Buying Real Estate in Mexico
Buying a house or property in Mexico is not for the fainthearted. The Mexican government does not keep detailed records of land ownership (cadastres) so the ownership is determined by the courts and who has the physical deed. Sometimes it is not clear who the real owner is. My friend, a Mexican, bought a lot from a neighbor and it turned out someone else actually owned it. The real owner left town many years ago and the neighbor assumed ownership. My friend lost his money. When a spouse dies, if he or she does not leave a will, the property is divided between the surviving spouse and all the children. Once this occurs, the children and possibly all their children and spouses must sign a notarized disclaimer in front of a Mexican official either in Mexico or at a Mexican consulate. Since the Mexican families are so large and spread out it can be virtually impossible to get a clear title. At times they might be living in the US without papers, making it very difficult to return to Mexico to sign the papers. This is one of the reasons you see so many abandoned buildings in Mexico.
Another problem is ejido land. During the 1930s the Mexican government turned many of the old land grants over to the communities. Ejido land is community property and until recently you could not buy it legally. A few years ago they changed the law so they can sell ejido land but you have to be very careful that all the members have signed off.
If you are buying a beachfront lot, keep in mind that the beach area (first 20 meters of the beach area starting at the high tide mark) is Federal Zone. This means that you do not own it. You may apply for a 'commision' and use the land however you wish but if you do not get the commission someone else may get it and open a business - possibly a restaurant, a cantina, a shrimp larvae plant or anything else that strikes their fancy. Right now, in front of the lot where I live, is a fiberglass repair shop. This is strictly illegal due to the environmental laws, but nontheless it seems virtually impossible to get rid of. And keep in mind that there are no zoning laws in Mexico so that big beautiful lot next to your property could turn into a shopping center or a pig farm.
It is illegal for foreigners to own land within 30 miles of the coast in Mexico. This can be circumvented in 3 ways. First, many people use presta nombre (borrowed name). If you are close friends with a Mexican you can buy the land and put it in their name. You have absolutely no legal rights if you do this. If the person changes their mind they can take over the property at any time. If they die their children will decide whether to honor the agreement or not. Presta nombre is very common in Mexico and surprisingly there are not that many problems. The Mexicans seem to be honorable people, but still it is not for me.
The second method is getting a fidecomiso (trust). This is a legal document administered by the bank that allows you to lease the land for 50 years. The bank actually owns it. Upon completion of the 50 years you can renew the lease. You can leave this property to your heirs. There is a fee of $200 or $300 US a year. Outside of the 30 mile zone, you can own the land just like a Mexican.
The third method of owning land near the water is to become a Mexican citizen. If either of your parents were born in Mexico, this is quite easy. If not, it will take a long time. Rumor has it that they are changing the law to allow you to own coastal land outright if you have a permanent visa.
This is not a legal document. If you are planning to buy a house are land, don't be discouraged, but start by getting a good lawyer.