Congratulations! You are ready to move forward and purchase your dream retirement home. You have decided on your dream location, be it a tranquil island in the South Pacific, a small idyllic beach town on Nayarit coast of Mexico, or a bustling colonial city in Panama. What next?
Location, of course! Before moving forward with your property search, ask yourself how you picture your daily life once you are settled into your new home and community of your choice. Begin by visualizing your ideal lifestyle and asking yourself what makes you happy!
Does your vision include a private residence located directly on the beach, where you can fall asleep each night to the sound of waves lapping on the shore? Is it a more affordable modest home located in a mixed community where you will be immersed in the culture and a myriad of exciting new experiences? Or a condominium with a large communal swimming pool, located within easy walking distance to the beach? Or perhaps your vision is of a worry free, single family residence, town home or condominium located in a private and idyllic gated community, resembling a picture perfect postcard?
For many of us, the dream is to own a home on the beach, but the reality is that this is not in the realm of most of our budgets, especially if this is to be a second home. A more affordable alternative worth considering is a condominium located on the beach. However, beach locales can be noisy, especially during the tourist season. If you are seeking tranquility, a residence in a gated community may be a more suitable choice. On the other hand if you are not a beach person, a place in the heart of the community may be a better choice for you.
Where to start? Prepare a list of your needs and preferences. Include everything that is important to you; absolutely everything that comes to mind, including what you cannot live with. Is your budget realistic? Do you intend to live in your home year round, or for just part of the year? Is your dream home a single family residence, town home or condominium? Is it located on, or near the beach? Is it located in a local colourfully mixed, family friendly community where you may be the only expatriate on the block; or in a safe and secure community geared towards retirees, populated with fellow expatriates who speak your language, share your beliefs, and values thereby greatly simplifying the process of settling in? Before moving forward to make one of the most important decisions you will make in your lifetime consider whether you would prefer to live in a private gated community, or not.
Gated Communities -The Perfect Choice?
A gated community is defined as a subdivision or a residential community, which is typically enclosed by a closed perimeter of walls and fences. The entrances are usually staffed by security guards and access into these idyllic gated communities is restricted to residents and their authorized guests.
Gated communities are often set back in tranquil resort-like areas, with less traffic, making for peaceful living conditions. They are usually developed by reputable large companies offering a new construction, built to high standards with high end finishing’s, but not always. They often offer a new construction guarantee providing buyers with peace of mind, but so do new homes in non-gated communities. Do your research, ask for references and check them!
There are modest gated communities offering some great recreational facilities, usually a common swimming pool, a BBQ and picnic area. There are large gated communities usually with small residential streets; various recreational amenities, social activities, and sometimes even shops and grocery stores. There are some very exclusive gated communities adorned with multi-million dollar mansions, golf courses and marinas.
Gated communities are popular because they offer home owners an instant sense of community. There is a sense of family and a shared camaraderie with fellow expatriates and retirees from all over the world who share a common interest, forming a great base for friendships.
The grounds of the gated communities are usually well kept, and the surrounding homes of the same calibre as yours. They offer a sense of security as entrances are usually either staffed or offer secure access.
Gated communities are typically managed by an administrator or property management company in order to maintain the common areas and insure standards set for the community are upheld. The community pool, exterior of the building, common areas and grounds, are maintained by staff, providing home owners with the freedom to enjoy life. The cost of the annual upkeep is shared amongst home owners, who enjoy all the conveniences of a vacation lifestyle including some great recreational facilities without the headache of pool and grounds maintenance.
When the urge to explore the world strikes you, living in a gated community leaves you free to pack your bags and explore to your heart’s content, with minimal concerns about property management during your absence. But what will you do if the maintenance and upkeep of your dream community are not up to par?
Gated Communities -The Controversy
Large gated communities are really “Lifestyle Communities” located within communities and it may be possible for residents to stay within the community for most of their day-to-day activities, and therein lays the controversy.
Whether you love them or hate them, gated communities conjure up images of expatriates living in their own little world behind a barrier shielding them from the realities of the local environment.
Opponents charge that gated communities are fundamentally anti-egalitarian and all about keeping undesirables out. The gates are opened only for the privileged. Gated communities are for affluent expatriates who hide behind their palace walls, and refuse to mingle with lower socio economic classes, or the local people. Residents are missing out on the true experiences of living in another country. The gates create a fortress mentality, encouraging residents to exclude non residents from their lives and concerns, which stratifies and separates those coming into a new culture. The new immigrants rarely assimilate into the community unless they live among the locals and learn to “fit in.”
Not so say the proponents. Expatriates and retirees love gated communities for the conveniences, and the sense of security and community they provide. In fact, some of us choose to live in gated communities in our home country, for the very same reasons. Why not enjoy the best of both worlds? Who would not choose to live in a clean, safe community, free of litter, graffiti and crime, set in an idyllic tranquil area, free of traffic, touts and undesirables? When residents of gated communities want to immerse themselves in culture they can head out to town.
