OK, the real reason I ended up buying a house in Merida, Mexico is because I chipped my front tooth when I was 20…
Long boring dental story going back decades, but I told my friend Judy Ross in the fall of 2017 that I need EXTENSIVE dental work (Implants, crowns, bridges, $40K plus in the states) and she said she had a great dentist in Merida, Mexico. (The cost is approx. 1/3)
In the spring of 2018, my bestie Cary Richardson & I booked an airbnb and went to Merida for my major dental work done by Merida’s premiere dentist, Ligia Maldonado Rivas. Everything went very well and it subsequently required two more trips over the next year to complete the work.
Cary had always wanted to visit and we both fell in love with the city, the people, the culture, the food and the architecture. Judy reintroduced me to an old friend from Houston, Jon Powell who had been in Merida for 15+ years who owns Urbano Rentals, with partner Josh Ramos. It turns out I had other friends here as well. Artist James Brown & his wife Alexandra were in Merida for years, but I sadly will never get to know them. They were both killed the week I arrived in 2020 in a tragic car accident. Cultural life in the city is poorer without them.
Merida has been steadily growing in popularity, especially over the past two decades and has a burgeoning expat population from the US and Canada primarily. (Conde Nast Traveler named it the #1 Best Small City in the World in 2019 and #3 in 2020.) It is on the Yucatan peninsula, 3 1/2 hours west of Cancun. The old part of town, called Centro, is where the expats all want to be. The properties there are usually very long and quite narrow, with one entrance through the front. Prices have sky rocketed in Centro (but still cheap by US standards) I was in the market for a space I could also use as my winter escape 6 months a year, a rental when I’m not here, plus my art studio and a possible second location for my gallery.
I looked at a property with Judy’s friend, Ross Sheiring. I wrote about his house here in this #RealEstatePorn posting comparing Merida & NYC prices. That property didn’t pan out. Last year I returned in February with plans to stay two months and have friends visit to celebrate my birthday. But we all know what happened… only my friend Ron Dodd was able to come before lockdown. I left March 15 to return to upstate New York.
While I was here in 2020, newly transplanted upstater Tom Swope introduced me to Gaspar Lizon who I met my future architect, Erik Gonzales through. While I was here last year I looked at a garage conversion with Erik that subsequently sold during quarantine, but we stayed in touch.
And I managed to find an amazing property online in the neighborhood of Jesus Carranza, just a few blocks from the city’s main thoroughfare, Paseo Montejo. It’s nearly 50 feet wide on the main entrance side, 100 feet deep with a separate street entrance around the corner. Bonus lot! The lot entrance is on Calle 25 and my upstate gallery is on Rt 52, hence Gallery 52. Merida will be the reverse in more ways than one; Galeria 25.
So, Erik went to see the property and very quickly I agreed to buy it sight unseen (except for scores of photos and videos sent by Erik.) After putting down 10%, we’ve spent the last 6 months working on various plans to remodel what is essentially a shell (with very good bones) and an old cistern water tower at the back of the house. Hence the name, Casa Cisterna.
I had to apply to the Mexican government to be allowed to buy the property. I would explain the process, but your brains would run out of your ears… it took a LONG time, in part because of COVID.
In April I FINALLY got the government’s approval (PLUS both doses of Moderna!) so I booked a flight to return to Merida to close on the property. I’m not telling you the price, but I had to sell my Barn property upstate to buy it. It’s all cash down here.
I spent the first three weeks of May meeting with Erik and his fantastic contractor Russell Novelo going over the plans, sourcing materials, like tile and breeze block, buying appliances, AC units, meeting with a landscaper, etc. They have started with minor demo where they “pick” the old crumbling plaster walls down to the stone, so it can be replastered. There are 5 rooms, 4 of which get new ceilings and 3 get new floors (plus, I’m adding a guest casita and 5 other smaller rooms, driveway, courtyard, etc.) That work will all begin once permits are issued.
That’s pretty much what’s happening. The plan now is to return in September when the guest house is finished. I’ll stay for a month to see the progress and oversee the final detail work. Hopefully, after my stuff is shipped from New York (more on that to come) I can move in by December –of THIS year.