12 Important Considerations when Buying Beachfront Property
– by Bob Dooney –
Whether you are searching for your perfect beachfront home in Mexico or dreaming about it, these tips will help you discover your property and plan your purchase. From erosion to government restrictions, it’s important to know what to look for when buying a beachfront home in Mexico.
- Erosion is the Enemy
You have found the lot on the beach, now what? The next step is to make certain that it will still be there in the future. Seek a high elevation from the sea level. Obviously, the higher the better, but if you are on the windward or receiving end of a storm channel, look for at least 7 feet of elevation. This will help defend against erosion. Remember that erosion is your enemy, and if you don’t believe it, just look at the sliver of remaining beach in Cancun’s hotel zone.
- Long Live the Sand
Beachfront vitality is important. When purchasing a beachfront home, you want to be sure there will be sand or beach for years to come, making the lot selection with evidence of a swash zone, a beach face, a wrack line, and a berm, important.
The swash zone is where the waves usually break in normal weather.
The beach face is the area that is flat, where you would put a towel down to get a tan.
The wrack line is where the high-water mark can reach in the case of foul weather or storm.
The berm is where you would see the rise of the elevation. Ideally this will have green plants growing on it and encroach on the wrack line, showing there’s little or no erosion. (Green can’t grow where seawater is dumped.)
All four zones are important; however, for a good price, you may consider sacrificing one or more…at your own peril.
- Run from the Wind and Look for the Trash
If you should come across that perfect, clean, white sandy beach on the windward side of the current: run. If nature can clean it, nature can take it. Look for trash, or natural debris—the more the better, as this you can easily handle. But the weather issues mean having to fight Mother Nature, and more often than not you will lose. Erosion is an SOB. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the Mexican beaches suffer from it.
- Skipping Rocks
A rocky beach is not a real beach. It’s a coastline. Seek a rockless beach and a rock-free seafloor in the immediate sea line. First, rocks are not fun to navigate, and second, exposed rock can be a sign of erosion at some point.If you’ve got a fine, white sandy beach and a rocky seafloor, the developer may have brought sand in to sell the property—sand that probably won’t last long.5. Offshore Reef Protection
If you are lucky enough to discover a beach with a protective reef offshore, this will aid in the fight against erosion and in certain cases assist in providing some accretion. (Accretion is the opposite of erosion and causes a beach to become wider with the deposition of sand.) I’ve been on beaches that had corner stones marked more than 40 years ago, and upon checking the rectification survey, the beach grew more than 20 meters. That’s free money in my book.
6. Trouble in the Reef
A reef exposed or just below the ocean surface—while helpful for erosion—will cause the sea to become stagnant on certain days. Reefs deep below the surface will not work well in the battle of erosion. A dead or dying reef is a one-way ticket to future troubles of keeping your sand.
7. Hitting the Jackpot with Wetlands
Finding a property that passes the above criteria and also has a major wetland or mangrove area behind is like hitting the jackpot. Buy all you can afford. The ideal location would have wetlands behind to clean and fertilize or feed the underground water system that flows beneath your lot. The Mexican government protects wetlands because these areas provide the nutrients to support a thriving reef system.
In addition, wetlands behind the beachfront will limit future development, maintaining the beach’s privacy—an important property feature. In Playa del Carmen, more than 60 streets now exist behind the beach. The first buyers knew of only three streets, and the privacy they expected to have has disappeared. Inshore wetlands would have prevented that additional development. In Todos Santos, BCS, the Posada La Poza hotel has an ideal location: 1. Wetlands between the beach and the hotel, offering both privacy and beauty. 2. A large rock outcropping to the South, protecting the hotel and property from winds and storms (most storms come from the South in Todos Santos) and (3.) a beautiful palm-filled arroyo to the North. The combination of these 3 extraordinary benefits, make surrounding future developments almost impossible.
The grounds at Posada La Poza
8. Snoop Around
It is now time to start checking out the neighbors, knowing that like minds usually fit best next to each other. If your goal is to build a quiet little beach house someday, make sure the next all-inclusive party resort is not scheduled to be built next or close to the lot you have chosen.
Often, what you don’t see is most concerning. If you are buying 50 meters of beachfront and intend to put a US$400,000 house on it, don’t buy next to a lot that has only 10 or 15 meters of frontage. A smaller house next to you will not help your property value. Some have seen this happen in sections of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.
9. Avoid the “Back-from-the-Beachfront” Trap
Don’t be fooled into purchasing a back lot at beachfront prices. The key to any purchase is to be certain there is plenty of room for your lot between your rear boundary at the beach road (the road running parallel to the sea line) and the waterline.
Take into consideration the federal zone (20 meters from the high-tide line), the public beach area, along with local and Federal government’s building restrictions. Make sure they don’t combine to place your beachfront lot at a back-lot location.
10. Don’t be Fooled at Closing
Title issues remain an area of concern when buying property in Mexico and closing property is very different than closing property in the United States or elsewhere. When closing properties for my clients in Mexico, I use a closing team consisting of:
- A locally, well known known escrow company to hold all funds.
- A notary or a government attorney hired by us that is tasked with overseeing the transaction.
- Your own personal closing coordinator; to ensure that all parties are receiving all of the important and sensitive communication in a timely fashion.
Ask for a government certified translation of everything that they ask you to sign so that you are not signing a blank check. Many companies have you sign a proxy or power of attorney at closing, then close legally without you. Don’t go for this. The only person who should get your power of attorney—if anyone—is your own trusted attorney, not a developer. Bring both your brain and your wallet when crossing the border.
Check the numbers at closing, including the lot numbers and dollar amount. Be certain you have a catastral number (municipal inscription number) in both English and Spanish. If there is not a catastral number, you are only spending money on undefined dirt, not title to the property. Parcels included in your meets-and-bounds description need to conform with the previous title, if any. When in doubt, wait and ask questions.
In a perfect world you should not be more than 15 minutes’ drive by car to a small town with a general store or simple restaurant. This way you won’t be driving more than an hour for the simple necessities like beer or milk, which is often the case in Mexico where beachfront prices are most affordable and attractive.
Further, if the closest international airport is more than 2 hours away, the price of the lot should reflect such. Many affordable lots are in the middle of nowhere.
Lastly, ask about electricity and water. Some lots may not have the infrastructure to accommodate comfortable living. Some rural beachfront properties may not have access to everyday electricity for years. Some on the other hand may be getting electricity soon and these properties may be a great deal by still being offered at “no electricity” pricing.
12. Reality Check
A beachfront property in Mexico that scores positively on all of the above qualities does not exist…but if you can find locations with 80% of the above mentioned criteria, you have a winner. One of my most recent finds—the village of Todos Santos, Baja California Sur—scores in this range, thanks in part to its close proximity to both Los Cabos and La Paz. Todos Santos is one of the safest villages in all of Mexico.
With a lower cost of living than the United States—and dramatically lower cost of beachfront property—Mexico is an attractive option for finding your dream beachfront property.
Good luck on your search…… and look me up when you make it to Baja.