Saturday, August 30, 2008

Paseo to get a lift

George and I have been so focused on preparing for our move to Loreto (in six months or so, but there’s a lot to do!) we almost forgot some good news that came our way last week.

Last year we were told the Paseo along our stretch of Agua Viva was going to be raised by as much as five feet. Initially, we weren’t sure we liked that idea because it would put the road almost level with our Encantada, which would mean more road noise for us, as well as our cluster neighbors. But the change in management brought so many other changes we weren’t too concerned.

The one thing we were counting on that was in the original plans for our phase of Agua Viva was a foot path through the golf course to the beach for easy access. However, a new map of our phase of Agua Viva did not show such a foot path. That’s a concern for everyone in our phase because without it we wouldn’t have easy access to the beach. Not good.

We couldn’t get a definitive answer on either of those concerns so George tracked down the person who might just know: Aristides (Ari) Cota, director of engineering and land development for LB.

Ari responded to George’s e-mail within 24 hours (a first in our dealings with LB!) with good news on both counts.

The road along our stretch of the Paseo IS going to be raised, but only by about three feet. The sidewalk will be raised another foot or two, but that still puts our casa above the fray, so to speak. And we all have the added benefit of a new, pothole-free road! It will be interesting to see how the road looks after those changes.

Ari also indicated that the planned foot path across the golf course to the beach is still in the works. Very good news for everyone in our phase! Ari promised to e-mail us a copy of the plans as soon as he has them in hand. And when he does, we’ll post them here on the blog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Home owner blues

Once again I was on the road traveling (this time in Philadelphia) when George called last week with the news that Loreto Bay management is looking to stimulate home sales by dramatically discounting properties and offering an array of costly incentives to prospective buyers.

After learning that such drastic measures are being taken to jump start sales, George (who is a very successful Realtor here in Albuquerque with extensive marketing experience) called LB and spoke with Scott Montell, legal counsel for Loreto Bay, regarding the new pricing policy.

According to Mr. Montell, sales have been very sluggish over the past year and the company is looking to turn those lagging sales around with “screaming" deals which include free membership in the planned beach club, free home furnishings, free condominium regime fees for two years and NO closing costs. We understand the need for incentives and even welcome them because more home sales are good for everyone. Given the current state of the real estate market, we don't even object to properties being discounted by a bit. But we do have a problem with our properties being drastically discounted. The new prices on estuary lots are a good example of this 'slash and burn' discounting.

These drastic measures beg the question: "Is something amiss in Loreto Bay?" And is that really the impression marketing should present to prospective buyers?

It’s important to remember that sales and marketing have been on the back burner for the past year, in part due to the ownership transition, but mainly because the focus has been on a push to catch up with construction of existing sales and development amenities. The marketing during this time has been lackluster at best.

As an example, George and I introduced a prospective buyer (a good friend of ours) to the sales department this past spring during a visit to Loreto Bay and they never followed-up from Loreto Bay or Scottsdale. And this friend was seriously interested in buying. We were embarrassed and he was turned off.

We just don't understand why it's necessary to deeply depreciate properties before there has been a coordinated and aggressive marketing campaign. The proposed strategy means those hoping to resell will be hard pressed to recoup their investment for possibly years, while having to compete with LB’s new construction pricing and incentives. We as homeowners are being asked to accept that our properties may be worth a lot less than we paid for them, at least for the immediate future. We also worry that present owners will be picking up the tab for new owners who will not be paying the monthly homeowner association fees (or condominium regime fees) for two years, as well as beach club fees.

At the very least, LB should be helping present owners acquire financing so they do not lose their homes. Recent posts on the official homeowner site show that many home buyers are getting little or no help from LB in acquiring financing. In addition, some home buyers are facing up to $40,000 in closing costs and mortgage fees. All of us gave large down payments back when the credit markets were not so tight and equity in our homes was higher. Now when construction is starting, financing seems more difficult to obtain and LB is still charging late penalties. Come on LB, show a little loyalty!

We all want LB to succeed. After all, we are Loreto Bay’s best marketing agents. Ideally, we hope management rethinks so aggressively devaluing properties in Loreto Bay as that can only hurt those of us who bought in good faith, persevered through the many down times and remain committed to the original vision of Loreto Bay.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Musings via Mulege

Thanks to some friends here in Albuquerque, George and I were able yesterday to meet and visit with an American couple who live most of the year in Mulege, about an hour and a half north of Loreto.

The couple, who has lived in Mulege for the past couple of years, are obviously enjoying their retirement south of the border. Their enthusiasm for Mulege and Mexico as a whole was apparent as they described their lives in the sleepy little village (population about 3,500) where one of the social highlights of the year is the annual pig race and pig calling contest.

Over the course of a few hours visiting with this friendly and entertaining couple, we got some great advice and gained some valuable insight into the people of Baja California Sur.

On the practical side, we learned that it's best to apply for an FM3 Visa in Loreto rather than through a Mexican Consulate here in the States. The reason given was two-fold: Requirements even for a visa can vary from region to region and immigration officials have been known to take offense when a visa comes from outside their jurisdiction.

We also learned that one of the worst - at least in our Mulege friends' opinion - Web sources for information about Baja is, a site that George and I have visited on a number of occasions. They said the site's chat room is rife with misinformation about the Baja, especially relating to crime, which they said is virtually non-existent outside the border areas and, when it does occur, generally falls into the petty theft category.

