Real Estate FYI / Be It Ever So Humble...

Be It Ever So Humble...

Be It Ever So Humble...

21 December 2009 Houses of Merida, Real Estate FYI 29

There's No Place Like Home

We've had many requests to show you what lies behind some of the less magnificent facades of Merida. We all know there are some pretty spectacular houses with sweeping vistas, tall ceilings, columns, arcades, reflecting pools and more here in this colonial city. But many of us can't afford that kind of home. And some of us don't even WANT that kind of home (after all, those big houses can be a lot of work to maintain and keep clean).

Episode Five of The Houses of Merida brings us to the humble abode of a single woman who moved here from the cold and grey city of Seattle. While she loved (and still loves) Seattle, one of the reasons she came to Merida was to live in sunshine and to enjoy the colorful life of the Yucatan. She is retired, and travels to visit family or friends regularly, so she also wanted a home she could lock up and leave for weeks at a time. And being on a fixed income, she wanted a home that wouldn't break the bank when it came to utility bills and upkeep.

The house opens onto a busy street, but has one of the owner's requirements, a garage. It is a two-story house, with two of the three bedrooms upstairs to take advantage of the prevailing breezes. There's also a private deck upstairs, which now boasts a shaded roof since we video taped there (see the upper left corner of the facade photo below), and the owner tells us that the space is much more enjoyable that way and she uses it a lot more now. The room in the back that was originally a neglected laundry room has been turned into a lovely guest cottage with its own kitchenette. And between the guest cottage and the house is a small garden and a plunge pool, both easy to care for.

As you will see, the furnishings and design of the home are simple... nothing fancy here. On the other hand, there is plenty of color, a definite statement made by someone who was used to the cold, grey weather of the Northwest. The owner was her own contractor, and besides getting the house done exactly the way she wanted it with minimum fuss, she enjoyed the experience of working with and getting to know the albañiles, some of whom have become friends.

The overall effect is a simple house that is easy to live in, big enough for parties and gatherings and with enough rooms and space to accommodate multiple guests. This house is bigger than it seems, and can accommodate up to six guests, in addition to the owner.

The Neighborhood

When she bought the home, the basic structure was what attracted her. The house had everything she had put on her list that she wanted. Like many of us, however, she knew nothing about the neighborhood that she moved into. This house is in the Centennario neighborhood, named after the Parque Centennario Zoo which is about four blocks away. Just outside of the historic centro, the neighborhood only has a smattering of colonial homes. The rest of the homes are like this one... built mostly of cement block (except for the garden walls) and built in the mid to late 20th century. The neighborhood is not filled with expats. On the contrary, this house is one of the few in the neighborhood owned by a foreigner, and so the owner is able to enjoy the unadulterated Merida neighborhood experience, from children coming door-to-door looking for school donations to the neighborly experience of sitting out on the street chatting after dark.

What she found after moving in was that, besides the neighbors, there was a lot that the area has to offer. It is walking distance to a major grocery store (Chedraui on Itzaes), the Zoo, the Bellas Artes building complex and Parque de La Paz, and to Avenida Itzaes, which in that area is a good place to walk a dog (or a human!). In the opposite direction, the heart of downtown is about twelve blocks away, walking distance as long as it isn't too hot. Easy for taxis to reach and find, and yet far enough away from the centro historico to have plenty of parking on the streets and less traffic.

Suffice it to say, the owner feels she made a good choice and is extremely happy with her humble and happy abode.


  • Beryl 10 years ago

    I love the colors and the basic white ceramic tiles. The house seems airy and extremely pleasant. And how appropriate that her first piece of furniture was a reclining chair! It fits our lifestyle so well.

  • maria luisa and bill 10 years ago

    Cautionary note to all those trying to be their own contractors to save money:
    We have 2 different friends who did this, with disastrous consequences. They are now having to hire professional contractors to undo many mistakes a great expense, and redo them at a cost that is in fact less than what they paid for their first attempt without contractor/architect. Our experience with a good architect here in Merida was very different than in the USA. He was fair, reasonable, on budget, and on schedule...we were actually shocked, (pleasantly so) and feel that we got top quality workmanship for a surprisingly low cost!

  • Gregg 10 years ago

    WG's. Did the owner ask you not no to talk about her painters, cement workers, and craftsmen also? hint-hint

  • CasiYucateco 10 years ago

    Well, those are the breaks. ;-) But you get an idea.

    If, for example, every floor had to be taken up and retiled, depending on sq footage (sq meters in Mexico = ~ 11 sq ft per sq m), that could run over $5000 or so.

    Substantial amounts of iron work can easily run into the many thousands. Every window and door needs protectores, particularly for a vacation home that is not constantly occupied.

    Personally, I was surprised how cheap the plumbing and electric work was and how expensive the windows and constant truckloads of cement bags were. Painting all walls and ceiling in 5 medium sized rooms cost nearly $1000 for paint + several days labor for several men. Pasta floors are lovely, but expensive. By surrounding the tiles with polished cement, the costs are cut a noticeable amount.

    Did I mention time? For a complete remodel like was done here: months. Not a couple months. Months and months. Don't underestimate on time. Add a few more for good measure. And then a few more. If you think it will take years, you'll be happy when it is finished, rather than being furious it took more than two months.

    The other option is to buy a house that's "gringo ready." If you find one that suits your tastes.

