Serious food for thought and a big heads up!

images-3For those of you looking for contractors or for those of you that already have contractors, or other hired help, here is something you might really wish to think about, if the help is an expat. Recent changes to INM (immigration) policies, at the highest levels federally, have mandated that they enforce the regulations as a priority. What this means as a home owner, is that YOU are also on the hook, if for some reason persons you have hired, are not legally entitled to work in Mexico and the penalties can be very steep. For the home owner at minimum, a big fine or possibly worse. For the expat working illegally, most likely deportation and INM is now doing random or not so random checks. So think of it this way, you need some work done on your house and a mutual friend says, “hey I can get a crew together and help you with that”. Sounds great but, here is the problem. A local guy walks by and sees your friend “working supervising” the crew and is angry because he used to do that sort of work. All it takes is one phone call and big problems are headed your way. If your friends VISA is the right type to work, in what ever field he is doing work in, no problem at all. But if it is not, look out and INM will only be the first of the agencies that will come to visit you. You will find yourself trying to explain, why you are hiring illegal workers and your friend will most likely be arrested and deported. You can imagine the problems if that person lives here full time, but not on a working type visa or one thats says they can fix cars, not homes. If you are hiring someone, ask them point blank what type of VISA they have and ask to see their paper work, friend or not.  Photo copy what they show you for future reference.

On the other coast. A person not entitled to work was working in a specialty field which needs accreditation. INM officers went to the place of business and asked to see the documentation, which of course he didn’t have, nor did he have a VISA entitling him to work and to top it off he tried to bribe the INM officials. It was an instant go to jail, do not pass go situation. He was charged with a host of serious federal offences and hopefully was deported and not put in a Mexican jail long term.

There have been reports ,in the beach area, of INM officials now coming around to verify the information, addresses etc. given to INM. So it is quite likely if they see an expat working they will ask a few questions, that as the home owner,you had better be prepared to answer.

Edited, Note we have discussed this with a very well know immigration specialist and he gives the same warning.

Pintura is expensive

imgresWe get asked from time to time to quote jobs for painting and quite often we hear people respond, thats kind of expensive. Yes painting is expensive, a cubetta  is 19 litres of paint and good paint is around 1200 pesos a cubetta. But before you can paint, walls have to be scraped and patched or if the paint is peeling from a failure of the surface coating then the walls need to be fixed and primed. That all takes time and of course time is money. There is no point in not doing it right or just using cheap paint, as you will need to paint again, sooner than you think and the costs start to add up. If you are painting new concrete, the surface needs to be sealed first or your expensive cubetta of paint will disappear very fast as it sucks into the porous concrete. Just in paint alone the interior of a modest house will take over 10,000 pesos in paint and materials If the surface is new. As several coats will be needed to even out the colours. Then of course there is labour, fuel costs to get back and forth, time to supervise and try and make a profit. No painting is not cheap, but doing it right and using good materials can turn a house into a home.