As for the practice of "mordida" that many on the site claim is rampant throughout the Baja, our new friends (who also lived for a time in northern Baja about an hour south of San Diego) said their only experience with being asked for a "courtesy" payment came from a city police officer in Tijuana. Although that practice is not uncommon when dealing with city police, they said that it is almost unheard of when dealing with the Mexican equivalent of our state police. In fact, they said, visiting Americans are causing a problem by not paying traffic citations before leaving Mexico. All those travelers "skipping out" on their fines has led Mexican authorities to require immediate payment in cash for any traffic violation. And that can be something of a problem if the ticketed driver is short on cash and the banks are closed!

Since mail delivery is sketchy at best in the Baja, people in Mulege send outgoing mail back to the States to be mailed courtesy of anyone headed in that direction, while goods ordered on the Internet in Mulege are delivered to U.S. homes until arrangements can be made for pickup. Sounds like a good plan to us and one we hope is - or will be - in place in Loreto!

But the most valuable information our new friends gave us related to the cultural differences between our two countries. Too many Americans, they said, expect things to operate in Mexico like they do in the states and that's just not the case. An example, they said, was when they picked out upholstery for their new sofa in one pattern but received the finished product in a different but similar pattern. Those kinds of minor changes are common, they said, and it's best to learn to go with the flow.

They also spoke of the courtesy and kindness of their new Mexican friends, who value good manners and think cursing is vulgar and common, especially when in mixed company. And isn't that a nice thought!

The recurring theme in what this engaging couple had to say was that if you're willing to get involved, you'll be rewarded with a sense of community and sharing that makes all the little hassles worthwhile. And that sounds good to us, too!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Agua segura?

Recent postings on Loreto Bay's official homeowner site have called into question the means by which homeowners are warned of unsafe water quality in the development. This issue was first raised in early July by a homeowner whose trip to Loreto Bay was ruined due to a severe case of "Montezuma's revenge." The homeowner also leveled a heap of criticism on LB management for not informing homeowners when there is a problem with the quality of water. And rightly so. In that homeowner's case, residents had been warned of bacteria in the water just a few weeks prior, but they were not warned upon their arrival.

LB's marketing department responded to the complaints and concerns by outlining the measures that are taken to keep the water safe and to inform homeowners and hotel guests of any potential water problem by issuing a Boil Water Advisory, which is handed out to resident homeowners and hotel guests. However, based on more recent postings, those advisories aren't reaching some homeowners.

The most troubling part of LB's response was the section that said the town of Loreto is notified and asked to increase the amount of chlorine in the water supply when LB's monthly independent water testing indicates the water does not meet minimum California water standards. (This response and the other responses referenced can be found on the Community Bulletin Board under Environment on the official homeowner site.)

OK, sounds good. LB seems to be doing its part in informing the proper authorities when the water quality dips below minimum standards. But no mention was made about how quickly Loreto's water authority - SAPAL - responds to those requests for increased chlorination.

It appears there are two problems here: First, LB is not doing enough to warn visiting homeowners and hotel guests about possible unsafe drinking water. And secondly, unless LB knows that SAPAL takes immediate action when notified that water quality falls below minimum California standards, they should inform homeowners and guests at the same time they inform SAPAL.

LB acknowledged in its July 11 response that some residents apparently hadn't "noticed" the posted Boil Water Advisories in a timely manner, so they were considering other ways to effectively inform homeowners when a Water Advisory is in effect. They proposed including "posting the Advisory in prominent locations within the Villages and Hotel, and broadcasting the Advisory on Loreto Bay's Television channel."

But apparently those additional measures haven't been implemented, or so say the most recent homeowner postings.

A few questions come to mind about this issue... Why not post those advisories on the official homeowner Web site right under the weather box, as suggested by one homeowner? And why not post them as soon as LB is aware that the water does not meet the minimum requirements? Should we all - as suggested by another homeowner - buy water purification drops for cleaning and soaking fruits and vegetables? Or should we consider a full-scale water purification system for our casa, as proposed by yet another homeowner?

It would be nice to hear an in-depth response from LB on this issue. And we invite homeowners to weigh in on this topic as well!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Livin' Avenida la Marina!

A 10-day business trip to northern California - beautiful Sonoma and Napa, along with less lovely Oakland - kept me too busy to blog, and then once home a lack of news on the Loreto front kept my fingers quiet for a few days. But then George happened upon a map showing what our street address will be in Loreto Bay.

Our Casa de Nuevos Suenos will be located at 220 Avenida la Marina, on the corner of Paseo Mision de Loreto and Avenida la Marina. The shared courtyard for our Cluster 38 has an even more enchanting name - Pasaje Agua Mansa - or Tame Water Passage in English, named no doubt for the nearby estuary. But we were surprised that Avenida la Marina translates to "reconciled navy," at least according to Yahoo! Babel Fish, which has become our quick Internet resource for basic Spanish to English translations. That translation had us both scratching our heads, so George went to Google and came up with a translation that means "navy avenue." Hmmm. Maybe a Spanish speaker out there can help us with this one! But that minor confusion doesn't alter the fact that learning these names just adds to the excitement we're feeling as work progresses on our casa. That progress is very evident in the photo above sent to us yesterday by Penny. (Thanks again, Penny!)The view shown is from lot 222 looking at the back of our casa 220.

Of course, we already knew addresses had been designated, but it was a nice surprise to discover the map indicating our street address on the Stark Silver Creek Web site. To see a map, click on "Agua Viva map" and once there just zoom in to get a better view.