Buying Property in Mexico

The process Holly and I went through in purchasing Ejido property here on the coast of Jalisco was not an easy one. Fortunately, our seller, an expat who had Carte de Poder (Power of Attorney) for the property was someone highly acclimated and 100% fluent, and thus able to navigate the brutal bureaucracy involved. Even with that, the process nearly killed him – literally.

To start with the property needed to go through the process of “dominio pleano” a solicitation to have it removed from the community Ejido land holdings. Next, it had to receive state approvals on its way up the food chain to the final application for titling by RAN (Rural Agrario National) in Guadalajara. Once titled, it still had to be registered back at the state level, then returned for a final “derecho del tanto” (right of first refusal for Ejido members) and payment of taxes at the Ejido level. Normally, once titled by RAN, a coastal property can be held in fideicomiso bank trust and even receive Title insurance with an expat named as the beneficiary. In our case, however, we had to form a Mexican corporation due to the size of the two parcels. This process added an extra six months. In total, the process, start to finish, took three years, with plenty of under-the-table “tips” paid along the way by the seller.

(For more of the back story, check out my memoir “The Mexico Diaries, A Sustainable Adventure” available at Amazon/Kindle.)

The following is offered as a quick-start trouble-shooting guide to any foreign nationals considering the purchase of ejido, or recently privatized ejido property, particularly in the federal restricted coastal zone.

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1) Any deal to purchase property that is still part of an ejido (communal land holding) should be considered RISKY. Regardless of what you may be told, using a Mexican national as presta nombre (borrowed name) or any other means to purchase ejido property in the restricted zone can never be a fail-safe proposition regardless of having powers of attorney (carta de poder) or a will (testimento) in place. While many people have successfully “owned” property for years in the name of a presta nombre, there seems to be increasing financial/development pressure that is making that vehicle for holding property ever less stable over time.

2) The litmus for determining if a property is actually private, and not still part of the ejido, is possession of a Title from RAN (Registro Agrario National). A word of caution, however; many sellers will say that properties are titled, and will wave around what’s called an “escritura” (title), however, these are often titles created at a municipal level and are not the same thing as a full RAN title. The fact that there are two types of title creates considerable confusion, however, any Notario can easily determine if the title is a proper RAN title, the kind necessary for a secure purchase. It should also be noted that converting a Ejidal escritura to a proper RAN title can take years. Beware of anyone claiming otherwise. There is a cluster of titles in our town that have been in process since 2006!

4) It is advisable that any deposit money paid should be accompanied by a formal compra y venta agreement, best reviewed by a Public Notario’s office. A formal compra y venta will be drawn up for privately titled property only, not ejido property. Any purchase agreement other than a formal approved compra y venta should be considered extremely risky. Consideration should also be given to the facts that realtors aren’t licensed, escrow accounts are rarely used, and that even deposit money accompanied by a formal compra y venta may be at some risk.

Note here also that even with a compra y venta agreement in place, all members of the ejido are constitutionally entitled to the first right of refusal before the first sale of a property out of the ejido.

5) Final purchase, payment, and transfer of title should be conducted under the supervision of a Public Notario’s office only.

6) Even with proper RAN title and/or municipal subdivision approvals for deeded lots, there are still risks! Unlike the U.S. (or Canada?) where municipal approvals cover the liability for adherence to federal environmental rules, approvals granted Mexican municipalities do not cover this liability. Any subdivided property being sold without a prior Estudio Impactal del Medio Ambiente (Environmental Impact Study) is still at full risk for future fines or even forfeiture for any existing or future development done without the study. In many cases, a Forestry study will also be required.

7) A final cautionary note. Even if you are confident that your papers are all in order, keep in mind that the Mexican legal process makes the legal system in the U.S. look like a bullet train. Legal battles can take many years to resolve, if ever, and a legal fight is usually a true battle of attrition, and largely stacked toward the Mexican nationals.

Good Luck Amigos. Buying property in the restricted coastal zone is definitely not impossible, but it should be considered a gamble, and like all gambling, it should not be done with more than you can truly afford to lose. Purchasing property in the interior, where fee simple deeds are easily acquired, is a straightforward process very similar to the U.S. or Canada. Striking a deal to lease or build on a Mexican’s land are other options that are often successful.

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Being The Change (Book Review)

Being The ChangeBook review by Dan Gair (as published in from Permaculture North america Magazine)

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In “Being the Change”, NASA climate physicist Peter Kalmus takes us on a journey, mostly by bicycle, to a future where humans learn to live in harmony with nature, and themselves. That future also happens to be Kalmus’s present.

