We're Moving to Mexico, God willing

I’m not a religious person, agnostic in both temperament and belief, but considering what Lydia and I have endured during the last eight months, I can find no better expression for our current predicament than “God willing.” We know where we want to be, but we have no idea how or when we will arrive, nor do we have any ability to control the process or outcome.

It began the first of February with the death of our beloved dog, Maya. We had just arrived on the northern tip of the Yucatan, about 45 minutes from Merida, when Maya’s condition took a turn for the worse. We’d been driving through Mexico for three weeks watching her cough get worse and worse. Though we weren’t sure what it signified, we had a pretty good suspicion it was late-stage lung cancer. Our vet at home couldn’t make a definite diagnosis without a biopsy, which none of us believed was worth the pain to her. She’d survived 5 years of lymphoma and had been cleared for our drive through Mexico. Thus, we all decided that whatever was causing the cough shouldn’t stop us. If it was something like kennel cough she’d recover. The other would claim her life pretty quickly. And we all needed to be together in either event.

So there we were in an emergency clinic in Merida when Maya took her final breaths. She was truly the best of dogs. Actually, the best of creatures, for she was far better than most humans. She ran our little family unit, and she did it with complete fairness and unconditional love. We will miss her till our final breaths.

BUT – without speaking of it at the time, Lydia and I both felt another powerful emotion when Maya died. We felt free.

Our plans had always revolved around Maya, especially those plans that involved being away from home for more than a week or two. Maya couldn’t be boarded. She was too big to fly in the cabin with us and too fragile to put her with the baggage. That’s why we decided to take 3 months and drive to Mexico. Maya could go with us. But then suddenly, with Maya gone from our lives, we were free to make definitive plans, like spending next winter in Mexico, too.

So that’s how it began. The summer from hell.

By the middle of February we were ensconced in a large two bedroom condo in Puerto Aventuras, on the Caribbean coast about twenty minutes south of Playa del Carmen. Yes, we had been to Puerto many times while staying down the road in Akumal. But we had never actually spent more than a couple of hours there at any one time. It’s a gated town with many restaurants and shops, residential streets with condo buildings, townhomes and single-family homes, surrounding a large marina made up of miles of canals. We loved it.

A couple of weeks after we arrived, a friend notified us that we were about to be fined $4500 by our HOA back in Mount Pleasant. This was the second shoe to drop or nail to be driven, as it were. First Maya died, freeing us to ponder major changes. And then the jackals on the HOA board shut down our income stream from AirBnB, which had allowed us to keep up our house and enjoy living in the Charleston area. Maybe it was time to move to Mexico.

I can’t remember who first broached the subject. I think it was me. Maybe instead of trying to find a place to rent for next winter, a search that was well underway by then, we should find a place to buy? Would I miss my backyard? Probably not, as I was enjoying the condo life at that moment. Would we miss our friends, of course, but we had our old friends in Mexico and were making new ones. How about the grandkids? That was a much tougher question to answer. So we agreed to talk to our son, who is also our financial advisor, to hear his reaction. To our surprise, he not only thought moving to Mexico was a great idea, he agreed that we should buy not rent. Sell the house and put half our equity into a place in Puerto, that was his advice. Not only would it be better to avoid rent, but it was the time to sell in Charleston as the market would probably peak this summer. That tiny little nudge was all we needed to start house hunting in Mexico.

Next we made our first big mistake. We let ourselves believe that selling our house would be a breeze. We even dreamed up a perfect scenario of a quick offer and a long closing period so we could enjoy one last summer at home; leisurely look for a place in Puerto and get our ducks in a row to emigrate to Mexico. It would be the picture-perfect, stress-free time to enjoy our pool and backyard, party with our friends, get the grandkids swimming, all while finding the perfect condo for the perfect price.

HA! “Cosmic fools” is being too kind.

Though we felt some urgency to get our house sold – I’d been predicting a recession since what’s his name waddled into the White House – since the market wasn’t going to get any better over the near term. What’s more we had a great house in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in THE most desirable suburb of Charleston. We should be able to sell it for somewhere in the high 700s, probably in the first week it’s on the market. That would give us something just shy of 300 as a Mexico budget. One last thing, I asked Lydia, to whom should we give the honor of listing our house? We know a bunch of realtors, one of whom specializes in our neighborhood. But no, let’s let our long-time friend have the commission. We love him. He works hard. And it would be great a opportunity for him to break into our upscale neighborhood.

KISS OF DEATH! We cursed our realtor with our witless and cavalier approach to selling our house.

We got home in mid-April and proceeded to get the house on the market. Our realtor didn’t think we needed to do much to the house. He had always loved it and thought he would be the perfect guy to tell its story. Should we paint. No need. Should we get rid of the bar? Too many good memories. The house looks great the way it is, we all concluded. There wasn’t much else in the neighborhood on the market, at least homes that had what ours has to offer. And remember, Snee Farm is unique and everyone wants to live here, blah, blah, blah…

So we listed it at 775. In fairness, our realtor would have preferred 750, while Lydia was stretching toward 800. HA! HA!

