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Living In Chapala, Mexico

“So quickly people forget,” writes Billy Kaderli from Chapala, Mexico, in response to recent reader e-mails on the pluses and, especially, the current minuses of life in this long-established community of foreign retirees.

”We have been running around Chapala, Mexico, since 1993. We lived through the peso devaluation of December 1994, when the peso went from 3 to 7 per U.S. dollar overnight. 

”Why anyone would place his entire life savings in a Third World currency based on the promise of a higher yield is a mystery to me. Perhaps you might choose that avenue for a percentage of your net worth, but to take that kind of currency risk for your entire nest egg is not acceptable or wise. Now these people are locked in, due to their currency losses, and can only pray that somehow the peso will again strengthen against the dollar. 

”Many folks come here to Chapala and pay California prices for lovely upscale residences that the Mexican homebuilders are more than happy to sell them at those inflated prices. Then they smile all the way to the bank. 

”

Right now, there are more than 700 homes on the market; a typical number during less uncertain times might be 250. Meantime, the building continues, while the demand is shrinking, and there is only one way for prices to go…

”My wife and I are not real estate agents, but have been approached by two separate Mexican homeowners asking if we could help them find Anglo buyers for their homes in exchange for a commission. This is how tough the housing market is right now.

“We agree. There is an overabundance of expats living here. And those from Canada and the States often overpay their maids and gardeners because they feel too guilty not to…a syndrome that further distorts the local economy. 

”We strongly suggest renting in the local currency; don’t sign a contract pegged to the dollar. And pay local-scale wages, not gringo-guilt wages. We rent a two-bedroom, two-bath home in central Chapala. We’re paying in pesos with a verbal contract. We pay our Chapalan maid at local wages. Everyone wins, and everyone is happy.

“Regarding the lake itself, Lake Chapala is a naturally shallow basin lake with periodic rises and drops. When we first arrived here in 1993, the lake was on a rising cycle. By the time we left in 2002, the local population, both Anglo and Mexican, was desperate to ‘save the lake’ and had all kinds of meetings, organizations, plans, fundraisers, and rain dances to solve this ’emergency’ issue. Eventually, several wet rainy seasons brought the lake up to its current level. This is the highest we have ever seen the lake and it’s gorgeous. We’re convinced that it’s only temporary, as the cycle is sure to repeat. 

”Your reader, Kathleen, mentioned the rate of inflation here. I doubt the government figures tell the whole story, but this makes a further case for more devaluation. In my opinion, the peso is still overvalued compared with the U.S. dollar. Further, we keep our costs down by shopping where the Mexicans shop, not in the Anglo-oriented stores. 

”Regarding the traffic and roads, which your reader also complained about, we use local transport, so neither of these is a concern to us. For some reason, most expats feel they must have a car and then complain and worry about it constantly. Between car mirrors getting knocked off, the bribes you must pay, traffic jams, and the lack of parking availability, it’s probably the most discussed topic at any get-together. The simple answer is not to have a car. Then the issue is eliminated completely. It’s easy to get around using busses, taxis, and private drivers.

”Our current mayor has done much for the city of Chapala, more than many of the previous administrations. His malecon project is a huge plus to the community and will reap long-term benefits for the many small businesses nearby. The current presidente is also supporting us; he has added lights on two of the town’s tennis courts.

“To sum things up, if you live like a gringo with a dollar mentality you’re going to pay the price. If you are looking for a solid quality of life and a low impact to your wallet, you must live more like a local.”

 

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