Expats share their moving stories of how they came to Los Cabos
Plus: What property is right for you?
You’re relaxing poolside, soaking up the Baja sun, and wishing your vacation would never end. You begin to fantasize about skipping that plane ride home, chucking it all, and staying here in a paradise known as Los Cabos. But that’s ridiculous, isn’t it? It’s as if you were a child thinking of running off to join the circus, right? Maybe. Maybe not.
Look around you. Leave the seclusion of your resort, and you’re likely going to spot many U.S. citizens, Canadians, and other foreigners who live here full time. No one knows with certainty how many foreign-born residents there are in Los Cabos, but it’s evident we have more than our fair share of the million-plus U.S. citizens who now call México home. It is generally accepted that our second-largest expat demographic is Canadian, and there are many other countries also represented. How did these expats move from fantasizing by the pool to taking the plunge? What challenges did they face? How do they feel about their decision now? We asked several well-known full-time expats—retirees as well as those who are still working—to share their stories and advice for how you, too, can follow your heart. Plus, read on for peeks at some of the best real estate options for those who will be here full time.
The expats we interviewed are from very different walks of life: active retirees, families with businesses, a young man still in school, and people thinking ahead to retirement. But the one trait they all have in common is a fierce love of this special place. (Most even consider themselves “locals” now.)
Captain Bob Breen and his wife, Lisa, have just celebrated the 18-month anniversary of their move to Cabo San Lucas. The captain is a flight instructor and check airman for American Airlines, a position that allows him to commute from his home in Pedregal (www.pedregal.com). Many other year-round residents telecommute.
Wife Lisa works full time as a real estate agent with Cabo Realty Pros (www.caborealtypros.com). “If you’re ready to have a lifestyle change, to slow down and enjoy life more, then you should consider moving to Los Cabos,” Lisa explains. “The expat community here is extremely active and inclusive.” The Breens chose a home in Pedregalito, which is a two-minute walk from the Pacific Ocean and located within the larger Pedregal development. They say they would recommend Pedregalito, citing a nice mixture of working households and retirees who all have a passion for the beach, pets, and their neighborhood. Pedregal is not the only option for beach lovers: Diamante (www.diamantecabosanlucas.com) on the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula and the Sea of Cortés communities of Palmilla (www.palmilla.com), El Dorado (www.eldoradogolfandbeachclub.com), Puerto Los Cabos (www.puertoloscabos.com), and Club Campestre (www.clubcampestresanjose.com) have exquisite beach clubs. Rancho Cerro Colorado and Cabo Colorado (www.cabocolorado.com) both front a beautiful white-sand beach.
If you prefer a more boutique-type experience, consider the Terrasol (www.terrasolcabo.com) condominiums, a low-density beachfront complex that overlooks the Pacific. There are several small communities along the Tourist Corridor, which connects Cabo San Lucas to San José del Cabo, and in the East Cape, but very few beachfront opportunities within San José del Cabo. Two notable exceptions are Tortuga Bay (www.tortugabay.com) and Las Mañanitas, which afford luxury beachfront living within walking distance San José del Cabo’s other attractions.
Enthusiastic is perhaps the best word to describe Penny and John Spade, a retired couple from Los Angeles who have called Cabo home for five years. They practically sing the praises of life in Los Cabos. “We love it here. We’re stress free, the weather and people are great, there’s clean air and water, no traffic, and no gangs.” Unlike the Breens, who purchased their home during Lisa’s first visit to Los Cabos, the Spades had been visiting for years before they bought.
The Spades’ advice to those considering a move is to come here for at least a month before making your final decision. Although it’s easy to forget you’re in a foreign country, you must remember things are done differently from what you’re used to in the United States or Canada. For some people, this can be a challenge. “Have lots of patience and a sense of humor,” John says. The Spades point out that Los Cabos has excellent health care—especially Amerimed (www.amerimed.com.mx)—communications, and banking services. Bancomer, one of México’s largest banks, even has a program with bilingual services available in many branches. In fact, most services that are available in the United States can be found in Los Cabos, and the couple considers the quality and prices this side of the border better (save for electronics, which often run 30 percent more here). The Spades, who are active in the Los Cabos Humane Society and foster puppies, add that veterinary care at Clínica Veterinaria and doggy day care at Ciudad Canina are excellent. They insist that just about any service available in the U.S. is also available here, and is usually better and certainly cheaper on this side of the border.
