Sunday, March 22, 2009

Home is where the Association is

In my previous postings I have described many aspects of Living Loreto, mainly focused on the town of Loreto. But where we live is in Loreto Bay - a development about 15 km south of the town - a project that began just over five years ago and now includes about 400 completed homes with about another 200 under construction and a further 200 homes sold, and not yet started.

Over the past several weeks the main topic of conversation among the Homeowners in our community has been the establishment of the Homeowners' Association. Up until now, the Developer has been carrying most of the costs to maintain the common areas in the project, with Homeowners, who have taken possession of their properties, contributing a token payment due to the fact that construction has been ongoing in most of the common areas.

Starting about a month and a half ago, the Developer began informing Homeowners that the sub regimes of the Master Condominium Regime would be holding their first annual meetings this spring and the Homeowners' Association would be taking over full responsibility for the continued operation of the substantially completed areas. In addition to the added responsibilities entailed, this would mean that there will be a significant increase in the costs for each Homeowner to cover their full share of the expenses to maintain common areas and the general operations of the project.

Not surprisingly, the initial reaction by most Homeowners to this news was negative. Many people thought that there was still too much work to be done to finish the common areas and questions were raised about how the completion of the unfinished homes in each of these sub regime areas would impact the other finished homes and common areas.

A heated dialogue began on the private Homeowners' website with many people expressing their concerns and defiance of the process that they felt they were being forced into. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and each sub regime was organized with a leader and then other volunteers to address specific issues and develop a plan of action to represent the many concerns shared by the owners in each neighbourhood.

These reactions by the Homeowners are understandable to me, because initially I shared some of them myself. However, as more information was circulated, and we learned what the reality was, and what our responsibilities and obligations were, we also began to realize the strengths and opportunities that this transition to “self-administration” represented.

I believe some of the initial responses from Homeowners were due, in part, to their past experiences and frustrations that we have all shared during the process of building a home in Mexico. We moved through the steps of choosing our lot and home plan, then the construction and finishing phases where we faced the real challenges of building a home in a foreign culture and language, commonly thousands of kilometers from where we lived. Everyone, it seems, has several “Loreto Bay stories” about the trials and tribulations they have experienced in the building process and later as they got settled and began living in their new home here.

With this as a background, I believe it is the case that many people found an outlet, in the controversy surrounding the transition to sub regime control, to vent their pent-up frustrations concerning their home completion and lack of amenities completion. Having said this, I don't want to exaggerate the problems associated with this project. In fact, having had some personal experience with doing major home renovations back in Canada, I think in most cases the experience that was the building process here in Mexico is not a great deal more complex or problematic than a major “custom” home project would be “at home”, allowing for the language, and distances involved.

On a positive note, the organization of the various sub-regimes, with some resident owners here and the rest spread out across North America, has become an opportunity for neighbours to meet, in person or by email, and volunteer to play different roles in the organization of their group. Neighbour and neighbour are working together for the common cause of a better run and more affordable community in the future. During this process, one thing that has become apparent is the diverse collection of homeowner skills and backgrounds that have been called upon to help prepare the “due dilligence” necessary for each sub-regime to prepare for their meeting. Architects, accountants, even condo regime specialists and other people with experience in running condos back in their other home location have come forward and add their expertise to the preparations for each sub-regime meeting.

All of this knowledge and experience is then shared with each of the other sub-regimes, making for a fairly formidable pool of resources that will be applied to the benefit of each neighbourhood and eventually contribute to the final structure of the Master Regime.

So what started out percieved as a threat and challenge to each individual Homeowner has become a rallying cry and community building experience, introducing us to our neighbours, switching our focus from the relatively minor frustrations within our own homes to the improvement and future strength and stability of our neighbourhoods as a whole.

I have often thought that one of the best features of the continually emerging community here is the new friendships we have made among the relatively small number of people who live here during the winter or visit more frequently than a week or so at a time. The congeniality we feel for many of the people we have gotten to know, must be due in part, to a sharing the values and sense of adventure that attracted us to “take the plunge” and get involved in this development when it was just chalk lines on sand. That bond has developed as we have shared experiences living and learning in a strange new world where something usually equally funny and frustrating happens every day. The best part is, that we have this network of neighbours and friends to commiserate with or share in congratulations, and almost always, laugh about it with.

Therefore it is my hope and expectation that this process of forming our Homeowners' Association, and accepting the costs and responsibilities that come with that, brings with it the unanticipated benefit of helping to build a stronger and more enriched community. Although most of us entered into this process with skepticism and feelings of resentment and resistance, I hope that we will emerge from it with a greater sense of belonging and ownership in a bigger community and that may be one of the most important parts of “Living Loreto”!