Mexico Assisted Living...
Mexico's growing assisted-living
market targets U.S. retirees
03:08 PM CST on Sunday,
November 16, 2008
By LAURENCE ILIFF / The Dallas
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico – Laredo native
Alice Edwards and her helicopter pilot husband have an
active lifestyle in this picturesque town popular among
But the 60-somethings are also the new owners of a townhouse
in Mexico's first assisted-living development aimed at
the U.S. market, Cielito Lindo.
With 75 million baby boomers heading toward retirement and
the cost of private nursing care in the U.S. outstripping
hammered retirement funds, Mexican developers say they have an
irresistible product in the works: active senior and
assisted-living facilities in a warm climate full of friendly
people for as little as $1,100 a month.
"For us, it's purely an investment," said Ms. Edwards. The
couple will probably rent it out. But Floyd Edwards quickly
added: "At this point, you never can tell. It's something we
will all need eventually."
Some developers are shifting their traditional condo and
townhouse developments in midstream to include assisted-living
wings focused, in part, on Americans who want modern facilities
with quality services rather than the informal operations or
go-it-alone approaches that now exist.
There are already an estimated 1.2 million retired Americans
and Canadians in Mexico who – like their millions of
compatriots back home – will need a greater level of care at an
"This is not going to be a niche market; this is going to be
an entire industry," said Eduardo Alvarado, chief executive
officer of La Moreleja, a residential development in San Luis
Potosí, a colonial city in northern Mexico that also sports
Wal-Mart, Home Depot and many other businesses familiar to
"We already have the pioneers here, but what we
are seeing is that many people will come perhaps not
because they want to but out of necessity," he said. Many
will find Mexico far more modern and far safer than they
had imagined, he added.
For example, Mr. Alvarado said, the drug cartel violence
that gets so much U.S. media coverage rarely touches
Mexico "is as safe or safer than the U.S.," he said.
The U.S. Embassy warns Americans to be extra careful along
the U.S.-Mexico border but otherwise considers attacks against
the millions of U.S. citizens who visit and live here to be
isolated and rare.
Mr. Alvarado said that once his property is finished
sometime next year, with 180 spots for assisted living and 250
for independent, "Dallas will be one of the markets we go after
immediately," he said, because of the proximity and direct
Next will be the Northeast, he said, mostly because of the
La Moreleja will charge a one-time inscription of $9,000 and
a monthly rent of about $1,100 that includes a full range of
services, including meals.
One problem, developers said, is a lack of regulations.
The private assisted-living and nursing industry is so new
in Mexico – there are about a half dozen facilities under
construction – that laws need to be written to cover its
The Mexican Association of Retirement Communities is
lobbying for legislation similar to that in the U.S.
Marisol Ancona Velten, director of planning for Le Grand
Senior Living, an assisted-living development in Mexico City,
warned against informal, "clandestine" senior housing that
caters to Americans and offers substandard care in converted
She also said many Mexican resort cities, like San Miguel
and Puerto Vallarta, do not have the world-class hospitals
found in the Mexican capital.
Mexico has a national health care system (which Americans
can buy into for $350 a year) along with many private hospitals
and clinics with U.S.-trained doctors. Average life expectancy
for Mexicans is 75 years, just three less than in the U.S.,
according to the retirement organization AARP.
Since most Mexicans take care of their parents often until
death, there is not much of a nursing home industry at all,
except for those run by charities or the government.
Texans have long retired in neighboring Mexico, but they
have often been adventurous types willing to learn the language
and traverse the obstacle course of setting up a home, securing
quality medical care and adapting to cultural differences.
Jonathan Taylor, 78, came to San Miguel de Allende almost
six years ago.
"I reached an age when I didn't want to work anymore, and I
couldn't afford to quit in the U.S.," he said.
Mr. Taylor, from Dalhart, Texas, now spends his time
running, playing tennis and socializing but can imagine the day
when he might need to move into a place like Cielito Lindo,
which he visited when it was inaugurated in September.
