Real Estate in Baja California: Living the High Life at Low Prices

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Experts offer tips on buying real estate in Baja California.

“Baja California is an affordable choice for retirees and soon-to-be’s, and also for young professionals who can easily work and travel from this region,” according to Jo Ann Knox, a real estate agent and wine maker who lives in Ensenada. “It is a great home-base for people wanting quick access to the United States – to healthcare, relatives, banking and more.” In 2013, the real estate market in Baja California began a steady uptick in momentum, and Knox feels that it is a trend that will gain steam in the coming year.

Knox,http://www.bajastylerealestate.com, acknowledges that the economic downturn a few years ago severely impacted the housing market in Baja but notes that the resulting ‘buyer’s market’ is a boon to those seeking residential housing in what she calls “an almost perfect mild climate” and at prices that for now are below market.

“Try buying an oceanfront condo or house in a gated golf course development for under $350,000 in the United States…very, very unlikely,” says Knox. “Here, there are bargains to be had everywhere, at all prices, in safe communities and with bank trusts and title.”

So how does one begin the daunting task of finding a retirement or vacation home in the Rosarito or Ensenada area?

Knox says that the first thing to do is make a list of things that are important – how many bedrooms/bathrooms wanted, storage space needed, amenities within the home (granite counter-tops, travertine baths, etc.) and even views. For example, much like the Napa Valley, the wine region near Ensenada receives Pacific Ocean coastal influences but its vistas are the surrounding hills and mountains.

Then, try to estimate a realistic budget for living. Gas, electric and water can all add up and residential bills typically can range from $100 a month to $500 a month. That said, one of the major perks to living in Baja is the fact that property taxes are extremely low – just a few hundred dollars annually, depending on home/lot size. Home owner fees can add up, too. The spectacular Palacios condo high-rise on the ocean in south Rosarito has HOA fees that surpass $400 a month (paying for many luxurious amenities), while Bajamar homeowners pay around $130 monthly.

“Health and dental care might be concerns for some, but the good news is that high caliber services at costs far below those in the US are available right here, as many Americans can corroborate,” Knox explains, citing the fact that some physicians in northern Baja even accept US insurance plans. Generally, health care clients can expect to pay less than half of what they would pay for comparable services in the United States.

Once the budget is set, it is good to identify an area that might fit the potential buyer’s life style. If recreational activities are high on the list, then a community like Baja Country Club south of Ensenada, or Bajamar Golf Resort (kilometer 77.5 on the toll road, on the Pacific Ocean) might fit the bill. Both of these developments feature golf courses and Bajamar also has ample tennis courts, swimming pools and hiking areas.. If the buyer wants condo living within walking distance of town, Rosarito Beach might be the place. And if the client is a wanna-be winemaker, Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe offers acreage and some homes, as well.

According to Mona Key with Bajamar Realty, http://www.rosaritobeachrealty.com, a division of Rosarito Beach Realty, another key to a successful real estate purchase is to find a reputable real estate agent who keeps abreast of frequently changing Mexican laws regarding real estate transactions and who has relationships with local title and escrow companies. A good agent will be able to describe in detail the various types of properties in Baja (leased land, Federal zone concessions, escritura vs. bank trust, etc.) and can explain the benefits and pitfalls of each one. A potential buyer should be aware of capital gains ramifications and get an estimate of closing costs before making an offer to buy. Your real estate agent will be able to provide you with that information.

In fact, many real estate agents in Baja California today are part of an organization called AMPI, a Mexican association of real estate professionals dedicated to helping both buyers and sellers by staying on top of real estate laws and maintaining vigilance over market activities and trends. Mauricio Motta, http://www.mexicocoasthomes.com, is one of those.

"Through AMPI, we are able to network with one another, and get a better understanding of what's happening in Baja's property market," says Motta.

So, now that you are ready in earnest to start looking for a new home in Baja California, what are the prices of homes and condos? They are all over the place! There are condos and small homes to be had in the low 100’s, and there are mansions sitting on the Pacific Ocean priced in the low millions. And there is everything in between. There is only one way to get a handle on the diverse housing market in the area, all the realtors agree: visit.

There are any number of ways to begin your investigation. Call a real estate agent for ideas and more information. Read up on Baja, its climate, activities and culture, by visiting websites like Baja.com or Baja Bound Mexican insurance company, or even reading books, like the Moon Baja guide. Visit local tourism websites and Facebook pages, such as that of Proturismo Ensenada or that of Rosarito Beach. And you simply can’t beat traveling to the region, whether by car (offering you more mobility) or even by cruise ship. There are numerous tour operations that can offer personalized service (Baja Wine & Sun Tours, among others) and guide you around the area.

The real estate market in Baja is on the upswing, “but prices are still really low,” says Knox. “That’s the main reason people come here—to lead a very good lifestyle for not a lot of money. And the fact that they are near the Pacific Ocean and only an hour or so away from the US is huge.”

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Carla White

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