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HELL HOUSE: The Untold NASTY SECRETS About Buying Property in Merida, Yucatan

December 10, 2010

Lasciate ogne speranza...



This is Part One of a truthful first-hand account of the freakish I Love Lucy-style antics of some Merida real estate agents, and a few useful tips on how you can avoid being led like a gullible non-Spanish-speaking lamb to the slaughter.

On November 30, 1954, in Sylacauga, Alabama, an eight-pound meteorite crashed through the ceiling of Ann E. Hodges’ home, badly bruising her hip.

Your chances of being struck by lightning in your lifetime: 1 in 6250; of ever being attacked by a shark: 1 in 11.5 million; of being mauled by a bear and struck by lightning in any given four-year period: 1 in 372 million.

Your chances of finding a real estate agent in Merida, Yucatan who will speak with you frankly and never treat you with contempt: somewhere between those of your being struck by lightning in your lifetime and those of your being mauled by a bear and struck by lightning in any given four-year period.

But, please remember, it took ages for Ann E. Hodges to feel like herself again, particularly after all that ugly legal wrangling over her home owner’s insurance policy, and Rev. Rick Oliver, who was struck by lightning in 2006 and mauled by a bear in mid-2010, still has trouble sleeping.

The interaction between your average Merida real-estate agent and your average gringo client is one of absolute mutual contempt for reasons you must inscribe upon your mind and heart if you’ve any hope of surviving your whirl through the Merida real-estate market, not to mention the hair-raising plunge into the actual purchase of a home.

This absolute mutual contempt arises from the fact that:

* Your average gringo client is of the dirty-fingernail knuckle-dragging racist type who secretly or vocally believes that Mexicans are stupid, lazy, subhuman dupes.

* Your average Merida real estate agent has an enormous chip on his or her shoulder due to such things as the Mexican-American War, the outrageous mistreatment and exploitation of Mexican migrants by American agribusiness, and Arizona’s barking-mad legislators who shamelessly terrorize and vilify utterly powerless and vulnerable Mexican immigrants for cheap political gain.

* Your average Merida real estate agent therefore believes that average gringo clients are either dirty-fingernail knuckle-dragging racists, or willfully gullible self-deluded bleeding-hearts possessed of a toilet-trained kind of bigotry that makes them flatter themselves on their own open-mindedness, regard Mexicans as guileless simpletons, and betray themselves as easily victimized by the shame they feel for their gringo prosperity.

(There are of course foreigners in Merida who sell real estate to foreigners and, like most real estate agents anywhere, many of them tend to regard clients as self-deluded subhuman dupes.)

With this principle of absolute mutual contempt in mind, it will be easier for you to understand, and remember, the following anecdotes and helpful tips which are based on my two years of dabbling, on and off, in the Merida real-estate market, and which are a very likely explanation of why I’ve yet to buy anything at all, and maybe never will.


Anecdote Number One: The Beast With A Thousand Eyes

A year or so ago I went to the U.S. to visit relatives and before my return to Merida, I called to reserve a room at a hotel where I sometimes stayed.

In less than 48 hours after making my reservation, I received an email from a Merida real estate agent that said, “When are you returning to Merida? I have some properties to show you that I think you will like!”

This email was disturbing on a number of levels.

I’d had no contact whatsoever with this real estate agent for at least six months before I’d gone to the U.S. and, as far as I was aware, this real estate agent knew none of my friends, nor anyone else who might be aware of my comings and goings.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that something very odd was going on.

Before I went back to the U.S., I’d been speaking with two other real estate agents whom I’ll call, for clarity’s sake, Snoopy and Clingy. I’d made no commitment to either about buying, or even seeing, anything. I was just trying to get a feel for who they were and how they did business.

One afternoon I happened to stop by Clingy’s office and while there, I mentioned that my allergies were acting up and Clingy recommended a physician at Star Medica who’d done wonders for Clingy’s allergies. Upon leaving Clingy’s office, I hailed a taxi and went immediately to Star Medica where I was seen and treated by the doctor whom Clingy had recommended.

When I got back to my hotel in the early evening, the receptionist handed me a phone message from Snoopy, of all people, that said, “I hear you’re not feeling well. I hope you get better soon! Call me to make an appointment so we can get together and talk.”

It seemed to me that the only people who could have possibly known that my allergies were so bad that I’d gone to Star Medica were Clingy, the taxi driver who took me to Star Medica, the doctor who treated me, and the taxi driver who took me back to my hotel.

Anecdote Number One: Useful Tips

Acting on a hunch, I later gave a taxi driver 50 pesos to answer my questions honestly. When I asked him if Merida taxi drivers kept tabs on gringos for local real estate agents, he just slapped his chubby thighs and laughed and laughed and laughed.

“Oh, it’s not only taxi drivers,” he chortled. “It’s everyone. Look, it’s easy to follow what you guys do and where you go. You’ve been around a lot of the city. How many other gringos have you seen?”

Although Merida may seem like a city of almost one million, you, as a gringo, will move almost exclusively within the confines of a very, very small demographic, namely Merida’s middle- and upper-classes. They will watch you like a hawk.

