter in tow, look for a modest house in the Centro. I’ve never seen the episode rebroadcast, but it’s been ridiculed soundly online, which is my only real record of the episode. I’m amazed at what she buys for $60,000 and renovates for another $50,000. Needless to say, I’ve been upsold since then, but that’s another story. I’m also weirded out by the narrow streets with concrete houses that are flush with tiny sidewalks, and the photos make Mérida seem ghostly and barren. Before the show, my only point of reference to Mérida was that part of “Before Night Falls” was filmed there. Paul remembers it as a place his church sent missionaries in the 1970s or 1980s. Other than that, we knew nothing of the city.
Feb 7, 2010: The Erich-and-Rob episode airs. The budget is a little higher, but still reasonable, and the houses are more appealing. Until recently, we had been holding down three full-time jobs between us, plus some freelance income from me, to maintain a fairly spendy lifestyle in an expensive corner of New York and Connecticut, and it is beginning to wear thin. My newspaper job is starting to feel a little like a career in buggy-whips or radio tube repair. The episode sticks with us, and keeps coming up in conversation now and again. I start researching in online and become increasingly interested. At the office, I find myself browsing Yucatan-centered websites when I should be working.
Aug. 16, 2010: While on vacation in Cape Cod, we sit overlooking the tidal flats and talk about the future. We resolve to finally get a second home, a place to vacation and get rental income for now, maybe to retire in later on. We’re still working, we can get financing, and price (we think) are lower, so let’s strike while the iron is hot, we tell ourselves. We find a realtor in Provincetown, but low housing inventory make the job tough. Our $350,000 budget gets studios, tiny one-bedroom cottages, or small condos that don’t inspire. We thought the recession would create a buyers’ market, but not here, and especially not with water views. Paul has wanted to build something from scratch, a prospect which has always scared me. The topic of Mérida comes up. “We really should just go there,” I remember myself suggesting. I’d never even been to Mexico.
Nov. 7, 2010: We book seven nights at Casa Esperanza, spending almost every day in the back seat of a real estate agent’s car. Unfortunately, this tour is a little scattershot. A good, long conversation with a real estate agent about neighborhoods and value would have provided a good foundation for the search, but instead we’re careening up and down the city’s streets. They don’t use lock boxes, like in the states, so every appointment requires someone to be home to meet us, or for keys to be dropped off. We’re steered way to the west of Centro, first 49 x78 y 80, then to two other houses in the same Santiago neighborhood. The first house is a seven-block walk to Parque Santiago, but I guess it’s still the Santiago neighborhood. We finally figure out that we’ll have only one car between us, if that, and the neighborhood has to be walkable. But in the western reaches of Santiago, we are in no man’s land as far as we can tell. Also, the weather is glorious, and I refuse to believe all those pesky rumors about extreme heat, humidity and mosquitos.
Jan-Feb. 2011: We return for more. The joy I feel at seeing El Centro confirms my suspicion that I’ve fallen in love with this city. We’ve decided to concentrate on Santa Ana, but we’re probably a little too “open” to see what agents think we should see in La Ermita or Santiago. The weather is amazing again, and the streets are a little busier, but in a good way.
May 10, 2011: Our third trip in is the longest. It’s 10 days, and we’re coming to see and probably buy a house we saw on the Internet. Wishing to be loyal to the agent who’s been spending so much time with us, we bypass the listing agent and ask him to show it to us. We made our arrangements two weeks before, but it the day before our flight, we got the call: Someone bought it already. For all the houses that linger online, this one had to be snapped up. It was priced in the 80s, so it was priced to sell quickly. Later, we learn it was bought sight unseen, over the phone, by a woman in the States. It’s too late to cancel our plans, so we fly in anyway, heartbroken. Our 10 days are spent nursing our wounds, on the rebound as it were. We look for another “ruin” under $100,000, but they aren’t the same. For being loyal to our agent, we felt like we inflicted ourselves with a lot of pain, yet I couldn’t bring myself to ditch him after all the work he had put in.
August 2011: Finally, a house! It’s not as grand as I had imagined, but the neighborhood and the price is right. We put the house under contract That realtor we had been loyal to was not involved in the transaction. He had told us that the price and neighborhood we wanted was not to be found, but another agent did, indeed, find it. And that agent found us through word-of-mouth, a priceless commodity in Mérida.
Fast-forward to December, just before Christmas, 2011: I’m fast-forwarding to spare you our agony. Paperwork regarding the site measurements delays the sale, and there’s a rectification document that all our neighbors (perfect strangers to us, including one in New York and one just out-of-town) have to sign off on. Moreover, the owner is in her 90s, and very ill. Since we haven’t closed, the owners still live in the house, which is a little awkward when we’re showing the property to prospective architects. After many apologetic and sympathetic emails from our (new) agent, we get a wonderful Christmas present. It’s ours. In the meantime, the exchange rate changed in our favor, since we had agreed on the price in pesos. I know eventually, the exchange rate will work for and against us, but we’re happy for this small victory.
January-February 2012: We sign all the final paperwork for the house, and start the process with the architects.
May 2012: We start to see drawings. We fly in to discuss said drawings. They progress.
Fast-forward to now: I hear that between the summer season and the changes of the guard in city hall, all permit applications and whatnot are backed up beyond belief. We still don’t know if we can afford this thing we designed, either. It’s going to be a long wait. All I wanted was to celebrate the big 5-0 in September 2014 in the new house. Seemed like an easy deadline. Maybe not! The big party might be a little, uh, rustic if it’s going to be at Casa Nana.