Real Estate FYI / Building Our House

Building Our House

Building Our House

11 May 2006 Real Estate FYI 14

Buying, restoring and building houses is a favorite gringo pastime in Merida, and the Working Gringos are no exception. When we moved here, we had just finished restoring a home in California, so restoration was not something we wanted to do right away. We bought a house designed and restored by one of the Yucatan's (and Mexico's) most famous and brilliant architects, Salvador Reyes-Rios. It was one of two colonial homes that Salvador had restored on "spec", and we were thrilled to be able to buy something so beautiful. Our house was called Casa del Panadero and it has been turned into a lovely vacation rental.

At the same time we bought Panadero, we also bought a ruin of a house three blocks away to be our office. We asked Salvador if he would design it too, and he consented. Later that year we hired a contractor to renovate it and we named it Cho'hol, which we understand means "Mouse Hole" in Mayan. We don't know why houses have names in Mexico... well, we used to not know why. Now we don't know why houses in the States *don't* have names. Although Cho'hol is our office, it was designed to have all the amenities of a smaller two-bedroom, two-bath house.

While we have loved every minute of our lives in Casa del Panadero (which means House of the Baker, by the way, as it was once a bakery), we now have two dogs, URL and Mali, and the house is just too small. We think it would be more convenient to have our house and office on the same property. A large property. For the dogs, you know. So we have decided to sell Panadero (you can see the listings at Tierra Yucatan, Real Estate Yucatan and Hacienda Mexico) and move into a much larger place.

Last summer, we were lucky to find an inexpensive plot of land in Colonia San Sebastian, about 8 blocks south-west of the main plaza. It's a rather expansive lot with a little bit of house on it. So we bought it and are now in the process of designing a combined house/office that will be mostly new construction, remodeling only the facade and the two front rooms of the original structure.

Since many of our readers are either living here or thinking of living here, we felt it might be helpful (or at least interesting) to track our progress over the next nine months or so as we design, build and move in to our new home. The plan is that we will move in by Christmas... vamos a ver! (We'll see!). But that's the plan.

Now that Salvador is an architect to the stars, he's not available to help the likes of us. But we have selected two wonderful "working gringo" guys from New York to be our designers/contractors. They have lived here for four years, renovated a few houses during that time, and have committed to designing and building us a great house within our budget.

Many people come down to Merida to buy inexpensive houses, and while that can be done, we have found that it is important to balance the desire to buy everything for less with the knowledge that you get what you pay for. If you follow our process over the next few months, something tells us you will get to watch that balancing act more than once.

So, here is where we are: We own a piece of property that is about 10,000 square feet in an "L" shaped configuration. We are in the process of buying an additional piece of land from the neighbors next door to form a "T" shaped piece of land. Our challenge (and our designers' challenge) is to design a house that is about 3,500 square feet that will include an office and a home with a swimming pool, a courtyard and a *big* garden... or what we have begun referring to as a "tropical park". All of this for around $200,000 US.

We're not going fancy, but we want something informed by Mexican sensibilities but with a monastic edge. We want it cool, airy and easy to keep clean (with two dogs!). Can it be done?? Stay tuned! We'll keep you updated on our progress.

Follow along with the Working Gringos as they build their house here:


  • Building Our House IV 15 years ago

    [...] **** To read the progress of our house project (something we find a bit painful, but you might find interesting…), here are the links: Building Our House III Building Our House II Building Our House (Please rate this article)  Loading ... [...]

  • steve 16 years ago

    Our houses are near your current house on Calle 51 between Calles 54 y 56. What we love best about the location is that we can actually sit in the front room of the house - with the doors and windows open - and hear the chirping of birds and the rustling of leaves. What a luxury in Merida, and well worth the premium we feel that we paid for the houses!

    We will definitely be looking for a contractor, but right now we have a basic decision to make: are we going to maintain the separation between the houses so that we end up with two houses, or are we going to put the houses together and create one larger house. The answer to this question remains undetermined, but will I suspect depend on the trajectory of the real estate market in Merida (i.e., does it make financial sense in Merida to create a relatively expensive house that might be difficult to sell?) and whether or not we decide to live there full time. Preliminarily, we have spoken with Manuel Kuk (also at Alec's suggestion) and we will probably want to talk with some other designers/contractors before we get going on the project.

    In any event, there are some preliminaries to take care of such as the installation of a/c in at least one of the bedrooms and getting a hot water heater in the house. When all the ambient issues are attended to in the house that we'll be living in, we'll begin work on the "big picture."

    Finally, in response to your question, we will not be living there year round for now. I do public interest environmental law in Santa Fe and my partner is a software engineer. Unfortunately, despite all the advances in technology, it is still not possible for me to conduct my law practice from a remote location. We will spend the odd week or two at the house this summer and fall, and then move ourselves and our two dogs to Merida for four months over the winter. During that period of time, I'll be looking to see if my experience in U.S. environmental law is at all marketable in Merida. If it is, I'll become a "working gringo" too !

  • Working Gringos 16 years ago

    Thanks for the compliment, Steve. We love our house too...our new house will be a lot like it, only with lots of room for two big dogs! Yes, Josh and John are suffering the slings and arrows of lots of fortune. Are you looking for a contractor? When are you moving down here, and will you be moving for good? And lastly, are your two houses near our new house or the one we are living in now?

  • steve 16 years ago

    I love your current house and can't wait to see what you do with your lot in San Sebastian. My partner and I are just about to close on our house in Merida (which is very close to yours) and, like you guys, we also bought one "finished" house and one that needs a total "redo." (The two houses are adjacent.) In getting ready for this work we have corresponded with Josh and John (at Alec Stephens' suggestion), and they have told us that they are extremely busy. Perhaps we could get together when I'm next in Merida so that you guys could give me a "heads up" on the common pitfalls to watch out for here. Cheers and best of luck!


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