Almost everyone has a vested mercantile interest in the what, when, where, why, and how of everything you do, say, eat, drink, wear, and buy.

This tight surveillance is maintained because Mexico’s informal economy is an elaborate web deeply woven into the context of every individual’s life.

Anecdote Number Two: The Carousel of Contempt

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” is what I screamed at the lovely young real estate agent who’d been driving me around and around in circles for almost thirty minutes after showing me a fairly decent two-bedroom one-bath fixer on a very hot afternoon near La Ermita.

“If you don’t stop this mother-fucking car and let me out right now, I’m either going to roll down the window and scream for the mother-fucking police or I’m going to puke my mother-fucking guts out!” is what I also screamed at the lovely young real estate agent.

You’ll probably notice that, in the course of retelling these events, I’ve a tendency to overuse mother fucker and fuck and fuck you and go fuck your mother.

It’s not that I’ve a limited vocabulary, but rather that I’ve found that while Yucatan’s normally conservative natives have watched so many American movies and TV programs that they immediately understand those words and phrases, they’re entirely unprepared to hear them from a fat, old, doddering, seemingly harmless and grandfatherly gringo like me.

(Besides, I can say “Don’t fuck with me, you mother-fucking son of a bitch,” in Spanish to similar effect, so it’s not as though I’m one of those overbearing monolingual English-language supremacists we’ve all come to know and dread.)

Anecdote Number Two: Useful Tips

Competition among Merida real estate agents is cut-throat and their belief that all gringos are imbeciles is unshakable.

To prevent you from taking another agent to a property they’ve shown you, or from your returning to deal with the property-owner on your own, some Merida real estate agents may attempt to confuse and disorient you by driving you endlessly around and around the same neighborhood, or by taking a laughably tortured route from their office to a property for sale.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Maria Cristina Llera permalink
    December 10, 2010 6:09 pm

    I´m looking forward to your next installment on the Merida property purchase saga. I have a narrative of my own on the via crucis of renting which I´ll happily share with anyone interested or simply curious.

  2. December 10, 2010 11:23 pm


    We want to hear it! E-mail it to us and we’ll run it as a HELL HOUSE feature with you as a guest writer.

  3. December 11, 2010 7:12 pm

    The economics of Merida real estate, a direct result of agent tactics, is interesting. In 1988 I drove around town looking for houses with Se Vende signs. I told my friends I wanted to buy a house. A woman appeared at the door of the place I was renting and drove me over to look at her mother’s house, which I bought. The family had decided to evacuate grandma from Centro, which is pretty much the story with a lot of the houses. When the beauty of these houses was discovered by northamericans, a cadre of northamerican “real-estate agents” appeared. Most of the foreigners would only deal with other foreigners because they couldn’t speak Spanish. These foreign agents very quickly changed the price structure of real estate here, by bumping prices up to ten to twenty times their original values. Of course, now prices are headed back to where they were in 1988.

  4. Hugo de Naranja permalink
    December 13, 2010 2:03 am

    @Beryl “La Conocida” Gorbman

    RE: Merida Real Estate

    You’re a clever little minx. But you already knew that.

    I’ve said many times to anyone who’ll listen that the Merida real estate market is a ripe plum for the pickin’ for any economics student looking for a really juicy thesis topic.

    The real estate market here defies so many conventions, and so much received wisdom, about the ways that “rational” consumers make “rational” decisions about whether to buy something.

    Consider, for example, a place like California where the entire process of buying a home, and acquiring a mortgage for its purchase, has been legally streamlined for maximum transparency and efficiency. A potential buyer has vast and immediate access to the sort of accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-the-minute information necessary for making such a significant decision.

    And yet…we all know how many home-buyers, and banks, in California used this incredibly accurate and timely and comprehensive information to make very, very bad decisions.

    So, other than burning incense and chanting, how does a “rational” consumer make a “rational” decision about whether to make a significant purchase in a context where the most crucial and fundamental information required for making this decision is occult, hidden, a matter of mystery, innuendo, gossip, dreamwork, wish fulfillment, something glimpsed but briefly in conversations that seem to mean one thing, but which could as easily suggest its opposite? Where consulting the bona fide “public record” is about as useful as consulting bona fide chicken entrails?

    I still clearly remember the devaluation of the peso, and the nationalization of Mexican banks, announced by President Portillo in September, 1981.

    I remember this because I knew people who’d worked very long and very hard to manoeuver themselves into the sort of position where they were able to think that, if Portillo were going to do something like nationalize the banks, they’d be among the fortunate few to learn about it far enough in advance that they’d be able to protect themselves financially.

    And yet, despite all their years of very hard work, and the sort of vigorous self-effacement which that sort of work entails, they discovered, in September, 1981, that they were not among the fortunate few.

    However, they made sure that their asses were well-covered before the Mexican “Peso Crisis” hit big-time in 1994.

    It would seem that there’s a lesson to be learned from the history of Mexico’s “wild card” economy, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.


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  2. HELL HOUSE: The Untold NASTY SECRETS About Buying Property in Merida, Yucatan, PART TWO « Expats Anonymous

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