Vacation Home Searches Cross Borders

South of the border? How about north? Second-home shoppers who want something more exotic than their friends’ mountain bungalows and beach condos have two easy options: Mexico and Canada.

Americans have been buying vacation properties in Canada since the days of the Roosevelts and Campobello Island. Many new developments in Mexico are aimed squarely at Americans, and in other areas, 19th century villages are becoming vacation home hot spots.

The trick is to find the right region, the right real estate broker and the right property.

Whether you’re looking in Nova Scotia or in Baja California, the best advice is to talk with people who own vacation homes there or expatriates who live there full time. Ask about all aspects of owning: taxes, maintenance, border crossings, availability of title insurance and relationships with locals, as well as recommendations on real estate agencies.

If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re probably limiting your search in Mexico to regions popular with English speakers. Start a conversation with the English-speaking people at the next table in a cafe. Many will be eager to sell you on the area in which they are already invested and to warn you of problems.

Multiple listings are used in Canada and Mexico, but that doesn’t mean that any agent can or will show you everything worth considering.

An agent who has worked with other Americans may better understand your concerns, questions and expectations.

If you’re beginning your house hunt at your computer, an Internet search of “real estate” and the name of the area that interests you will almost always turn up plenty of possibilities. Invest in a few phone calls to find someone who seems to understand what you’re looking for.

Marci Boone, an artist and teacher in Austin, Texas, met Jenny Herren, a real estate agent, at an open house while visiting Ajijic, Mexico, with a friend. Ajijic is at an elevation of 5,200 feet in the Sierra Madre and overlooks Lake Chapala.

“We visited about what we had in mind to purchase,” Boone said in an e-mail message, and the conversation led to her buying a two-bedroom condo in a gated community.

Robert Stec, a broker with Ideal Locations in Chicago as well as Paz Pacific Realty in La Paz, Mexico, says the biggest mistake people make is that they write checks payable to developers of projects that are not yet built.

“You’ve got to make sure deposits go directly into an escrow account at a bank,” he said. Otherwise, he said, you can be left high and dry if the developer goes bust.

If the border you’re crossing is Canadian, house shopping and the purchase process may seem more familiar.

In 2001, Russ Sitch, an electrical contractor in Honolulu, and his wife, Suzanne, bought a condo at Big White Ski Resort near the wine town of Kelowna in the Okanagan region of British Columbia.

“We liked the snow and what you get for the money,” Russ Sitch said. The couple has since bought another condo at Copper Kettle Lodge in the same region and sold the first one.

“Everything was about the same” as buying in the United States, Russ Sitch said, “except that we had to finance them through a Canadian bank.”

They use their condo about twice a year, he said, and have the resort rent it out when they’re not in residence.

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