In the more than half century since I graduated from high school I’ve never owned a house. For most of my working life I was marginally self-employed and/or doing my artist thing, and couldn't afford even a meager down payment, not to mention qualify for a loan. But more than that the idea was so off-putting I seriously doubt I would have done it even if it had been possible. The first hurdle was coping with intimidating finances, bureaucratic hassle and confusing legalities. Even putting that aside, when I contemplated being a home owner I was overwhelmed by a depressing scenario of not only being burdened with responsibilities of ownership and debt, but most of all of being tied down to one place. I envisioned dusty rooms, the echoes of an empty garage, furniture that was only growing old, the weariness of parking my car in the same spot for decades.
For the past three or four months, though—in this country not-of-our-birth—we’ve been regular visitors to the real estate listings online and posted at the half-dozen realty offices nearby. On my nearly daily walks I’ve kept an eye out for suitable “For Sale” or “Se Vende” signs. We still want to live in el centro, close to the plaza, the lake, library and gardens. We want a little bit quieter street, though, with a good feel to it, a mixed neighborhood of houses, cafes, and shops. Mostly Mexican, a few gringo touches would be OK. We want a house that’s open and airy, with traditional architectural details, outdoor workspace, patio garden and rooftop mirador. Not too big, not too little. In good shape. Out of the ordinary. Affordable.
Last month I walked by a house that met the criterion for location. We checked out the listing and liked what we saw; the price was within our range. For several weeks we talked about it, walked by it, looked at its pictures online. Finally, a few days before the new year we arranged to meet a couple of our friends there—they had recently bought a house themselves—for a walk-through with the realtor. We were all charmed. It had everything we had been looking for. A plus was the artwork, along with furnishings. Other bonuses included a fountain, two traditional fireplaces, a high domed brick ceiling and several tiled, hexagonal skylights.
A few weeks ago, my adventurous wife and I took the plunge. We submitted an offer to buy this casa, and our offer was accepted. When I look back on the few times in the past when I’ve been vaguely tempted to buy a house, I could not imagine any allure to the permanence associated with our purchase as there is now.
This is a cash economy here in Mexico and we are fortunate to have the cash—at least enough to buy this place—and there’s good reason now for making the purchase. An immediate benefit will be a reduction of our monthly expenses. And with the house paid for there will be no debt hanging over our heads*. Nor will there be the inevitable ratcheting up of rent. Allied to that is the security of knowing where we can live for the rest of our lives. And when one of us dies, not having to pay rent will make up most of the difference in income lost. At that point owning a house will also offers possibilities we would not have otherwise. I could never have put the issue so starkly before.
In the meantime—several decades, at least, we hope—we’ll have a lovely place to call our own and to slowly make over in the image of our own tastes. And when this run ends for both of us, a place to leave in this fine village to our daughters. Still, for me at least—my wife has been at least part owner of five different houses spread throughout the west coast with an outlier in Iowa—this is taking some getting used to. Some nights I imagine all the obstacles that could come in the way of our closing mid-February. In the worry hours I also wonder how I will adjust to ownership. Time will tell.
*Property taxes are incredibly low here. The house we’ve made an offer on has taxes that run about US$50 a year.