"I hope I don't have to consider it for a while, but if you
get into your 80s and need assisted living, what could be
better than this?" said Mr. Taylor, who can get on a bus in San
Miguel that takes him to Dallas to visit his brother. "The
people are so friendly and the scenery is so beautiful."
Stretching a dollar
At another location favored by American retirees, on Lake
Chapala near Guadalajara, several small retirement homes
have sprung up, often operated by locals, to serve Americans as
they get older and can no longer take care of themselves.
What's coming now, developers say, is completely different:
brand-new, turnkey developments, for sale or rent, that come
with a buffet of services (from a maid to full Alzheimer's
care) at about a third or less the cost of that in the U.S.
A report last month by the MetLife Mature Market Institute
put the average rate for an assisted-living facility in the
U.S. at $3,031 a month. (In the Dallas-Fort Worth area it was
$2,849.) Generally, that included room and board, at least two
meals a day, housekeeping and personal care assistance.
More expensive developments in Mexico are also targeting
The Luma beachfront development in Puerto Vallarta, for
active 50-plus baby boomers, is building condos that cost half
a million dollars – minimum. But what buyers get is still far
more than they could purchase with the same money in the U.S. –
even with the depressed real estate market.
"One of the huge advantages of retiring in Mexico is the lower
cost of living. Property taxes, medical expenses, groceries,
and other monthly costs are significantly less," said Alexander
Urrutia, Luma's sales director, who calls the development "the
first active-adult beachfront community in Mexico."
A 3,500-square-foot high-end beachfront condominium at Luma
sells for about $900,000; it would go for twice as much in a
similar U.S. setting, Mr. Urrutia said. And taxes on a $1
million property are less than $1,000 a year – less than
one-tenth of those for a similarly priced home in the U.S.
One thing that developers and operators of the new
facilities call a major selling point is not just price, but
the Mexican-style TLC that comes with a society used to caring
for their parents and grandparents throughout their lives.
"One of the more important considerations," said Cielito
Lindo developer Sergio Cházaro, "is the Mexicanity of the
people giving the service."
His assisted-living units go for an average of $1,500 per
month, with meals and services, and a maximum of $3,000 a month
for an Alzheimer's patient with specialized, round-the-clock
'More are coming'
Javier Godínez-Villegas, president of the Mexican
Association of Retirement Communities, thinks there are up to
50 Mexican cities and towns that are ideal for assisted-living
facilities aimed at the U.S. and Canadian markets.
"There are many developers who are willing now to build
these types of facilities, and more are coming," he said.
For Texans living in Mexico, the timing is just about
Sandra Thorpe from San Antonio and her husband, Gordon, live
in the active retirement community Rancho Los Labradores that
is next to Cielito Lindo, where they have also purchased.
"The concept just blew my mind because it's got everything,
and the price range is affordable," Mr. Thorpe said.
The couple plans to put their Cielito Lindo villa into the
rental pool for two years, Ms. Thorpe added, "and maybe we'll
move into it someday."
TIPS FOR SELECTING A FACILITY
Gerontology plan: Make sure a facility
offers activities that allow residents to be active and that
enrich this phase of their lives – to socialize, continue
learning and keep in good physical, motor and mental
Medical: Check to see that menus are
approved by a nutritionist; there should be a resident
geriatrician; nurses should be certified in geriatrics; and
there should be monitoring of the administration of medicines
and vital signs. There should be ambulance service and a
quality hospital nearby with the patients' medical charts.
Talk to residents: Ask current residents
for their opinion on the facility and services.
Installations: Make sure the facility has
the basics: showers with moveable showerheads, good lighting,
emergency electricity generators, handrails, help buttons and
Casa Preciosa Side Bar Notes:
Mexico Assisted Living Resources
ABC News article: Retirees
Flock South of the Border for Savings
CBS.MarketWatch.com article: Expat
Seniors: American Retirement Abroad
Ajijic Villa Vacation
Rental Casa Preciosa