Is a Gated Community Right for You?
The statement that gated communities do not offer much local culture is not always true. Your cultural experience depends on a lot of things, including the gated community you choose. Gated communities are frequently staffed by the local people who are responsible for the maintenance, cleaning and administration of your community. Increasingly, today, you will find that in some gated communities “the local people” are your neighbours. In some gated communities there are more local owners than expatriate owners. The local people choose to live in gated communities for the same reasons we do; a sense of security, easy friendship, great recreational facilities and convenience!
Gated communities often have more restrictions than non gated community complexes, so you need to consider whether you can live with the very restrictions that offer gated community homeowners a more appealing and tranquil lifestyle, such as no or rentals, limited guest access to amenities, nuisance bylaws or the lack thereof.
Do you intend to live in your home year round, or for just part of the year? If you intend to live in your home for just part of the year, you may wish rent out your home for additional income when you are not in residence. In this case it would be wise to focus your search on a home located as close to the beach as you can afford, as the closer to the beach you are, the easier it will be for you to rent out your property. This probably means that a condominium, town home, or single family residence in a non-gated community a good choice for you.
If you do not intend to rent out your home, gated communities hold great appeal in that the structure in place offers homeowners a great sense of security. The regulations in place keep tenants under control, and other home owners are always nearby who will advise administration immediately if there are violations in rules or anything untoward. Your neighbours are fellow owners and therefore they watch out for you. If conflicts arise between home owners, administration is there to assist with their resolution.
If you have always lived in a single family residence in a non-gated community and are dreaming about a condominium in a worry free gated community relieved of the drudgery of pool and grounds maintenance and other associated problems you need to consider your needs and preferences.
For one, decisions that that you may not agree with are made by a Board of Directors comprised of members of the Home Owners Association. Restrictions that you may or may not agree with are often in place or open to revision at any time. If you envision yours as a colourful tropical home, adorned with turrets and shocking hot pink doors – Sorry it is not going to happen. BBQs on your patio may, or may not be permitted. You hope to bring Rover along, and while most communities accept pets these days, they often have restrictions on the size, number, and types of pets permitted.
Another consideration is how important it is to you to integrate yourself in the culture of your chosen country. Living in a gated community in most cases, means less involvement with the local people. Of course, you can still immerse yourself in the culture through community involvement, it just takes more effort.
The Rewards and Challenges of Living in a Non-Gated Community
We chose to buy a single family dwelling in a non-gated community, and I believe that we are living a richer cultural experience because of it. We are friends with the mayor of our town and we know the issues in our town. We have been fortunate enough to be able to make a difference in our community by volunteering to assist with fund raising events and worthwhile community initiatives.
We know all of our neighbours, including a less affluent group of neighbours consisting of an unknown number of adults and twelve adorable and polite children who live in a makeshift ramshackle in the dense jungle foliage in our neighbourhood. The children pick limes and coconuts, and papayas from their trees, and knock on our door to sell us their wares. Sometimes they bring us complimentary cucumbers from their garden. Their roosters, chickens, dogs, cats and even their pig wander in front of our house. We have helped them have their dogs neutered, and occasionally we give them a ride into the next town. We have taken the children to a local swimming pool and park that they could otherwise not afford. If on occasion we require help with something unfamiliar, they are most willing to provide it. These little moments, enrich our lives and make our life here, special.
We do not have the luxury of garbage pickup at our house and this means that we have to carry our garbage to the pickup area which is located four blocks away, just like the local people. The streets in our town are not paved and after a heavy rainfall, when the streets flood, we have to navigate the puddles on foot or by car, just like the local people. Conversations with the local people arise due to these little daily interactions, allowing us to develop common interests, such as fixing the road and obtaining door to door garbage service, forming the basis for friendships, or at least friendly acquaintances.
The brick house beside us is unpainted and some might say, unsightly. One of our other neighbours has rebar sticking out of his roof, which spoils our view from the back patio. We have differences of opinion with one of our neighbours who owns bungalows, who occasionally receives a busload of boisterous vacationers, over how late into the evening it is appropriate to play loud music. Some of our neighbours clear lots by burning the foliage, resulting in black ash in our pool and all over our patios. If we are not receiving city water it is up to us to resolve the issue, but resolve we do. Sometimes it is challenging to resolve our issues, and certainly more difficult to resolve than if we had a management council to resolve our issues for us.
We are friends with some of our neighbours and we watch out for each other’s homes, just as if we were living in a gated community. However, our good friends live here, for just a few months of the year.