In the first third of the book, Being the Change offers a sweeping survey of current climate science, before moving on to explore how individuals can effect real change on a personal level, while elevating that change to a pilgrimage of spirit. Through Kalmus’s  entertaining story, the reader is able to imagine transforming one’s own life into a more balanced, sustainable whole. Never losing site of the practical, Kalmus offers solutions for those wishing to reduce the environmental impact associated with work, travel, eating, play and even poo’ing!  

Throughout the book, Kalmus offers useful chapter sub-headings that function as guideposts on the road to change. Among these the reader will find general suggestions for opting out of the broken banking and consuming systems, how to best effect political change, and how to strengthening local community ties. In addition, there are practical, sidebar topic tips for getting started with “humanure” composting, converting diesel vehicles to WOV’s (waste oil vehicles), backyard chickens, “slow travel”, wild foraging, labor saving gardening practices, bicycle commuting, and calculating one’s carbon footprint. One aspect of “Being The Change” that I particularly enjoyed was learning about how embracing a lower impact lifestyle has contributed to Kalmus’s spiritual practice, and loving connection to the world around him.

The only things I felt could have made the book more comprehensive would have been the inclusion of a broader discussion of green urban planning, and more information about back-to-the-landers, eco villages, and the global Permaculture movement.

The author’s inherent authority as a leading climate scientist, combined with his passion for freeganism dumpster diving, bee keeping, bicycles, composting, and community, plus misadventures in his waste veggie oil vehicle “Maeby” (maybe it will make it) all shape this book into a deeply inspiring, informative read.

Secret Sustainability South of the Border! (sh-h-h-h-h)

Thinking of moving off the grid? Starting an organic farm or CSA? Are you part of a group considering pooling resources and homesteading together?

Well, shhhh-h-h-h, come closer, I’ve got a few well guarded secrets I can share with you…

Secreto Numero Uno: get your hippi ass south of the border! Be it Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, or wherever, there are many reasons that you should consider the southern option. The reasons? Listen in:

Reason #1: Two to Three growing seasons. Yes, you can find extended growing in the southern U.S., but 1000 miles south of Texas you really do get an entire second or even third season. What’s not to love about growing outdoors, year round!

Reason #2: The cost of land & living. Land is cheaper (well maybe not Costa Rica anymore), but equally important for the long haul is that property taxes are nearly zero. On our one hundred acres we pay $200 a year. Tell me that doesn’t help the bottom line! And while some things like farm & solar equipment are expensive there, once you have property you are allowed a one time exemption to bring a moving van’s worth of “household goods” into Mexico without import taxes. Also, the cost of ongoing basic staple goods is roughly half what one pays in the U.S.

Reason #3: Save energy and reduce your carbon footprint: So how much of your precious time and energy do you want to spend every year preparing for the coming winter? 30%? 40% 50% or even higher??? Well how does 0% sound as an option for you? If you are situated in Mexico or further south, the cost of winter is a thing of the past. And then there are the ethics and nuisance factors of winter heating to consider. How much of your life’s energy, not to mention the planet’s carbon resources, do you really want to commit to heating your home, or even, in extremes climes, avoiding the possibility of freezing to death?

Reason #4: Less Regulation: Face it amigos, you just can’t fart in the U.S. anymore without a permit! Seriously, come south of the border and you’ll discover a sense of freedom you would never have dreamed of back in the United States or Canada. Whether you plan to sell in a farmer’s market such as one of the three or four thriving ones in Puerto Vallarta alone, or if you’re planning on having a CSA, selling to restaurant’s, or simply just growing for yourself, you can count on minimal regulation once you’ve crossed the border and made your way south.

Reason #5: Security in the face of what lies ahead. Really, you ask? Is he seriously suggesting that life in Mexico can be more secure than life here in the good olde U.S.A.??? Well, yes, actually, I am. As for the narco violence, there are a few simple, common sense rules to be followed such as staying out of the areas of drug production or major transport corridors. The vast majority of the violence I hear about is limited to three or four states, and even with that, it’s the narcos and cops getting perforated, not tourists, travelers, or organic veggie farmers. (I could go on and on about this subject, but will save that for another post…). So what do I mean by security for what lies ahead? Well, the way I see it, if the energy infrastructure gets disrupted for one of any number of reasons (troubles in the middle east, peak oil, climate change) then simply surviving, let alone thriving anywhere north of 30 – 40 degrees north latitude could get really expensive if not downright impossible. Personally, I’d rather build my off grid infrastructure in a place with great public transport, and where access to plentiful, renewable, energy is a bonus, not a necessity!

