Mi Pullman: remodeling a Mexican Art Nouveau townhouse II

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Ros Chenery

Part Two: Buying the house

Photo Gallery: Mi Pullman: remodeling a Mexican Art Nouveau townhouse II

Part One:  Agreement to purchase
Part Three: Restoration, time to make decisions

The first step on my journey to buy the Mi Pullman house had been achieved — the family had agreed to sell. However, the distance between agreeing to sell me the house and making the escritura was vast — I had no idea that the proceedings would take nearly 10 months to complete.

The house had belonged to Doña Lupita’s father, who had bought it some time in the 1970s, and it was used as a weekend and holiday home. When the father died, he left the house to his daughter and four grandchildren. Over the years it had been rented to various people but, with each passing year, the house began to deteriorate more and more, until it was abandoned altogether.

Rosalind Chenery fell in love with a beautiful three storey, art nouveau town house in Chapala, Mexico. She stands in the dooorway beside the crumbling sidewalk in front of her new home. © Arden Murphy, 2009
Rosalind Chenery fell in love with a beautiful three storey, art nouveau town house in Chapala, Mexico. She stands in the dooorway beside the crumbling sidewalk in front of her new home. © Arden Murphy, 2009

Having agreed to sell me the house, the family were confronted with a difficult problem. One of the heirs had died without leaving a will, and therefore the paperwork was incomplete. New paperwork had to be drawn up and a court ruling made establishing that the young man who had died did not have any heirs. The procedure was very slow and it was not until March 2008 that papers were in order and the notario could proceed with making the escritura.

During this time, I was frantic that perhaps they would sell it to someone else, increase the price, or change their minds and decide to keep it. The lawyer had drawn up an Agreement to Sell contract, but it was impossible to get all the family to sign thereby making it a legal agreement. I had only their word that they would sell it to me. Alberto was marvelous at keeping my spirits up and kept saying, “Don’t worry, Rosalinda, the house is yours, it is waiting for you.” Every week we would visit Chapala and stand in front of the house and tell it that it would soon have a new owner who would care for it and love it!

Because I was buying the house privately, we took on the responsibility of collecting all the paperwork ourselves in order to save costs and make life easier for the notario, whose office was in Guadalajara. This was an eye opener and a challenge. When I bought my house in Ajijic, the real estate agent had collected the paperwork and all I had to do was sign the contract and transfer the money! I had no idea just how many different pieces of paper were needed — it was a real paper chase which took about a month to complete. As a foreigner, you need permission from the Mexican government to buy the property — this is just a formality and a way of getting money. Then there is the avaluo, which is a valuation of the property based on how many square meters and determines how much sales tax is paid. Next you need certificates from the water provider, and CFE (electric company) in order to make sure that there are no debts outstanding. The same with property tax — it was important to make sure that no taxes were outstanding. This caused a slight problem as we found out that although taxes had been paid to date, they had only been paid on the land the house was standing on. No taxes had been paid on the building since its construction in 1906. Again, I was in panic mode as I was imagining that I would have to pay all the back taxes. I knew that the owners would not be prepared to pay. Finally, with Alberto’s help, the problem was resolved and I had to pay only about $5,000 pesos.

Early in April, 2008, we had all the different pieces of paper and went into Guadalajara to present them to the notario in order that he could make the escritura. I was so happy and felt such a sense of achievement. Now the only hurdle was getting six people in the lawyer’s office at the same time to sign the papers! This proved incredibly frustrating as individual members of the family kept going away and the date for signing was constantly being put back. By the second week in May, I was stressed out of my mind and was wondering if we would ever sign the contract. Alberto and I had gone into Guadalajara many times hoping to sign, only to find that one or another of the family couldn’t make it. Finally, on May 13, we all managed to meet in the notario’s office and at 7:00 that evening, the contract was signed, the money paid and the house mine!

What a relief. Four years had passed since I had first stood in front of the house and promised myself that one day I would own it. I had realized my dream. With Alberto’s help I had made it happen.

After a celebratory dinner in Guadalajara, we drove back to Ajijic and stopped off in Chapala to visit the house, but this time we didn’t just stand on the sidewalk and look up at the house longingly. I now had the key. I tentatively put it in the lock, opened the door and walked in.

Everything was in darkness, the smell of the rotting cat was overpowering and the dust thick on the floors and in the air, but it didn’t matter. I was filled with emotion and my eyes were full of tears of joy. I promised it that I would lovingly restore it and bring it back to life. I was so full of gratitude to both Doña Lupita and Don Raphael for keeping their promise and selling me the house, and also to Alberto who had persevered with the negotiations, even when things looked bleak, who was always optimistic and always kept my hopes up when I felt like giving up.

The following morning we drove over to Chapala to see what the interior of the house was like in daylight, and to figure out a cleaning program. Now that I owned the house, I have to say I was pretty shocked at the extent of neglect, and overwhelmed at the enormity of what I had gotten myself into — how on earth was I going to turn this sad wreck of a house into a beautiful home? Where on earth did I start?

A thousand thoughts went racing through my brain and, for the first time since I had set my heart on owning the house, I was worried! For the last two years I had put all my energy into getting the house and had never given a second thought to how I was going to restore it. Now reality set in and I would soon be faced with some major decisions, and a major financial outlay. I tried to put things in perspective and decided that I would deal with one thing at a time — and the only thing that mattered at that moment was to get the house clean and secure. Rubble and garbage needed to be removed, dead cats and birds scooped up, windows covered in polythene to prevent rain damage, and I finally I needed to gave notice to the swallows that they would have to vacate as I was taking over the house! A restoration program could wait for another day.

To be continued….

Published or Updated on: October 22, 2009 by Ros Chenery © 2009
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