One of the best builders here is Desherman Group, which have done six or seven developments in the Chapala and Ajijic area and they have it down pat pretty well. They have a development in the $250,000 range, and there is another one in $150,000, and another one from $250,000 to $300,000 range, and another one that is $500,000 to $800,000. They basically have off-white floors, light brown cupboards, and so on. That is the standard that they do in over 90% of their buildings and people are very happy with that. They bring in their own decorative items and fix it up how they want. You could have them do custom things for you. They can add a room or take a room off or do those kinds of things. Occasionally, somebody will come in and say, “I want black cupboards and I want red tile on the floor,” and they will do that. So once in a while, when you go to one of the houses that they built, you will see that it’s obviously been customized. Desherman is a very popular developer, but there are also many other developers with different qualities and different price ranges.
There are also older neighborhoods, like La Floresta, Chula Vista, and Villa Nova, which are developments that were started in the 1950s, just after the Second World War. Over the years, more and more houses have been built but they still have a number of empty lots. Mexicans hold empty lots like we hold money in the bank. They are afraid of the banks but if they have a piece of land, they know that in the long term, it’s going to appreciate in value and it’s not going to go anywhere. When they need money, then they will sell off a lot. Still, there are a lot of opportunities to get into those old neighborhoods if you are willing to pay the price for the land and build what you want.
Jocotepec is right at the end of Lake Chapala. It is an agricultural area where most of the people who live there are Mexicans and some gringos. Just a little bit farther than Jocotepec, just around the other end of the lake and starting to go to the south side, is a development called Roca Azul (Blue Rock). There were plans a number of years ago to have an airport there, a couple of big pools, a big community area, sports fields, and so on and so forth but the developer died and the plans died with him. But there are a lot of little homes out there that are very reasonably priced and the whole thing is kept well-maintained, whereas in some areas you go, it is full of bushes and garbage. They maintain the empty lots and keep the grass cut so it is quite pleasant. But it is just like a little town in isolation.
If you want a really good deal, then you could go to Jocotepec, where they have a wonderful development going up the mountain called Las Fuentes (The Chimneys). There are a couple of lower streets without a view but as you go up, you will get better and better views and some very nice houses up there.
The next development is El Limon and a couple of developments there that are not so much developments but rural areas that have had homes built. There are some developers that have gone in and built six to twelve homes. Many times, they are just lots; some are big and some are small, and people have also built homes there over the years.
Next, you get to San Juan Cosala, which is another village that has village homes. They are not generally what gringos want, because it is an old Mexican town. San Juan Cosala is the oldest town here on Lake Chapala because that is where the thermal waters are located. I didn’t realize until a few years ago, after I was here, how valuable thermal water could be to you before there was electricity and before we had all the modern conveniences. They had water bathing, washing, and even for cooking because the water comes out of the ground at 139 degrees so it helps the food preparation and all kinds of things. You had to cool it down before you water your grass or you will fry your grass. A lot of people in San Juan Cosala have Jacuzzis because they use the thermal water mixed with cooler water and they don’t have to heat the water for the Jacuzzi and they can get fresh water whenever they want.
As you keep coming east, there are other developments along other roads that come to the lake. As you go down the road, there will be a little bit of houses and then there will be a side gate that has about eight to ten houses in a little development until you get down to the lake. Most of the lakeshore is populated with fairly large mansion-style homes that Mexicans over the years have owned. So there is not a lot of lake-front properties available but every now and then, a lake-front lot will come up for sale.
Continuing east, this brings you on to Ajijic, which is a village surrounded by Villa Nova, Las Salvias above Ajijic, and then on the other side is La Floresta. Las Salvias is the premier development area here because they have good views, big lots, big houses, and they are right next to Ajijic. From there continuing east, Ajijic goes to La Floresta, which runs right up to San Antonio. La Floresta has a few little developments with four or six homes that cost around $150,000 to $175,000. Then after that, they are generally good-sized lots and homes are priced from $200,000 to over a million dollars.
Then further east, you come to San Antonio. San Antonio has a development that used to be the old army barracks for the war that they have converted into houses. Some of them were fixed up and some are not so fixed up. Some houses in San Antonio cost $50,000 to $60,000 and others cost $100,000 to $120,000. You have to be careful, though, when you buy a property in Villa Formosa because Villa Formosa does not allow pets. I have taken people there who were so excited about the house and they say, “Our dogs would love it here.” And I say, “No they won’t, because they are not allowed.”
Right next to Villa Formosa is a little development in which I sold twenty houses that has a common area and a pool. They are traditionally three-bedroom houses, with one bedroom on the main floor, two bedrooms on the second floor, with the second being a master suite with its own walk-in closet and a walk-out terrace. Then on the third floor, there is a mirador (balcony), which often has a lake view. Houses there were running at $169,000 when I was selling them. There was recently one there for sale for $159,000 which is furnished so it’s about $20,000 less than what it was five years ago when I first sold it.
Then you get into downtown San Antonio where they have little houses, and little lots in a busy Mexican village. When you go up the bypass north towards Guadalajara (which is out going to Chapala), you will find Cielo Vista, which is a development of about 200 houses with two pools and two community centers. There is going to be four phases and they are on the second phase now.
Next to San Antonio is Vista Alegre, which will also have about 120 houses when it is finished. The views in Vista Alegre are not so good because it is more flat so you would see lots of cupolas blocking your view. But they are still expensive lots in a really good location because across the street there is Laguna Magna, which is a new big shopping center or mall and there is Interlago Plaza. As you go up the bypass farther, you’re going to hit El Dorado on the right side, which has seventy houses and then two 5-story condos. They have some 2-story penthouses that cost over a million dollars on the top of the condos, too. The cost of properties in El Dorado is generally from $200,000 to $400,000. Then you have Birds of Paradise on the same side.