Some of the suburban communities that are suitable for full-time living include the wildly popular Ventanas Residences (www.ventanasresidences.com) projects about three miles from the center of Cabo San Lucas. The real estate community generally agrees that homes in Ventanas represent the best value in the area. Houses and condos are expertly constructed and come with the full assortment of amenities. Prices start in the around $250,000 U.S. for houses and $190,000 U.S. for condominiums.
At MaraLuna Residencial (www.maralunahomes.com), an entire home’s features can be controlled by iPad; that’s a first in Los Cabos. These homes start at about $500,000 U.S. If San José is more your cup of tea, consider Las Villas de Mexico by HOMEX (www.lasvillasdemexico.com) in the high-end Club Campestre master-planned community near the entrance to the airport toll road. It provides condominiums and villas in eight clusters; prices here start at about $700,000 U.S., depending on the exchange rate on the date of closing.
But what about families with young children? We went straight to the source for our answer. Tyler is 15, finishing ninth grade, and looking forward to starting high school in the fall. As is popular with both Mexican and expat families, Tyler goes to a bilingual private school. When asked whether he thinks bilingual education is an advantage that will benefit him later in life, his reply is an enthusiastic yes! “I feel I’m getting a better experience because I am learning much quicker than I did in my old schools. With new teachers and friends, it’s easier,” he explains. What advice would he give to children whose parents are thinking of moving to Los Cabos? He has two pointers: “I would advise them to get a few Spanish lessons [first].” He adds that it’s important to pack and label boxes carefully since an international move requires certain customs procedures. Children-friendly communities include Cabo Bello and MaraLuna. And all three of the Ventanas Residences’ phases are kid heaven, with large playgrounds, pools, gyms, and family activities. Also children-friendly is the very high-end El Dorado (www.eldoradogolfandbeachclub.com), which boasts the Outdoor Pursuits family activity program.
Phil Goerss and Jennifer Donnelly moved to Cabo eight years ago in order to buy a yacht supply store on the marina. But what started as a business move has come to mean much more for the pair. “Every so often, it dawns on me that we live in Cabo. How cool is that?” Jennifer says. “When we first moved here, I would wake up early just to see the sunrise.” They chose a home within walking distance of the store, on the Cabo San Lucas Marina side of Pedregal. Both recommend learning at least a little Spanish (necessary for their work) and studying México’s rich history.
As for me, my husband, Bob, and I took the plunge about 12 years ago. We’d built a vacation home here in the mid-1990s. When Bob retired, he thought we no longer needed two homes; I agreed. After all this time, neither of us regrets the choice to keep the Cabo house. Like the other locals I interviewed, we believe Los Cabos is simply the best place on Earth! Having been here full time the longest, I would agree with the others that you need to learn to roll with the punches. The ability to be flexible and learn new ways of accomplishing things is an absolute survival skill here in Los Cabos; it’s also a great way to keep the spirit of this adventure going. Every day can be an adventure if you embrace the culture, cuisine, and customs of Los Cabos. Yes, there may be an adjustment period, but that’s temporary.
The families interviewed for this story had enjoyable, successful moves to Los Cabos but did learn some tips along the way. “Slow down and relax,” Jennifer Donnelly says. “It can be a difficult adjustment for workaholics, but to quote a song by the El Cabo Cowboys, ‘we’re always on mañana time.’” Ask questions. “The best thing about the move was the support I got from my [real estate agent], the homeowners association, and neighbors: Everyone chipped in to help get me settled in our new home,” Lisa Breen adds. “That’s typical of the expat community: No matter what your question is, someone else has already fixed the problem and is willing to share.” Most U.S. citizens and Canadians choose to live in gated communities, and homeowners associations can prove invaluable in helping get utilities and other services transferred to new owners. Some communities, including Villas del Mar in Palmilla, offer concierges who will handle most if not all of the minor details of your move.
Full-time residents generally agree that living in Los Cabos translates to less stress, a lower cost of living, and very low property taxes and homeowners association dues. “One of the great things about living here is that you don’t have to impress anyone; we’re all just laid back,” John Spade explains. Even too much a good thing, though, can prove bad. So if you are concerned about being too close to Cabo’s signature party or spring break action, you can work with your real estate agent to focus on communities that are full time and/or family friendly. Any of the communities mentioned in this article are suitable for full-time occupancy; there are also some non-gated areas such as the FONATUR and Gringo Hills sections of San José del Cabo that make quite good options for families or individuals relocating to Los Cabos.