Rust never sleeps

imagesFor those of you that live at the beach, this is more important than in Merida, but not quite as much as you think. Rust is occurring anytime there is an interaction; between iron, oxygen and moisture and in the tropics all abound and rust is an issue. Throw in a dash of salt and rust occurs more rapidly due to the electrochemical action. Why is this important, well the answer is simple, in most cases you will not notice the rust until the damage is already done. As an example, if you have a small rock hit your car and you do nothing about it, rust will form on the surface and most likely you will notice the reddish mark. If you have it sanded, sealed and painted it should be good. But what if that small chip is on the other side of the fender? Sooner or later when you see a little bubble on the paint and you scratch it, you most likely will be shocked, as a hole appears. The same problem occurs with rebar in structures, if it is not treated. Slowly and undetected is will start to corrode, until you start to see telltale signs, like cracks in your concrete that are swollen apart or reddish water streaks. But by then, it is already too late. Most major structural damage doesn’t show up until it is too late. Take for example a loza roof (cement, small stones and rebar) which is very common in Merida, as it was the type of roof used a hundred years ago. Structurally it  needs the rebar to give it the required strength. If the rebar rusts and is corroded away, what do you think happens to the strength? Yup, you have fragile material, that weighs a lot, over your head with no structural strength or rigidity and when loza roofs fall they usually do so after a heavy rain. But those are big examples of rust issues. How many of you folks have sliding patio doors? Ever had them get really stiff and hard to move? Most times it is because the cheap roller pins have rusted out. You can’t stop rust without a lot of hassle, so your best bet is to try and stop it before it starts. If you are building new, make sure all your rebar and and other structural iron is coated with rust preventatives or better yet galvanized. Spray light oils or grease other exposed metals to prevent oxygen and water from making contact with iron parts. If you have used concrete nails to hang pictures, coat them with paint, unless you want to see rust streaks on your wall. When ever possible use galvanized products to help slow rust, it is not a permanent problem solver, but sure helps in the short term. Most important of all if you see something in your home that you thinks is a rust stain, get it checked out ASAP. Better a fix today, than a total teardown a month from now, simply because you waited to long.

Pasta tile, keeping the colonial feel.

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For those of you who have thought of buying and renovating an old Colonial in Merida, but are worried about the cost of replacing damaged pasta tile. You shouldn’t let that stop you. Replacing missing or broken tiles, is not that hard nor is redoing an entire area. We are in the middle of redoing our own place in Merida and are at the point in time, where we have to look at flooring. Since our place is in Centro and it had Pasta tie in the majority of places, it seemed only natural to replace the broken or missing ones and keep the other rooms in period style as well. I was worried that the cost would be completely out of range, but surprisingly that is not the case. In fact Pasta tile is quite reasonable, considering it is custom made. The folks at Mosaicos Penninsular in Merida have a very good selection of the old Pasta tile patterns and can make them to order. Tiles and zocalos (wall trim) prices vary according to the complexity of the patterns, but are around 8.50 pesos a tile to 30.00 pesos a tile. So as an example, the tile to fit our 4.5M by 5M bedroom and 1.5M by 4M bathroom plus all the zocalos, came in around 7,000 pesos. Of course it has to be installed and polished in place afterwards, but for a stunning recreation of an antique floor, the price is pretty cheap, even when compared to normal floor tiles. So don’t let the cost of flooring scare you off, when you look at old colonials.

Home security part 2

In part 1 we discussed basic ways to keep would be thieves away, from access points to your house. I will leave the topic of locks, bars, etc. to your imagination, unless someone emails me for advice. But let’s suppose for a minute, you finally get the chance to use the free coupon for that all-inclusive in Tulum. You board your dogs at a kennel, lock your house up tight and head off, for that week away.

Fast forward a day or 2, when a thief seeing you gone and no dogs about, tries his luck and finally gets in. NOW WHAT?

First of all, there are a couple of things you should do, right after reading this. Go and etch, burn or however, permanently  mark all your electronics, including fridge, TV, stove, A/C units, the works. Use your name and some identifying number (SIN, DL,) . What ever will identify the property as yours, with no doubt and make it visible and I mean easily visible. Now take pictures of all your valuables and electronics, good close-ups of jewellery and specialty items including serial numbers if possible. Burn that information to a flash drive and give it to a close friend. You would be surprised how many people forget what they own and when it is time to make a report things get forgotten of value. But if you have pictures it makes things easier. Remember a picture is worth a thousand words.

If you have anything of value in your bedroom drawers, hidden under your socks or undies, MOVE THEM, leave the costume stuff there and they might think they struck it rich. The first thing any thief will do, is pull out the drawers and dump them on your bed. All the hidden goodies will come tumbling out. Right about now most of you are thinking hmmm, that’s where my stuff is and in fact that is where most people keep their valuables, believe it or not. So lets talk about some basics on keeping your valuables safe.

