Sunday, February 3, 2013

Property Management in Loreto Bay

There was an important (if subtle) change in my lifestyle here in Loreto Bay effective at the beginning of this New Year.  For the first time since taking possession of my home over seven years ago I no longer have a Property Manager.  With over 600 occupied homes in the Development there now are about 10 Property Management companies operating here, down by almost half from several years ago – due mainly to survival of the fittest.

For most people here a Property Manager is an important part of owning a Loreto Bay home, since a large majority of the owners spend less than half the year in residence.  Although the menu of services offered varies from one company to another, one of the most important functions that they all provide is regular home inspections – because it is unadvisable to leave a home in this climate unattended for over half the year.

Regular home maintenance can also be provided by Property Managers, either “handyman” type services by their staff, or for more complicated work and renovations they can sub-contract with local trades, oversee the work, handle the payment for it, and finally billing of the Homeowners.   

Another basic service is landscape maintenance inside the home, since all Loreto Bay homes have some open areas inside the home, most have main floor courtyards with landscaping and often potted plants on the second floor terraces and some have private garden spaces as well.  Pruning and tidying these plants, as well as checking the irrigation system that waters them, is “in-home” maintenance that is the responsibility of each Homeowner, while the HOA maintains the extensive common area gardens and courtyards outside of the homes.

 A small, but not insignificant service is paying taxes and utility bills – something that cannot be done unless you are here “on the ground” in Loreto.  Property Taxes, payable to the town of Loreto, are low, by North American standards, and (because of chronic municipal budget shortfalls) there is usually a further discount available before the end of the calendar year for pre-payment of the next year’s taxes.  This practice has become common over the past number of years, and now that that pattern is established it is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future and Property Managers can take advantage of the discounts available by seeing their Client’s taxes are paid before the discount deadline.    

Utility bills are a different situation – and one that may be, I think, uniquely Mexican.  Electricity is billed every second month, after a “CFE” employee on bicycle reads the meter at every house in the development, followed a week or so later by the same employee delivering a paper bill which he tucks into the crack of the front door of the house – or delivers a batch of bills to the Property Manager for the homes they take care of.  If, however, this paper bill say, blows away, or is otherwise lost and the Owner or their Manager is unaware, the power can be cut off, without further notice, requiring a reconnection charge not to mention an inconvenient period of time without electricity.

Because I have been living here for more than six months annually for the past five years, it was probably time for me to take over the responsibility of managing my own home, which happened at the beginning of this year.  As luck would have it, just a few days shy of the New Year there was a water leak somewhere under the kitchen sink and when my Property Manager sent one of her staff to check it out they determined that the leak originated in the faucet and he could not repair it.  After managing with only hot water at the sink for a few days, on the first working day of the New Year, I left the house for my three minute bicycle commute to the Real Estate Office, and bumped into (figuratively speaking!) Rick, the “premier plumber” who works here in Loreto Bay.

Arrangements were made on the spot for him to make a service call at the end of that day, when he confirmed the leak was in the faucet and it had to be replaced not repaired.  Which, given our limited access here to such things as plumbing hardware, could have posed another problem.  Except that (thanks to Loreto’s apparent synchronicity) Rick just so happened to have a brand new, high end faucet he had replaced in a custom home (because it was the wrong plated finish) that he could let me have at his cost.  The following day he returned with this beautiful new faucet, which when installed, was a big improvement over my original one.

But this was not my first accomplishment in self-management.  Last winter I had become dissatisfied with the landscape maintenance services provided by my then Property Manager and so I opted out of that service and did my own maintenance of the courtyard plants and the upstairs pots.  This worked reasonably well while I was here, but I needed to make arrangements to keep the garden maintained when I was away over the summer months. 

That is when I spoke to Lenin, who I had gotten to know back in the “early days” of Loreto Bay when he worked for what was then the only landscape company working in the Development.  Over the years since, Lenin had pieced together his own small maintenance business doing gardens and some pools as well as other odd jobs in the development to subsidize his “main” job working at a restaurant outside of town.

It was there that I met him and first spoke to him (his English is self-taught, and superior to my Spanish) about taking care of my garden during the summer.  By the time I was ready to leave I had also contracted for him to repaint the exterior of my home after some plaster repairs were completed during the time that I was going to be away.  On my return this Fall I was pleased with the job he had done and he has continued to my maintenance ever since, including a big project late last year which involved digging up all the plants in my courtyard, reconditioning the soil and replanting a new collection of plants.

This past week I took another small step towards my “independence” – the first electricity bill of the New Year was due and so I took my aforementioned slip of paper into town and found the CFE Office, which I recalled having been to once before several years ago.  When I arrived at the small cement block building in the Zaragosa district of the town, I didn’t think much of the fact that there were no other cars in the small parking lot, but as I was getting out of the car I noticed that the office hours painted on the office door said that they closed at 2:30 – and it was then after 3:00.

Before I had the chance to gnash my teeth over the vagaries of Mexican business hours, a smiling uniformed security guard I hadn’t noticed before approached me and with our combined “Spanglish” he confirmed that I was there to pay a bill and gestured me through the unlocked door to a vestibule area inside where there was an ATM-type wall mounted machine.  With a little help from the guard I quickly figured out how to scan the bar code on the bill which brought up my account details on the small screen and after feeding the required bills into the machine it coughed up the change owing and printed a receipt – one of the most high-tech transactions I have experienced here in Loreto!

Reflecting on these events while I was driving back to Loreto Bay afterwards, I took some real satisfaction from this admittedly small accomplishment as being yet one more step towards my independence here.  By taking responsibility for handling the small day-to-day things that make up a real life here in my adopted community, that is another important part of “Living Loreto”.   

P.S. Due to the nature of this week’s Blog it didn’t lend itself to pictures, but as a special treat I am passing on the following link for a great new video that I was sent this week – just the thing for any of my readers stuck in the mid-winter blues up north – enjoy!   

Loreto Adventure Tourism 2013