Two Americans Take a Chance in Playa del Carmen, Mexico: Which Condo Did They Buy?

Morien Wark and Zoelle Appell had long been fond of Mexico, particularly Playa del Carmen, a coastal resort town where they had spent many vacations over the years. During the pandemic, the couple, who met at a restaurant in Austin, Texas — Mr. Wark was the manager, Ms. Appell a server — began toying with the idea of putting down roots there.

In 2021, they were living in Portland, Ore., in a house they bought in 2018 for $350,000 and had spent years renovating. Mr. Wark was working remotely as an accountant for a hospitality group, a job he could take anywhere, and Ms. Appell was working at Trader Joe’s and not feeling especially connected to her job.

The couple, now both 43, applied for temporary residency status in Mexico so they could stay there for longer than six months at a time. But they still had no plan for a permanent move. That Christmas Eve, they had an argument, and when they made up, they looked at each other and decided the moment had come. They got in their car and drove south. By New Year’s Eve, they were in Playa del Carmen.

“This move was always something that was in the back of our mind,” Mr. Wark said.

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“It could be the dumbest thing we’ve ever done,” Ms. Appell added. “But it could also be the greatest thing.”

Playa del Carmen is a community of about 300,000 on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, where the average cost of living hovers around $1,400 a month, and life there immediately felt comfortable. Unlike her husband, Ms. Appell does not speak Spanish, but the fast-growing expatriate community made it easier for her to get by.

“We joke that there’s probably a higher percentage of Mexicans in Austin,” Mr. Wark said. “It was a soft landing.”

At first, the couple rented. Mexican law requires foreigners seeking property within 100 kilometers of the border (about 62 miles) or 50 kilometers of the ocean (around 31 miles) to buy using a bank trust called a fideicomiso, which allows a Mexican bank to hold the legal title to the property.

Late last year, after selling their Portland house for $650,000, Mr. Wark and Ms. Appell set up a fideicomiso and began house hunting in Playa del Carmen. They initially enlisted the help of a real estate agent and then began searching on their own, looking at various possibilities, including jungle homes and new houses that were still in the blueprint stage.

They wanted to pay cash, so they were hoping to find something for less than $300,000, with two bedrooms, access to a swimming pool and proximity to the beach.

Among the homes they considered:

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