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Retirement in Puerto Vallarta Case Histories
 

Consider these examples of
retirement in Puerto Vallarta

WHERE TO LIVE: Puerto Vallarta is no longer ONLY the city of Puerto Vallarta…the term ‘Vallarta’ now refers to the entire Bahia Banderas (Bay of Flags) region.

This includes several communities on the south side of the bay which are accessible only by boat, to Boca de Tomatlan (the last town on the road south out of Puerto Vallarta), through Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco State and Nuevo Vallarta in Nayarit State, and west along the north side of the bay including the towns of Bucerias, La Cruz, and Punta de Mita.

 

In fact, there’s even more than that…many gringos are moving into the decidedly non-tourist towns inland like Ixtapa and San Juan, or further north into communities like Sayulita, San Francisco (San Pancho), Rincon, and others. All of these places have their own individual beauty and attractions for people considering a move to this area, and if you’ve decided that Mexico is to be your new home, one of these areas will be perfect for you.

 

RETIREMENT-RELATED LINKS:

But which one for you? You will really need to visit, spend a bit of time seeing the different areas, and consider your options. The answers really come down to two items: ‘lifestyle’ and ‘money’. It’s impossible for us to make these choices for you, as everybody’s desires and conditions are different. What we’ll do, then, is give you several short scenarios that cover both of these major variables (and many other, smaller ones) and leave the rest up to you. Not all of these scenarios include property purchases…some of these people are currently renting. Some of the names have been changed at their request, but all of these scenarios are factual based on real people who live in Puerto Vallarta. (Property prices, where mentioned, are in U.S. Dollars.)

 

JOHN and SALLY had already retired in 2004 at age 55, and their children had finished college and were establishing careers and families. They had owned a timeshare unit for the previous 10 years and used it annually to spend a couple weeks in Puerto Vallarta. When they started to get a little bored with their Seattle ‘empty nest’ lifestyle and even more tired of the long, cold, and rainy winters, they knew Vallarta was the place they wanted to be.

 

“We basically said ‘What in the world are we doing here’?” says Sally, referring to the grey day in November, 2004. “We were counting the days until our next vacation in Vallarta, coming up in February, and we decided we were already ON vacation, retired, but not enjoying it as much as we’d like. Two days later we were on the plane to “PV”, and we basically never went back.”

 

They looked at condos in Nuevo Vallarta and the Marina Vallarta area. Both areas were attractive to them, but they ended up choosing a 2-bedroom condo in a new high-rise on the beach in Marina Vallarta. Able to pay cash (“A little under $350,000 U.S. Dollars”, reveals John) after selling their Seattle home and with good pensions and investments, they feel they’ve got an ideal lifestyle. They’ve made many friends among their neighbors, and haven’t had any shortage of visits from their old friends. John especially enjoys helping his new friends on their boats in exchange for fishing outings, and Sally has involved herself in some of Puerto Vallarta’s social and volunteer groups.

 

“There’s not much we miss about the States” says Sally. “We went back for three weeks this past summer and spent time with old friends, who were only too happy to put us up provided we do the same for them when they visit us in Mexico. But by the end of the second week, both John and I were feeling a little homesick for Puerto Vallarta.”

 

MARY is single (divorced), with no children, from Denver, Colorado. Mary worked most of her career as an executive in the building and engineering industries, and after many vacations here and having saved and invested well, decided to move to Puerto Vallarta in 2003 at 45 years of age. Mary was not ready to retire yet, so spent a year or so getting accustomed to the city, renting a large one-bedroom apartment in Viejo Vallarta approx 6 blocks from Los Muertos Beach. Mary found a restaurant available for sale, purchased the business (renting the space) and now spends a good many hours every day building the business.

 

The restaurant is cash-flow positive, and after getting the business well-established plans to buy a 1-2 bedroom condo or 2-3 bedroom house in the same area as her current apartment. She expects to spend in the area of $150,000 to $200,000 (usd), and plans to finance less than ½ of this investment, perhaps as little as 25% depending on price. For Mary, proximity to her restaurant is important, as well as walking-distance proximity to the beach and the social life available in Viejo Vallarta downtown.

 

RON and BRENDA: This California couple invested well, own a couple rental properties in addition to their home, and after vacationing in various parts of the Vallarta area for years decided that Punta Mita was the place they enjoyed the most and decided to begin making their plans for retirement here. They purchased a large lot (approx. 6000 square feet) in town a couple blocks from the beach for approx. $40,000 (usd) in 1999, and began building a small house at one end of the lot in 2000, coming down for a few weeks at a time several times a year to supervise the various phases of construction. Since completion of the house they have visited for a total of 8-10 weeks per year over 2 or 3 trips. They envision this house will meet their needs until they move to Punta Mita full time in 2007 or so when Brenda can retire and the last of their 5 children have ‘left the nest’.

 

When they move, they will have their choice of living quarters – being ‘bullish’ on the growth potential in ‘Mita’, they also bought a condo on the beach just a couple blocks away in 2004. Their plans are to add a second story to their current house over the next year, and eventually build a large house on the remainder of the original property including a pool and garden. They plan to live in the large house when it is complete, and use the other small houses and the condo for vacation rentals.