Reason #6: Quality of Life. Having shuttled back and forth, splitting parts of the year between the two worlds for nearly a decade now, I can with some authority that QOL south of the border is, in general, superior. Yes there are issues with sanitation, schooling, crime and such, but over all life there is really sweet. The Mexican people are, on the whole, far more open, warm and friendly to strangers than has been my experience in the northern countries, and the pace of life, much more focused on friends and family, is more relaxed, and even festive, than north of the line.

So there you have it. Starting your Permaculture journey in a location with high property taxes or heating demands is like setting off to hike the Pacific Coast Trail with two ten pound rocks in your pack. Why would you do that? Mexico and other points south can help eliminate these handicaps.

If you’re still not sure and want to make a test run first, come spend some time with us in beautiful Mayto! Our off grid goat ranch + sustainability center has a campground and guest house where you can beat the winter and hang out for a while. We also have work exchange programs, a very affordable, hands-on education program, and even the possibility of longer-term involvement. Check us out! www.ranchosolymar.com

 

Dan Gair, his wife Holly Hunter, along with their daughter Hillary  Abrams own and operate Rancho Sol y Mar. Entertaining stories of their Permie adventure in Mexico, from scorpion stings & Narco uprisings, to rescuing chickens from boa constrictors, and paying bribes with fresh goat cheese, are all presented in Dan’s upcoming memoire “The Mexico Diaries (A Sustainable Adventure, South of the Border)” scheduled to be published later this year.

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This entry was posted in Camping, CSA, CSA’s, Farming, homesteading, Mexico, Mexico, off grid living, off grid living, Organic, peak oil, permaculture, permaculture, recycling, sea turtle, solar, solar, Sustainability, Travel and tagged beach, campground, camping, CSA’s, energy, energy issues, farming, food, food production, goat, goat cheese, Jalisco, latin america, Mayto, Mayto Beach, Mexico, off grid living, organic. CSA, peak oil, ranch, solar, sustainability, Travel on September 29, 2012. Edit

PDC’s – Free Online vs. Paid For Location Courses?

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PDC’s – Free Online vs. Paid For Location Courses?

Ever wondered why on-location Permaculture Certification Courses (PDC’s) charge the big bucks, while their kissing’ cousins, online PDC courses, are free, or practically nothing to “attend”?

The following is an excellent general primer on PDC’s, and explains clearly and fully why live PDC’s are well worth spending your hard earned pesos on: (click link)

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January PDC (Permaculture Certification Course) in Mexico!

January PDC (Permaculture Certification Course) in Mexico!

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Join us for this transformative experience in a welcoming, traditional village

 – just steps from one of Mexico’s most pristine, swimmable beaches! Jan. 10-24, 2016

Come Grow Your World!

Learn regenerative food growing, energy production, natural building,

and water systems, adaptable to any climate.

This is the Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) course laid out by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, and refined since it’s inception in the late 1980’s. Participants receive 72-hours of theory and hands-on practical training not possible with online courses.

Camping, all meals, and ground transport provided. Lodging upgrades, early bird discounts, & limited scholarships available.

Instructors:

Andrew Jones: Founding Member of BajaBioSana, and PDC Instructor on 5 continents.

Shenaqua Jones: Permaculture Instructor, Yoga, Health & Raw Foods Educator.

Axel Gutierrez: Master’s Degree in sustainability. Trained with Bill Mollison & David Holmgren.

Daniel Gair: Natural Building & Solar Instructor

Holly Hunter: Artisan Cheese Maker and Animal Care Instructor.

For Further Info/Registration: www.PDC2016.com

Natural Finishes Workshop at Proyecto San Isidro

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Agave

 Top Above: One of several new building projects underway at Proyecto San Isidro featuring a wonderfully crafted “mashup” of Cob, Straw Bale, Traditional Adobe, and Pajareque (including bottles) construction techniques. Natural building has it all: minimal environmental impact, lowered construction cost, long lasting durability, beauty, and comfort (earthen buildings are well known by Mexicans as being “fresco” (cooler in hot weather than contemporary cement based construction). So what’s not to love???

Bottom Above: Agave and fields of Rancho El Pardo, home of the inspired San Isidro project.

 

I’m happy to report that the movement to pursue sustainable living practices is gaining ground in Mexico. This last week (October 2014) I attended a natural finishes workshop at the inspired Proyecto San Isidro at Rancho El Pardo  in Central Mexico, along with more than twenty others from all around the country and representing a terrific variety of Mexican social strata. The workshop itself was extremely well organized and covered topics from natural plasters ( primarily variations on mixes of builder’s lime, earth, sand, straw, and cow poo) to the making of paint, applying frescos (natural pigments painted directly into fresh lime plaster), waterproof tadelakt (a burnished lime surface used for showers, sinks, and other applications where waterproof finish is needed), and earthen floors.

