House Hunting in … Mexico

By Marcelle Sussman Fischler | The New York Times



This four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath brick house with a Spanish tile roof and an attached two-car garage is on a secluded mountainside in the south central Mexican city of Cuernavaca, where Aztec emperors once had homes. Known as Quinta Oliver, the 1982 house was designed by the Mexican architect Manuel Parra, who gave each room a niche, a slanted wall, an alcove or some other distinctive


The 10,000-square-foot house sits behind iron gates and a stucco-and-brick arched entryway, on nearly an acre of terraced lawns and tropical gardens with lush vegetation. It is the largest of three homes in a walled 6.85-acre compound that can be bought separately or together (for $10.5 million), said Laura de la Torre de Skipsey, an agent with Guadalajara Sotheby’s International Realty, which has the listing. There is also a single-story, two-bedroom building down the driveway that

could be used as staff quarters, an office or a guesthouse.

To reach Quinta Oliver’s intricately carved wooden front doors, visitors cross a brick-and-stone courtyard, ascend stone steps with blue-and-white-tiled risers, and pass two brick arches and a chiseled, blow-torched and painted tile wall mural.

Inside, a massive carved lintel of Mexican cantera stone faces the library and adjacent vestibule. Dark volcanic rock tiles are sporadically interlaced with the red glazed tile that covers the floors. Hand-stenciled designs can be seen between ceiling beams throughout the house. And mantels, beams, arches, tiles and stone reclaimed from demolished houses punctuate the home’s various spaces.

From the vestibule, a stone staircase turns past a landing with a French-style arched stone window toward an upstairs sitting room. To one side is the master suite, which has a study area and a stone fireplace on an angled wall. A dressing room hall leads to a blue-and-white-tiled bathroom with an oval tub, a marble- topped vanity, a French-style leaded-glass window and a round cupola ceiling of tile and glass. To the other side of the landing is a den with a fireplace. Two sizable bedrooms have walk-in closets and en-suite baths with handcrafted tiles from Guanajuato.

On the main level, a living room with a stone fireplace is between a smaller music room and a dining room with a crystal chandelier and furniture from an old Mexico City estate. (Some furnishings are included in the price.) The dining room opens to a beamed, covered terrace overlooking a large covered outdoor kitchen pavilion with double barbecue grills, beside the pool.

A cavernous indoor kitchen has beamed barrel ceiling, a dark-stained white cedar counter on the sink side and a counter with handcrafted tiles from Puebla surrounding the stove. The center island has a marble countertop, and the appliances are stainless steel.

The adjoining breakfast room opens to an L-shaped terrace with a fireplace and views of the pool area and a fountain on a lower-level terrace. Tucked behind double doors off the terrace is a guest suite with a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bar.

The swimming pool is surrounded by gardens and has an underwater glass window, originally used to shoot TV commercials.

“It is a beautiful house for entertaining,” Ms. de la Torre de Skipsey said.

The property is in the Palmira neighborhood of Cuernavaca, where there are other large homes and estates. Cuernavaca, which has a population of about 366,000, is the capital of the state of Morelos and is known as the City of Eternal Spring, for its temperate climate. Golf courses, language schools and spas abound. The property is about a 20-minute drive from the restaurants, boutiques, tropical gardens and historic buildings downtown. Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City is about 60 miles away, or an hour and a half drive.

Market Overview

Housing prices in Mexico dropped 20 percent during the global economic downturn, and the increase in kidnappings and other crime over the last decade have hurt the real estate market as well.

But Cuernavaca stands somewhat apart from the rest of the country, as there “has always been a constant attraction for Mexico City residents to own or rent a weekend home” there, Ms. de la Torre de Skipsey said. The area has a similar appeal

“to foreigners, for their retirement or just for the weather and its beauty,” she added.

In the last five years, she said, the volume of sales in Cuernavaca has increased by 40 percent. And the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Mexico last fall, adversely affecting the housing market in nearby Jojutla and other areas of the state of Morelos, didn’t seem to have much effect on the luxury market in Cuernavaca, which Ms. de la Torre de Skipsey defined as homes priced upward of $1.5 million.

Even so, Cuernavaca is still “definitely a buyer’s market,” said Andrea Dolch Espinosa de los Monteros, an owner of the real estate agency Mexico Luxury Estates.

“The American dollar goes a long way,” she said, and prices are negotiable. And inventory will continue to increase in the future, she added, as “there is more development and more construction happening.”

At the low end, three-bedroom homes with two to three bathrooms, a small garden and a pool start at around $200,000, Ms. Espinosa de los Monteros said. In the middle of the market, $500,000 will buy a house with three to four bedrooms and three bathrooms on up to a quarter-acre lot with a pool. “Everyone has a pool,”she said.

At the high end of the market, “haciendas in beautiful shape” on an acre or two can go for as much as $6 million, particularly if they have amenities like state-of-the- art movie theaters, marble bathrooms or tennis courts, Ms. Espinosa de los Monteros said.

Most international buyers of second homes prefer to buy in the prime neighborhoods of Cuernavaca, like Palmira, Tabachines and Sumiya, Ms. de la Torre de Skipsey said.

Who Buys in Cuernavaca

In recent months, Cuernavaca has seen an influx of buyers from Mexico City, where damage from the earthquake was more severe, said Yanina Pozos, an agent with Inmobiliaria del Sol, adding that the lighter traffic and lower congestion have long been a draw.

Many foreign buyers come from Canada and the United States, particularly California and the Northeast, agents said. Some are year-round residents, while others are snowbirds.

Buying Basics

Though most foreign buyers pay cash, mortgages and cross-border loans are available.

Foreigners are allowed to buy inland property, in cities like Cuernavaca, with a permit from the Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But foreigners who want to buy property within 30 miles of the coast or 60 miles of the border must go through a bank trust or set up a Mexican company.

A public notary, or government-appointed lawyer, chosen by the buyer certifies the real estate transaction for both parties, handling the title search, overseeing any taxes that are due and reviewing official documents, including the deed, property assessment, appraisal and any permits. But buyers are advised to get advice from an independent lawyer as well.


Cuernavaca government:

Mexican tourism:

Language and Currency

Spanish; Mexican peso (1 peso = 5 cents)

Taxes and Fees

The buyer pays the transfer tax, the notary fees and expenses, with closing costs ranging from 5 to 7 percent of the purchase price. The seller pays the broker’s 6 percent commission.

The annual property taxes on this house are about 9,000 Mexican pesos (or about $480) a year.