Real Estate FYI / Houses of Merida Video: The Good Life

Houses of Merida Video: The Good Life

Houses of Merida Video: The Good Life

9 July 2010 REAL ESTATE, Real Estate FYI 38

Click to watch the walkthrough on Vimeo!


When we first moved to Merida in 2002, the house next door to us was empty. We lived in Casa Panadero, and the house next door was called Casa Pocito. We rented Casa Pocito for awhile as an office, but soon moved into our own building a few blocks away. A few months later, new owners moved in and we considered ourselves very fortunate to have such friendly and fun neighbors.

Our new neighbors had retired from their jobs in Charleston, South Carolina, and had moved to Merida to relax. We enjoyed living next to them, sharing our experiences of this new adventure called "moving to Merida"... but most of all, we loved seeing how they decorated their house, which had a floor plan that was a mirror image of ours. They always had colorful art, beautiful flower arrangements, a glass of something cold with ice and of course, they had Max, the regal black standard poodle, who lent an air of elegance to any room he graced with his presence.

Imagine our surprise and dismay, then, when they announced that they had sold Casa Pocito and were going to build a new home in south Merida. They were one of the first gringos we knew who ventured down south of the zocalo (soon to be followed by hundreds of others, including ourselves...). They found a large colonial building that was mostly facade, backed by a huge piece of land. They designed the house they built there for lots of cool shaded space inside, and a big garden to plant and tend in the back. And, of course, room for guests and a swimming pool.

Working with Manuel Kuk, a local contractor, and their own design, they were able to finish the house in about five months for less than $200,000 USD. Even taking into consideration that this was before the costs of materials (especially cement and block) went up a few years ago, this was an impressive accomplishment. They built a very large and luxurious home for a reasonable price in record time.

How did they do it? Well, first, by doing it a few years ago. Also, by being their own architects. And by being there every day, day after day, and making it their top priority. By reusing the rocks they cleared out of the dirt, keeping things simple and being creative with humble materials. Their local contractor, Manuel Kuk, was well known to them, and was pleasant and easy to work with, and his workers were efficient. And the house, while large, is a simple layout, which made for few misunderstandings.

A Great Room

The front part of the house is the original structure, with two guest rooms, one on either side of the wide entryway. The facade sports those old-fashioned windows with the straight old iron protectores that just say "Mexico" and inspire window-envy... until you step inside the foyer, look up and are consumed with old-wooden-beamed-ceiling envy. Such is life in Merida. If you visit other people's houses, be prepared for house envy. It's rampant here.

Everything behind those three front rooms was built new, but by now (four years later), you really can't tell the difference. The central patio with a gurgling stone fountain is reminiscent of the courtyard in the Frida Kahlo movie, minus the peacocks and parrots. While we're on the subject of animals, when we shot this video, the whole house was very obviously minus Max, the stately dog, on our visit, as he just passed away a few weeks before we were there. We missed his presence, but we're happy to see that the owners are looking at this as an opportunity to travel without guilt, which seems like a good way to deal with a sad event.

Moving past the sorrow and the patio, you walk through a screen door into what seems to be the largest room in a private home in Merida. We're here to tell you that it is NOT the largest room in Merida. There are some amazing homes here with cavernous rooms.

When you walk into this house, though, it is almost as if the house flings open its architectural arms in exuberance, inviting you to revel in all the space that it has to offer and you have to enjoy. This coral-colored room is quite large... large enough to hold string quartets and audiences of 100 comfortably. Though unplanned, this room has wonderful acoustics and has been the site of more than a few musical events since it was built. The elegant floor tiles from Mosaicos Peninsular (very Versace-esque!), the white-lined arches that march down each side and the beautiful flower arrangements add to the grandeur that is this Great Room.

The Rest of the Rooms

The main house only has one bedroom... a very large bedroom at the back, facing the garden. The bedroom and the bathroom are set apart from the rest of the house by color... soft swaths of violet and pink cal paint that surprisingly go perfectly with the colonial red zocalo tiles that provide footings to all the walls and with the grey slate tiles in the bathroom. On the same side of the house is an inviting kitchen with a warm Moroccan chandelier that hangs low over an island, and a talavera tile backsplash against the kitchen counter. In the middle on that side of the house is a den with an impressive bookshelf and all the media accoutrements needed in the 21st Century.

On the other side of the Great Room is another big room, running the length of the house and painted in a soft ochre color, where dining and visiting are the main events. The dark wood oversized dining room furniture would probably overwhelm in most homes, but here it looks perfect. And the modern art, including the modern sconces and other works by Katrin Schikora, is a great counterpoint for the mostly traditional furniture. And all the rooms are topped off with very high ceilings, and strategically placed tragaluces (skylights).

A screened-in porch area at the back of the house looks into the garden. Four years ago, the owners planted this garden and the plants have grown so prodigiously that they had to remove trees and other plants to keep from recreating an Amazonian jungle. What we especially love is the formal layout... four quadrants of planting, surrounded by stone walkways, and in the center, a large fountain that adds the sound of water. Each of the four quadrants now has a thriving orchid tree, with its butterfly-shaped leaves and pink orchid-like blooms.