To my utter amazement, we didn’t get an offer in the first week. Or the second. Or the third. In fact, we hardly had anyone come and see it. I knew then that we’d over-priced it. The lack of showings together with the comments people had made (both buyers and realtors) that it needed “updating” - I’d have beaten those people about the head and shoulders if they’d said something like that to my face – meant something was amiss. No, the three of us concluded yet again, the house looked great and things like paint and flooring were too open to individual tastes. BUT, our realtor suggested at my prompting, we could LOWER THE PRICE.

So we knocked the price down to 759. He wanted 749, but we held firm, though our knees were beginning to weaken. We also, at the advice of another realtor friend, made a furniture purge and rearranged things to make the first glimpse from the front door more memorable. Our realtor set up another open house that resulted in bupkus, and a couple more weeks went by with little or no activity.

Meanwhile, the stress was really starting to make itself felt on Lydia and me. I freely admit, Lydia and I both have very strong personalities that, in the best of times, cross swords. But limbo was killing us. We fought more, over the weirdest things. We also were drinking more, often a harbinger of increased conflict. We kept telling ourselves that everything happens for a reason and that maybe we just haven’t been ready to leave. Then, with each price decrease, we confidently predicted an imminent offer and sale. Mexico here we come.

HA! HA! HA! Another few weeks of nothing and we’re asking why? Market’s bad. Buyers feel no sense of urgency. Lots of competition and upscale buyers are expecting perfection. Should we do anything to the house? No, it looks good. BUT, we might consider lowering the price.

739 it is! But this time, I said, let’s just leave it through September. It will either sell or it won’t. It’s out of our control so we just shouldn’t worry about it anymore.

HA! HA! HA! HA! One good open house and absolutely no showings in two weeks and we were ready to yank the starting pitcher. So much for not worrying about it. Lydia and I signaled to the bullpen, he hung his head and stalked off the mound, and the absolute craziness began.

The relief pitcher is our friend DeDe. She and her daughter have dominated sales in our subdivision for years. So in comes DeDe and out go the last of our illusions. First, the house needs work. Major purging. Total painting. And, finally, professional staging. We need an electrician to make sure all the plates, plugs and switches match. Carpenters need to replace some of the siding, so, of course, the exterior needs to be painted. The electrical panel needs to be rewired to get it up to code. But the good news is that all that we spend on this stuff, we should get back and more. But then there’s the BAD news. The house is way OVER-PRICED. It has to come down under 700. So we’re coming out of pocket 10,000 in order to reduce our price 40,000. At least that’s the way it seems.

But all is not terrible. Lydia and I are now active again. No more sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves. We need to get rid of crap. Lots of crap. Lydia creates an online Facebook store to dispose of things: furniture, glassware, dishware, you name it. What doesn’t sell is going to Goodwill or being given to carpenters, housekeepers or anyone who will take it off the street. I’m going through boxes of papers, throwing out any tax records pre-2012 (yeah!). We’re hauling, cleaning and generally feeling positive about our situation.

Of course, first we had to come to grips with what the new price would do to our Mexican budget. No more trying to get a great deal on a two or three bedroom condo in the perfect location. Now we’ll probably be looking for a place further from the water. Probably without a rooftop patio. We know it will be fine, but first we have to get our heads wrapped around the change. But hey, we’re busy. And if there’s one thing we have in common is that we’re both people of action.

By the time the work is finished, at least the inside work, we know what it takes to sell a house. Rule #1 – it can no longer be your home. Everything is designed to purge any vestige of US from our house. Every interior wall is gray. The few pieces of furniture left make entertaining all but impossible. My bar is history. There’s not a curtain or window treatment to be found anywhere. We now literally have an echo. The only TV left is in our bedroom. You get the picture…

Then, in the midst of this great stampede to perfect the listing, we have a visitor. Her name is Dorian. That’s right, the hurricane that decimated the northern Bahamas is going to pay us a visit. While it’s more than 5 days out and still on an uncertain track, our chicken governor calls for a mandatory evacuation. Huh? That’s right, this guy would pull the trigger on a rain shower off Bermuda if he thought it might effect his re-election. So here we are, house rounding into show condition with a hurricane approaching that threatens to obliterate our most important selling point, the property itself.

Well, we got lucky. I don’t want to emphasize that word too much, because the storm was never going to come ashore here, so we were always going to be on its “good” side. Nonetheless, it could have been worse. Still, we lost 2 trees, a very large rose bush and a section of wax myrtles that block the view of a neighbor’s house. Hundreds of branches came down from our 70 or so trees and the pool looked more like a pond on the golf course. And remember, all this happened as we were just about ready to put the house back on the market.


We’re nothing if not resiliently naïve, or maybe dumb. The house will sell this time, Goddamit. And we’re moving to Mexico – God willing.

Mike PontiusComment