Planning for Retirement but Short on Cash

By: Jim Scherrer

Attention all baby boomers; are you starting to think about retirement but your cash is tied up in 401k?s, IRA's, pension programs, retirement funds, stock options, or your residence and you're not quite ready to liquidate any of these assets? Have you been watching retirement properties continue to escalate in price and are concerned that the cost of your retirement dreams might be beyond your reach when you're ready?

Well, perhaps you'll find the following information quite enlightening and hopefully it will alleviate some of your concerns.

We discovered an affordable virtual Paradise when we made Puerto Vallarta, Mexico our permanent residence ten years ago and are sharing its features and benefits with you. In 1997, prices for real estate, land, labor, and construction materials were about a third of prices today in Puerto Vallarta, known otherwise as Vallarta or PV. Ten years ago, prices for food, clothing, household goods, etc. were quite reasonable in Vallarta but selection was poor. Ten years ago, virtually all financial transactions in PV were cash, including the purchase of house and land. Although the real estate prices were a half to a third of those with comparable amenities in the US or Canada, in the absence of mortgages, one needed total financial resources in order to purchase a retirement property here. North American banks were reluctant to provide mortgages in Mexico and Mexican banks lacked the available capital.

During the past ten years with the Mexican economy booming, the peso stable, and Vallarta exploding with growth, the situation has changed dramatically. Today, mortgage capital from a number of American mortgage firms is readily available in PV. Interest rates are generally 2% to 3% above the prevailing US rates. Mortgage insurance is also now available as is title insurance. Because the economy is so stable, strong, and growing, the mortgage companies are offering financing up to 70% of the appraised value, thus opening the market to a flood of new baby boomers about to retire.

Now that North Americans can acquire their dream retirement condo or villa in Paradise prior to full retirement, let's consider some of the associated expenses. As a 'rule of thumb', $200/ sq. ft. would be an average price for a beautiful ocean or bay front condo and approximately $250/ sq. ft. for a villa with breathtaking panoramic views of the bay and El Centro. Almost all properties have sweeping 180? views of Banderas Bay, the entire city of Vallarta, and the Sierra Madres and are comparable to the finest properties in the California seaside areas. As a typical example, a 2,000 sq. ft. condo might cost $400,000 and require a little more than $120,000 initial deposit with the balance being mortgaged at 8% for 15 years. Such a fixed rate mortgage would require payments of approximately $30,000 annually. Trust fees are about $500 per year and property taxes are roughly .12% of the appraised value or $500 per year. Condo association fees are usually about $4,000 per year bringing the total out-of-pocket expenses to approximately $35,000 per year. It must be remembered that the equivalent property in the States could easily be $1,000,000 with taxes alone of $20,000 per year!

In order to reduce the $35,000 per year expense in Vallarta, many of the about-to-be-retired condo owners rent out their condos during the seven month 'high season' of November through May. Rental income for a $400,000 condo should average at least $2,500 per month. Do the math and you'll understand the relative ease in owning a property in Paradise prior to full retirement.

Now that you have a place to retire, let's consider the other living expenses and compare them to the equivalent in the States or Canada. All of the following information is 'rule of thumb' and based on knowledge and experience derived from living full time in PV for ten years, while owning property here for 23 years. Food purchased in supermarkets and meals in restaurants are of the same quality and price as in the US. Clothing, hardware, electronics, and everything else imported will cost about 50% more than in the US. Furniture costs are equivalent to those in the States. Fuel for your automobile and electricity for your residence will cost about the same as in the US. Car prices are roughly 20% higher in Vallarta so bring your own car! Auto insurance is about the same and although house and condo insurance is available, very few people seem to have it. Health insurance is the same, however healthcare, in any of the three new and modern high-tech hospitals in PV, is substantially less expensive. It would be safe to assume that health and dental care costs are one half to one third of the same medical services in the States. Fees associated with hobbies such as golf, tennis, fishing, etc. are about the same as in the States. Labor for house work, gardening, handyman, etc. is a third of such costs in the US. Skilled tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers, air-condition repairmen, etc. charge about the same rates as in the States. You can find self proclaimed skilled tradesmen for a third the price, but you'll get what you pay for!

Next, let's assume that you're retiring and going to spend the 'high season' in Paradise where it almost never rains, the sky is blue, and the average daily temperature is 73?F. You've purchased your million dollar condo for $400,000, drove your SUV loaded with clothing, personal belongings, and dog with it's proper immunizations to Vallarta, and you're ready to begin enjoying life. Your food, energy, furniture, insurance, hobby related expenses, property maintenance expenses, etc. will be about what you're accustomed to back home. Property taxes will be an insignificant fraction of what they would be in the States, medical and dental care will be a half to a third, labor around your residence will be a half to a third, and most all other service related expenses no more than one half of those in the US or Canada.

Finally, for the kicker! During the past ten years, we've seen property values triple in Vallarta. The tourism boom is only beginning at this time with a ten year building plan that borders on being incredible. The Mexican government in conjunction with global developers and a handful of Billionaires, yes with a capital B, are currently in the planning stages and just beginning construction of a mega-resort retirement destination zone near Vallarta.

Prices in PV are sure to double in the next five years. The Mexican law assures all foreigners that they are considered 'permanent residents' if they spend more than 50% of their time in Mexico for at least five years. That translates into 'permanent resident' status if you live in your dream condo or villa during the 'high season' for five years. As a 'permanent resident', you are exempt from Mexican capital gains tax upon the sale of your property in Vallarta. So, let's say that you decide to sell your dream condo after five years and return to the hectic pace back home. While the housing market is softening in Florida and California, the market continues strongly upward in Vallarta and in five years the value of your condo is estimated to be $800,000. Assuming that you financed your purchase and that you paid $120,000 initially and another $175,000 in mortgage payments and condo fees, without any rental income, you should have around $570,000 equity in your residence at the time of sale. That $275,000 profit should more than offset all expenses that could possibly be incurred even with the highest standard of living in Paradise. Using this hypothetical scenario, the $275,000 gain over five years equals about $55,000 per year. It's difficult to spend more than $3,000 per month living like a king in Paradise, therefore the seven month 'high season' should not cost much more than $20,000 leaving $35,000 for travel and living expenses during the five summer months, or $7,000 per month. If you can't make it on that, it might be time to go back to work! By the way, your monthly social security checks will be electronically deposited into your account regardless of where you live.

In summarizing, if you're thinking about retirement within five years and would like to enjoy your life to it's fullest, you can probably buy that million dollar retirement dream residence in Vallarta today, even if you're short on cash!

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