Most thieves know where people hide stuff, it is not rocket science. They probably remember where their parents hid stuff or they did as a kid. The trick here, is to hide it, where they won’t have time to look. Do you have a safe? I love house safes, they by far are the best place NOT to hide anything, other than maybe papers that have no real value or dirty socks. To most thieves a safe is a flashing sign saying, hidden wealth here! I can think of nothing better than a thief taking hours sweating to break open or break it out and take the safe, only to finally open it and just find your bills from Home Depot or dirty socks. Remember the longer they are in your house or in possession of your WELL MARKED stuff, the better the chance of being caught. So I would install a safe that is encased in rebar and concrete and hide it, but not that well. They will be so busy with it, they may not have time to do a real thorough search of your house. The other place not to hide stuff, is in the fridge. Lots of thieves get hungry or thirsty and will scoop your steaks out of the freezer, for a nice BBQ later. It is a big bonus for them, if they see that Tupperware container with your jewellery, at the same time.

So where can you hide stuff? Well for starters if you do not want it to be found and you don’t need access that often, bury it outside in your back yard (yes I am serious) or put it in a bank vault.  But most likely you will need access, to money or other valuables in your house. Do not hide them all in one spot just incase the thief is lucky. Break your valuables into smaller groups and put them in zip locks, now look for places that no one looks or get them made, like this one.

imagesHouses have lots of electrical outlets and a couple of false ones behind a couch or under a counter are pretty hard to spot. Not many thieves are going to pop every outlet cover just on the chance one might be fake. Go into your pantry and look for likely spots to put things, I just walked into mine and there was a nice Ortho ant dust can about the size of a pringles can. Find an empty one and wash it out, put your diamond necklace in a zip lock and put it in, cut a thick piece of plastic that fits in the hole tightly, put in some baking soda or fine sand on top and replace the lid. Now just put it back on the shelf. Want to hide a larger amount of really valuable stuff? Double bag it in zip locks suck the air out and put it in a half empty can of water based paint. Lots of people have cans of paint around the house. When you need your stuff, take it out and rinse the bag under water, viola clean zip lock. You could even hollow out the bottom side of a can of spam and just place it on the shelf with the rest of them.

You get the idea, be creative and keep things in small amounts, even if they get lucky, they won’t get everything and hopefully they will be caught in possession of something with your ID information on it, providing they could break in, in the first place.

Home security part 1

imgresOne of the important things you need to think about, when we build your house or remodel, is personal security. It is sad that we have too, but that is the reality of life. There is always someone who wants your stuff and will do what it takes to get it. The first rule to remember, is that if someone wants it bad enough, THEY WILL GET IT. But most thieves fear being caught, more than the reward of stealing your property, if the risks are large. So we need to keep the thieves out of reach of our valuables.

Sounds easy, but is it? Personally, I am not a big fan of protectores,  I find them prison like, but that is just me. I am however, a big fan of large dogs. In a previous life, I investigated hundreds of break-ins if not more. The one common link was none of them had a larger dog. A barking dog is the best defence and the larger and snarlier the better. We have 3 dogs and you would have be very brave or extremely foolish to walk into our yard. I do understand that dogs are not possible for all, but here are some principles, that apply in all cases. We do not have protectores, but we do have a perimeter defence system and a few tricks up our sleeves.

People have a natural concept of personal space. A simple example is an elevator. When you get in an elevator with strangers, I will bet you money that you keep an arms length from them, without thinking about it. Subconsciously anyone with in arms length can literally reach out and touch you, with a knife, fist or……  So over the millennia we have developed a perceived safe zone. The flip side of that is we also stay away from what we perceive as others space. A simple example of that is a grass front yard on a corner. If you live on a corner, people will cut the corner and eventually make a path that others will follow. But research has shown that even a small token fence will make people go the long way around. The question is why, but the answer is simple, our concept of personal space. We do not want to invade others defined space, without a good reason.

