A moving experience South of the Border

#463 in a series of true experiences in real estate
May 2004, Hills Newspapers

In the first few days of April we got a phone message from our friends Sandy and Linda.
“Hi,” came Sandy’s voice. “We went to Mexico on spring break. We ate a lot of shrimp and bought a couple of t-shirts.” She paused, laughing, and blurted, “And we bought a house!”

Amazingly, just forty-five days after that phone call, Sandy and Linda have left their Berkeley home and are residing in their Mexican hacienda.

They’re very excited about the new place, a good sized 2 bedroom with lap pool, hot tub and extensive gardens. The house is only 6 years old but looks traditionally adobe-like with a walled courtyard and fountain and red tiled roof and floors. They showed us pictures of the house and of the streets and palm trees in the small west coast town of Barra de Navidad.

We got excited, too, and instantly began dreaming of going there to visit. “Maybe we’ll have to courier papers to you for the sale of your house here,” we said. “And eat all the shrimp we can get,” we added.

Quite a lot had to be accomplished before they left Berkeley. First off, either they needed to sell their house here quickly to get the cash to buy the new house. Or — and this we decided was the only workable plan — borrow money, move to Mexico and leave us to take care of the rest.

There really wasn’t time to sell first and besides, they were chomping at the bit to get going.

They’d owned their Berkeley house for 6 years. Sandy had moved from a smaller house in Berkeley when Linda joined her from a 10-year residency in Mexico. This delightful couple, who’ve known one another since childhood, have vacationed together in Mexico many times, including several stays in the town they were about to call home.

They had considered living there part of the year, part here. But now this house had come to their attention, and it was so perfect, so exactly what they wanted that within hours of seeing it for the first time, they’d signed papers and decided on a permanent move.

Their house in Berkeley was chock full of possessions, and because the house in Mexico is nicely and fully furnished, numerous decisions would need to be made about what to take. And before selling here, prep work on their house was needed.

They plunged in. They made application for a loan and set about liquidating retirement funds. They visited the Mexican consulate for a “visa” for household goods. Next were house inspections and some repairs, then meeting the movers, making a date with them.

They called friends to deliver their good news, contacted family and invited them to visit this summer. Sandy, already close to retirement, gave notice at her job. She was to continue working for a couple of weeks but fortunately, only part-time.

The four of us got together every few days so Anet and I could gather information on the house we’d be selling and complete disclosures. We recommended helpers including the woman who would sell possessions they left behind.

We all made lists. On theirs: Cats to vet for paperwork and check whether cats can travel passenger or baggage; sell cars; dentist and doctor appointments and new glasses; translate household goods list into Spanish; airline tickets; money wiring instructions.

On our list: Painters, stager, light fixtures, home inspections, cleaning and window washing. Talk to title company, check insurance claims, take photos, get paperwork for new furnace.

We asked if the electricity is the same in Mexico, then suggested that our friends buy a fax machine. We’ll need it to send them papers during the sale. We asked how far they’d have to travel to get to a consulate in Mexico to have their deed notarized? Too far, so how about a power of attorney?

No problem. They did it all, and also bought a laptop computer for easy and immediate communication. Throughout the weeks before they left, almost every waking hour, they sorted and discarded belongings, and threw away paper, then did it some more.

There was a lot going on at the house. People and boxes, activity and noise everywhere. The “estate sale” lady was fantastic. She went to the house, looked and said she could deal with everything. She sent workers to sort and price for the sale. The painters showed up and erected scaffolding on the exterior. Beginning early each morning, they scraped and primed.

Linda went through her hundreds of books and chose the ones she could not give up – 44 boxes to be shipped to the new home. The movers came and spent almost 3 days packing and loading belongings onto a truck.

Time went quickly, things went wrong. The loan was delayed, fixed, delayed again, finally ok. The consulate would not accept the carefully translated-into-Spanish list of goods being shipped. No spaces allowed between typed lines. Revised, then returned to be stamped and initialed by officials, this task required 3 separate consulate visits.

Sandy had to have a tooth pulled on the day her office friends threw a going away party for her. She couldn’t eat much but the party was a great success complete with elaborate decorations, even sand brought inside for a beach theme. And there were going-to-paradise gifts, including brightly colored beach towels and a large sun umbrella.

In late evening on May 20, Sandy and Linda and the cats got onto the plane. We haven’t talked to them but we assume that they are happily basking in the sunshine.

We are headed toward the final phases of getting the house ready to show. Exterior painting is almost done, and the inside, after the contents sale, will be emptied in the next few days.

We’re assembling the disclosures and working on a flyer and other advertising. And we’re thinking we might take a little Mexican vacation in August.

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