San Felipe Real Estate Stories

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico


After several years of visiting Baja in the late 60’s, my wife and I purchased a residential lot in 1975, on the southern outskirts of town in what is now the premier housing tract, Playas de San Felipe.

Bob SchadeA year later we began the construction itself, contracting a working engineer, Jesus Jaramillo. My wife, Maruca, did the actual plans for the layout of the two bedroom house, which was to be nothing pretentious but a comfortable, attractive home.

At that time this development had the necessary factors, city water, sewers, (not Septic tanks), and paved streets. The streets were located on both sides of the present airport road ending about a kilometer from the marina & fishing docks. Back then all you could see were the sand dunes and we were the first owners to build.

Electric power came much later, after the Mission hotel was built and finished. The town had its own power plant but our tract was without lines. Inasmuch as we were starting from scratch, we made a written contract with the engineer, not based on time but on a peso amount, calculated on the square meters to be built. This included both labor and materials with the engineer deciding the percentage. I was still living, and working in Southern California, so I sent him monies twice monthly. Our tract had the stipulation that a house was to be built on the land, and not just a mobile home or trailer moved onto it. After all this was a housing tract and not an RV park.

Consequently, to summarize the construction, unlike California houses, which are made by carpenters, we built a house which required huge rocks and concrete for the deep foundation, steel rods, cement blocks and bricks, which eliminated any termite problems.
The only wooden beams used were to support the ceilings and for decorative purposes.
Our initial plans provided for only a porch in front with the garage space open underneath because we did not need a covered garage yet. Later on we shall relate our adventures with that aspect of additions. Our house had the appearance of a two story place due to its split level lot. A cement stairway led from the street up to the only entrance and nothing open in the back. When all was finished, we were surprised to see that our house was featured in the Baja Times as a typical vacation home.

On short vacation trips to see the construction work, once the main frame was almost completed, we slept on cots inside, using oil lamps and ice chests. We often had to endure bats, which nested in holes and banged against the walls as they flew around.
At dusk you could see the bats hovering over the street as birds do not fly at night.

Playas operated a business office downtown staffed by sales representatives and little by little people began to build in the early 80’s. Then the only supplier was Medina. Probably the best known landmark, still today, is the big red house located a block from the airport road on the west side. We were good friends of the original owners, Helen, a Mexican-American from California and Shirley, from Michigan. Their story is the first in a line of intrigue and treachery in San Felipe housing. A man who we will refer to only as Enrique, traveled to San Francisco to sell Playas lots to these ladies and came back with some $ 50,000.00 which was to pay for a lot and building. Back then, a lot cost about 10 to 15 thousand dollars.

Anyway, these ladies set up house in a trailer alongside the site being built, but before the project was at all finished, Enrique left them high and dry. They filed a suit in the local district attorney’s office but he countered with the Mexican Amparo law, which delayed the suit indefinitely, plus the fact he had political influence in Mexicali. The ladies tried to pressure the situation standing on the highway with signs saying “Enrique is a crook,
Do not do business with him.” Shortly thereafter the city fathers confiscated the placards.

Therefore, Helen and Shirley continued to build and due to the fact they used many different crews, the house mushroomed to what it is today, with a swimming pool, big rooms, imported tile, two door garage, etc. Unfortunately, they were both confirmed alcoholics and died of the abuse.

However, Enrique did not actually leave town but continued to sell lots. It was rumored that he sold a lot more than once, so when people later tried to build, they encountered
problems galore. May I add that after we built our house, we had the title and deed duly registered by a Mexican lawyer in Mexicali, a Notary Public.

Enrique’s next step was to organize a construction crew with his two brothers, and they did a lot of work in Playas on houses on the street directly in front of the beach. He had complete knowledge of who bought what lot and frequently made his business over food and drink at the Hotel Lucerna in Mexicali. During this period we were still living in California but needed to have the garage roof done. This served a two-fold purpose: two door garage enclosed and a big red cement terrace, which would be fenced off with a decorative wrought iron railing.

Therefore, we hired a mason to do the job and paid him in advance but when we returned several months later, he had skipped town, doing just half the work. This was the first time we had been scammed or fleeced, but we did not take it lying down. With a bit of detective work, we found out he had left his wife here and ran off with his new honey to Tijuana. His wife was more than glad to tell us where to find him. He was working in “Squatter’s Hill” Tijuana. It took us three trips from Redondo Beach, California, to locate him: (boy, was he surprised). With the help of a lawyer, we pressured him into signing (Letras) a promissory note, and we got our $ 300.00 back.

The 1980’s saw a housing boom and a new hotel complex sprung up at Punta Estrella Beach, some 10 miles south. We watched the hotel grow up with a huge swimming pool, some nice quarters and a dining room which served a great buffet, and the first of its kind in the area. We attended the open house party and mingled with the investors and guests, all of them confident the place had a rosy future. However, a few years later it seems the down payments of $ 1,500.00 to build condos never materialized and the crooked promoter took the monies and ran. Unfortunately, several years later the hotel management also ran into trouble by not paying wages and the employees began to strike. This lasted over a year, and so the hotel closed its doors permanently.

I would like to add one more thing, people on the Pacific side of Baja have expressed their views that here we do not have the hassle of high pressure salesmen in real estate. Hogwash!!! A case in point; an elderly friend of ours from Portland, Oregon, who comes here yearly, was hoodwinked out of $ 5,000.00 on her credit card, mind you for a time-sharing plan at the Marina Resort, by an American sales executive to boot. She can now stay at the hotel for seven days for $ 180.00, which is called a maintenance fee. I call it a rip off! If she stays longer than seven days, she has to pay the full price of over
$100.00 per day.

Of course, there are good contractors and honest builders here. Also, construction in and around San Felipe is on the rise. We have the luxury of two big time real estate firms, plus our own “Call Margaret” agent for some time now.