Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Best Laid Plans …

So, yes, I do remember that when I sold my 80-year-old house in Los Angeles a few years ago, I went all Scarlett O’Hara and raised my fist to the sky declaring, “As God is my witness, I’ll never buy an old house again.”  

You tell 'em, girl

I have total recall of how exhilarated I felt when I got rid of most of what I owned, enabling me to fit into a 600-square-foot bungalow near the beach and being all excited because I was unencumbered and light on my feet. And how liberating it was to just call the landlord when the plumbing was acting up.
Further, it’s burned into my psyche that the most miserable I’ve ever been in my life was in the early 90s when I lived in Fawnskin, a tiny community in the San Bernardino Mountains.  After three years I hot-footed it back to Los Angeles, done with solitude, wood fires, shoveling snow and the whole damn mountain woman lifestyle.

Just in case you think I'm
making this up.

A year ago, I wholeheartedly agreed with those friends who said, "Okay, live in Mexico if you must but for heaven’s sake, don’t go and buy a house."

 “Of course not,” I said. “I’m not totally crazy.”
Do you hear God busting a gut right now?
Because what I have gone and done? Why, I’ve bought a 300-year-old colonial house, bigger than anything I’ve ever lived in before, that needs fixing and furnishing and that I’ll likely be working on for the rest of my life.


Looking at my front door from the courtyard.



The washing machine gets filled from a hose with water from an actual garden well, the house is heated only by a wood fire, and in the kitchen there’s a plastic bag duct-taped around the overhead light bulb. I can only guess the rain comes in and since clouds are gathering, I’m sure I’m about to find out. Oh, yes, and it’s in a ghost town 7,500 feet up in the Mexican highlands.

An actual well

But ohmygod, it’s so cool!
The house has bullet holes from the Mexican revolution around the 12-foot high front door, two-foot thick rock walls, and every room has French doors that open to a courtyard with pomegranate, lemon and fig trees; lavender and rosemary; succulents and cacti. Steps lead up to a roof terrace with a stunning view of the church and the town’s picturesque ruins.


My view

Golondrinas have built a nest in the entry way and it currently has babies in it (the seller tells me the swallows come back to the same spot every year). So I’ve named my new home, Casa de la Golondrina.

These sweet golondrina tiles are popular here.
I'd like to score some for my bathroom.


Gulp. This bathroom.

If you haven’t guessed yet, it’s in Pozos. I did lay down clues when I blogged about Pozos some time ago. From the moment I set foot in the town, it was almost an inevitability that I would end up there. I don’t why know; it’s just so. I looked at all the houses I could afford in town and from the moment I walked into this one, it called to me although at first I resisted. I’ve always strongly believed that buying a house is an entirely emotional decision. I’ve experienced it myself before, and I’ve seen it in other peoples’ faces when I’ve been selling. I always knew who would be the one to make an offer on the house.

Pozos rush hour.

Buying a house in Mexico is vastly different than buying in the States. There are no credit scores, mortgage applications, bank appraisals, inspections, termite reports, punch lists, disclosures, escrow, and so on and so forth. Once the buyer and seller have agreed on a price, they go to a notorio: an attorney who specializes in real estate matters. The notorio takes care of some business like a permit for foreigners, title searches and possible liens, camital gains tax if any, and then both parties sign a document that’s kind of a combination contract and deed. The buyer pays minimal closing costs, and then you make an exchange of the money and the keys! My file of paperwork for the sale of my last house in California is six inches thick. This transaction was completed in a five-page document. Of course, without all those inspections and disclosures, you are pretty much buying a pig in a poke.
But it’s so freakin’ cool!

It's really cool.

The next part of this blog is like an academy awards speech in which I thank everyone who helped make this possible. So if you are one of them, read on. If not, go and look at the pictures.
I’d like to thank Pam Ernst, Anthony Perez, and Claudine Rajah at Ameriprise in Santa Monica, California, whose brilliant handling of my retirement funds made it possible for me to take this flyer without feeling like I’ll end up in the poor house. Nick Hamblen was the realtor in Pozos who patiently showed me houses and knew this one was mine even before I did. He also held a luncheon for me at which I met the ex-pat townsfolk (yes, they fit around a table).  Sculptor John Osmond, an early adopter of Pozos, was the first person to take me there and became my go-to guy for all Pozos knowledge. The seller (I’ll respect her privacy but she can identify herself if she wants) entrusted her much loved home to me along with some of her furniture, plants, the golondrinas, and the home’s welcoming spirits (um, what now …?). Mario Ortiz at Golden Bear Moving went above and beyond anything expected of him to get my belongings out of storage in California even to meeting my brother, Jimmy, at a truckstop to pick up some additional pieces of furniture to transport to Mexico so that I’ll have my meager amount of much loved stuff in my new house very shortly. And finally, Eleanor Piazza, whom I brazenly made my sounding board about buying a house although it meant I would be vacating her casita. She good-naturedly even went looking at houses with me!
Come back next week when I'll be taking an up-close and personal look at buyer’s remorse.