If the whim strikes us we have the freedom to plant banana and mango trees along the road in front of our house. Our pool is sparkling clean because we have control over how it is maintained. We hire the locals for small jobs around our home, as needed. If our standards are not met, we have the choice to hire them again, or not. The headaches of home maintenance lend to interactions with the locals which force us to immerse ourselves in the culture and experiences and to learn local language. The reward is developing friendships with the local people, and being invited to attend festivities and share experiences.
Our home is large, spacious and stunningly gorgeous, and the setting resembles paradise. The cost of our home was comparable to the cost of a condominium in a gated community on the beach. If we had to do it all over again, we would, despite the issues and the fact that the surrounding neighbourhood is not picture perfect.
We believe our choice to live in a non-gated community has provided us with a greater opportunity to immerse ourselves in the local culture. Not only, because our neighbours consist primarily of the local people but because taking care of the maintenance of our home, and carrying out the essential tasks of day-to-day life, forces us to interact with the local people. The experience has literally plunged us into the culture of the country we chose to live in.
What is right for us may in fact be a nightmare for you. Grab your list, review your needs and preferences, review your values and most importantly ask yourself what is it exactly that you wish to experience when you retire to your dream home in your chosen country.
Is it simply a place in the sun, and being surrounded by like minded friends, and all the conveniences of life offered in your home town? Or is your dream to immerse yourself in the daily adventures of the country you are moving to, to learn a new language and experience every facet, for better or worse?
We choose a private residence in a local community because we wanted to be immersed in the culture of living in another country because we wanted the freedom and control of making all the decisions pertaining to our home, and simply to enjoy the privacy of owning our dream home in paradise. The downside to this is the having to find responsible persons to care for our home, whenever we go on vacation and the amount of work required maintaining our home.
Points to Consider
- Safety & Sense of Security – However it really depends on the gated community you choose
- Peaceful lifestyle because the locations are usually set in areas, away from traffic and because of the restrictions and rules in place
- Usually offer great amenities and recreational facilities. Some communities have full time staff on hand to help residents out.
- Easy friendship, which is especially important to retirees, single men and women
- Worry free living. Management takes care of the place when you are absent – The downside is the lack of control over decisions made on maintenance and upkeep
- Shared maintenance costs – Lack of control over decisions made on maintenance and upkeep.
- Monthly maintenance fees are usually higher than the norm but home owners vote on what is important
- Common areas and roads are usually maintained to a higher standard than in non-gated communities
- More affordable then private residences if you are seeking a beach front home.
- Offers a greater opportunity for expatriates to immerse and integrate themselves in the culture of their chosen country
- Provides a greater opportunity on a day- to- day basis to experience the everyday challenges, wonders and sometimes the frustrations of living in another country
- Offers more privacy and personal freedom to live the lifestyle you are dreaming of – but less security
- Private pool and yard, if your choice is a private residence
- Daily life is simply not as convenient as it is in a gated community
- Communication can be a challenge – However, it forces you to learn to speak the language
- If your choice is a private residence, you have more control over maintenance and upkeep of your home, but less control over the surrounding neighbourhood’s appearance and function.
- The opportunity to earn an additional income exists if you choose to rent out your residence. Condominiums have a high rental rate and they may also have someone who manages rentals for you – Some gated communities do allow rentals to some extent
- A private residence – usually provides a better real estate investment – If the property is beachfront, it will always prove to be a better investment irrelevant of the dwelling type.
- Developing friendships is more challenging as you need to seek out the opportunities – If you are not a naturally gregarious person this can be isolating.
Gated community or Integrating in the Local Community?
The question is a life changing decision which requires a lot of thought.
Once you have answered this question, and are armed with your list of priorities, take the time to choose a good realtor who will work with you, and who is willing to spend the time you need, in order to help you make one of the most important decisions you may make during your lifetime.
A good realtor will not sell you a property that does not meet your needs, as they want their clients to realize their dream, and be happy with their final decision. A good realtor will consult with you about your needs and preferences; be knowledgeable about the area they service and guide you through the neighbourhood of your chosen community and advise you on the pros and cons of the residence of your choice. A good realtor will have a good reputation and credentials, as well as patience. A good realtor will have references; make sure you ask for, and check them.
About the author: Christina Stobbs is a former resident of Vancouver, B.C., now owner and operator of an exclusive B&B providing ”Personalized Vacation Experiences” in the magical Mexican beach town of Los Ayala, Nayarit Mexico. Christina has also, recently starting a business called “This & That – Arts & Marketing” and is currently writing a novel in which she narrates the story of “Day to Day” life in small town rural Mexico, and shares the adventure of pursuing the dream of living in Mexico with her husband Robert Stobbs. They made the life changing decision to move to Mexico last April, to buy a home to run as a Bed & Breakfast, and to live full time in the paradise called Mexico. Visit her website www.losayalalife.com