Inspecting Real Estate in Playa Del Carmen
Here is a guide for things to consider while looking at property here in Playa Del Carmen. First you must understand what you are buying. To do this we must dissect a building and know how it was made. Construction methods here are very different then other places. We have many factors that go into how things are constructed, the major one being the climate.
How termite proof is your soon to be property?
It is warm here and that means year round bug activity. That means termites that can munch year round on soft woods. This is in part why building are made out of concrete and not wood. Buildings that do have palapa (palm or grass) roofs, wood beams, or other features made out of wood need to be examined for termites. If it is structural, then this needs to be examined even more closely. If it is not structural and there are termites, don’t panic, it is just part of life here. It can be exterminated or replaced. Wooden curtain holders, balcony railings and cabinets all can attract bugs. If there are a lot of wood features, ask what kind of wood it is. Tropical hardwoods are used here for building and furniture and are termite resistant. Some cheaper construction will not use these better materials. If the unit is coming furnished, furniture made with soft woods are vulnerable to getting infested. This makes it hard to furnish a home because furniture from other parts of Mexico are not made with considerations to the climate and issues we have here.
How will your property fare in a hurricane?
Living in the Caribbean means you have to deal with hurricanes. This is the one natural disaster we have to deal with here. We do not have mudslides, earthquakes, tornados (only those usually associated with hurricanes) volcanos, snow storms, or severe flooding. So we relatively have few worries when it comes to protecting our property from mother nature. The good thing about hurricanes is the fact that you have advance warning to protect your home and they are not a year round threat. Buildings however are strongly built here, mostly out of cinder block and concrete. Window bars actually protect your windows some from some flying debris. So when looking at property and thinking of hurricanes here are some considerations to consider.
- Are there hurricane shutters? or is there installations for hurricane fabric for all sides of the house? Are they of good quality?
- Is the unit or house low to ground level and in the event of flooding, will this further add to my damages?
- Is owning a condo that is facing the ocean top priority or will a more protected one facing a courtyard ok with you?
- Does the property have exterior building elements that will easily get damaged with a storm, like a palapa roof?
How is the property built for the climate?
The climate also effects building design due to the warm weather year round. Having a house or condo that is designed better to deal with the heat will save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year in energy cost. Since buildings here are built out of concrete with usually no insulation, they are actually designed very poorly to insulate you from the outside air. There are however other things to consider that can make your living cooler and more comfortable.
- Check the natural airflow in the area. Usually the cooler ocean air flows inland (east to west) and houses or condos that are lined up with this breeze will stay cooler. Also units that are not ground level will get better airflow.
- Having an open floor plan with ceiling fans will help circulate air in the house and prevent mildew and mold. Actually having ceiling fans running most of the day is not uncommon here.
- Does the property have air conditioning? Mini splits are by far the most popular and efficient styles of air conditioning. Most buildings will come with PVC pipe in the wall for easy access to run wire for installation. If your unit only has one air-conditioning unit, check to see if it will be easy to install more. Most people will prefer them at least in the bedroom areas so you can sleep well when it is hot.
- Does the house have large trees around it? These can considerably cool the air around your house.
- Is there shade on exterior windows? Having a small lip over a window will lower the direct sun coming in and make your home cooler.
- Is your unit on the top floor under the roof? These units tend to be more warm and also if the roof is not sealed regularly, you might have to deal with water stains or leaks.
- Are the windows double paned or any special feature to them? Single pane windows provide an value of R1 which means it resist the outside air temp by the level of 1. Depending on the type of double paned window, they will be 2x-10x more energy efficient then a single pane of glass. It should be noted that most windows here are single pane. Some of the better construction will have hurricane resistant glass which is good to have.
- Are the ceilings tall? Higher ceilings means there is more room for the hot air to rise, leaving lower living space cooler. If you visit the colonial city of Merida on the other side of the peninsula you will see that they knew what they were doing when they constructed homes. Most older homes have an 18-20 foot ceiling. Hence allowing the heat to rise and leaving the living are cooler.
- In better designed homes or condos there are features that act as a thermal chimney. This is a feature in the house like a regular chimney, it acts as a natural cooling action for the house. The airflow goes over the top of the chimney and pulls up the air from the house. This brings cooler air up into the house from lower levels and works great if you have a shaded area around the base like a porch.
- Check the ventilation in the kitchen. Cooking is going to heat your home fast. Having a hood vent that works well or windows to open helps cool your home while cooking. It is surprising how many homes do not have a stove hood. If you do not have one you will also have more grease in the air that will land on surfaces since your hood usually collects this when cooking.
Check the moisture conditions
The climate is also humid and this has to be considered as well. Is your condo on the ground level with a lot of shade or moist areas around it? Moisture naturally wants to rise and most construction is not built with a vapor barrier. This can make your property damp and give you a lot of problems with mold. Do the closets have good airflow? open slats in the doors? If you walk into a property and smell a musty area, it will be a loosing battle trying got deal with this because this is a year round problem. Don’t think that moisture reducing products or a dehumidifier are going to solve this issue. It is a matter of bad home design and perhaps a bigger issue then you want to deal with. Does the property have natural light coming in? This can be a good thing because this is a natural mold killer. Is there sheet rock used in the construction? This material has crept it’s way into construction here and if not done right or in an area prone to mold it can turn into a headache. Without proper ventilation or constant air conditioning it can mold quickly.
Check sound quality
Since most building are made of concrete, sound can travel very easily through floors and walls. As you watch buildings being built you will see Styrofoam installed between floors, this acts a sound deadener. Not all building have this though. Check how your place “sounds”. This can be important if the other units in your building are going to be rented out to weekly tourist that might have a party each week there is a new tenant. If you are going to live in a neighborhood where there is a mix of tourist and locals, soundproofing your home can be important as well since sound pollution is not necessarily considered rude. Since sound travels through air, make sure windows close and are sealed tightly and exterior doors have a good seal on them.
Look at the roof
If you are buying a previously owned home, check the roof out. This is the utility area of most houses. The mini split units are there, water tanks, wires, satellite dishes and what ever else can be stored up there. It is important to look at the roof coating and how easy it is to coat the roof. Most roofs are flat and while the rain water will run off, during heavy rain storms, water will leak through. One plastic bottle stuck in your drain or other blockage can have inches of water built up on your roof. That kind of water pressure pushes it down into the house.
These are just some of the considerations in looking at building design and practicality for living in Playa. You may be used to hiring a home inspector but that is generally not done here. It is good to educate yourself on building features and perhaps have a friend come along who has been here for a while and understands building to help you with your purchase.
For more information on buying property in Playa Del Carmen check out our article. Our complete guide to real estate is good to read over as well. Also our article on how the real estate market is now in Playa Del Carmen.
Do you have other tips for when you are looking at a house or condo here in Playa Del Carmen? Let us know in the comments below.