Personal space is very important when you think about home security. An open front or back yard has no visual boundary to would be thieves. This in itself is a visual signal to them. If they are caught inside this imaginary boundary, they will always have an excuse. “I didn’t know I was in their yard, there was no fence or any other indication.”  So you need to define what is yours and what isn’t, this is extremely important. You need to be very clear or make a clear statement, THIS IS MINE, STAY OUT. There are numerous ways to do that, but most commonly it is a fence. If you are using a fence make it one about 5 feet high or higher. A 5 foot fence is not easy to get over and there is no excuse if you are caught inside one, especially a locked one, Mexican law is pretty clear on that point. A 8 foot brick wall is even better, but they are usually reserved for back yards. But once you have the perimeter fence or wall, then what? You need to step back and think how you would get in, if you locked yourself out. Now go out and buy plants with thorns and spikes. Put the plants with thorns (bouganvillas) on the outside and let them grow. Now plant the sharp spiked ones on the inside, (henequin) is perfect. You want the plants at obvious cross over places, remembering a house is most easily attacked at night. You also want the ground  next to the wall to be rough, so that if someone does jump down, they have a good chance of breaking an ankle. But at night thieves hopefully will not see your defences, so if they try to get over your fence or wall, the thorns will get them and if they jump down on the inside, the spiky plants will impale them or they might break something.

If they do get past the fence/wall and the thorny defence, that will be the easy part. Now you need motion lights on all the walls of your house, to illuminate the inside of your property. Intruders need to be lit up and I mean lit up like daylight! Thieves are like cockroaches and hate good lights. They also hate the idea that their action may be recorded, so the next layer of your defence should be cameras. Even good fake ones will do the same job, fake or real who knows the difference? Just never tell ANYONE if they are fake, NO ONE! I do mean no one. You want everyone that comes into or looks into your yard to think you have a camera system.

Most thieves are lazy by nature and if your house looks like it is going to be hard to get into without being caught, they will most likely move on to easier pickings. But if for some reason they do decide your worth the risk, the last thing you want them to have is shelter from view. I hate front entrances that have a little alcove. That is the perfect spot to stand and pry open a door, as no one can see you unless they are standing right in front of you. A large rear yard wall does the same thing, hides an intruder from view. So the back of your house needs to be an extra hard place to break into. If you do not have dogs, then all openings need to resistant to being forced or smashed open. Sliding doors and windows need fixtures on the tracks, so they cannot be pried open. Normal doors need to be the metal skinned or thick wood variety and should have 2 locks, with one of the locks being at eye level or higher. If you really want to go all out, aluminum hurricane shutters which lock and pin securely on the inside are hard to break into without making a lot of noise and then you still have to get passed the doors. Even the stupidest of thieves knows the longer they are on someone’s property, the better the chance they are going to be caught. So if you make it a hard job, they might just pass on it.

Here are a couple of quick and easy tricks, that might cause a thief to move on. Lock your front gate and open it only as you need to. Go and buy a large plastic dog dish and a big dog toy or 2. Fill the dish with water and put it in plain view by your door, with the toy close by. A passing thief will assume you have a big dog somewhere on your property, especially if you put up several “Cuidado con el perro” signs. If you have a table on your front porch get an old paperback novel and lay it on the table like you were just reading it and stepped away for a minute and put a coffee cup next to it. Now the thief has to take the chance you are somewhere close by  and could return at any second.

Email us if you have any questions.