BRIAN and KATRINA were looking to escape “the rat race” when they both turned 50 in 2003. “We both had jobs that were only moderately meaningful to us, and we were developing a negative attitude about living in the U.S.” says Brian. They had saved some money over the years, and were not burdened with the demands and finances of children. They rented their house in a Los Angeles suburb, and so did not have any emotional attachments to house.

 

“We basically took the escape route” laughs Katrina, and Brian concurs: “We just plain wanted OUT. We’d never even been to Puerto Vallarta, but we’d spent some time in the Baja, knew a bit of Spanish, and figured we’re good at landing on our feet. So we did a bit of research, then just quit our jobs, drove down here, and started camping around to see what the lay of the land was like.”

 

Though short on planning and not particularly long on cash either, they found the town of San Francisco (also known as San Pancho, “Pancho” being the nickname for somebody named Francisco). “We drove into this little town and didn’t find a whole lot, except for a beautiful beach and friendly locals” recalls Katrina, “and we kind of looked at each other and said ‘this is it!’ and started asking questions around the neighborhood.” They found a plot of bare land for $15,000 (usd), parked their truck on it, and pitched their tent.

 

“We learned to make friends real fast, and it helped us get going quickly” says Brian. They introduced themselves to their neighbors, and then splurged a bit for some racks of ribs and invited them over one night for a barbeque, where they learned who was who and what was what. “We were kind of an oddity to these people, this weird ‘hippy’ couple camping on this bare piece of dirt in town, until we all met and talked” he continues, “Our Spanish is by no means anywhere close to perfect, but we know enough to get ourselves into and out of trouble and got by with lots of hand gestures and such, and in the end we were all friendly neighbors.”

 

Among them was a builder who could get wholesale prices on building materials and happened to have a truck with problems he couldn’t fix. Brian’s mechanical skills came to the rescue, and soon a bond was made. The builder helped Brian and Katrina with building permits, plans, and materials, and soon they along with a few other neighbors in need of work were building the walls of a small house on the property. Just a few months after they had landed in this unknown town they moved into their tiny but bright house. “We didn’t spend any more than $10,000 (usd) on that house” says Katrina, “but it had everything we needed at the moment: living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom.”

 

They’ve since expanded a bit, adding walls around the property and a storage room for tools and such, but still are living simply and loving it. Brian gets ‘freelance’ work as a mechanic, surfing instructor, or occasionally helping his neighbor with a building project; Katrina teaches English and makes beaded jewelry, and tends their productive garden.

 

Do they have any regrets? “Well, money is always tight, but it’s not expensive to live here, at least like we do. It sure beats that rat-race back in L.A. But had we known what we were getting into, we might have planned and saved a bit more” says Brian. Katrina is more enthusiastic: “Oh, this beats L.A. by a gazillion miles. I wish we would have done it years earlier.” Brian thinks a moment, then agrees: “Yeah, she’s right, as always. We’ve already been offered more than twice what we have into this place, and if we had come earlier, we’d probably have gotten it even cheaper”.

WENDY and JAKE were regulars at some of Viejo Vallarta’s (Old Town) beach-front restaurants and watering holes for 3 weeks per year for over 8 years, 2 weeks in the winter and another week in early summer, until 2004. They had talked about buying a retirement place there, looked at a few, and had even gone so far as to make a low offer on a condo during their last vacation in hopes of snagging a bargain.

 

Jake’s plans were changed by his unexpected and sudden funeral, but Wendy didn’t see any reason to alter the plans. “Jake and I had so many wonderful times here, and wonderful friends we’d made over the years” she says. “Jake’s passing only speeded up the process, actually, bless his heart.” Jake’s estate left Wendy in the position of being able to see her dreams of living her golden years in Puerto Vallarta come true a little sooner.

 

“We spent almost all our days on this beach” she says, motioning to Playa Los Muertos from under our umbrella-shaded table. “When he died, I knew I didn’t want to sit around our house in Sacramento thinking about him. I want to think about him here.” In short order she sold the house, packed her bags, and flew down to Vallarta. While her departure from California was quick, she didn’t jump into the first place she saw. “I came down and rented an apartment for three months. If I hadn’t found what I was looking for by the end of 3 months, I was willing to spend another 3 months, and another 6 after that if that’s what it took.

 

Five months after Wendy arrived in Puerto Vallarta, she landed at a beach-front condo near her favorite restaurants, and close to some of her many friends. She won’t tell us what she paid for it, but when we suggest $250,000 usd), she tells us “you’re real close” with a smile. Her only regret is not buying earlier: “Jake would have loved this place, and we could have afforded it 5 years ago. We also would have paid even less for it then. Let that be a lesson to you” she says, and actually winks at us.


