Hunting for Real Estate in Mexico’s Heartland

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had boots on the ground in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. And I want to share with you some of the places I’ve visited.

My first stop was Lake Chapala, just 30 minutes from Guadalajara’s international airport.

It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Chapala, but boy is it still a sight to behold…

At 429 square miles, it’s the largest freshwater lake in Mexico. It’s so vast that Cerro Garcia, the area’s highest peak and an extinct volcano, barely registers on the horizon.

The elevation of Mexico’s highlands means the weather here is never too hot and never too cold. The vegetation is lush, with a tropical feel, but without the oppressive heat that in other climates would invite afternoon siestas.

Lake Chapala is hugely popular expat destination with perfect temperatures.

The Lakeside area is home to approximately 120,000 people, most living in the small towns wedged between the mountains and the lake’s perimeter. Among them are Mexican locals, American, and Canadian expats, and even a few residents from Europe and South America.
The nearby airport served direct flights to about 45 destinations in North America, pre-COVID. And you have a major international city on your doorstep.

Guadalajara has everything you’d expect from a cosmopolitan city. The birthplace of mariachi and tequila, it’s charming and vibrant. It’s traditional but hosts an impressive array of restaurants, cafés, bars, and galleries too—as well as a burgeoning tech scene.
What excites me about Lake Chapala is the mix of markets at play here.

The snowbird market…the local market, weekenders from Guadalajara…and international executive coming out from the city…

Exciting things are happening at Guadalajara airport, just a short drive away. Since plans for a new commercial airport in Mexico City went belly up, there’s been an explosion of freight traffic coming through, new carriers moving in, and a booming ecosystem of multinationals buying up commercial real estate in the surrounding area.

This all feeds the Lake Chapala second home market.

Chapala is not the most fertile ground for cheap homes scouting but take a look at what a bit more buys you here.

A Mature Real Estate Market in Puerto Vallarta

I spent most of last week in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast getting a handle on the market.

Puerto Vallarta is one of the most successful expat communities in all of Mexico. Thousands of snowbirders come to escape the freezing weather back home. In Puerto Vallarta they can enjoy tropical weather, great dining, and the beach.

Truth be told, although it’s a place I’ve found opportunities on past visits, I’ve been mostly indifferent about the city on a personal level.

That’s all changed on this trip… I’ve had more time to explore, acquaint myself with the city, and dive deeper. And what I’ve found is very appealing.

Puerto Vallarta has a mature real estate market.

I’m staying in a boutique hotel called Villa Divina. It’s in Conchas Chinas, a high-end community just south of Puerto Vallarta’s highly popular Zona Romantica—a hip, colorful, and buzzing area of the city with an excess of bars, cafés, and restaurants.

Due to restricted travel, I have the hotel entirely to myself. There’s a team of staff and private chefs at my beck and call. I’m essentially getting a $10,000-a-night-experience for under $200 a night.

During regular times, it made sense to put a luxury home like this to use as a boutique hotel. However, for the past year, these businesses have been struggling. Some are now selling up, occasionally creating a good deal for the right buyer.

Incidentally, Villa Divina is on the market for $2,999,000.

But in general, Puerto Vallarta is far from dead. At the weekend, there are a lot of Mexican visitors around. Businesses are bracing themselves for a strong bounce back once travel returns to full force.

Not only have you the North American market. You also have a big domestic market. For the 1.5 million residents of Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta is their beach town. The well-heeled locals snapped up a lot of the shiny new towers here, while gringos tend to buy in the Zona Romantica or in Nuevo Vallarta to the north.

Within town, I see opportunities for gentrification around Centro. There’s a lot of charm here. Restaurants, bars, street vendors, and craftsmen. Within three to four minutes’ walk of the malecon and within seven to eight minutes from the Zona Romantica you’ll find overlooked and affordable properties. You pay Centro prices, but you’re buying along the Zona Romantica’s path of extension and effectively getting a Zona Romantica experience.

In general, Puerto Vallarta isn’t a low-price market. It’s mature, established, and by and large, prices are high. But you can find a few cheaper gems if you do a bit of digging. Like this one we featured on my Your Cheap Dream Home Instagram page last week.

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