In 2006, I packed my bags and moved from Santa Cruz, California to Mazatlán, Mexico to start my own business (and eventually retire).
In the 15 years I've been here, I've moved several times for different reasons — twice the buildings sold, too much maintenance, or something better came along.
Earlier this year, I relocated to a two-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot apartment with 10-foot ceilings, just a few minutes from one of my favorite beaches. The rent is $420 per month, not including utilities.
Here's what the apartment hunting process was like, and why this is one of my favorite places I've lived:
Finding a rental in Mazatlán, Mexico
It's challenging to find a rental here. Near the coast, where everyone wants to live, there's an increased demand for vacation rentals, from which the owner earns more money (faster) than if they were to rent it out as a one-year lease.
A previous landlord, for example, now rents my old one-bedroom apartment for a three-day weekend for $200 — the same price I paid monthly.
Asking friends and locals is a good way to find something. I also looked on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, but found nothing in the area I wanted that was in my budget.
Then, a good friend told me an apartment in her building was going to be available, and as soon as we peeked in the windows, I was intrigued.
The sea wall near my apartment offers a great view of the sunset!Photo: Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
When I first walked into the apartment, it was love at first sight — despite the mess and major renovations going on.
The old-style wood shutter windows and interior doors had been sent off to be stripped, repaired and painted; the beautiful old tile floor was filthy and covered with construction debris; the kitchen was an empty shell. Yet I could see the bones of the place and knew it was a gem.
My cat Luna loves sleeping in her "catio" out back.Photo: Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
It was within my budget and had everything I was looking for: Perfect location, pretty architectural details and two outdoor spaces. I realized what a great deal this was, and although it wasn't going to be ready for a month or more, I immediately made a deposit to secure it.
Location, location, location
Realtors love to say a property is "steps from the beach," but I actually am: 124, to be exact (about half a block from my front door to the sand).
With Mazatlán's three islands just offshore, a sunset surf session is doubly wonderful.Photo: Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
I can also walk to a plethora of cafés, shops and restaurants. And my apartment is on the first floor, so it's easy to get my bicycle or surfboard in and out.
I love that one friend lives across the hall, and another lives across the street. It's so easy to have sunset Happy Hour or morning coffee together on my balcony, which we do quite often!
Rent and additional costs
I'm 65, retired and living on my Social Security. I also receive some income from my book sales and a little freelance writing.
Although the $420 per month rent was double what I'd ever paid before in Mazatlán, it was within my budget. I like to keep my basic expenses as low as possible, but still be comfortable.
My office is in progress—soon, a real desk and better chair! The door leads to the front balcony with an ocean view.Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
In Mazatlán I'm able to do that. Water costs a fixed $4.50 per month. Electricity is highest at this time of year because of air conditioning; mine is hovering around $25, but is usually half that. I use propane for cooking; one tank costs $30 and lasts me about six months.
I paid to add some of my own touches to the apartment:
- Painting one wall the same golden ochre color as the floor tiles: $15
- Hand-built bookshelves for the office: $225.
- I had cabinets made by a local carpenter: $350 (cost split with the landlord)
Apartment tour: Inside & out
From the front door, you walk into a big living and dining room that extends back to the kitchen and my bedroom.
My living room is spacious and pretty, with wonderful natural light and 10-foot ceilings.Photo: Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
The two bedrooms are separated by a spacious "Jack and Jill" bathroom. One is an office and guest room that looks out to a plant-filled balcony and its sliver of an ocean view. My bedroom has big corner windows looking out onto a back courtyard.
The high ceilings, white walls and tile floors can make the rooms seem a little cold, so I use lots of natural fibers, wicker and jute to add texture and absorb sound. I also have lots of plants, which add color and thrive because of all the natural light.
The "Jack & Jill" bathroom is bright and pretty.Photo: Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
There's a galley kitchen leading back to what used to be a maid's room with a half-bath. The refrigerator is there, along with the washing machine and my surfboards.
The back courtyard has tons of potential! I can see planters full of herbs, veggies and flowers. Right now, I just use it to hang laundry. (Why use an electric dryer when the sun can do the work?)
Did someone say Happy Hour? My balcony is the perfect place to get together with my friend Ray.Photo: Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
A special space that already feels like home
My decorating style is pretty eclectic. I love certain traditional Mexican folk art, and there are many special pieces scattered throughout my apartment.
But I also have a contemporary-style couch, chalk-painted farmhouse dining set and a few signature antiques from the area. One of my favorites is my headboard, a set of three carved cedar shutters from one of the oldest hotels in the city, the Belmar.
My bedroom is a cozy, peaceful oasis in the back corner of the apartment. The headboard is made from 100-year-old shutters from one of the oldest hotels in Mazatlán.Photo: Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
I try to mix and match styles in ways that highlight the beauty of each and somehow it seems to work. I like to get a sense of the vibe of the space and decorate accordingly.
My lease is for one year, and unless my life changes drastically somehow, I intend to renew it. I can't wait till my grandkids visit — there's room enough for everyone, and they'll love walking to the beach!
Janet Blaser is a writer who has lived in Mazatlán, Mexico since 2006. A former journalist in California, her work now focuses on expat living. Janet's first book, "Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats" is an Amazon bestseller. Follow Janet on Instagram and Facebook.
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