Last updateMon, 21 Jan 2019 12pm

Home ownership in Mexico: First, watch where you step

According to Earthquake Track, Mexico, the largest earthquake in 2017 in Jalisco was on the coast in San Patricio, measuring 6.2 on the Richter Scale. The largest earthquake in Guadalajara occurred just this month at 4.3. 

It may not be common knowledge to those hordes of North Americans coming south that Mexico is one of the most “seismologically active” regions on earth. Ironically, Lake Chapala itself resulted from these drastic earth movements and faulting, which occurred some twelve million years ago. But since only a handful of hippies were here during that time, few people remember it. 

Earthquakes don’t have a season or rainbirds to announce their coming. So there are no ways to predict them. Except when your dog refuses to come out from under the bed. So it’s always good to be reminded that our beloved Mexican landmass, situated on bustling North American fault lines, is actually in constant rolling motion.  Its sudden booming shock waves are the reason for so many ongoing homeowner repair issues and the disruption of all those Feng Shui plans. And of course, it’s the explanation behind the mysterious nervousness of the Mexican Jumping Bean. 

What causes these quakes? Tectonics experts tell us that the Pacific Ocean floor is apparently conveyor-belting eastward underneath the ocean, driving our landmass (meter by meter) closer to Asia — and the possibility of finally getting some decent Chinese food here — everyday. Suspicions among many at Lakeside are growing that earthquakes are God’s way of telling us to stop building cheap Lakeside condos. 

More to the point, there are serious fault lines at a number of locations around the north side of Lake Chapala. Soil engineer, architect and builder, Gustavo Rivera, member, Board of Directors of the Architectural Association of the State of Jalisco, told me examples can be found in a number of popular Lakeside areas. “There are fault lines running through La Floresta and Chula Vista where signs and indicators are often hidden” he explained. “You can drive through Lower Chula Vista and see the cracks in the walls of poorly constructed and maintained homes. Also, the terrain on the way to Chapala through Riberas on the mountainside is unstable in many locations. And the buildings there will continue to experience instability.” 

But in addition to the seismic activity, a second culprit, according to Rivera, is the character of the soil under the house (if the house isn’t built on solid rock), which can also cause foundation cracking. During the rainy season, the groundwater under many houses may cause their floor to “expand,” which can be disturbing, especially if you’re a binge drinker. 

The third problem, Rivera explained, is that traditional Mexican building construction consists mainly of rigid elements with no structural plasticity capable of countering the effects of soil instability and earth movements.  In other words, building foundations and walls don’t have the freedom to move safely in accordance with the shifting in the ground. 

And finally, for newcomers here wishing to buy a home, it is buyer beware at Lakeside with no mandatory disclosure laws about all these potential risks. Rivera noted, “there are few if any building codes, reliable inspectors, or properly licensed contractors or subcontractors.” 

Last week in Mexico News Daily, Bodie Kellogg, experienced home inspector from north of the boder, added this warning: “Mexican real estate is a minefield of unregulated commerce.... and a part of that minefield is the total lack of any meaningful disclosure as to the actual condition of the property or any issues arising from it.” These issues I assume mean things like parts of your mirador crashing into your walk-in closet. 

If you or a friend are thinking about purchasing a home here at Lakeside, there are several things you should do, according to Rivera:

1. Take note to see that the water pressure in the pipes is constant. Some people are timid. Just run the faucets. You don’t have to take a shower.

2. Check the ceilings. There should be one in every room. Intact. If you have already purchased a home or are wondering about certain groaning sounds coming from the walls.  Create a disaster evacuation plan. Know precisely which household items you plan to take with you when you evacuate. Items necessary during an evacuation are water, non-perishable foods, first aid kit, prescription medications and phone numbers. Items best left behind: Bo-Flex machines, Play Stations, drum sets and Hummel collections. 

3. Review the neighborhood. Take every effort to choose a neighborhood that will always stay pretty much where you originally found it.  One surefire way of choosing a safe location is by visiting homes in various neighborhoods. If you find that your neighbor’s living room and kitchen are divided by a ravine, you may wish to look across town. 

4. Check the electrical installations and their operation. Electrical output in Mexico can vary in voltage. And occasionally, voltage levels for no reason can surge and blow your CPAP machine, waking you in the middle of your dream of flying an F15 fighter jet. They can also be installed at dangerous places and without proper grounding.

5. Review the topographic levels of the soil. (I haven’t a clue what this means. I know what a sinkhole is, that’s it.) Rivera recommends it. You don’t want “topographic levels of soil” embarrassing you when visitors call. 

On-site reviews of deformities and cracks, soil composition and character, water pressure and circulation and electrical output will be good first steps to finding the Lakeside home of your dreams.