I want to take a minute before I go on with my grim story to address the e-mails I have been receiving about my choice of real estate agent and my apparent naiveté. Many of these e-mails seem to suggest that it all went wrong because I chose a Canadian rather than a more professional agent. In other words, I had gone with my heart instead of my head.
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Eddy the Realtor was chosen because yes, he was Canadian and he made me feel comfortable in a place where I was way out of my depth, but his website also had pages of recommendations from grateful customers, some of whom I got in touch with. They loved him and went on about what a great “hand-holder” he was throughout the frightening experience of buying in Mexico.
A few other e-mails suggested that, in the right hands, a pre-construction buy is not a big deal. Two things in my defense:
Ours was not a classic pre-construction buy. It was never just a big hole with pretty pictures selling you a dream, but a standing building, where we fell in love with the unbelievable view from the penthouse terrace. The essentials were all in place except, ahem, electricity, tiling and an elevator. I was an idiot, I admit. I was too enamored with the concept of living in the tropics as seen from a penthouse to think as clearly as I should.
The other thing I would point out to those who say “an experienced realtor would have made all the difference.” If you go to the very centre of Puerto Vallarta, to the large square, you will see a giant condo that is unoccupied. Why? After it was partially constructed, it was deemed unsafe because, amongst other things, it had too much salt in the concrete. Someday it must be demolished. Everyone lost all their money and there is little chance of anyone seeing a dime. How many experienced realtors were involved in that debacle, I wonder? There it sits as a triumph of style over substance, with everyone losing their shirt.
We did not.
Whenever we flew out from PV we could see our palapa on top of our building from the plane, so we knew we had bought something wonderful even as we wept. We went through it all because we loved our place in the sun. In the end we overcame it all.
But not yet, not then.
So we had bought a condo for double our budget but half the advertised cost. We had no electricity or elevator, the still brittle developer Sergio refused to tile the 1,800-square-foot terrace and two of our kids were days away from arriving for our Christmas together. Oh yeah, the furniture and appliances Eddy the Realtor (not his real name) had stored in his office for three months were coming the next day.
We had decided to move to a boutique hotel almost across the road from our new home. We were getting tired of walking up an enormous hill from the Hotel Rosita, and then climbing 10 stories of apartment steps four or five times a day. I was developing the calves of a young yak, and my poor wife looked like Popeye’s big sister. It was not attractive.
We were met by the curious inmates of this new casa hotel, who commiserated with us around the coldest pool my upper legs had ever encountered. They listened to our plight for a while before one, a retired hydro worker from Regina, mentioned that because the electrical wires were not even up on the street yet, much less any usable current, he felt we should book rooms for our children immediately and forget about Christmas at our eagles’ nest.
I sprinted past the world’s coldest pool to the end of the sun deck and looked down at our street below and through now blurry eyes knew he was right. Empty posts, new, empty and nude posts….no wires. Then another of the guests piped up that he had heard from one of Sergio’s many workers called Pepe that the elevator was months away from completion in distant Guadalajara.
Dead silence, until the hammer blows below told us they were digging up the street again to try to re-lay the huge sewage pipes. That was it. I am always an optimist with a Plan B or C, but we had just rushed by Z.
I ran down to the street, which was crowded with interested Mexicans, looked up at the sky and shouted:
“I am going to get you! No one kicks Chris Dalton in the balls and gets away with it!”
The unilingual crowd might not have known what I said but in Mexico there is a certain appreciation for blind passion. A smattering of applause and smiles came from my future neighbours.
Just then a nightmare started to unfold. Right before my eyes I saw a large, bald, tattooed man with a white goatee lumbering towards me, flexing the muscled arms hanging out of a sleeveless T-shirt. Obviously a retired Hell’s Angel, high up in the enforcement side of that charitable organization.
“Oh, God,” I thought. “I am going to get it now right in front of my wife.”
Michelle was looking down from the sun deck quizzically. She waved.
“Hi there,” I said, quivering. “Live nearby, do you?
He just looked at me. I thought quickly.
“I am Canadian.” Brilliant, I thought, nobody wants to hurt a Canadian. It would be like kicking a puppy.
“So am I,” he said softly. “I am from Edmonton.” Long pause. “Can I give you some advice?”
Gulp. “Sure,” I ventured.
Then a wonderful thing happened. His face crinkled into a big smile, I looked into his bright blue eyes. He put his arm around me and said in little sentences, “Mexico will kill you if you let it. I have been here for 20 years. You have to go with the punches and just grin. It will all work out for you. I have been watching you two. You are good people. I will help.”
And that was how I met a guy from down the street in Puerto Vallarta, my new best friend, Don.
Next column March 11: “Onwards.”
Copyright Christopher Dalton 2015