Creating a Homestead With Low Cost Land in Mexico

A couple follows their dream to create a ranch homestead by purchasing low cost land in Mexico.

| April/May 2000

Creating a homestead with low cost land in Mexico. How one couple found a new life, home and heart in Mexico.

Some stories begin with danger; some with adventure. This story begins with romance.

No sooner were they married than Camille learned that her father had died during the ceremony. Death was a tempest that unmoored their lives, and Steven sought anchor by revealing a long harbored dream: He wanted to move to Mexico.

Steven had been 4 years old during his first trip south of the Rio Grande. His family drove from the Bronx to Beeville, Texas, where an uncle lived, then down to the border town of Matamoros. During summer vacations and his entire senior year in high school. Steven worked on his uncle's ranch, visiting Laredo regularly. "Mexico felt like it was home," he says. Later, as a young man, he lived in Guadalajara for a few years, singing in nightclubs and working in the studio of Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante. Yet when he decided to buy land, the real estate situation in Mexico seemed too complicated, so Steven purchased in New Mexico instead.

Driven by economic considerations, Mexico's system of land tenure began changing in the '90s. While the Aztecs had held land communally, their Spanish conquerors amassed land in huge, privately owned, feudal-like haciendas. At the time of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, 1% of landowners controlled 97% of arable land, an inequity that fueled rebellion and socialist sentiment. In 1917 Mexico approved a new constitution inspired by Russian law; Article 27 addressed land reform by establishing an ejido, or collective farming system. Rights to ejido lands could be assigned to individual households but not sold or leased. By the time President Carlos Saunas de Gortari took office in 1988, half of Mexico's farmland was in the ejido system, and most of the farms were less than 4.65 hectares (11.5 acres). Under this system, agricultural productivity was so bad that Mexico was importing both beans and corn. To rectify this, Salinas wrangled new agrarian reforms in 1992. Prominent among those reforms was giving ejido farmers direct ownership of their land. As slow and bureaucratic as the privatization process has been, the result, nonetheless, is a growing supply of rural real estate.

Moving to Mexico became the number one topic of conversation as Camille and Steven weeded the garden, grazed the goat herd, ate dinner and sat on their small flagstone patio watching the days come and go. Two excursions through Mexico in 1997 Led them to the village of El Tuito in the vicinity of Puerto Vallarta, where the countryside reminded them of a tropical version of New Mexico. Renting a house in El Tuito, they made several outings to the coast, where the couple discovered oceanfront property for sale. First, the Dannuccis purchased three small lots, totaling less than an acre, stacked perpendicular to the beach; later, they acquired a 40-hectare (100-acre) potrero, or small ranch, just behind the lots.

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