A geography lesson

I keep seeing various advertisements from competitors, saying they build to North American Standard (NAS). Well I hate to break the news to them, but MEXICO is in North America, as is Belize or New York. So what exactly are they saying, is it that they build to the lowest possible standard or the highest or is it just advertising mumbo jumbo and they never learned simple geography. Why not put it to a simple test. A while back, a fellow came here from North of the Mexican border (NOB) and set up shop as a contractor, he was originally a carpenter (long gone now). He put out ads saying he built everything to North American Standard (what ever that means) and that he had numerous trade certificates for construction. Sounds impressive right? How about we look at house wiring as one example of supposed NAS. In Yucatan Mexico, house wiring is stranded wire not solid, so how can he build to NAS, if he can’t even get the material? Ever notice wiring here is wrapped in tape and marret’s are not used at junctions. Simple reason, wire nuts are meant for solid core wire and if used on stranded wire it is easy to get one of the strands outside of the marret and cause a possible short. But, taping wires is not allowed (NOB) so once again how do they build to NAS? The answer is simple they don’t, after all most houses (NOB) are wood framed construction, not cinder block as used in Mexico. So a contractor may have years of experience building in the USA or Canada, but that really means nothing in the grand scheme of things here. Houses are not made of wood here, nor are the walls made of drywall and insulated. What really needs to be asked is how many block houses have they built on rock foundations and then finished with viga supported roofs. Obviously these supposed contractor’s are simply relying on the Mexican construction crews to get the job done and the only NAS maybe a smooth wall finish and ground wires.

So if you are talking to a contractor and they say they do everything to NORTH AMERICAN STANDARD, remind them Mexico is in North America, as is Belize, so what standard do they mean and more importantly will every detail be to the same standard. Bet it won’t !

Glass not included

Electrical colour code

I paid for a new coffee table the other day, the type that has glass inserts over recessed areas. Since the the one I wanted had to be custom ordered, I had to wait to pick it up. When I did go to get it, it looked fine, but there was no glass for the inserts. The shop owner was asked about this and I was told “oh, glass is not included”. Now common sense to me says it should have been, but common sense also should have told me to ask first. That leads to my advice for this week.

When you are getting quotes or bids, check the details. If you are painting walls, what paint are they using? Is it cheap white paint or is it commercial grade Comex? You won’t see the difference at first, but sure will when it starts peeling off the walls. How about that whole house reno, the concrete looks smooth and well done. But did they just coat over the rebar with new concrete or did they take the time and money to prep it with Sikka Top first (a 3 component epoxy) to make sure the concrete bonds to the rebar. Only time will tell, as it always does, maybe not now, but in a year or so when things start to fall apart.

You need to specify, the quality of all the materials for your project and do periodic inspections to make sure what you are getting, is what you are paying for. The bid for your project should be very specific as to the materials used, it should not just say walls painted white. Did you specifiy that all rebar had to be primed with rust proofing or did you specify galvanized ? How about the electrical, did you specify 12 gauge, white, black, green color coded? Did you ask that all the system be properly grounded, this list goes on and on. It is time consuming to do, but worth it in the end.

A lot of the above can be avoided, by using a contractor that is registered as a Mexican company, as they have certain legal liabilities. It is by no means fool proof , but it is one little detail to remember. Registered Mexican companies have a series on letters after the name, like S. de R.L. de C.V for example. The other thing to do is ask to see other works they have done, that are over a year old and ask the owners of issues. All construction has minor issues, concrete cracking is usually one of them. However, what you really want to know is, did the contractor come back and fix them in a timely fashion, without having to be called a hundred times first.

In my case I should have asked about glass.

New build or total renovation

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No matter, whether you are building a new beach house or renovating a classic colonial in Merida’s Centro district. We can assist to in doing it right. We build in both locations and know the specific techniques required to build properly, in both city and beach. We are happy to work with your architects plans or we can assist you to have your dream home, designed or remodelled from the ground up, We have taken on staff Ana Burgos. Ana is a an experienced, architect designer, who can capture your ideas and thoughts and make your dreams a functional reality.

Flamingos Inn

This Boutique Hotel was completed with the addition of a 3d floor in cellular concrete for weight reduction. New reinforced beams were the basis for a total renovation of the old 2 story structure.

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