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Mexico's Growing Assisted-Living Market Targets U.S. Retirees

Mexico's growing assisted-living market targets U.S. retirees

03:08 PM CST on Sunday, November 16, 2008


By LAURENCE ILIFF / The Dallas Morning News


SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico – Laredo native Alice Edwards and her helicopter pilot husband have an active lifestyle in this picturesque town popular among retired Texans.

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 affordable price.

"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 Americans.

"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 civilians.

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 flights.

Next will be the Northeast, he said, mostly because of the harsh climate.

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.


Unregulated industry


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 activities.

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 private homes.

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 American retirees.

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 care.


'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 right.

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."



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 health.


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 adequate personnel.

Posted: Monday, November 17, 2008 12:21 PM by Herb Kinsey


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