  • Working Gringos 10 years ago

    The owner asked us not to talk about prices... sorry. Casi Yucateco's guess on original price is about right, but his guess on remodeling is low. And the Murphy bed... the "workings" were bought in the USA and the cabinet, etc. was made locally.

  • CasiYucateco 10 years ago

    Here are some ideas of what things cost, depending of course on who you hire, if you do your own general contracting, etc: Prices in US Dollar$.

    All this is experience mixed with opinion for anyone to use or discard. Prices may have changed.

    Each electrical outlet and switch = around $25 labor + costs of wire, switches, outlets. Material costs can vary from "very cheap" (dollar or two each) to" very expensive" ($10-20 each fixture) depending on your desire for the latest style or simply affordable and cheap.

    Each plumbing fixture (normal) installed = around $30 labor + materials + costs of running pipes through the walls (labor and materials), installing drain lines (labor and materials), etc.

    New electrical connection to CFE = $150 to 200 + costs of materials (another $200 or so).

    Painting: All over the map. Labor costs depend on who you hire, the skills they have, etc. Paint costs roughly double what it does in the USA for the "good brands." Painting this house inside and out probably cost around $1000 to $2000 US if she found reasonable labor.

    Moving windows and doors: in the hundreds each for labor and materials. Who knows whether you want large or small windows and doors? See how hard it gets to give you an idea "What it costs"? That's just the price for moving the opening. The actual windows and doors cost much more. Will you general contract your own carpenters, alumineros (window makers), herreros (iron workers)? Or hire someone to handle all that for you? Doors and windows can be very expensive, particularly if you want grand and dramatic style. Hundreds for the opening + hundred(s) for the iron protectores (bars) + hundreds to a thousand(s) or more for large wooden doors or windows. Large glass windows - say 8 feet x 8 feet - made of aluminum and thick (6mm) sun-tinted glass can run from $600 to $800.

    Cement work: labor is relatively inexpensive. Materials are expensive. Cement is a monopoly and the price goes up every year. Iron is pretty much a monopoly. Paint is close to a monopoly (two major brands).

    Floors: Labor is relatively inexpensive. Tiles range from discount store cheap to quite expensive. "Authentic local-made" actually costs quite a bit, but will of course, last forever.

    Building new rooms: foundation must be built of cement and stone. Blocks are laid on the foundation for walls. Double thick block walls are good for strength and insulation. Ceilings/Roofs are made of special cement vigas or joists, between which are laid special-shaped cement blocks and re-bar steel reinforcing. These are then cemented over. 50% of the cost of the room can be in the roof. The number of bags of cement used will astound you.

    Buying this house for around $40,000 sounds "about right." Remodeling the house, just guessing, probably ran around $20,000 to $30,000, again just guessing. It appears she was very smart about repurposing so as to buy the minimum necessary. The finishes are durable, smooth, simple to maintain, and appear affordable not super deluxe. And she was her own general contractor, probably over a period of several months.

    I would also like to know about the Murphy bed! ;-) I'm guessing it was locally made.

  • fabio fortuna 10 years ago

    to Pete. I dont know where I read this somewhere or heard it in the video that the original cost of the property was around 40 K ? (I think it was mentioned somewhere - unless i am still hungover and just dreamt about it heheh) even though my personal experience tells me that you are much better off by 'trato directo' that is without going through real estate agencies, cause in my personal opinion the prices listed are by most real estate agencies are....well let's say, a 'bit' over real market value. a total renovation from electricity to plumbing, new septic tank, pool etc, light fixtures and the like would approximately cost not less than 50 K, i really do not believe it is possible to do it cheaper even though being her own contractor probably made her save 20 K - my (again humble) experience is that prices for renovations have gone up quite a bit the last 2 years (maybe imported material, lower value of the peso i don't know, just guessing here - and she has this garage automatic 'thing' that is not easily available here). a renovation takes time....a LOT of time here.....coordinating etc....allow at least 6-8 months for a total renovation, but again, just guessing.....all of this is an (un)educated guess ;)

  • Nancy Sandoval Slater 10 years ago

    Great article and video! This gives me hope! I want to relocate to this area after I retire, but I am still looking. In a couple of months will be in Progreso...considering that also.This makes it look manageable.

  • Peter 10 years ago

    a. reasonable cost is relative... even a general range of renov costs would be helpful.
    b. time period to accomplish full renovation
    c. original cost of property
    d. anything she would have done differently, unexpected quirks in the process?
    Very enjoyable and a terrific home. Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

  • fabio fortuna 10 years ago

    again wonderful home! without knowing the facts, I assume the owner has a knowledge of Spanish (am I wrong?) cause acting as your own contractor involves contact with workers etc.
    after a while in Merida, it is actually quite easy to find carpenters, electricians, plummers etc but it does require knowledge of the language. the idea of the doors as sofas is simply great! and the murphy bed as well (where on earth does one get a murphy bed in Merida, any suggestions?) which is outrageously expensive in Europe but inexpensive in the USA. The terrace upstairs was great! I especially enjoyed the simplicity of the furnishing and the layout was so functional - I am particularly envious about the pantry! wish I had that on my list when we did our renovation!
    again, thanks for the video and yes, I agree on the suggestion of having the camera man focusing on the described areas of the house .

  • Kim G. 10 years ago

    Nice vid. Up to the normal high standards of Saludos.

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