One thing quite amazing to experience and be part of is the growing web of connections in the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican natural building movements. Much of it originated with Llanto Evans, who single handedly saved cob construction techniques which had been a standard of construction in the British Isles for centuries, but which had gone virtually extinct during the 1900’s. Lanto, and his wife Linda breathed new life into this wonderful building art when they transported the knowledge back to their home in Oregon in the 1980’s, and began experimenting with more sculptural use of the materials than had been used previously in the U.K. It was the combination of practicality and the new artistic expression that Lanto & Linda brought to it, that captured imaginations, and propelled the medium to new life. Lanto later introduced Cob to the Las Cañadas sustainable community in Vera Cruz state of Mexico, as well as builder Pat Hennebery of British Columbia and many others in the Pacific Northwest, and a cross pollination of builders migrating between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico has been evolving ever since.

Like much of the other explosion in cross cultural mashups happening in recent years, the new generation of natural builders are combining cob with other techniques such as straw bale, super adobe, compressed earth block, rammed earth, traditional adobe and others. This all seems to fit the new generation of Mexicans well as they push to cast off their machismo heritage and find identity more relevant to new global realities we’re all grappling with. And no where I know of can this cross pollination of cultural and generational building styles be found in more beautiful expression than at Proyecto San Isidro.

Following are photo’s and descriptions of the various techniques and material mixes taught at the workshop:

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above: Proyecto San Isidro Director & Natural building Architect Alejandra Caballo demonstrating a sample of hardened cob mixes.

 

 

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above: Guest instructor and fresco muralist Pedro at pigment making demonstration (pigments later used in a separate paint making class).
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above: Various naturally occurring mineral elements used for making paint pigments.

 

 

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above: Participants examining earthen floor samples.

 

 

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above: Cob, Straw Bale, & Pajareque composting toilet room under construction.

 

 

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above Resident Maestro (master builder & teacher) Guero demonstrating the application of fermented cow dung exterior finish coat.  

 

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above: Cob serpent atop Pajareque wall
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Unusual  example of a vaulted boveda ceiling constrcuted with traditional adobe blocks rather than fired brick.

 

 

Urban Permaculture in the Mexican Highlands

I’d like to share an inspired project friends of ours Seth & Cris Phillips and their daughter Katia, have going in Guanajuato, a jewel of a city in Mexico’s central highlands. 
Several years ago Seth & Cris purchased their large, rundown city lot in the heart of bustling Guanajuato and set to work. The first couple of years were spent tearing down numerous, decrepit, old adobe structures, and creating a comfortable house and guest cottage in their stead. Where most “normal” people would have done away with the old adobe, Seth, a committed recycler, painstakingly stacked and saved the adobe blocks which have since been repurposed into a beautiful expansion of the living space. Over the years the family has also created wonderful Permaculture gardens and other systems (although I don’t think I’ve ever heard Seth or Cris call it that exactly).
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Seth, Cris, Katya & Pecos at home in their urban garden…
Every time Holly & I visit there are fun new additions to take in, and we always find the project inspiring in its modestly. In particular, and unlike me, Seth is a minimalist who always searches out low tech solutions to energy & water usage challenges. While swapping ideas, we often share a friendly partier about his ultra basic approach vs. the more costly and complicated solutions I am usually prone to. “Why go to the time and expense of building an elaborate solar cooker”, Seth will chide me, “when a simple foil reflector blanket and black, cast iron pot can cook almost anything”? Hmmm, perhaps he has a point!
 
During the early renovations Seth created grey water storage and a network of direct irrigation channels and tubing to help sustain the various plantings during Guanajuato’s dry stretches which can last for months on end. Gradually, shade from the 30+ fruit trees is replacing the harsh noontime glare, and the walled, interior garden space is now a profusion of vegetable gardens, pathways, and chicken coops. Every day Seth feeds the chickens buckets of fruits and vegetables discarded from the neighborhood fruteria.  Once a week the resulting organic material is shoveled out of the chicken run and into a compost that is used to improve the soil.
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The Gardens…
Along the way Seth has also puttered around with various low tech energy saving add-ons including a home-made solar food dehydrator, solar water heater, solar distiller, a rocket oven, a “humanure” style composting toilet, and a hay box cooker.
 
The most recent addition is a 20,000 litre water collection cistern capable of spanning the ever longer water outages the city suffers. 
 
As the oasis grows greener, Seth and Cris remain committed to simplicity and a pragmatic yet seemingly joyful exploration a the good life, right there, in the heart of the city!