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When the 2nd home is a 2,200-mile commute
Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle)
- by Heidi Dietrich Staff Writer

Friday, October 26, 2007

Come winter, artists George Little and David Lewis won’t be found anywhere near their Bainbridge Island sculpture garden.

Instead, Little and Lewis will be creating and exhibiting art in remote San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The pair turned the lower level of their San Miguel home into a gallery and studio, enabling them to keep working while shuttling up and down North America.

Little and Lewis represent a new generation of second-home buyers commuting between the Puget Sound area and Mexico. Far from retirement, they maintain jobs in Seattle while spending significant portions of the year in Mexico. Some, like Lewis and Little, find their careers uninhibited by cross-continent travel, while others struggle to handle employer demands from afar.

One study shows a growing interest in second homes in Mexico. In 2006, 1,000 Americans bought Mexican vacation homes, according to Mexico City-based real estate research and analyst firm Softec. That number is estimated to grow to 30,000 by 2015. Puget Sound residents make up a sizable portion of the second-home business, Mexico developers say. Patrick Hobson, director of sales and marketing for Mazatlán residential development company ProNova, said his best market is the Northwest.

Raoul Rodriguez Walters moved the headquarters of his firm, Mexico Advisor, from Mexico to Portland, Ore., in July. Mexico Advisor provides financial planning and legal advice for American buyers of Mexican homes. Walters found most of his clients were from the West Coast, hence the decision to move to Portland. About 12 percent of Walters’ clients are from Washington and Oregon.

Patti Kilpatrick started the Bellevue-based second-home education company Choosing Mexico in March, after noticing the rising number of Puget Sound area residents buying homes south of the border. Choosing Mexico holds local seminars to teach people about Mexican property laws and culture. Kilpatrick said the number of Mexico second-home buyers will continue to grow as baby boomers seek cheaper, more adventuresome second-home options. “There will be a huge wave of people looking to move full-time or part-time to Mexico,” Kilpatrick said.

Many of the second-home buyers aren’t close to retirement age. Hobson said ProNova buyers are trending younger in the last few years, with many in their early to mid 50s.

Carolyn Hansen, who owns homes in Seattle's Wallingford area and near Mexico’s Lake Chapala, said she’s just 51 and not contemplating retirement. For now, she and her husband rent the Chapala house when they aren’t there, and figure they can always sell it if they decide to go elsewhere once they retire.

As a result, younger Mexican home buyers often juggle full-time American jobs with life south of the border. The cross-continent commute is more possible these days due to improved communications systems. Hansen’s husband, a consultant, uses VoIP (voice over internet protocol) telephone and high speed internet to connect with his clients.

Monty Dennison, a public relations professional in Seattle, visited his home in San Miguel de Allende four times last year and will leave in November for a two-month trip. He sends news releases from San Miguel and finds that as long as he has a computer and the internet, he can do his job as easily as if he were in Seattle.

Some second-home owners, like business and life partners David Lewis and George Little, shift part of their business to Mexico. The two run the Bainbridge Island garden sculpture company Little and Lewis. Since the couple spends three months a year in San Miguel de Allende and hopes to eventually split their time half and half, they are trying to find clients in Mexico.

To be sure, not all second-home owners find it easy to maintain Puget Sound careers and spend significant time in Mexico. Hansen, vice president of marketing for Bellevue-based Hacker Group, often can’t join her consultant husband in Mexico because she is tied to the office.

Barbara Hartinger found it challenging to maintain her Seattle-based graphic design business while living in the house she built 12 miles outside of San Miguel. She flew to Seattle for business meetings.

But the long airplane trips to the Puget Sound area became more frequent as a new client demanded her physical presence. Now that Hartinger must attend weekly meetings in Seattle, she's moved back and is leasing out the San Miguel house.

“Ideally,” Hartinger said, “I’d go back and forth.”


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