Investing in Mexico

Traditionally, a city supported by the fishing industry, Mazatlan, Mexico, is now a bustling spot for Canadian tourists and investors. Located on the Pacific coast at the mouth of the Californian Gulf, Mazatlan offers the most in Mexican culture, with live events and festivals filling visitors' calendars year-round.

It's the perfect spot for snowbirds and other Canadians looking to escape the dreary cold of the north's winters. And, unlike Cancun or the Riviera Maya, visitors and expats aren't left begging for access to beautiful beaches, says Julio Birrueta, marketing manager of the Mazatlan Hotel Association, adding that they have plenty of access to kilometres of pristine public beaches.

"We've got wonderful weather here. So while you're up there freezing, we're on the beach," Birrueta jokes. "And the city is not very big, but it's big enough to have all the amenities you need. And that's what people really like," he says. "It's a good-sized city, and it's still on vacation all of the time."

This city of more than 350,000 people also has a historical charm that any buff would love to explore. Visitors will be impressed by the Mazatlan's neoclassical and colonial architecture erected by European settlers in the 1800s.

A safe investment?

As most of us know, there have been a series of news reports coming out of Mexico that paint a pretty grim picture. The Mexican drug war has claimed the lives of nearly 30,000 people since it began in 2006.

But even though certain drug cartels do operate in Sinaloa, the state Mazatlan is located in, Birrueta says the city really hasn't seen much violence. Far too often, media stories about tourists dying in Cancun or other areas of the country also affect people's perception of Mexico, he says, but that's not the case in Mazatlan. Canadians and Americans are warmly welcomed into the community, he says, because the locals understand what tourism does for Mazatlan's economy.

"The people of Mazatlan are wonderful and very open to Canadians. They are aware that Canadians are the ones that sustain a very important part of the economy," he says. "People are really nice and have a very good attitude towards tourists."

Despite the bad press, tourism is growing right across the country, rising 15% last year over 2009. Mexico saw the number of Canadian tourists travelling to Mexico from 2007 to  2010 double, finishing at 1.2 million last year, according to Walfre Ibarra Escobar, vice-president of tourism relations for the Confederation of Mexican Chambers of Commerce.

And more than 300,000 Canadians fly to Mexico each year to live in their vacation homes - no doubt taking advantage of the direct flights offered by WestJet and Sunwing out of major Canadian cities.

"We used to get a lot of Americans, but over the last three years Canadians make up the biggest number of tourist visitors to Mazatlan," Escobar says.

Government investment

Mexico's economy grew 5% last year and is on track to grow by another 3.5% to 4% this year.  Given the country's improving economic situation, the federal government is investing more into infrastructure in tourism areas.

According to the Mazatlan Hotel Association, the Mexican government invested nearly US$150 million into Mazatlan alone, of which US$16 million went towards improving facades and fixing roads in the central business district.

In fact, over the last 20 years all three levels of government have invested an estimated $400 million into this historical area, which is home to the city's cathedral and museum, Birrueta says. The local government of Mazatlan also invested US$7 million into restoring the downtown museum and improving underground hydro lines.

"We continue to have investment in Mazatlan despite the recession," Birrueta says, which has bolstered foreign investment in beachfront apartment condominiums, restaurants and retail shops.

Buying Mexican properties

Mazatlan offers a number of apartment condos, whether they're right on the beach, near the marina or next to the golf course. But the No. 1 investment spot for the majority of expats is the city's Golden Zone in the north. Home to many of Mazatlan's resorts and hotels, the area is a great place to grab a bite to eat or enjoy a drink, along with some live entertainment.

Two-bedroom beachfront apartments  in the Golden Zone typically start at US$130,000, while three-bedroom units are closer to US$300,000. The average cost of living in the city, including mortgage payments, annual maintenance fees, property taxes and club dues, works out to be roughly $1,800 a month during occupancy, Escobar says.

For the off months, it typically costs condo owners $1,300 to maintain. But that cost can be turned into positive cash flow if investors rent their property out during the summer months, which happens to be the tourist season for Mexicans.

Relax on rentals

Most apartment-condominium buildings offer a rental program vacation homeowners can be a part of. Beachfront properties, even in the off season, tend to cover the homeowners' expenses and produce a little bit of cash flow. Any properties further away from the beach may not fully cover the expenses.

For investors who choose to be part of the program, the building's administrators provide storage space for their belongings. Investors can also specify the types of renters they prefer to allow into their property, as well as if they'd prefer no smoking and/or no pets in their condo.

The condo administration requires a damage deposit from each renter and will work to ensure the property remains in the same condition as when the owners left.  

For the rest of this article, pick up a copy of our April issue, on newsstands now.

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