As these and many others demonstrate, it’s not only possible to live a permanent vacation but, once you’ve moved here, it’s hard to envision living anywhere else. Which begs the question: Why are you lying by the pool wishing your vacation would never end? Wouldn’t you rather make that dream a reality?
Carol S. Billups is broker-owner of Cabo Realty Pros, a full-service brokerage in Cabo San Lucas (www.caborealtypros.com). She has covered real estate for Los Cabos Magazine and other publications for more than 10 years. You can search the multiple-listing service (MLS) on her website, www.reloscabos.com. Her blog about real estate and living in Los Cabos can be found at www.caborealtor.wordpress.com. Billups urges readers to work with AMPI-member real estate agents who are bound by a code of ethics to be sure their investment is safe and the trust recorded properly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (624) 147-7541. She’d like to thank everyone who agreed to be interviewed for this article: “¡Muy amables, amigos!”
NEW & NOTABLE
What’s the Buzz in Los Cabos Real Estate?
The Cabo Riviera development, which is under construction on the East Cape, celebrates much of what makes the region great. Not only will it boast a championship golf course but it will also feature a full-service marina with 285 boat slips. For those who wish to keep a closer eye on their boats, developers have planned lots on manmade islands that will allow you to dock your yacht in your front yard. Cabo Riviera is located on more than 900 acres in the town of La Ribera, only 38 miles east of Los Cabos. Once complete, the resort will also include a tennis club, artists village, beach club, spas, art galleries, and at least one luxe hotel; a source within the company has confirmed that the Four Seasons hotel chain will be represented in Cabo Riviera. Although the property is not quite ready for occupancy, early investors can take advantage of preconstruction pricing on the building lots. Your real estate agent can arrange a visit. For more information: http://www.loscabosguide.com/caboriviera/
Diamante Nears Completion
This property, which is located on the Pacific Ocean just north of Cabo San Lucas, is nearing completion. The private golf course designed by Davis Love III was designated one of the world’s top 100 golf courses by Golf Magazine in September; the large clubhouse is slated to open for the World Club Championship golf tournament presented by the magazine, Golf Channel, and Sky TV in October of next year. This tournament will match the champions from 20 clubs and 14 countries selected from the magazine’s top 100 courses in the world. The golfers will compete in two-person teams to be named 2012 World Club Champions. The real estate opportunities within Diamante include beach building lots in sizes about three-quarters of an acre to more than one acre with prices starting at $1 million U.S. The Sunset Hill section is also comprised of custom home sites with an average size of one-half acre; prices for Sunset Hill lots start at $600,000 U.S. The Golf Villas are stunning luxury homes with golf and ocean views; the developer is already delivering the villas with prices starting at $1.32 million U.S.
Snell Real Estate Announces New Investors
Founder Chris Snell this spring announced that he had sold 75 percent of Snell Real Estate to a group of investors headed up by Vanessa Fukunaga, who now serves as president, CEO, and managing partner and oversees day-to-day operations. The other stakeholders include several Snell Real Estate sales agents. Snell, who founded the company more than 15 years ago and will continue to sell real estate, praised Fukunaga in the announcement on his website: “I’m convinced that she will do an outstanding job and take Snell Real Estate to an even higher level based on the foundation I have built over the past years.” Fukunaga’s outlined goals include introducing more clients to Los Cabos, supporting real estate development, increasing home values, and encouraging market stability. For more information, go to www.snellrealestate.com.
New Development Specializes in Luxe Living
The recently debuted Sendero San José development in San José del Cabo elegantly marries carefree living and high-end amenities with the wonders of Los Cabos’ natural beauty. Located within Club Campestre, Sendero boasts 67 condos—each with a private terrace, hot tub, and bar—and more than 100,000 square feet manicured gardens and open spaces. Take in spectacular views of the Sea of Cortés from the comfort of an infinity pool (there’s a kid-friendly pool for the wee ones) or relax in a hammock. There are also barbecue and fire pits, where you can grill something up for the family, as well as waterfalls, fountains, and an artificial lake. Each condo is appointed with professional-quality appliances, satellite television, Internet, travertine marble floors, custom cabinetry, and more amenities. For more information, go to www.senderosanjose.com.