Beyond that, away from the house, is a large swimming pool with plenty of places to sit in the sun, though frankly, we don't do that much here. Sitting in the sun during most of the year is a bit like stepping into a big broiler, so it is important to have ample shade. This garden has shade under an open-air poolhouse with a red-tiled roof, with seating for lounging and dining and enjoying the view.

Life is Good

Life seems good in this house. Everywhere you look, there are beautiful and interesting things. Everything you need is well within reach. There is air and space in this house in good measure... two luxuries that are much appreciated in this climate. By walking around, we can tell that the people who live in this house are enjoying their time here... and besides staying warm and staying out of the rain, isn't that what a house is all about? Here, once again, is La Buena Vida... the Good Life, in Merida!


  • ChichiHermosa 7 years ago

    Property taxes are very high in the USA. We pay 3% per every house dollar value, which in Texas can go up 10% yearly. For retirement, it is better to keep our money in a cheap property tax (predial). And Merida, Yucatan is an excellent place to retire.

  • Working Gringos 12 years ago

    Given the economic situation in the U.S. these days, "Double-Wide Living" just might be a hit...

  • David Brody 12 years ago

    I have enjoyed following the discussion above. We are moving to Merida as we enjoy the culture the city offers AND to "get away" from the imposing U.S. government. We are certainly not "spoiled Americans" as some writers call everyone who has some money and wants to live in a great home. We enjoy the mercados, the local businesses and tradesmen, but do go to the box-stores from time to time. I don't think that makes us ugly Americans. So, let's be honest Fabio... noone buys a magazine about life in a "double-wide" mobile home. We like to see what can be done beautifully with an historic building and a large lot. I give the readers credit to know what they want and need in their Merida home. Fortunately, Merida has opportunities for all sorts of tastes and budgets. It is open discussion groups such as this which bring together various viewpoints. Thanks for participating.

  • Working Gringos 12 years ago

    Thank you, Neil. The videos can be found on YouTube by typing "Yucatan Living" into the Search box or by clicking here:

  • Neil Youngson 12 years ago

    Hi Working Gringos,

    do you post these house videos to YouTube? If you did and provided a link to it, iPad users would be able to view the video, as a YouTube app is included with each iPad.

    Keep up the good work!


  • Working Gringos 12 years ago

    Alex, no one seems to have this number definitively. But current estimates for US and Canadian expats runs about 7500 to 10,000. More or less...

  • alex morrell 12 years ago

    How many US expats are in Merida?

  • Dianne 12 years ago

    I believe most of the people who wrote here went to Merida for the right reasons. It is the wonderful people and culture that have taken my heart. I spent a month in an immersion program this year. My friend and I had the pleasure of looking at homes with Eric Partney of Mexico International Realty. He took great pains to show us homes in a variety of price ranges and neighborhoods. We will return to Merida in January (and bring my husband) to enjoy the city we love. I hope my husband falls in love too, but at the least I will be spending part of every year there! While some people will always aspire to have a mansion, many just love the quality renovations that have been done. These homes, big or small, are truly works of art in an incredible city!

  • fabio fortuna 12 years ago

    Hello Alex, I have answered you in private. Gregg, unfortunately we will not avoid the negative aspects of globalization, since Merida already has plenty of Walmart, Costco, Burger King, Mcdonalds, Starbucks and all the ugly rest.....personally i try to avoid Home Depot and the like, included Liverpool, where I had my WORSE experiences - both service-wise (or the lack of it) and because it is 5 times more expensive than the small local shops downtown. And last but not least because I prefer the local stores to do business rather than enrich the corporations even more. Since you mentioned it, I'd rather spend a little more but have products which are not produced in a slave-environment - so i definitely do personalize the business relationships. After all, the only real choices we have left, are consumer choices and that is a political choice.

  • CasiYucateco 12 years ago

    That depends on what part of town you would like to live in, whether you need/want a garage, whether you need/want rooms to have AC (how many?), how large the overall home should be, whether you want high ceilings and mamposteria construction, or whether block walls are fine for you, etc.

    Different areas of the city are more popular for various reasons, with the more costly generally being in Centro and in the north.

    Depending on the finishes (regular tile floors can be as much as 20% the cost of pasta tile floors and polished cement is even cheaper), and all the details, the estimate would vary quite a bit as well.

    Ballpark figure, overall average, if you find the house yourself and buy direct from the seller, going direct to a Notario for your paperwork, perhaps you should start budgeting around $60,000 to $80,000 and go up with your "extras" aside from the basic house.

    If you have a long list of "musts", it will likely cost more. If you are more flexible and adaptable to location, style, etc, then perhaps you can stay close to cost mentioned. Labor is generally cheaper than materials, so if you can buy the "space" you need and just fix it up, that's cheaper than adding on additional rooms, generally speaking.

    This is really a non-answer, but it gives you an idea where to start, maybe. Good luck!

  • ALEX BOLANOS 12 years ago

    Hello Fabio Fortuna.
    I am a mexican citizen that is looking forward to return to his country. I dont have a lot of money but i would like to know how much do you think i would need to buy and remodel a 2 bedroom house in Merida. My family consist of 2 adults and 2 kids and i really like the house that Gregg put a link to. For a house like that (small patio, maybe a pool, 2 or 3 bedrooms, how much im i looking to invest?
    my email is i hope you have the time to answer my questions.
    Working gringos:
    i love the houses if merida segment of your website, thank you for all your beautiful work.

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