BART and NANCY had been visiting Puerto Vallarta annually since 1999, when a sudden down-sizing at Bart’s Chicago company left him without a job after 18 years in 2004. Nancy’s job at a manufacturing company was secure, but unfulfilling. They took stock of their situation and made a decision to invest a little of Bart’s new-found free time in looking for alternatives to their ‘rat-race-grind’ as Nancy calls it. “Neither of us were looking forward to the idea of Bart’s searching for work at age 59” she says.

 

“We had already become friends with some folks from Wisconsin who had lived in Puerto Vallarta for a few years, and we called them to ask them if they could help us with information about moving down there” says Bart. “This was in January, bitter cold in Chicago, and they just laughed and said they were wondering how long it was gonna take us to wise up and get out of that icebox.”

 

Although their retirement finances were not in the condition they had hoped to have, given Bart’s sudden departure from work 6 years before his previously-planned retirement age of 65, he was happily surprised by what he found. “I started looking, probably like everybody else does, at beach-front condos. That opened my eyes pretty quick, and I realized I needed to be a bit more realistic about what we were going to be able to afford” says Bart. He turned his focus towards the neighborhoods away from the beach and ‘tourist zones’, and found that nice houses were available ate more reasonable prices. He found a few houses under $150,000 that were close to his friends’ house and still easy walking distance to the amenities he thought were important to him and Nancy, mainly the beach and good shopping.

 

Nancy was a bit leery that they could pull this off, but agreed to join Bart in Vallarta a few days later by using some sick time at her job and a cheap last-minute ticket on a long, two-connection flight to Mexico. Bart and their friends took her around to the houses he’d found, and Nancy just melted: “I suddenly realized that this was not just a pipe dream. We’d never, ever thought about something like this. We always figured we’d retire and die in that same old house in that cold city.

 

They both went back to Chicago, checked their finances, and set about selling their house and furniture (much to the amazement of their children and friends). Nancy took an early retirement from her employer. They figured on retaining some cash from the sale of their house after buying in Vallarta, and additionally had pensions and 401ks that would give them a monthly budget of about $1050 (usd). The day after the sale of their house closed, they were back on a plane to Vallarta. Only one of the three houses they had looked at 3 months earlier were still available, but at the same ($129,000 usd) price as before. It was empty, so they made an agreement to rent it from the owner until the closing, and set about setting up their new life.

 

“That first summer was a little warm, but it’s no worse than what we lived with in Chicago all those years” says Nancy. “And our first winter here was amazing…warm, dry, no more layers of clothes just to go to the store, paradise all around us. The savings on heating bills is a huge change to our budget. And the kids and our friends have not complained one bit, they all came down to escape the snow, and they don’t think we’re crazy any more! Our budget allows us to eat out regularly and do all sorts of things that would have been a real luxury on our retirement income back in Chicago.”

 

MARK and SHERLYN were looking for paradise for their early retirement, but they were divided about what paradise meant to each of them. For Mark, it was being close to a decent-sized city for its social and cultural amenities…for Sherlyn, it was simple peace and quiet. For them, the compromise was in Bucerias, just north-west of Puerto Vallarta on the north side of Banderas Bay.

 

“Well, that’s almost right” says Sherlyn. “I’ve learned the Meixco can be peaceful, but it’s not always quiet. But I’ve gotten used to the roosters crowing and the racket that the gas and water trucks make”.

 

While they enjoyed the scenic beauty of their original Idaho home, the winters were just starting to wear on them. With the kids gone, they started looking for a retirement property in warmer climates. “We looked at California and Arizona, Texas and Florida. A friend suggested they look at Mexico. “We’d never even considered that, even though we’d been to Mazatlan and Cabo and Vallarta on vacations” says Mark. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Hmmm, maybe that’s a thought’.”

 

The thought turned into some research, which in turn resulted in a vacation to Vallarta with the intent of looking at properties. They decided to stay in a vacation rental in Bucerias for three weeks, and started looking there. While they were immediately taken with the area, they didn’t want to make any hasty decisions. “We found 2 or 3 nice properties in Bucerias, but every day we’d go take little trips to other parts of the area” says Sherlyn. “One day we’d be down south of Puerto Vallarta around Boca de Tomatlan, the next we’d be up north in Sayulita. We drove around the neighborhoods of the city, and out into the country side. But every time we came back ‘home’ to Bucerias, we felt more and more like it WAS really our home.”

 

Six months later, in early 2004, Mark and Sherlyn moved into their Bucerias home. They spend a lot of “Lazy Time” as Sherlyn calls it, watching life go by from their roof-top patio “thinking about our next snack”. Mark is addicted to movies, and spends a couple afternoons a week at one of Puerto Vallarta’s cineplexes, “staying up to date on the Hollywood front” as he says. They both enjoy fishing from the beach a few blocks away and although their luck is spotty, they claim to be picking up pointers from some of the locals.

 

“Bucerias was a good choice for us, a good compromise”says Mark. “The property prices here were lower than in town, and Sherlyn didn’t really want to be in town anyway. We’re close enough that it’s a quick drive into town if I want to see a new movie or get supplies, and far enough out that it’s a little less hectic, a little less touristy.”

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