Surprise, We Bought a Condo in Playa Del Carmen Mexico

We have been on the road for four years now and each year we slow down a little more. Last year we had 60+ travel days, i.e. days we moved to another location. This year we plan fewer. Part of slowing down for us included finding a place where we could rest and recharge before our next adventure. 

More than anything, we wanted to create a place with comfortable chairs and beds and a fully equipped kitchen. These are the things we miss the most in our nomad lifestyle. We aren’t giving up our traveling life, we are just creating a nest we can return to. 

Our Criteria for Our Perfect Home

In the Returning to Our Happy Place in Playa del Carmen article, I described why we are drawn to Playa for years. When I thought of my ideal life, I always pictured a house on the beach or at least an ocean view. My house could also back to a golf course. I’m sure that doesn’t really exist in my price point, but I wasn’t willing to give up on the ocean view. Being at the ocean and hearing the surf has always been my happy place.  

When I was a teenager and all the years since, when I’m troubled, I head to the ocean. Growing up in the Bay Area, that usually meant Santa Cruz. I even lived there at one point many, many years ago. So, if I was going to find a place to be my nest, it had to be by the ocean. 

About a year ago we started discussing various nesting places. In the last four years, we have visited lots of beachy places including both coasts of Mexico, Nice, Malaga, Valencia, Bali, Panama, Thailand, and the Maldives. We felt that we had enough knowledge to make a good choice for ourselves. And of course, we had criteria:

  • Proximity to a fairly large international airport 
  • Enough people, so there was stuff going on like sports and culture 
  • Ocean view
  • Near golf
  • Not too long a flight to the US
  • Access to stores, some with familiar things 
  • 80 degrees, year-round 
  • It had to be affordable to buy
  • The cost of living is lower than in the US
  • Close to diving would be a plus

Where We Decided to Put Down Rules

First, we decided Mexico was the most likely place. Unfortunately, there is no place in Europe that is warm enough in the winter. Then the decision came to the Atlantic or the Pacific side. While we hadn’t been to Playa in three years, we remembered it had a really comfortable feel to it for us and everything was walkable. We also like diving, so the Caribbean side of Mexico was a big draw. 

Iconic statue in Playa, we just saw it for the first time this week

Working With a Realtor

We started looking online last fall for an ocean-view condo. We didn’t want another house.  It very quickly became evident that you couldn’t really count on anything you see online really being available. So I reached out to a few real estate agents. I was looking for someone who worked in a way that I was familiar with. At the beginning of this process, I figured out that everything was done through WhatsApp. We are familiar with this having lived abroad for as long as we have.

I found a realtor from Mexico Real Estate Group who believed we were serious and the hunt was on. Fortunately, when we visited three years ago, we looked around quite a bit and felt really comfortable with the various areas in town.

Looking for More Than 6 Months

When we started looking, Mike said he wanted to be in Centro, in the middle of everything. So, we found a few complexes that had ocean views. For one complex, I looked at rental reviews that said the place was really nice but there was lots of club noise at night. Another place described noise from a nearby beach club all day and night.

We found another complex that was a block from the beach but it had a few issues. First, there was no entry that didn’t involve at least 10 steps. Then the rules of the complex said you couldn’t have a BBQ on the patio. So that was a nonstarter for us. After that, I found some units in a great complex that we had actually visited on our trip three years ago. I loved the complex but I didn’t want a fishbowl-like ground floor unit even if it did have a nice name like Garden Condo.

The Elements

So, I asked our realtor to focus on The Elements condos. I forgot to mention that we did the walk-throughs either with still pictures or video. But once you get familiar with the configuration and features it is pretty easy to determine if we liked it. The first two-bedroom condo she showed us was billed as “it’s not on the market yet, but they want to sell.” When you walk in it had the most spectacular pool and ocean view. It did have the downside that both bedrooms faced a corridor so there were only windows and they were frosted. But we loved the view so we made an offer that was $50k under their asking price. At that point, they either decided they didn’t want to sell or they were going to relist it for $25k more than the first asking price. This unit also had a long-term rental contract until August.

The next two-bedroom condo in Elements we saw was a narrow design and further away from the ocean. The price was really good and we might have made an offer on it. As the realtor was investigating the condo and owner, it turned out that he never did the legal work required to get the deed on the property. So that was a no-go. Then we told the realtor that we were willing to wait until the right unit came on the market.

Getting a Great Deal

In February, the realtor texted and said that there was a three-bedroom penthouse condo for sale.  We hadn’t been looking at penthouse units because the ones available were more than we were willing to pay. But this particular condo owner was looking for a fast sale and would take a price at the top of our range. So we reviewed the listing and the listing photos and our realtor did a virtual walkthrough and we found to our surprise, the unit was in really good shape and the views were everything that I wanted. Since we had been looking in this complex and seen a bunch of units, we knew the price was a steal.

Once we confirmed that they would actually take $100k under market we made an offer immediately. Our realtor wisely made the offer non-negotiable, closing in cash, and as soon as possible and they accepted immediately. We spent a while congratulating ourselves on a great deal and buying our second site-unseen house. I will say that we certainly felt like we saw the condo before we bought it, so we were very comfortable with it.

Then it was time to contact the lawyer to create a Mexican trust called a fideicomiso that actually holds our property in Mexico. We were told that we would probably close in mid-April. It turned out that we were planning to be in Playa at that time anyway. We arrived in Playa on April 4th and on the 5th the realtor took us to see our condo for the first time. I was so happy, it was everything that I’d ever wanted. I felt zero buyer’s remorse. We were also able to go to the lawyer’s office to sign all of the papers. That was on a Friday, on Sunday we moved our stuff over from our rental condo. Yes, we did have to forfeit the rest of our rental, but it felt so good to be in our own home.

Vacation Rental

Part of the calculus of the purchase involved renting it out when we were not present. Before we arrived, I had pretty much decided which rental company we would use. When I contacted them, they gave me a list of soft goods that we needed to get top dollar in rent. So we found out about Sam’s Club, Walmart, Chadraui, Soriana Mega, Home Depot, and best of all Amazon. I was thrilled to find out that Amazon delivers to our building reception and the guys down there bring it to our apartment. I think soft goods are more expensive here though, so we have a list of stuff to “mule” down with us when we come from the US. Our son has already come to visit and brought a bunch of stuff that I had ordered on Amazon US.

We had been told that the previous owners were really cheap. We found that out after we stayed in the apartment for a few days. It turns out that two of the four air conditioning units need to be replaced and the rest need servicing. We also decided that we had to have a BBQ to get top rent. Believe it or not, we couldn’t find one anywhere. Then our building rep told us about a little grill store. They had exactly what we wanted but it cost $600. Nothing we could do, as it was we got the last one. We even broke it in already.

Our Plan Going Forward 

We only plan to spend 5 to 6 months a year here in two-month intervals. The rest of the time our condo will be rented to others through the management company, while we continue to travel the world. 

We want to establish doctor, dentist, trainer, hairdresser, and nail place relationships here. So we can come back to someplace familiar. You may say that Playa del Carmen isn’t foreign enough, but we clearly need to improve our Spanish.

We also want to get involved with the local expat groups to make some new friends. We look forward to many years of building a new community here.

Would you buy a condo without seeing it in person?

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  1. Mike/Diana,

    Congrats on your new vacation home/rental. The place looks gorgeous. Give us a ring once you are back in the Bay Area. We will be off roaming across Italy in August/September.


  2. Congratulations! Looks awesome and having a tap root somewhere, so to speak, is a great strategy! BBQer supply shortage, wow! Enjoy!

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