Back on the lakeside, going through San Antonio, on the north side of the highway is Chula Vista, which is where I live. It is quite a nice development and it is one of the old ones. There is Lower Chula Vista, where I live, and a little farther east going up the mountain, there is Upper Chula Vista, which has some really nice houses that cost up to a million dollars or more. It is an amazing development that is quite steep, but with very good views. There is a small golf course there and a couple of tennis courts for which you can pay $3 an hour to play tennis. Mission Chula Vista is another development with fourteen houses and that pretty well winds you out. After that, you are out in the country taking a shortcut to get to Guadalajara.
When you go back down from San Antonio, going east towards Chapala, the first development you’ll hit is Mirasol. Mirasol is about four or five blocks each way with a couple of hundred houses. I call it a blue collar or kind of a bread and butter community. The old condos were done in row houses. So they have six houses in a row that are all attached to each other. So I say to people, “If you’re going to cut the grass, you’re going to bring the lawn mower in the front door, down the hall, and out the back. A few years ago, they got little wiser and they said, “We’re going to have a walkway on one side of your house so your gardener doesn’t have to come through your house when you go away,” because people don’t like a gardener going through their home when they’re not home.
The cheaper ones will start at around $120,000 to $140,000 and higher ones would cost about $150,000 to $200,000. There are also some quite nice houses in there at around $300,000. There is one in there, for example, that they advertised in a Swiss magazine and asked $750,000 for it. When I heard that it was in Mirasol, my jaw dropped. But they did; they took a house and they made that house absolutely gorgeous but it’s in Mirasol. It finally sold for $350,000, coming down from $750,000. They were hoping that they would catch a wealthy European who would buy it without coming to see where it was located.
After Mirasol, then you get Riberas Del Pilar, which is a country area between San Antonio and Chapala. There is quite a bit of land there. There are 1,600 building lots and there is probably 1,200 houses built. Most of the churches are in that area because they could get the land cheaper so they have a big parking lot for the church and so on and it is conveniently located between Chapala and Ajijic. There are still some really good buys for houses that cost between $120,000 and $175,000 and of course some are for more. Riberas is a good place for people with dogs, for example, because the houses have a decent-sized yard with a wall around it so the dogs see out and don’t go nuts at barking at everybody. Then, after Riberas continuing east takes you to Chapala.
Chapala is a town that is mostly Mexican with small houses. There are also some large homes and grand estates. There is the downtown area and some areas out of Chapala that are kind of commercial and grubby for the most part. It is depressing to live there, but prices are good.
After Chapala, there are a couple of small developments and then 15 minutes east of Chapala, you get to Vista de Lago, which is the big golf course. It is still only a 9-hole course but they have three sets of pins and you can use a golf cart there. They have a nice clubhouse, a driving range, a restaurant, and so on. I know realtors who would pick up somebody at the airport and take them into Vista de Lago and sell them a house because out there, they could have a big house on a big lot. But 6 months later, the homeowners would say, “What the hell am I doing out here? Everything is a half an hour away!” If you want to go to dinner in Ajijic, it is a half an hour drive and when they come back after having a couple of drinks and it’s dark, and there are horses, rocks, and broken down trucks on the road, so they wish that someone could have told you about it so they could have made an advised decision before jumping into something quickly. That is one of the reasons why I do an orientation tour from Ajijic through Riberas, to San Antonio and Chapala, and up around. Then I will point to Vista de Lago because it is great if you are a golfer, it is great if you are an artist, it is great if you are a hermit type of person, but if you like to be social and you like to do a lot of activities, beware of this half an hour drive. Every activity would require you to come into town.
After that going east around the lake, there are some Mexican towns farther east that are pretty much non-entities as far as the gringos are concerned. There are a few gringos that go out there and there are some people that want to go into a really Mexican community, learn Spanish, live like a Mexican, and have Mexican friends. There is certainly a lot of that opportunity there as well.
From Chapala heading towards Guadalajara, you continue up the highway a couple of kilometers and on the right side is Chapala Haciendas. Chapala Haciendas has about 400 houses and some lots. On the other side of the highway is Brisas, which has a couple hundred houses and many lots for sale. It is a good buy and if you want to get to Guadalajara, it is just 40 minutes away, and only 20 minutes to the airport. It is nice for people who travel a lot or who work in the city. Using the bypass, you can be in Ajijic within 7 to 8 minutes. It is only five minutes to Chapala where there is a Soriana, which is a big box store like Walmart.
When you go over the mountain, you will get to the village of Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos. (A membrillo is a little yellow fruit that is very pungent and very tasty that also goes by the name “quince”). Ixtlahuacan has membrillos at the entrance and a shrine to the membrillos. On the other side of the highway, you would see around ten fruit stalls all in a row. And on the other side is Agua Escondida, which means hidden water. At one time they had a big waterfall coming from the mountain all the way down. In the 1990s when the peso was devalued, the developer took off with the money and everything just went in the toilet. They are still recovering from that. Farther on is Buena Vista. Then you are in the countryside, where you can buy acreage where you can have horses, cows, and sheep.
The first year we came here, we were getting 16% interest on our pesos because Mexico had gone through a devaluation and they had issues that they had to resolve. This was in 2000. Normal for us now is 3.5%, which is still a lot more than in Canada and the United States.
(Home with mountain and lake views and a casita with a full kitchen, Chula Vista, Lake Chapala, Mexico, pictured.)